Anthem’s ignominious fall from “BioWare’s next big thing” to “oh dear” hasn’t hit rock bottom just yet, as today it was announced that the game is being added to EA’s subscription catalogues.
Both EA Access and Origin Access subscribers will be able to download and play the base game for free as of today across PS4, Xbox One and PC, with Origin Premier customers (who already had access to the base game) getting upgraded to the fancier Legion of Dawn edition instead.
Still, to see it hit EA Access today alongside other games like Yooka-Laylee and *checks notes* Ultimate Chicken Horse is wild.
It’d be easy to write this off as just another rung the game is hitting on its way down the ladder to oblivion, but who knows, in this day and age there’s no telling what can happen to a game after launch. Fortnite, Warframe and Rainbow Six: Siege all survived so-so releases to end up thriving, and by landing on EA and Origin Access and getting access to a playerbase that didn’t have to pay full retail price to get their hands on it, Anthem might get the boost it needs to turn things around.
It’s already been six months since the online shooter Anthem came out. A lot has happened during that time, though not as much as players had hoped. The game launched with many bugs and flaws, and both players and the developers have acknowledged that it needs a lot of work.
While developer BioWare has addressed many of Anthem’s smaller issues, deeper problems persist, compounded by new updates getting delayed and being few and far between. But there has been the occasional bright spot, and the players who have stuck with it seem as committed as ever, at least for now. Here’s a rundown of everything that’s happened so far.
Anthem opens to its first wave of players on February 15, going live for everyone on February 22. The staggered release schedule rewards players who purchase the game’s special edition or subscribe to one of EA’s services with early access to the game.
That weekend, the game gets a hotfix to make the game’s Tomb Challenges, which occur just a few hours into the main campaign, less grindy.
Around February 18, players realize the game’s rarest loot is dropping from treasure chests that randomly spawn in the game’s free-play area on harder difficulties. Maps are drawn up showing players how to farm them, but BioWare patches out the loot bug before the end of the day.
The game’s load times are so bad that BioWare releases its day-one patch two days early. The patch also addresses other bugs, like loot not spawning for players while they’re waiting to be revived, while creating some new ones, leading to the temporary removal of some things, like the game’s Stronghold quickplay mode.
The game’s lead producer, Ben Irving, says that increased loot drop rates some players experienced over the game’s first post-release weekend were an unintended bug, which BioWare promptly patches out. (To this day, players speak fondly of that time when they were drowning in loot.)
Reviews come out over the next few days and are mixed at best. Many reviews, including ours, praise the basic feel of combat and flying around in an exosuit Javelins, but are much more critical of the game’s numerous bugs, repetitive missions, and lack of any real end game.
YouTuber Gladd makes a video about being temporarily banned from the game for using one of the known damage exploits to beat bosses more easily. The exploit involves pressing shoot and dodge at just the right moment during an ultimate attack to deal up to one million points of extra damage. The ban is surprising, since Anthem is an entirely cooperative experience, so no other players are actually hurt by the supposed cheating. In a statement, EA tells IGN the ban will ultimately be limited to two weeks.
An image comparing features shown in Anthem’s pre-release trailers and what’s actually in the game starts making the rounds on March 5. Irving responds to an image going around Reddit comparing Anthem’s pre-release trailers to the finished game and calls it the “cost of transparency.” He says it’s normal for a game to change during development. Deeper comparisons show Anthem changed a lot.
Anthem’s community director, Jesse Anderson, tells players in a post on the game’s subreddit that the community’s growing hostility has discouraged some of the game’s developers from talking more openly about the game and its continued post-launch development.
Casey Hudson, the studio’s general manager, calls Anthem’s launch “rougher than expected” in a March 19 blog post. He tells players to the next stage of the game’s content is when “things really get exciting.”
Some players turn avoiding loot into a little mini-game of its own. Anthem still drops common-tiered loot for high level players, even though it’s mostly useless, so rather than pick it up and have to navigate the game’s cumbersome menus to break it down, players try to dodge it all together.
Anthem gets its next big patch on March 26, adding special Elysian caches that drop new types of cosmetics. The update also breaks some stuff, including guaranteed masterworks no longer spawning after some boss fights.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier publishes a massive report detailing Anthem’s troubled development on April 2. In addition to explaining how the process had been plagued by indecision and mismanagement, the report also exposes a culture of high stress and lengthy periods of crunch at BioWare that led to large amounts of burnout.
