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If you're interested in checking out BioWare's co-operative action-RPG Anthem prior to its full release on February 22, 2019, you should now be able to participate in the open demo that will be running through February 3rd. The demo will let you visit the game's Fort Tarsis hub, experience some mid-level gameplay, and jetpack your way through a number of missions. Here's a short open demo trailer:
Anthem's difficulty doesn't scale in a way that pushes interesting tactical play. It's fairly linear, according to lead producer Mike Gamble: "There's more enemies the more players that there is, or the enemies have more hit points or a combination of both. There is scaling based on the number of players and the individual [player] levels within," says Gamble. "But once you start to get into the higher and higher levels, it's just all hard."
The more players in-game, the more enemies. And the higher the difficulty, the higher the enemies' constitution, scaled to each participating players level so that they experience the same challenge. But enemy behaviors don't appear to change, and from what we played, there aren't any difficulty modifiers that force players out of comfortable habits. It reduces the endgame goal into finding more efficient means of doing and resisting damage against enemies with increased offensive and defensive stats. Numbers, baby.
You can zip around all you like and fire from any elevation you prefer, but the Scar or Dominion or cow-sized beetles rarely come up to meet you. They tend to just mosey about in the open in a slow crawl towards your location. Fly away and reset. Shoot. Repeat. Flying is a flourish. Teamwork is nice but rarely required, and when it is, it mostly amounts to coordinating a few abilities to combo an enemy's shield into oblivion. Even then, Anthem's combo system isn't complex enough to merit frequent coordinated use. The plan on any difficulty will always be: detonate everything.
As you may have gathered by now, I had a good amount of fun with Anthem’s endgame content. Strongholds are the most polished, ambitious content in the game, and Legendary Contracts seem like good, mindless fun. But will the endgame stuff hold up long term? I return to criticism from my initial Anthem impressions – all the missions in Anthem feel rather similar. The endgame ratchets up the intensity and spectacle, but the structure of Anthem’s first missions and final Strongholds is basically the same. Fly around the open world following markers and fighting mobs for a few minutes, then delve into a dungeon-like area where you fight more enemies and, eventually, a boss. It is what it is.
Also, I’m not sure Strongholds and Legendary Contracts were as challenging as BioWare has promised they’ll be. Granted, we were given souped-up level 30 characters and weren’t playing on one of the higher difficulty settings, but the impression I’ve got from BioWare’s comments is that endgame content should be tough even on Normal. It wasn’t particularly. Will players be interested in replaying on a higher difficulty to give themselves a real challenge, or will they just finish a Stronghold and move on with their lives? Anthem’s endgame content is the best part of BioWare’s adventure, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s quite engaging, or plentiful, enough to keep players around for extra encores.
"The problem with 'raid'," lead producer Ben Irving tells me, during a pause from playing, "is it has a connotation - that it requires more people or has five bosses in a circle. That's why I'm using the word 'aspiration content'," he laughs. "In other games a raid is that and while I think that is important to a game like ours, we have an idea which is different but ticks the needs of why a raid is important. It's a similar thing. It's the thing you'll schedule with your buddies, will be hard, requires tons and tons of coordination and then there will be ways to show off if you are good at that or not."
These as-yet unnamed activities - which will still be designed for the usual four players, Irving says - form just part of what you're doing in Anthem after you finish the main narrative path. You'll have Strongholds (just three at launch with more coming) to grind through, Contracts (bounty-type missions featuring encounters in Anthem's open world) and Freeplay, which lets you roam and see what's going on in Anthem that particular week or day.
"You're not always going to be seeing the exact same stuff," Irving says. "Things can change - you don't always understand why - but things happen in the world. We have plans and ideas to pay off on that." Events will point you to daily or weekly challenges of varying difficulties, tied into the ongoing story of how the mysterious Anthem of Creation is effecting the world that day. Meanwhile, back in your Fort Tarsis, the game's cast of NPCs will be refreshed with new things to talk about.