Anthem was first revealed during Microsoft’s E3 2017 media briefing, a climactic showpiece that demonstrated EA’s Frostbite engine taken to the next level, with a level of visual fidelity and density we’d never seen from this generation of consoles. We were told it was running in real-time, we were told it was running on Xbox One X, all of which has made the last couple of weekends playing the demo fascinating. To cut to the chase: was the demo an accurate representation of the actual product’s visual credentials? No. Is it a beautiful current-gen game? Yes, but there is a price to pay.
Now isn’t the time for a full-on deep dive into how actual code varies from Anthem’s astonishing reveal – we may revisit this when we are in possession of the final product, as opposed to a limited demo. However, the core themes are all there – the multiple javelin exosuits, the benefits of co-op play, and the sheer height, width and depth of the play area. The reveal trailer and the materials that followed hinted at the symphony of destruction the demo delivers, but the feeling when playing can be extremely rewarding – yes, enemies are bullet sponges, but there is an immense feeling of satisfaction in juggling the recharge rates of your special weapons in piling on the damage, while the javelin flight mechanic works really nicely. And when your squad works side by side, maximising the destruction, tearing through the opposition is highly rewarding – it’s a fun game overall, marred only by some lengthy and unfortunate mid-level loading.
The visual return from this game is often exceptional, further emphasised by the pyrotechnics on display. The Anthem experience isn’t just about the beautifully realised environments: BioWare also doubles down on effects work during combat, both in terms of player weaponry and the enemies’ response. The effect is amplified in scenes where the entity count continually ramps up where the title delivers absolute carnage. The developer aims to make the most of the decision to drop from the usual 60fps Frostbite formula down to 30fps and not just in terms of getting more on-screen. The Frostbite post-process pipeline is really put through its paces, from the high quality motion blur down to the voxelised volumetric lighting. The ambition is impressive, but as a result, there is a problem: performance.