Rather than respond to requests for comment on the story directly, EA and BioWare publish a blog post. “We chose not to comment or participate in this story because we felt there was an unfair focus on specific team members and leaders, who did their absolute best to bring this totally new idea to fans,” it says in part. “We didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring them down as individuals.”
While BioWare remains silent publicly beyond the original blog post, general manager Casey Hudson sends an email to staff on April 3 addressing the report directly that Kotaku obtains and publishes. “The article mentions many of the problems in the development of Anthem and some of our previous projects,” it says in part. “And it draws a link between those issues and the quality of our workplace and the well-being of our staff. These problems are real and it’s our top priority to continue working to solve them.”
The game gets its biggest update since launch on April 23. It adds Anthem’s first bit of new content, a stronghold mission called The Sunken Cell that has some cool moments but nothing game changing. It also delivers a few quality of life improvements including the ability to continuously launch new missions without going back to the game’s hub area as well as swap out equipment on the fly while in the field.
Later that same day, BioWare announces that major new features that had previously been scheduled to arrive in the game in its first few months have been delayed. Guilds, weekly stronghold challenges, and the game’s big Cataclysm seasonal event will not becoming to the game during the original time frame advertised, with no new dates given so that the team can instead focus on addressing issues with the base game.
At the start of May, the month Cataclysm had originally been set to arrive in, BioWare announces that Elysian caches, one of the game’s few pieces of new content since it was released, will be leaving in an upcoming update. While Anderson says that had always been the plan, it takes players by surprise given the lack of other things to do in the game.
Players finally get some information about how Cataclysm will work in a developer livestream on May 30. BioWare reveals that it will be a score-driven, time-trial style mission where players will earn a new type of currency they can exchange for loot chests at a new vendor.
Anthem is conspicuously absent from the schedule for EA Play at E3 and is only discussed briefly offstage in a short conversation between lead producer Ben Irving and the event’s host, Greg Miller. “We believe Anthem can be a very amazing game,” Irving tells Miller. “We know we have some work to do.”
By mid-July, a full month after testing for Cataclysm took place on the game’s PTS, players finally discover the first signs of something changing in Anthem: a strange storm that appears off on the horizon.
Pre-Cataclysm challenges go live in the game on July 22. Random crystal structures start popping up in the game’s free-play mode. Players can destroy the crystals to earn extra Coin, the in-game currency for buying cosmetics, as well as new Javelin decals.
Cataclysm finally goes live on August 6. Alongside the new activity, the update adds a guild system, which players can only access through their smartphones, and a host of new equipment and cosmetics to collect. The activity itself is a welcome breath of fresh air by the standards previously set by Anthem, but is otherwise underwhelming. It gives players who still like the game a great excuse to come back, but doesn’t do anything to overhaul the game’s loot system or make the story any more comprehensible.
And that’s where we are now. Cataclysm is still ongoing for the time being, with new items rotating through a Cataclysm-specific vendor every week. It’s still unclear if the end of the event will be a prelude to the next phase of Anthem, or simply the beginning of another long wait for new content, much less the larger rework the game desperately needs.
A massive storm rages overhead. Spend too much time in it and you’ll die. Enemies stalk a handful of ancient ruins scattered around a rocky beach. Take too long trying to kill them and the mission comes to an end, booting you back to the overworld map. At nearly every turn, Anthem’s new limited-time, score-based mode seems hostile to the prospect that someone might actually be interested in having some fun with it.
Cataclysm arrived yesterday, with little fanfare from BioWare. After spending several hours with it, I’m not surprised. The update adds a new activity called Echoes of Reality. It sets players loose in a large new environment punctuated by a handful of small arena fights and obtuse puzzles, then tops it all off with a boss fight that feels like it was Frankensteined together out of the already-existing ones.
It might be an otherwise nice seasonal addition in an alternate universe where Anthem is rolling along steadily with a lively player community in love with its underlying structure and progression system. But that is not the universe we live in, and instead of feeling like an impressive new milestone on the road to redemption, Cataclysm is a stark reminder of how hollow the whole Anthem experience still feels.
There are three new story missions that lead into Echoes of Reality, all of which revolve around capturing an evil scientist, Dr. Harken. He appears to have defected from the ranks of the game’s heavily militarized Dominion faction in order to assist you with trying to prevent certain disaster at the hands of a new Dominion leader, Vara Brom, who is intent on awakening Shaper relics to reassert the faction’s might.
