You can tell a lot about how a game is going to turn out by how it is revealed. Many games use cinematic trailers at first to get the shock and awe effect from an audience, then follow up with some gameplay later on. After that initial trailer, however, is when we begin to see a clearer picture of how the game is going to end up. This holds true especially for games that are a new IP or offer some sort of new twist on a feature. The cinematic is more to tell the story of what a game will be about then how it will play. It provides that reaction of “Ok, this sounds pretty cool” and sets the level of expectation for gameplay, albeit high or low. The reveal of Anthem at E3 during the Xbox conference changed this up a bit by offering several minutes of pure gameplay. Some of the reasons for this along with what was included in the trailer leads me to my main point: Anthem is the game that Destiny fans thought they were getting all along, but the two are quite different and shouldn’t be compared.
Bioware and EA had every reason to stick with a cinematic trailer for Anthem at E3. Patrick Soderlund decided to flip the script, and instead revealed a 6:56 full gameplay video narrated by the game’s designers. Right off the bat, the comparisons to Destiny began as evidenced by anyone peeking at the comment section of the Twitch or Youtube stream. Despite being 5:22 shorter than the Destiny gameplay reveal at E3 2013, it still showed much more of what we could expect from the game. We saw a brief cutscene at the beginning followed by a vast environment, aerial exosuits, elemental abilities, jump in / jump out gameplay and more. All of these gameplay features also overshadowed the vast graphical improvement that Anthem clearly boasts over Destiny.
Now, I understand that someone may say something like “Well, that was Destiny long before launch. It is much better now”. That’s basically the entire point. No game as long as I can remember had as much pre-launch hype surrounding it than Destiny did. Mass Effect: Andromeda (which is a more applicable comparison for Anthem) didn’t even come close. So many got caught up in it that the lack of viewable gameplay simply led to delusions of grandeur for the soon to be finished product. Initial reviews for Destiny demonstrated this. Bioware and EA clearly didn’t want this to be an issue, and went all in with a gameplay video that basically asked Destiny fans “How ya like me now?”
One of the first things you’ll notice is that Anthem seems to know exactly what type of game it wants to be and is focused on that. Destiny, on the other hand, never seemed to truly establish its identity at launch. Anthem is a science-fantasy based RPG. Abilities and weapons will not be locked to classes, but instead the exosuits that you wear. These can be outfitted with elemental abilities and can be impacted positively or negatively depending on the types of weapons/upgrades that are slotted. Destiny did not have any of this. One of the main issues with Destiny is that is tried to be too many things. At its core, it was an MMO that tried to be an FPS shooter with an RPG based system. These are three different genres that present much different in the areas of storyline and gameplay setup, and trying to combine them was one of its inevitable downfalls.
One of the things making Anthem more of an RPG is the exploration. It rewards XP for locating new areas, which is something Destiny does not do. An example can be seen below as the player enters an underwater area called Deadlight Caverns.
Bonuses like this in games as large as Anthem projects to be provide the player incentive to explore. It’s also a psychological factor. How many times have you been playing a game and decided not to go down that one path or in that certain direction because the game offered no incentive to do so? Even if you were (or are) a hardcore Destiny fan, you have to admit there were way too many times you’d find yourself playing for hours and see little to no benefit for your character. As a developer, learning how to dangle the carrot in front of the player correctly can be difficult. This player anticipation and desire to keep going can be the reason a game succeeds or fails.
Anthem will supposedly feature a vast, open world. The very beginning of the gameplay trailer shown at E3 shows that as the player leaps off the edge, with a far reaching world in the background. Just as the player jumps off in her Javelin exosuit, you see an icon off in the distance. It’s a different icon than the binoculars shown above, with the gate indicating some sort of dungeon/structure to explore. It’s the same one seen in a different section of the trailer that the players choose to skip. The icon is visible in the below image
As they noted, we can expect many traversable side areas and optional quests. They appear to be large and in-depth based on the developer’s description. Destiny, of course, had few quests that were not very good and a bit repetitive.
Another difference to be excited about is the elemental abilities added to the Javelin exosuits. You can see from the icons that the three included are fire, lightning and ice. These will be upgradable, but it is unclear whether this comes from your character level or some sort of attachment. You see an increase of 3, 5 and 7% at character levels 31, 32 and 36 respectively. This would lead you to believe that it would be tied to character level, but Michelle (the first character we see) is a level 34 and 4% ice elemental. This is less than the 5% at level 32 we see, so it seems it is tied to upgrading individual items rather than the level of your character itself. As you can tell below, each exosuit lists its applied elemental ability and percentage.
This offers more variety to the player as it’s a less linear approach to upgrading. These abilities will be in conjunction with different types of exosuits as well. Player Paul’s exosuit is more of a melee focused character, while Michelle’s is focused more on stealth/range.
The jump-in, jump-out cooperative option seems to fit incredibly well. From what we see, we will have every opportunity to complete the game solo, but insta-help will be available should you need it. Having two players drop in to your exact location as seen in the trailer is a huge advantage. You won’t need to wait for an invited player to come from across the map while battling enemies along the way (i.e. Destiny). Lower level players could benefit from the extra help, and higher level players can simply hot-swap games with lower levels to gain some quick XP.
The comparisons between the two games come from an odd place. They arise out of the initial expectations for Destiny rather than what it actually is. Pre-launch, Destiny was portrayed as more of an RPG with its “story”. The focus on cinematics over gameplay only enhanced this expectation. Once it released, it became evident that it was more of an FPS with a campaign similar to a Call of Duty. They tried integrating an RPG type system into it, but this obviously did not pan out and resulted in more of a hodge podge than a coherent game. Destiny players now are more FPS fans as the game is heavily focused on PvP. Anthem quite simply appears to be the total opposite. As we can see, it displays more as a pure RPG with an open-world and variable upgrade system.
The fans of Destiny now are most likely not the ones that are going to be super excited for Anthem as they are different types of games. Anthem players are going to be the ones who are disappointed in what Destiny became; RPG fans. FPS fans, which is what Destiny now focuses on, most likely won’t be phased by Anthem and stick to Destiny 2. Short of the whole “ten year plan” that Bioware and EA stated they have for Anthem, the two appear to be completely different genres. The comparisons come more from what we wanted from Destiny than what it actually is, which goes to show just how far off from the fans’ desires Activision and Bungie were. I think it’s clear that Bioware and EA were aware of this as well, which is the reason for the emphasis on gameplay in the reveal trailer. Anthem is also much more similar to the Mass Effect franchise than Destiny as a result. By no means am I indicating you have to dislike one if you like the other, only that you shouldn’t temper your expectations of one based off the other as they are grounded in different genres.
Either way, whether you are a fan of Destiny or not, it’s obvious with what we’ve seen so far that Anthem has taken the desires of RPG fans to heart. I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully, it remains full speed ahead until it launches next year.