I know the chasm between gameplay and story divide is normally pretty wide in the AAA space, but Anthem feels like a game where these two halves are at war with each other. My column this week talks about how the Anthem gameplay casually tramples all over the story bits. I realize that the original Destiny had a similar problem, where all of the worldbuilding stuff was dumped into web pages outside the game. I realize this genre isn’t known for its storytelling, but still…
- Just because Bungie did it doesn’t make it okay.
- Why make this a story about a hero character when that goes against the gameplay? If we’re an observer and muscle for the real main characters, then just embrace that as part of the story.
- Isn’t this the whole point of having BioWare make one of these things? I thought the idea was to set this game apart by injecting BioWare-style storytelling into a genre where story is usually neglected, but instead we’ve injected Bungie-style story apathy into BioWare. This game doesn’t elevate the genre, it drags down the developer.
But fine. This game is all about the gameplay and the story is for dumb nerds. Accepting that, why is the gameplay so vague about the systems? This is a game about getting loot to make the numbers go up, except the interface designer didn’t want to pollute their pristine interface with dumb boring numbers. So here are some questions I have about the mechanics of this game:
After an expedition, each player is given a title…
I’ve seen Executioner and Artillery, but the vast majority of players are just called Soldier. What is this title, where does it come from, and what does it affect? Does it change from one expedition to the next? Is it based on your loadout or your performance? The screen wastes several seconds animating this nonsense like it’s important, but the game never bothers to explain it to us.
Speaking of that screen…
What are all of those little medals? There’s a lot of them! It looks like I should be able to mouse over them for more info, but since console players don’t have a mouse, the game designer doesn’t know about these outlandish devices for pointing at things on the screen when we want more info.
Again, the game animates all this stuff like we’re supposed to care, but it never explains what these symbols mean. It’s just visual noise and a waste of time.
Also, how does money work?
I see I get bonuses based on having friends within the game. What’s that $1,870 in the corner? Is that how much I’m going to be paid in the future, or how much I have been paid recently? I see the “Alliance Status” resets in 2 days. Is that payday? Will I be reset to 0 Alliance rating and have to grind it up again from scratch? There’s a loading screen that talks about getting paid every week, but I’ve never gotten a notification about being paid and I notice my money is going up slowly over time.
I can’t even tell what this mechanic is supposed to encourage. Is the designer trying to make sure I log in every day, or are they trying to get me to log as many hours as possible in a week?
The instant you kill the final boss in a Stronghold, a 5 second timer pops up that will eject everyone from the dungeon and out to the result screen. I ASSUME that the game takes the loot that the boss drops and gives it to me automatically, because 5 seconds is NOT enough time to run over to the boss and physically claim it. Sometimes you can be on the other side of the arena fighting some mooksOr you could even be in a down state., and you’d never close the distance before the timer runs out. It would be super-evil to have players miss the final loot drop if they happen to be a little too far away. (Also, if this was the case then I imagine players would have rioted by now.)
But if the game automatically takes the boss loot and puts it in my pockets when it kicks me to the loading screen, does it do that for all the other loot, too? Is picking up loot purely a cosmetic activity and you get all the loot regardless of whether or not you pick it up?
Why is there no stats screen? Like, I can see that upgrade A gives me +300 armor and upgrade B gives me +250 armor, but I can’t ever see a listing of what my TOTAL armor is right now. I have no frame of reference for any of this. The little bars just show if this gizmo does more or less of a thing than another. But if I’m choosing between “more armor” and “more damage”, then I need some sort of context for that decision.
I can’t believe BioWare has made a looter shooter where both the looting and the shooting are confusing and poorly explained.
 Or you could even be in a down state.
The Biggest Game Ever
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The plot of this game isn't just dumb, it's actively hostile to the player. This game hates you and thinks you are stupid.
Mass Effect Retrospective
A novel-sized analysis of the Mass Effect series that explains where it all went wrong. Spoiler: It was long before the ending.
Silent Hill Turbo HD II
I was trying to make fun of how Silent Hill had lost its way but I ended up making fun of fighting games. Whatever.
Batman: Arkham Origins
A breakdown of how this game faltered when the franchise was given to a different studio.