A short cutscene plays midway through these missions to lay this all out. Why not at the beginning? I have no idea. Most of the dialogue surrounding it doesn’t feel worth the constant trips back to Fort Tarsis, the game’s hub, that are required to progress the story. That’s another way of saying it feels like the main game all over again, complete with another Strider mission that anyone who’s completed the main game will have already done a dozen times before.
Nothing about Echoes of Reality feels particularly new, either, except for the area where it takes place. This consists of a large mountain ridge overlooking a tropical bay, one ripe for exploring in the game’s jet-pack propelled exosuits. But there’s hardly any time to. A 15-minute countdown timer requires strict adherence to the tasks at hand. And even if you do set out to take a longer look at what BioWare has spent the last few months creating, most of it is obscured by a torrential downpour and the encroaching red glow of sensors warning that the storm’s about to blow up your suit.
Echoes of Reality currently features three objectives prior to the boss fight. The first consists of fighting Dominion in a small arena and then activating half a dozen glowing pillars to bring down the shield around a crystal that needs to be destroyed. The second has you fight Dominion in a slightly bigger arena while trying to collect echoes to bring down another shield around another crystal that needs to be destroyed. The hitch is that the echoes are themselves shielded, requiring one group of players to stand on pressure-plates while another grabs them. I don’t know what the oldest puzzle in the role-playing game book is, but that one’s got to be in the first few faded pages.
As an additional wrinkle, the echoes need to be taken into an underwater cavern where they power a device to unlock a fifth echo, without which the crystal’s shield won’t come down. In my own experience and based on a number of threads in the Anthem subreddit, this has caused no small amount of players a lot of frustration as they try to bring echoes into the cavern to get the fifth one while their teammates keep taking them back out to plug them into the devices protecting the crystal. It’s a simple second step that any single player would be able to figure out within a few minutes, but which becomes unintuitive and annoying when trying to corral a bunch of strangers into working together as the timer continues ticking down.
The third objective takes place in a slightly smaller arena inside a cave. There you once again fight Dominion, this time while collecting pieces of an artifact that have broken off. The pieces need to be carried, but walls of light are constantly traveling back and forth through the cave. If they hit you, the piece you’re carrying goes back to where you found it. It’s straightforward enough to feel like busywork while requiring just enough patience to be anxiety-inducing thanks to the timer.
Once that’s complete, it’s time to set off for Vara Brom. She sits at the northern edge of the map in, you guessed it, another arena, the biggest of the four. She’s giant, slow-moving, and seemingly not very dangerous save for a set of fire attacks. One of them turns the floor to lava. The other, which shoots out into the air, requiring you to take cover, will almost instantly kill you. Unless you’re paying close attention, it’s hard to know which she’s using, but unless you’re playing on the highest difficulty, it probably won’t matter. Echoes of Reality can be so hard to navigate the first few times through there was one occasion on which Vara was already half-dead by the time I caught up to my teammates, and why would I want them to wait when there’s only a minute or two left on the timer anyway?
There’s nothing narratively interesting or cinematically impressive about Echoes of Reality. It doesn’t try to tell a story, dig deeper into the game’s lore, or build up to a big, dramatic fight. Instead it feels like being yelled at by a drill sergeant and then forced to start over from scratch when the mistakes begin to pile up. Echoes of Reality is meant to be completed as quickly as possible, while obtaining as high a score as you can, usually by hitting mini-objectives along the way and putting in extra work to trigger the appearance of special mini-bosses. These additional puzzles and fights aren’t meant to be interesting. Instead, they’re meant to be completed so many times it practically becomes muscle memory. Doing so boosts efficiency, which in turn boosts your score, which in turn boosts your rewards.
In addition to treasure chests filled with new rare gear, Echoes of Reality dishes out two new currencies called major and minor crystals as progressive rewards for higher scores. They can in turn be spent at a new vendor on cosmetics, none of which seem particularly dazzling but which are a godsend for players who have been disappointed with the number and variety of goods on display at the regular cosmetic shop. These new currencies can also be spent on special new chests that have random pieces of gear inside. This week the chests feature melee weapons, which are new to this update. Different gear will be featured in subsequent weeks.
