Hands-on Impressions: Anthem’s VIP beta – A thrilling, but bug-ridden experience

anthem™ demo_20190125202002

Anthem’s VIP Access beta is finally over. While there was plenty of good regarding the upcoming class-based RPG and team-based shooter, there was a lot of bad as well, but nothing as worse as the ugly stuff that managed to weasel its way out. Here’s what we thought.

I did it. Somehow, just somehow, I gave in and found an Electronic Arts title that would snag my attention despite the various bugs that plagued its VIP Access beta weekend over the past few days. Over the course of the past few days (mostly Sunday due to an infinite view of the main login screen an VIP entitlement issues), I’ve put countless hours into the bug-ridden beta, blasting through as many Scars and the Swarm – if that’s what the insect-like enemies are actually called.

During this time, I got a chance to finally see just how different from Bungie’s Destiny franchise that Anthem actually is. Much to my surprise – it’s a lot different and there’s not a lot of comparisons that can be drawn between the two aside from leveling up and randomized loot drops.

But, over the course of this past weekend, there’s been a lot of good, a lot of bad, and a little bit of ugly. So here’s what you need to know about the experience I had with a couple pals of mine.

anthem™ demo_20190125195129

D.I.C.E.’s Frostbite Engine has been pushed beyond what we thought it could do

When it comes to a BioWare game, we know the team isn’t going to be cutting any corners to deliver one of the best looking games of this generation. To help bring their game to life, BioWare has once more opted for the Frostbite Engine, which has massively improved over the years, bringing games like Star Wars Battlefront II and Battlefield V to life.

Now, it’s time for a new game to enter the fray, pushing the Frostbite Engine to its limits with the release of Anthem, which has truly left the jaws of fans on the floor. Whether it’s the light reflecting off your Javelin, the detail of an NPCs face or the detailed animations of a Scar; you’re definitely going to be left breathless when the explosions start.

I still found myself with my jaw on the floor when using the Colossus Javelin’s Siege Cannon and watching the nuclear-like explosions as they occurred in the distance after firing off my ultimate abilities ammunition. Even watching arcs of electricity jump from my Javelin to an enemy was impressive enough, there was nothing better than watching their shields drain rather quickly before hoisting up my shield and barreling into a horde of Scar right before me.

But the surprising thing is? I didn’t notice any form of dynamic resolution scaling on a PlayStation 4 Pro. Instead, everything remained crystal clear, effective, and they remained the same no matter how chaotic things actually got. Whether it was the particle effects, the soft glow of dust flowing in the wind, energy arching off foes or even the fire in the distance as small pieces of ash and coal flutter into the air.

A true spectacle to be seen by those who enjoy seeing just how far a graphics engine has come over the years. A major step forward from what we saw with Mass Effect: Andromeda since its release. It even puts Battlefield V to shame at the end of the day. Something rather impressive when it comes to Electronic Arts and BioWare.

anthem™ demo_20190125235918

There’s tons of replayability

Whether you’ve had a chance to really dive into Anthem and the VIP Access beta, there’s already been hints at a large amount of replayability for those looking for reasons to stick around after they complete the initial campaign. Whether its free-roaming content, story content or even strongholds (their version of dungeons and or strikes); BioWare hasn’t shied away from the fact that Anthem is bound to have quite a bit of content to soak up and enjoy.

Part of the gameplay loop you’ll get a taste of is being able to increase the difficulty for each of these activities. The difficulty also scales with the kind of loot you’ll have a chance to earn, which includes rarer items and items at a higher level and what they can do. These difficulties also increase the amount of experience you’d get through the duration of the mission you are undertaking.

Luckily, loot is handed out regardless and upgrades are almost an assured procurement for participants. However, upgrades might be a slightly different story for those hoping to get better weapons and Javelin suits ability upgrades such as the Colossus’ Siege Cannon or even their secondary utilities.

anthem™ demo_20190125211247

BioWare’s dialogue options return, but they aren’t near as deep as Mass Effect’s

One of the big talking points is the fact that BioWare has given us a chance to have dialogue options with those who call Fort Tarsis their home. While they were very few and far between in the beta, they were there, and they do give us a good chance to get an idea of what BioWare has planned as far as dialogue options go.

Some are simple as offering advice to a few of Fort Tarsis’ denizens and giving them a way out while others were some as hard as truly making a life-altering decision for a pal of ours. Whatever the case, dialogue options have returned, and they do seem to be planned out for the rest of the game’s launch here in the next few weeks.

anthem™ demo_20190126182127

Performance ratios were spotty while in Fort Tarsis and in some of the Free Roam missions

When trying to see just how smooth Anthem can run on Xbox One and or PlayStation 4, it’s worth noting that the performances were spotty at best while in Fort Tarsis on both the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro versions. Most of the time, the framerates felt like they didn’t even get near the targeted 30fps that BioWare aimed for. Instead, even in free roam missions, it wasn’t uncommon to see framerates dip as low as 20fps and even sustaining that from time to time.

