For A Multiplayer Game, 'Anthem' Feels Very Lonely
For a co-op multiplayer game, there's something eerie in Anthem's lack of players.
I've heard it. The Anthem. I understand how it can drive a person to do terrible things.
Have you ever been overwhelmed with curiosity and googled abandoned places -- theme parks, hospitals, tunnels or houses -- and become obsessed with the eerie quiet of these places? Designed to be full of people, the structures put in place to host crowds become even more unwelcoming as they’re deserted.
That’s what it has been like playing Anthem just three months after the game was released.
Hitting shelves in February, Anthem is a co-op multiplayer which sees players take up the mantle of a Freelancer -- explorers and defenders of a small community who fly, punch and explore their way through a hostile world with the use of exosuits called Javelins. You have a choice between one of four Javelins -- the Ranger, the Colossus, the Interceptor and the Storm.
The game sees players depart on a single-player story, but when entering missions will be matchmade with up to three other players to create a squad to defend humanity from all sorts of threats.
When it was first announced, the game drummed up a significant amount of hype but upon release -- and on the back of a confusing release strategy -- the game’s obvious bugs and load issues turned hardcore BioWare fans into some of its biggest critics.
The game was also reportedly forcing PS4 consoles to shut down when some players attempted to boot up the game which is obviously not ideal.
Following its release, the hype for Anthem turned into a dull murmur. Last month Kotaku published an investigation into what went wrong with the game, detailing the many behind-the-scenes issues, the creative and administrative difficulties that eventually resulted in the game that hit shelves.
This is what the world is doing right now. Come and play.
After hearing very little about people’s experiences with Anthem it was surprising that a friend -- whose taste in games has almost always aligned with my own -- offered to let me borrow his copy after raving about playing it.
Despite its many flaws, Anthem is not without hefty mythology, most of which I can tell you nothing about because I just wanted to get in my Javelin, not talk about whatever the Anthem is (A song? A weapon? A pile of hats?).
Initially, the game’s matchmaking felt like a lottery. In the early days of trying to figure out the various combat mechanics, I would pray to enter the world outside Fort Tarsis alone. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of whatever cool teens had usernames like KingDong__8 and brianx69x.
I didn’t want the cool teens to see how often I’d attempt to smoothly ascend into flight only to actually launch into a hillside. A lot of the first few hours playing were spent respawning after being immediately killed by swarms of enemies or -- more likely -- a hillside.
Then, slowly I began to realise it wasn’t luck setting me off on adventures alone, there just weren’t that many players to be matchmade with at this stage in the game.
It started to feel like that episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ where Burgess Meredith finds himself the only survivor of a devastating bomb, able to read all the books he ever wanted without distraction, only to break his glasses.
“That’s not fair at all,” I’d say to no one as I’d enter another button-smashing fantasia alone, “There was time now. There was all the time I needed!”
Every so often I’d be paired with another player and for a fleeting moment, it would become clear the foundations that the game attempted to build upon. The silent way you could learn another player’s tactics, adapt and wordlessly work together. Then, all too quick that would end and back I’d go, skipping chunks of exposition to face another mission alone.
On one occasion I was paired with the same Colossus for two consecutive missions. Like the exosuit John Cusack to my whoever the woman was that starred in ‘Serendipity’ with John Cusack.
But Anthem isn’t just devoid of other players, as the developers attempt to fix some of the problems from launch and create new content, there’s a feeling as if the game itself has been deserted by its own creators.
In-game purchases are limited to sparse options, updates have been slow to roll out, even the official social media accounts have been dark for the last few weeks.
For a game which had so much promise, there’s still hope EA and BioWare can turn around new features, stronger patches and win back players for what was initially going to be one of 2019’s biggest game releases.
But for now, it’s back to the lonely infrastructure of what could have been. Perhaps the game’s own trailer said it best:
The gods vanished and left our world in chaos. Creating, altering, destroying. The Anthem is all that remains.
Anthem is out now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.