This system provides a perfectly adequate new economy for players to partake in on their quest to make further customize and improve their Javelins, but it doesn’t change the fact that Anthem feels like a car that can only drive downhill because no one ever stuck an engine in it. For anyone not in it for the collect-a-thon, there’s little to get excited about in the Cataclysm update. Anthem is still so beautiful to behold that I wish I could explore Echoes of Reality in in my own way on my own time, in all its different permutations. Instead it feels like playing an arcade game designed not to be fun but to convince you there’s a world in which it’s worth trying to collect the 10,000 tickets needed to buy the most expensive prize in the window.
After a rough launch, BioWare announced a series of updates that would be coming to Anthem in March, April, and May as part of the game’s ongoing live service. That never came to pass as a bunch of features, including a guild system and a limited-time event called Cataclysm, were delayed. In June, BioWare invited players on PC to demo Cataclysm on test servers, but console players spent most of the early part of the summer with nothing new to do. Now the wait is finally over.
The event itself revolves around a series of new story missions and a new time trial-based activity, complete with a new seasonal currency players will need to earn in order to collect new gear. The activity doesn’t have a level requirement, so new and old players will be able to try it out with the difficulty adjusted accordingly. There’s also a new guild system, bolstered by a mobile app, which will let players matchmake and pool their weekly experience points in order to earn currency for the game’s cosmetic store more efficiently. The game’s luck stat, which previously affected the likelihood of rare loot dropping, is officially gone, and Legendary Contract missions will now guarantee a Stronghold-level chest upon completion. There’s also a new, melee-specific gear slot for players to customize the stats associated with their melee attack.
While players have been desperate for any bit of new content in the game, Cataclysm’s score-based dungeon runs weren’t necessarily what people had in mind. The game’s loot system, whose problems have been detailed at length, also remains largely the same as it was at launch, and armor customization is still largely hampered by the lack of options in the game’s cosmetic shop. It remains to be seen if the update is enough to help right the Anthem ship or if it’s too little, too late.
Over the weekend, BioWare’s loot shooter Anthem received a new set of Challenges called “The Oncoming Storm.” They appear to be a precursor to the game’s upcoming Cataclysm event, which will introduce a new limited-time mode, but players have already run into some difficulty trying to complete the Challenges due to bugs and crashes.
“The Oncoming Storm” consists of three parts, all of which take place in the game’s freeplay mode. The first revolves around destroying a new set of crystals that have started appearing around the world. The second requires you to complete three separate “Crystal World Events,” activities that randomly pop up and reward you with a crystal once finished. And to complete the third, you just need to kill crystallized enemies, which are effectively Scar fighters with crystals on their backs. Getting all of this done rewards you with Coin, one of Anthem’s standard in-game currencies that can be spent on armor and materials, as well as some new decals specific to the activity to customize your Javelin with.
The Challenges are nothing to write home about, and they’re not a reason to jump back into the game by any stretch, but they at least give people who have continued playing something new to do beyond running the same Stronghold mission on loop and complaining about the loot drops at the end.
When BioWare first showed off how parts of Cataclysm would work in late May, the studio said that the event would be preceded by a two-week build-up period in which the world would slowly change and small things would be added. “The Oncoming Storm” Challenge descriptions briefly went live in the game early last week. More recently, a storm has appeared off in the distance on the northern part of the map. While the Cataclysm mission itself has been live on a public test server for PC players to try out for weeks now, the full event, including new story missions, now seems likely to come to the full game in early August. Back when Anthem first came out, the Cataclysm was scheduled to arrive some time in May.
During a developer live stream today, BioWare gave Anthem players their first look at the game’s upcoming Cataclysm event, a limited-time end-game activity that will take place in an entirely new environment.
Based on what BioWare showed, the Cataclysm, which will last six weeks, seems to function like a mini-freeplay mode. Players load into a special area with its own overhead map broken up into different sections that can be explored in any order. Some of the rewards players can collect in Cataclysm will change from week to week, as will the map, with more activities getting added as the weeks go on.
Cataclysm will be score-driven, with higher scores apparently granting players better rewards and a higher amount of a special new currency. It’ll also have a countdown timer ticking down. When it reaches zero, the mission ends. Players can regain time by completing different activities on the map, like arenas, which are localized enemy encounters that look similar to the ones in the rest of the game. The more arenas players clear, the higher their score, with more arenas being added to the map as the weeks go on. The arenas also have orbs at the center of them. When the orbs are destroyed, they create safe zones that protect players from the environmental hazards of the Cataclysm.