The crazier part of it all? Anthem ran even worse on an Xbox One. Sadly, it was difficult for me to find any enjoyment on Xbox One, pushing me to sit down with the PlayStation 4 version of the game over the weekend. The big thing here is stability, the big thing is for BioWare to truly figure out how to stabilize the game and make it run the best they can. That’ll be one thing fans will be keeping their eyes on when the game officially launches next to the server issues (something we’ll discuss here rather soon).

anthem™ demo_20190126001415

Anthem has a very Destiny-like problem

When it comes to doing RPGs just right, BioWare is no stranger to this fact. They understand the need for progression in regards to character growth and combat capability. This has been reflected across almost every title the studio has released from Knights of the Old RepublicJade Empire, and even Mass Effect: Andromeda.

They understand that it’s important for players to see their progression, to understand just how well this progression works. Unfortunately, it seems that in a world full of Final Fantasy XIV‘s, Destiny 2’s, and various other titles that show off your experience bars – Anthem has seemingly opted out of this visual indicator for some strange reason. You don’t even get an idea of how much experience you’ve actually earned or what you accomplished towards your characters overall progression.

Instead, Anthem does it in a slightly confusing way, just as they do their loot. A minor nuisance I can grow used to given time. Everything is tallied up at the end of your activity. Your loot, your experience, and even your accomplishments. It’s something rather similar to a performance rating at the end of a match in a MOBA title like Smite or League of Legends.

Sadly, this feedback isn’t something a lot of RPG fans will enjoy. While it may have worked in some of their titles in the past, it’s not something that’ll work with a game that promises ongoing progression and instant gratification for fans of games like Destiny or Tom Clancy’s The Division have to offer. Unfortunately, Anthem‘s isn’t one that provides a sense of instant gratification. Instead, it’s one that focuses on the action first, the RPG elements later in order to keep the action going.

Unfortunately, there’s a bigger problem caused by this approach too.

anthem™ demo_20190125201015

You can’t switch up your Javelins gear while on the go

Now, you already have an idea that Javelins are absolutely massive suits (well the Colossus Javelin is gigantic and makes the Hulk Buster look like a chump) compared to the actual human body. This also means so is their equipment. But, there’s a problem here that REALLY takes away from the fun of playing a loot-based shooter with RPG progression-based elements.

You want to use the gear you get as soon as you get it. Remember that Jarra’s Wrath they teased in the initial Anthem gameplay trailer? If you get an Epic quality item, you’re going to want to use it the moment that loot drop gets indicated. Who wouldn’t, right? That’s not the case. Weapons and upgrades are only equipable while you’re in Fort Tarsis itself. You actually have to be at The Forge in order to change anything out regarding your Javelin. This includes vanity items, paint jobs, etc. All of it has to be done here.

This loop isn’t going to be something fans will enjoy while beating down countless Scars or Swarm. They’ll get tired of it and rather quickly. It’s a problem even I had with Anthem and I’m a MASSIVE BioWare fan. Unfortunately, with this close to launch, Anthem can only have this changed as a post-launch update by placing Forge’s across the map or placing camps around the map where players can change their loadouts on the fly.

Want to change up your Javelin since someone else is already using the one you have? You really can’t do that either. Instead, you have to head back to Fort Tarsis instead of heading to a nearby station to be able to do so while on the fly. Hopefully, just hopefully, we can do this at a later date in order to optimize for our encounters.

anthem™ demo_20190125191957

Infinite Load Screens and Server issues

Now, we all know this happened and BioWare was well aware of what was going on. Server-side updates were rolled out to the best of their ability, but many issues were ongoing problems. These came in the forms of random disconnections, infinite load screens, and various other hitching issues including people being unable to enter the beta when they had wished to do so.

Because of the server loads and infinite load screens being present, BioWare has already acknowledged that they are investigating, but over the three-day beta access, we weren’t left with a lot of confidence about this being a problem they can deploy a patch for before this weekends upcoming public beta.

While the team has acknowledged these issues in their post (as can be read in the link above), we know there are things they are working on and some of these bugs weren’t caused by over-population. Rather, these bugs crept up when released into the open and left the game almost unplayable for many when released into the wild.

While the team is hard at work to fix it, we just hope these won’t appear in the open beta where everyone that wants to try out Anthem can.

anthem™ demo_20190125193121

Final Thoughts

Before I get too far into concluding this hands-on impression. I do need to give a very special shoutout to fellow Free Company member from Final Fantasy XIV by the name of Defensor for his inviting me into the VIP Access beta. Because of him, I was able to attempt diving in and giving Anthem‘s beta a  first solid hands-on impression as I’ve been unable to get our hands on it at any press events, etc. Because of him, I had a chance to dive into this wild and creative world BioWare created.

Aside from the server issues, inability to log in, and infinite load screens when going from one event to the next; Anthem was still fun albeit flawed. Even with some minor issues regarding customization, gearing up, and load outs; it’s a game worth giving a chance and with BioWare already hard at work to fix the VIP Access beta’s problems, we can only wonder what the future holds.

Due to the smooth-as-butter gunplay, beautiful graphics, and intriguing narrative – I can’t help but be excited and truly wonder: Can this game set the par for games of this type? Even with a desire to see it delayed so these bugs can be fixed, I already know that BioWare could very well have these issues wrapped up by the Feb. 22, 2019, release date for Anthem.

But for now, I really hope BioWare takes their time, doesn’t rush out a broken product, and considers giving us the experience we’d been hoping to have since Anthem‘s reveal in 2017 even if it means a minor delay of release.

About the Writer(s):


Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.


Leave a Reply