Gaming Round-Up: Anthem, Bound by Flame, and New Articles

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but I’ve managed to fit in the time for both a bit of gaming, and a blog about what I’ve been up to.

Anthem: Wading into melee

MY Colossus Javelin in AnthemAnthem continues to impress, to the point where I put off writing this post for quite some time as it cost me time I could have spent playing.

I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of shooter games. I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them. They always end up feeling a bit shallow to me.

Anthem isn’t like that. In terms of pure moment to moment gameplay, it’s easily the most fun I’ve ever had playing a shooter. It stands with the best of RPGs and RTS games for addictive, satisfying gameplay.

I’m an incredible slowpoke when it comes to this game, so I still haven’t reached max level or finished the main story. I feel like I’m close to the latter goal, but I’m still only level 18 (cap is 30) at the time of this writing.

I have, however, unlocked two new Javelins, and while the Storm remains my overall favourite, they’ve both proven surprisingly fun.

First, I went Colossus. Going from a squishy mage to a tanky bruiser seemed like a good change of pace.

Owen, you magnificent bastardAt first, I wasn’t feeling the Colossus. It seemed very weak to me. Most of your survivability comes from a physical shield you can throw up, but you can’t use your guns or abilities while the shield is equipped. It seemed pointless to me, at least when playing solo. Sure, I can’t die, but I also can’t fight back.

Then I figured out you can bash people with the shield. It all started falling into place after that.

Now I’m having a grand old time charging into the fray and weaving between guns, abilities, and smashing things with sheer brute force. Tank classes can be hit and miss for me, but the Colossus is definitely my kind of tank.

After the Colossus, I was torn on what Javelin to unlock next, but I decided to go with the speedy Interceptor. Like the Colossus, the Interceptor is focused on close range fighting, but unlike the Colossus, it’s even more of a glass cannon than the Storm.

I like playing an Interceptor, but it’s not relaxing. You have to constantly be in motion, and a moment’s error or hesitation can cost you dearly. It’s very exciting when it goes well, but it can be pretty stressful. It’s not a Javelin I’d recommend to new players, that’s for sure.

My Interceptor Javelin in AnthemThere’s likely more I could say in regards to Anthem, but that would waste too much time that I could instead spend playing. I maintain some concerns about its longevity, but it’s definitely turned out to be a much better experience than I expected.

Bound by Flame: Wasted potential

I’ve been so caught up in Anthem I’ve forgotten to talk about what I was playing beforehand.

To kill time in the weeks leading up to Anthem’s release, I delved into my Steam backlog and gave the action RPG Bound by Flame a chance.

I want to like Bound by Flame. It’s got a good premise. You’re a mercenary possessed by a demon who could consume your soul, but who also has the power to save humanity from an apocalypse brought on by the Ice Lords, a faction of undead sorcerers with a strong Fallen Lords/Ten Who Were Taken vibe.

The trouble with Bound by Flame is that, well, it’s just not that good. Pretty much every aspect of the game is bogged down by a lack of polish and a general feeling of low budget and amateurishness.

My character in Bound by FlameThe voice acting is hit and miss at best. The dialogue writing is dodgy throughout. The menus and journal entries are full of typos. The story is poorly executed, with twists that come out of nowhere with no apparent explanation. According to the achievements, there’s romances of some kind, but I never figured out how to initiate any of them despite exploring all dialogue options with all characters.

The game’s main virtue is its combat, which is mostly very fun and what carried me through the game. The dodge mechanic is very well done — if you time it right, your character will automatically rush back in for a riposte, and it’s super satisfying — and I like how you’re encouraged to mix magical and physical attacks.

But even then, there are still issues. The difficulty tends to be a bit over-tuned, even on the lowest setting.

When last I played, I spent about ten minutes on what I presume is the final boss battle, an absolutely grueling slog, only to die moments away from victory. I had to start over at the beginning of the fight, and it frustrated me so much I logged off rather than attempt it again. Then Anthem came out, and I haven’t been back since.

The completionist in me feels I should finish it off to see how it ends, but I’m struggling to find the motivation.

A cutscene in Bound by FlameNew articles:

It’s time for another round-up of my latest articles at MMO Bro. First, I pat myself on the back for cracking the secret to a successful MMO. Next, I argue that MMOs should be built for more alts, not less.

Finally, I vent about the inescapable negativity that seems to be swallowing more and more of the world of online gaming.