Ben Iriving, the game’s lead producer, said that there will also be lots of secrets and puzzles hidden throughout the map. The more efficiently players move through the Cataclysm, the more of these side activities they’ll be able to get through, boosting their overall score and potentially netting them additional rewards. He also stressed that it won’t have a level requirement, so new and old players alike can try it when it becomes available with rewards scaling as needed.
If the activity has a main boss, BioWare didn’t show it. While this was only a brief look at Anthem’s major end-game activity, it seemed much less like a Destiny-style raid and much more like that game’s “Prison of Elders” mission, which had waves of enemies and encouraged players to prioritize dispatching them quickly over puzzle-solving or story-driven exploration.
Cataclysm, which was supposed to launch sometime this month, doesn’t currently have a start date. Before it’s rolled out for everyone, however, Iriving said the plan is to release it first on a test server for PC players to try it out and provide feedback. Effectively, Anthem’s first major content expansion after release is going to go through a brief beta period.
When Cataclysm is finally released, it’ll coincide with an update to the loot system in the game. For the duration of Cataclysm, there will be a new vendor at Fort Tarsis who will give players war chests in exchange for a new type of currency. Irving didn’t clarify whether these chests will function like loot boxes or if they will give pre-determined rewards.
The game is also getting a new gear slot for melee attacks. While different pieces of melee gear won’t change the appearance of your melee weapon, they will change how powerful it is and what its secondary status effects are. That will give players more options in how they execute attack combos. Also, the luck stat is going away. Now, the game will just treat every player as if they had a maximum luck stat, which will in turn cause more loot to drop overall for the average player.
More significantly, Iriving said that the new loot being added to the game during the Cataclysm will be five levels higher than the current existing end-game gear. It’s unclear if this will mean that players’ existing inventory of guns and armor will be made obsolete, or if there will be some way to level it up or craft new versions that are in line with the new gear. Iriving said that BioWare will be taking feedback during the testing phase before deciding what to do there.
Since very little of the event itself was actually shown, it’s hard to know how interesting the fights and exploration aspects will be, or if the rewards will feel like they’re worth the effort (unlike a lot of the game’s current activities, which don’t). It’s possible BioWare is holding back from showing off the most exciting aspects of Cataclysm right now, but so far, it doesn’t yet look like a game changer.
Video games are art. Video games can tell complex stories about the nature of the soul or bring players to tears with their honest belief in heroes. They also have numbers in them. Lots of numbers. And I am a big buffoon who loves when numbers go up.
I’ve been denying this simple fact for a long time. After all, numbers are used as part of the treadmill to keep players mindlessly locked to their games. The importance of numbers and statistics is key to things like lootboxes. In many mobile phone games, strong characters and items are found through “pulling” for rare items. This can often mean using in-game currency that’s purchasable with real money. A player’s desire for the biggest, bestest numbers and statistics can draw them to participate in an exploitative monetization model created specifically to wring every last cent out of them.
I know all this. I am intimately aware of it and find it disgusting. Mobile games are a hellscape. I also love it when I get a rare weapon or stat-increasing “wrymprint” in Dragalia Lost that boosts my Might level to further heights. Because even if you are aware that you’re living in Idiocracy, we’re all still giant apes who happened to beat up all the slightly dumber apes. If I have the largest Might level, does that not make me the bigger and most powerful of all the apes?
In games, numbers are abstractions of certain qualities. The more, the better. Striking a critical blow in Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t just mean that you hit the enemy, it’s an indication that you really hit the big meanie super hard. You big, tough Warrior of Light, you. In some cases, like in the Fallout series, having big numbers in stats like Intelligence unlocks special dialog options that allow better rewards or easier progression. You’re not just smart, you’re exceptionally smart. A goddamn genius. Meanwhile, a low number in Intelligence can lead to limited options and (sometimes questionable) dialog options. You want more, you need more.
I can’t begin to decipher the ancient impulse that leads humans to believe that having more of a thing is better. Some of that is probably tied to survival instincts. In the times where our near-ancestors had to deal with absolutely bonkers shit like sabertooth tigers and roaming raiders, you probably wanted the biggest dudes and the biggest spears to avoid getting eaten. This somehow got codified into the notion of wealth, where we stopped collecting each other’s goddamn skulls as proof of how big we were and did the totally sensible thing of deciding that shiny stuff would do. Humans fucking love shiny stuff. That’s a part of video games too; see the colorful item rarity systems in games like Diablo 3. Anyway, the point is that capitalism became a thing. You got wealth by (supposedly) being tough or adventurous or cunning—all of which are largely code words for being a dubious asshole—and your collection of wealth was a bigger number than the other guy.
