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Anthem Looks Like A Visual Marvel, But The Pacing Seems Off

Jelani James on

First impressions are important considering the situation that EA and Bioware are in right now.

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Earlier today, Electronic Arts released a 20-minute walkthrough of its upcoming multiplayer loot shooter Anthem, showing off exploration, multiplayer and hefty dose of combat. Overall, what we saw looked cool, but the pacing — the action, in particular — wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Before going any further, I do concede that this is only one part of what will turn out to be a much larger game that is still in development. Nothing is set in stone here, but first impressions are important and considering the situation that EA and Bioware are in right now, the two would be wise to knock viewers off their feet every opportunity they get. And, unfortunately, they have consistently failed to do that.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the walkthrough:

Even from a cursory glance, the world as a whole looks absolutely stunning. In particular, the seamless blending of technology with the natural landscape is something that I want to see more of in future updates, and it really helps drive home the fact that you’re in a foreign world that requires the use of machines loaded out with high-tech weapons to compete with even the simplest of fauna.

And it seems there will be much of this landscape to see if this walkthrough is anything to go by. In the video, we see the team of BioWare developers walk through caves, fly through skies — and just about everywhere else — and even swim when the situation called for it. All of this looked pretty cool, but for some reason I was particularly enthused about the Javelin’s ability to reduce the heating of its thrusters by exposing them to water. I know its something I should expect out of games in 2018, but I was excited by it nonetheless.

All throughout this, the video shows the developers getting into firefights of varying intensity, and while we learned a fair amountabout what to expect once Anthem arrives in 2019, I couldn’t help but find myself losing interest at times. Why? I think it’s because of the overall pacing.

For all its beauty, the world of Anthem seems remarkably empty. I know this game is still in development, but its irksome thinking that you’ll be able to get into some interesting fights knowing that there’s going to be a stretch of nothingness until you chance upon the next one.

I think a comparison to Destiny — as much as I’m loathe to do so — can be made here. In said game, you don’t have to travel far to get into a fight, and in exchange, many of those fights are rather small scale. There’s always a sense that there are enemies around the corner, though you know they can often be defeated handily. Comparatively, Anthem seems like it could have large stretches of nothingness separating two relatively small firefights.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach provided the fights are engaging enough, but I can definitely see some people losing interest if this turns out to be case in the final game.

But it would be a crying shame if people did lose interest because the combat looks interesting. As one would expect from a game with mechs, your Javelins are equipped with everything from grenades to railguns; and judging from what BioWare lead producer Ben Irving said during the narration, players will be able to mix and match various weapons to create loadouts that can be used depending on the situation. In addition, we saw that teamwork will be essential to your success here. Even a low-level player can join a party and feel like they’re making a worthwhile contribution thanks to their ability to execute combos, such as freezing an enemy and having their higher-leveled ally shatter them.

Combos and other such tactics look like they’ll play a huge part in four-player instances known as strongholds, which will force the team to work together in order to complete an objective of some sort. In the case of this walkthrough, the objective was to shutdown an alien relic before the enemy could use it for their own ends. During this time, we saw the team strategically take out a group of snipers on one side of the room, before using attack combos to defeat some enemies in the center and flanking the turrets on the other end to expose their weak point and deal extra damage.

These types of missions are described as a “long-form adventure,” and Irving really wasn’t kidding here, as things soon took a cryptic turn once the relic was dismantled. After an ominous cry was heard deeper within the cavern where the previous encounter took place, further investigation saw the cavern steadily lose much of its mechanical features and gain natural ones, becoming covered in eggs and webbing. And after dispatching a few creatures along the way, the team came across the source of that cry heard some time ago (the video claims these missions can take well over 20 minutes to complete) a giant insect called the Swarm Tyrant.

Though we don’t see how it ends, the encounter is phasal like some raids are in World of Warcraft. The fight begins with the whole team fighting against the Swarm Tyrant where the objective is to destroy the sacs on its back while fighting off smaller insects. After awhile, however, the Tyrant will go into coming and send a swarm of its underlings that can overwhelm the team if not handled swiftly enough (it’s been awhile but it sounds like classic Onyxia). After enough of them are defeated, the Tyrant will return to begin the fight anew. I’m assuming this cycle will repeat until it dies.

As you can see, this is pretty exciting stuff here and I’m sure it will keep players attention when they reach it. But that’s the thing: they actually have to reach it and provided incentive to do them. How often will these missions come up? Will the rewards be worth it? How many of these missions are there?

Hopefully the game manages to find a middle ground here, since a game with highs and lows of this nature is not one that many will look upon favorably. Then again, the game is still in development, so maybe I’m just speaking out of turn.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Anthem is due out for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on Feb. 22, 2019.