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Anthem Early Impressions

Early on I was pretty skeptical of Anthem. Bioware making another MMO, and it’s a “me too” Destiny clone? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. But a lot of good buzz coming out of the alpha and my general Bioware fandom won out, and I wound up pre-ordering (the deluxe edition, because pretty outfits).

My Storm Javelin cuts a pose in AnthemI didn’t touch any of the innumerable demos or early access periods, but I did jump in on launch day (which was remarkably free of technical issues). I’m still pretty early in the game — level seven at the time of this writing — but here’s my thoughts so far.

Overall, Anthem is mostly living up to my expectations, for better and for worse. It’s probably not going to down as one of my favourite games of all time, and I’m not sure I’ll stick with it much once I’ve finished the story, but for now, I’m having a lot of fun.

The one thing I want to say out of the gate, and the one real surprise, is that this is not a clone of Destiny or Warframe. There are similarities because it’s the same genre, but Anthem has a very distinct flavour and character all its own. Do not write it off as derivative; it’s not.

What sets Anthem apart more than anything is its mobility. Players can fly, sprint, hover, double jump, and glide. Aside from being ridiculously fun, it adds a whole new dimension to combat — quite literally — that most games lack.

It’s funny because in many ways combat in Anthem feels just like Mass Effect. You’ve got your third person perspective and your mix of powers and guns. But in Mass Effect, you spend most of your time hunkered down in cover. Moving tends to be a risky proposition.

My Storm's ultimate ability in AnthemIn Anthem, the opposite is true: If you stop moving, you die.

I’m just beginning to fully grasp the tactical options that Anthem’s mobility options open up. There’s so much you can do when you can literally fly circles around all of your opponents. It makes me so much more aware of the terrain around me and the opportunities it presents. It’s something that’s very hard to get across in text, but it’s an experience unlike anything I’ve had in a video game before.

I’m also impressed by how powerful the Javelins feel, especially when it comes to ultimate abilities. The game design critic in me is aware that the ultimates are theoretically bland since they’re all pretty much just a massive burst of AoE damage, but the rest of me is having too much fun cleansing the earth in fire to care.

Especially as a Storm, using your ultimate really does feel like calling down the wrath of some vengeful god to obliterate anyone foolish enough to stand against you.

Normally shooters feel a bit bland or hollow to me, but so far I haven’t felt that way about Anthem. The mobility, the use of terrain, the powerful abilities and the way they combo off each other all combine to create a very rich and engaging experience.

Story-wise, Anthem has thus proven adequate, but nothing more. The setting is pretty interesting — a lot of thought went into the world-building — but the meta-plot so far is kind of basic. It’s fun in a pulpy kind of way, I guess.

A bar in AnthemThe NPCs definitely don’t have the depth you normally see from Bioware, but that being said they’re still above average as far as video game characters go. Owen is such a ridiculous dork, and I love it.

I also really like the actress who plays the female Freelancer. Her voice is very soothing, and she’s very good at sounding like a cool, confident badass without going over the top about it.

I do have a number of complaints about Anthem, but most of them are just minor nitpicks. The open world feels a bit empty, item tooltips are less informative than they should be, and I hope a FOV slider gets added at some point because I find the default camera a bit claustrophobic.

I will say I’m really over this “your character is a faceless robot” trend. I mean, it is realistic that we stay in our Javelins most of the time, but there’s no reason we couldn’t have more story cutscenes featuring our character, or helmets with clear faceplates, or something to give your character some sense of identity. Spending all your time as a robot who looks pretty much just like everyone else’s robot sucks a lot of the soul out of the game.

It doesn’t help that all of the Javelins are, well, kind of ugly. They’re not half as hideous as Warfame’s titular robo-ninjas, but they’re not really appealing, either. The Legion of Dawn skins from my pre-order are the only thing making them bearable, if you ask me.

A scenic vista in AnthemIt also doesn’t help that they abandoned the idea of varying Javelin appearance by gender halfway through development. Now, I don’t have a problem with that as an idea — there isn’t really a good reason for massive sci-fi combat suits to look different depending on the sex of the pilot — but the problem is some of the suits are still visibly gendered. The Storm is clearly masculine, while the Interceptor is obviously female. That’s a bit jarring if you’re piloting one of those as the opposite gender.

Not everyone’s going to care about that, though. I’m just a bit of a virtual fashionista.

It’s early days, and my opinion may change, but for now I’d say I do recommend Anthem. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s fun and worth the price of admission. I do think it’s probably the best of the MMO shooters I’ve played to date.