‘Anthem’ faces a rocky launch after its kinda-ok demo leaves players cold

The 'Anthem' demo's crash landing raises more questions than answers

Anthem Hands-on Preview

The hype leading into Anthem’s pair of demo weekends felt good. There were a few reasons for this, not least of which was the fact the demo existed. It felt like a sign of confidence. Why would Electronic Arts and Bioware want people to play if not to convert skeptics into true believers?

Yet confidence isn’t what the demo provided. Its lingering rollout, combined with performance issues and a lack of information about how the game will be monetized, has killed much of Anthem’s momentum. A dogpile has resulted, with multiple YouTubers and streamers hitting the game with a decidedly ‘meh’ reaction.

A dull demo

I love demos. It gives me a chance to see a slice of a game with no strings attached, and that’s great. Games are expensive, and I always want to know as much as possible before handing over my cash. Not all demos are created equal, though, and Anthem’s wasn’t great. Its story missions were alright but felt redundant, even revisiting the same areas on occasion. That bodes poorly for variety in the final release.

The real problem, though, was the lack of a strong conclusion. The Stronghold mission was supposed to be the epic finale, but it felt more like an iteration on the other missions, and didn’t seem connected to the story elements established earlier. What should’ve been a shout of triumph was instead a long sigh of disappointment.

To make the situation worse, the VIP demo and following open demo were exactly the same. They had the same missions, same open world, and same lack of side-quests. That might make sense if the VIP demo was limited to an exclusive group of players (something that the word ‘VIP’ suggests), but codes were tossed out like candy, and many players exhausted the demo after a few hours of play. I dove in on the first weekend and enjoyed it, but the second weekend brought my enthusiasm to a halt. There wasn’t anything new to do. I was bored.

And that’s what I now remember. The demo was fun for a few hours, but at the end, I didn’t have a desire to play more Anthem.

The end-game is fuzzy, and so are the microtransactions

With nothing left to do in the demo, I spent part of my weekend looking into Anthem’s end-game. That started as an attempt to salvage my enthusiasm. I hoped to find some new details I’d missed. Instead, I found almost nothing. Bioware has confirmed three strongholds, a smattering of legendary contracts (bounty-board style missions), and open-world play.

Anthem microtransactions

That’s it. And that’s not good. Gamers expect a huge new title like Anthem to satisfy them for hundreds of hours. Is that an unfair expectation? I don’t think so. Longevity is the point of a persistent ‘live service’ game. A game like this needs to go live with a variety of challenging content that players can come back to time and time again. Frankly, I think Bioware is in for a world of pain once players blow through the story and run into the apparently lackluster end-game. It’ll be the launch of Destiny all over again — or worse.

Both Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro struggle to maintain 30 FPS in combat.

At least Bioware has confirmed the end-game content. Microtransactions, meanwhile, remain a mystery. We saw little of them in the demo aside from a handle for alternative armor looks. The internet found some evidence of what they’ll be like, and pricing might be as high as $20 per skin. That’s a lot, though not out of line with what other games charge. Bioware’s response didn’t deny the pricing outright but instead said pricing hasn’t finalized. Predictably, that left players feeling even more uncomfortable.

Performance? Yea. It sucks.

That’s not my biggest beef with the Anthem demo, however. My problem, the one that has stopped me from pulling the trigger on a day-one purchase, is performance. The PC demo wasn’t in good shape. It placed incredible demands on even high-end hardware, struggled to maintain a steady framerate in combat, and suffered from annoying control issues. And the bugs. Oh, the bugs. Loading loops, runaway CPU utilization, and graphical glitches on AMD cards were among those I saw first-hand.

Anthem Hands-on Preview

Console gamers ran into fewer bugs it seemed, but dealt with even worse performance. Both Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro struggle to maintain 30 FPS in combat. A framerate that occasionally saunters through the mid-teens is unacceptable in 2019.

You’re right. The demo wasn’t the final build. It also wasn’t a beta. If a more stable build exists, Bioware should’ve shown it. Gamers that believe Anthem’s full release will solve all the demo’s issues are letting themselves be played for a fool. Perhaps some issues will be fixed – but all of them? That likely won’t happen until months after launch. Just ask anyone who bought Fallout 76 despite its rocky stress test.

Well, maybe The Division 2 will be good

Bioware’s heart was in the right place with the Anthem demo, but I don’t think it had the intended effect. Instead of reinforcing positive hype leading up to release, it’s halted the game’s momentum and clouded my perception of its post-release plans. I have more questions and concerns about Anthem now then I did before playing the demo, and that’s a bad sign.

The game isn’t a complete mess. Flying around the world is fun and the various Javelin exosuits offer a good variety of play. Still, that’s not enough to send me plunging into yet another expensive ‘live service’ shooter. Maybe the game will turn out alright despite these problems, but for now, I suggest you wait to read our full review.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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