Anthem VIP Demo: Hands-on Impressions

The Anthem VIP Demo didn’t open its servers without issues. It did, just like any other beta tests that Electronic Arts had — remember Battlefield V? Loading screen loops, server capacity errors, problems connecting to live services, you name it. These issues plagued that first few hours – 4 hours to be exact.

Those with demo access already reported the problem on Twitter and the EA forums, it actually took BioWare some time to fix the issues. It’s not entirely surprising, even the Head of Live Services at the studio admitted they underestimated the number of players. It’s fine, no problem. This kind of problem usually exists during open betas but not controlled environments like what we know as private betas – or what BioWare named it, the “VIP Demo”.

Despite Anthem’s glaring server difficulties, the whole experience I had with its VIP Demo was memorable.

Anthem, for those who never followed its development, is an always-online third-person shooter RPG developed by the studio behind the Mass Effect franchise and as well as Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare. The studio has tons of experience handling these sorts of titles, so it’s expected that they at least have Anthem right when it comes to gameplay and narrative.

So, how was Anthem? People compare the game a lot with Destiny. They aren’t wrong, but they aren’t right either. What Anthem offers based on the demo is its heavy emphasis on teamplay and story. We all know BioWare can cook up a great plot, plus an entertaining gameplay experience. When you’re in a 4-man squad, having the right build, weapons, and Javelin variants can annihilate an entire group of enemies. With its Ranger variant, you can enhance your teammate’s attack by 20% for a couple of seconds, the Colossus’ beefy armor and longer health points can certainly take in enemy attacks while the Interceptor outflanks the enemy and stabs them in the back, then have the Storm finally eradicate every enemy with its powerful ultimate elemental ability. The outcome? A satisfying victory.

The biggest highlight of Anthem is its flight experience. Javelin suits have installed jetpacks where players can exploit all throughout the game. You get to traverse through its lush jungle and ruins by flying, and it’s the smoothest thing to do in the game. Flying isn’t just limited to exploration, but it’s pretty useful in combat too when you’re in a very tight spot. When you get overwhelmed by enemies, you can quickly jump and fly out of the danger zone and hide at a safe distance to plan your next strategy.

You start off with a Level 10 Ranger character, leveling up to unlock a new Javelin already shows what we can expect at launch. You can’t be a Colossus, Interceptor, or Storm at the beginning of the game. You have to, unfortunately, progress to unlock the other variants. It isn’t a bad game design by choice, in my opinion, as it does give you a sense of accomplishment while giving it a narrative tie-in when you unlock the other Javelin armors. So, for those who want to get their favorite armors from the get-go, there’s the likely chance this won’t happen in the final version of Anthem.

There are only 3 quests to take in the VIP Demo with one particular dungeon-like expedition where you can re-do with your squad to level-up. The two main quests are engaging enough since it roughly gives you an idea of what you’re up against. While there aren’t any major plot spoilers in the demo, it does show that the Storm Javelin armor came from the enemy faction known as the Dominion. So it’s interesting to see how the story unfolds and explain how and when the Freelancers managed to get a hold of the Storm Javelin. The other type of expedition is called Stronghold. It has stronger waves of enemies than what you get from the main quest which makes it the kind of quest where squad play works perfectly than taking the entire thing alone. Cranking the difficulty level (to Hard) makes the experience even more enjoyable. You get to think of ways how to divert enemy attacks so your squad members can hit their weak points and take advantage of the situation.

But how well did it perform on the PS4, you might ask? So, I have the VIP Demo running on a PS4 Pro with a 1080p Asus monitor. Anthem runs at 30 frames per second. Even with its FPS locked at 30, frame-drops are frequent during intense battles. Input lags are evident during your stay at Fort Tarsis and frame drop still happens at a place without any action, for some reason. It’s kind of disappointing to say that even on a powerful variation of the PS4, the demo struggles to keep up 30 frames per second. BioWare still has time to improve on the game’s performance on the PS4 Pro, and hopefully add options prioritizing performance over visuals to get that sweet 60 frames per second spot.

I have to be honest here, Anthem is one of my anticipated games of 2019. Its visual presentation looks stunning, the gameplay is utterly engaging and fun, and the world is inviting. It’s probably the first BioWare game in years that piqued my interest since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its MMO counterpart. But I hope they fix those numerous server issues and polish its performance before I change my mind of getting the game on February 22. Hopefully this week’s open demo will show those improvements.

Tested on: PS4 Pro.
All screenshots are taken by the author.

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