Look at all these loot shooters. These games are predicated solely on the idea that folks will run the same content over and over again to up their statistics. You have Destiny 2, The Division 2, Anthem, and soon there will be Borderlands 3. All of these games are fundamentally peddling the same experiences, all enticing players who lust for more loot that is quantified with bigger and bigger numbers. A homogenous AAA slurry is slurped up until we get a sequel with a bigger number at the end of the name. Numbers have ruined the gaming landscape.So here I am today, fully aware that numbers are the basis of questionable practices and systems that exploit many people. Systems that dangle the prospect that people could also have more stuff as the best possible thing that can happen in our lives. Systems that turn our catelog of art (at least at a certain level) into a grey wasteland where everything is the same. That’s stupid and I hate it. Meanwhile, I spent an entire evening checking to see if the Dragon’s Dogma servers were up because I wanted to see how many rift crystals my companion had collected by helping other players.
I have over one million rift crystals now. One million! That’s a big number and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I grinned like a buffoon as whatever societally ingrained Pavlovian response kicked off in my brain. I salivated like a slobbering dog at the mere idea that one million could become two million.
I can’t keep lying to myself like this. I am a friggin’ dope who loves the big numbers. Don’t just give me Excalibur, give me Excalibur+1.
Today’s Anthem update has removed special Elysian chests from the game just over a month after they were added. This comes on the heels of several delayed updates, leaving the game’s remaining players bewildered and frustrated.
Anthem’s 1.1.1 patch went live earlier today and fixed a handful of small bugs, including one which was causing the wrong equipment stats to be displayed. The patch notes also included a note encouraging players to use up their remaining Elysian keys before they vanished from the game completely. “A reminder that Elysian Caches will be going away on May 7th, so if you have any keys left be sure to use them today!” it read.
Elysian Caches were special loot chests that appeared at the end of Stronghold missions and had unique cosmetics like decals and fabric textures inside. They were originally added to the game in a March 26 update, the game’s first major new piece of content since its February release. The cosmetics inside the chests weren’t fantastic, but they did give players an additional reason to keep running through the same old content over and over again.
“I know they weren’t very rewarding but Elysian Caches were literally the only thing that kept me in the game. Log on. Do a daily. Get a key. Heart of Rage. Log Out. Easy enjoyable experience,” wrote one player on the game’s subreddit. “Not rewarding mind you. But I still had fun. Hell, sometimes I would run TWO strongholds in the same night.”
In the comments section of Reddit, BioWare global community manager Jesse Anderson responded that the Elysian Caches were never meant to last. “They’ve always been planned as a temporary thing since there was a timer under the challenges,” he wrote. “There is a chance that they’ll come back again at some point.”
A post on EA’s website about the chests does indeed allude to them being temporary. “You’ll have to move fast, though, because Anthem’s world is always changing, and the Elysian Chests won’t be around forever,” it reads. But that hasn’t made the game’s remaining players feel any better about their removal given Anthem’s overall lack of content.
In the meantime, the game’s popularity on Twitch has plummeted, and some of its players have taken to the subreddit to announce they’re taking a break. Last week, Chad Robertson, the game’s head of live service, took to Twitter to try and reassure fans that Anthem wasn’t dead.
“We remain 100% committed to Anthem and look forward to showing players the new content we are working on,” he wrote. “We want to make sure we aren’t overpromising, so our updates on what’s coming in the game will be focused when we have things near completion.” Unfortunately, the removal of some of the game’s only new content since release isn’t the type of update many were hoping for.
I’m playing Anthem, and I’m flying through a tunnel. There are a lot of those in the game. This one happens to be filled with water. At the other end I can make out some light. I fly closer to it. Eventually I break through the surface into a sandy, sun-bleached arena surrounded by massive walls of sea water. For a few seconds Anthem is really, really cool again.
This takes place toward the end of The Sunken Cell, a new Stronghold added to Anthem in this week’s update and the first significant new piece of content since the game launched in February. It’s located in an underground facility which belongs to Doctor Harken, an evil scientist who likes to tamper with the powerful Shaper artifacts that have left Anthem’s world a broken mess. Similar to the game’s three other Stronghold missions, The Sunken Cell ends with a boss fight, in this case against one of Harken’s experiments. The excitement of that fight pales in comparison to the background scenery, which is some of the game’s best.
Harken’s facility is connected by a series of tunnels and large water pipes which you can jump inside and travel through. Gaining access to them requires defeating waves of enemies and then solving a quick puzzle. You then spend a handful of seconds swimming through a pipe to the next section. Except on the fourth one. That pipe leads to an open-air part of the surface where the Shaper technology has parted the ocean, creating a natural cage in which you’re forced to confront Harken’s experiment, an oversized mashup of ancient technology and monstrous flesh called the Unfathomed.
After being down in BioWare’s dark, dingy caves for so long, I found the azure skies and pulsing seafoam cyclone refreshing and even breathtaking. “The creation of [this Stronghold] was all about this payoff,” BioWare’s level design director said during a livestream yesterday. “You’ve been going up, up, up in these tight spaces and then you come here and then you exit and you’re like ‘oh my god what is going on here.’”
Anthem’s scenery is one of its strongest elements. The look of the game’s sprawling nature reserves keeps me wanting to come back and wishing there was more pay-off for doing so.
Unfortunately, the Sunken Cell’s wonderful “holy shit” moment is surrounded by many of the same issues that plague the rest of the game.
Enemy fights still feel like haphazard melees with enemies sprouting up out of thin air in random places and little indication of where enemy fire is coming from. Though The Sunken Cell is broken up into distinct sections, they blur together since they all consist of showing up in a big open room, blowing up the enemies that randomly spawn throughout it, and then flying to the next one. The puzzles are as surface-level as those in the rest of the game—matching symbols in a Simon Says-fashion and coordinating timing with teammates so you activate levers simultaneously.
The Unfathomed is also a letdown. He bumbles around the arena firing purple blasts at you from afar. Sometimes they follow you and explode on impact to create little vortexes that suck you in and keep dealing damage. Other times they zap you in quick bursts. They’re almost impossible to dodge while flying, so most of the battle plays out while darting behind piles of rocks, which feels like a supreme waste of the giant wall of moving water that surrounds you both. And since BioWare still hasn’t sorted out Anthem’s loot problems, there’s no special Sunken-themed gear to collect at the end.
All of this is par for the course in Anthem at the moment, but perhaps the most disappointing part of the mission was when I tried to fly into the liquid vortex and was immediately bulldozed to the ground by forces unseen. Diving underwater was one of the first things BioWare showed when Anthem’s gameplay was revealed at E3 and you spend a lot of time doing it in The Sunken Cell, so being able to dive in and out of a cyclone to dodge the Unfathomed’s attacks was my first inclination. Unfortunately it’s not one the game is ready to reward yet.
In an Anthem update released today, BioWare lead producer Ben Irving and head of live services Chad Robertson announced that a number of updates planned for the game, including its limited-time Cataclysm event, have been delayed.
“While we have delivered many of the Act 1 features on time, we are not going to hit all the goals on our Act 1 Calendar,” the two wrote. “We set aside time for this work, but the reality is there are more things to fix and improve than we planned for. While this is the best thing to do for the game, it means some items from the calendar will be delayed.”
The list of delayed features includes:
Legendary Missions – Phase II
Weekly stronghold challenge
Some freeplay events
The leaderboards, guilds, and weekly stronghold challenges were some of the bigger updates planned for April intended to help build out the end-game. BioWare has been light on details about some of the other delayed content, like the Mastery system. Cataclysms have been described as limited-time events that will bring new enemies and dramatic changes to the world’s terrain and climate. They were promoted in a video prior to the game’s release as Anthem’s “most challenging and ambitious content.”
“Cataclysms will obviously not be every day; they’re designed to be content that you engage with for weeks, and they would come out less frequently,” executive producer Mark Darrah told GamesRadarin an interview in February. “They’re more meta-changing; they’re designed to be more seasonal.” In an interview with Variety, Darrah said Cataclysm missions would be somewhere between a Destiny raid, which can be several hours long, and a strike, which are much shorter.
Anthem has been light on content, especially in the end-game. Many players have been desperately waiting for the first Cataclysm event to hopefully introduce some traditional raid-like content into the game. Currently players have only had strongholds to focus on, half-hour missions whose difficulty is mostly a result of spongier enemies.
But while the game’s first Cataclysm has been delayed, BioWare hasn’t given any more specifics on what the new time frame is. “A lesson we have learned is we have been talking about things too early,” wrote Irving and Robertson. “Our goal is to tell you about new content and features once the work is closer to being done.”