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Anthem review – translated

An identity crisis in video game form

Bioware is showcased as a shadow of themselves with Anthem.

Anthem is a delusional game. From the moment you tread your feet into the wild jungles of Bastion, flying around like Iron Man with a variety of skills to fight the variety of fascinating enemies., your jaw is dropping because of the beauty of it all. And when your first set your feet into Fort Tarsis, the safe fort cemented with fascinating and entertaining characters, your first thought is that Bioware actually delivered on the promises they’ve made over the last six years. A Mass Effect-like game, but also MMO-like with powerful weapons and abilities you can chase while defeating the biggest and baddest fiends you can imagine.

But all of this is also Anthem’s main problem: it’s trying to roll along purely on the promising first impression. It’s not until you’re a few hours deep that you discover that Anthem isn’t even close to what they have advertised, and that it’s actually closer to soulless than anything.

A half-baked narrative

On a hostile planet, the humanity has barely survived thanks to a barely surviving breed of warriors called Freelancers. A long time ago a breed of aliens shaped the planet after their wish thanks to something calles «The Anthem of Creation», a mystical device with power no one has true knowledge about. And as a freelancer it’s your job to keep these mysterious powers from doing too much damage and preventing more apocalyptic events. It might sound interesting from this brief summary, but it seems like Bioware aren’t entirely sure what they’re doing with their own narrative. You can tell that the story is more character driven than anything, because they have constructed a lot of interesting characters with brilliant facial animations and interesting stories based on events that took place before the game’s narrative.

But these characters are locked in the narrative prison Bioware call Fort Tarsis. And since this is a looter shooter in the spirit of games like Destiny and The Division, you could forgive the narrative and dismiss it as one of the least important parts of the game. But after every god forsaken mission you’re forced back to Fort Tarsis to walk an unnecessarily slow and long distance, just for a wonky exposition dump from one of the many characters helping you in the battle. The whole space feels like a waste of time when these characters could’ve been out in the field and delivering it there, especially when you consider the long and boring loading screens Anthem force you into for what seems like every click of a button.

A shotty Iron Man sequel

One of the few things Anthem actually do well is the gunplay and action. You have the choice between four different javelins, the Iron Man-esque suits the freelancers use. You have Ranger, your typical military stereotype. Colossus, the giant tank meant to jump in first and defend the rest of the team. Storm, the master of elements. And last, but not least, Interceptor, a sort of robot ninja focused on CQC. All four have their place, and are fun to play around with.

The problems start pouring in after a few hours, though. Even though all the javelins are fun to play around with, you’ll find yourself hitting the snooze button once you realize how shitty the mission structure is. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a missing scientist or destroying a Shaper relic that can destroy the entire planet. All the mission rotate between half a dozen minor tasks that you have to complete.

Stand here for a few minutes and defend the circle.

Clear the area of enemies

Pick up these eight objects and place them in this circle. Oh, and you have to defend that one too.

After a while it gets numb, and even strongholds that are meant to be the most difficult and engaging content builds on the damn concepts with nothing else to help enhance them.

The looter shooter category this game has been lumped into doesn’t really help either. All the fun abilities tied to your javelin are also part of the loot that can drop, which makes it increasingly difficult to customize and experiment with your builds. You would rather have something that increases your power level and makes it easier to fight the hardest foes than keep around the common-tier ability that seems super good. And even though the abilities are the best parts of the javelin, the weapons in the game are a small sour dash on top of the the terrible dessert Anthem is serving you.

And i’m aware the game is in third person, but couldn’t they at least have tried with the weapon looks? It doesn’t matter if the weapon you get is common or legendary, they’re all the same base look and are about as creative as giving a kindergarten crew a bunch of cardboard and finger paint. It’s not until you get the best loot (names masterworks and legendaries) that there’s an inch of creativity , and to get there you have to suffer your way through 20-30 hours of the same dozen of tasks.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of if’s and but’s surrounding Anthem. It looks good, but feels soulless. The fundamentals are there, but the mission structure is horrid. The abilities are cool as hell, but the weapons are terrible. It’s clear that this game was released several months before it was ready, and Bioware seems to have lost what made them a powerhouse in the industry. They’re responding fairly and quickly to critique so far though, and they might make the game what it deserves to be some months down the line. But as for now you should just steer clear.

6.

It’s hard to imagine how complicated games are. There are some 3 dimensions of games which sound like a pretty big deal. Honestly, the only dimension I appreciate is aesthetics. I know that mechanics is basically a base of the game and without dynamics a game would be unplayable but coding and algorithms are just boring. All you see is just pages of letters and numbers but aesthetics! It’s like a personal touch added from a game artist or whoever is responsible for the game to be aesthetically pleasant. That’s where real creativity comes. How to attract a person to play a game? It’s simply magical. Some of the games I found brilliant just because of their aesthetics ( played by myself or  watched walkthroughs):

Need for Speed: The Run – one of many parts from Need for Speed racing game series.  Dynamics weren’t too good but the scenery! Great rendering and textures!

The last of us: Post-apocalyptic world with mind-blowing narrative and opportunity to discover an unimaginable humanity scenario.

I have to admit, I used to spend a lot of time playing Counter Strike 1.6 which aesthetics well… Better be left unspoken.

In general, I don’t think that video games are bad. Can it become an addiction? Of course. But even the most innocent things can become addictions. For example, I’m addicted to sweets. Can I control that? Sometimes. It’s all about balancing your activities. Have more than one hobby, be able to change your environment from time to time (or consume something else than sweets).

Violence in video games? Let it be! There are tons of movies portraying violence, there’s horror genre and books are no exception. For example 1984 by George Orwell. A big chunk of the book was only description of human torture. But after all, we are taught to learn from books, take something meaningful from them. Why can’t we do same with video games? I think violent games don’t affect human behavior. If a person is violent, it’s because of environment surrounding him or the person is naturally a bit violent. The only way I understand why games could make a person emotional (but still not violent) is only because they tend to cause adrenaline and addiction. But what doesn’t?

 

 

 

5.

Ahh, I can finally give a legitimate proof about seriousness of video games to my family when I’m told to grow up and stop playing games! Here are my thoughts which randomly popped up in my mind.

It’s not hard to understand video games success when today’s society is living a digital life. One of the main activities to do when you’re bored is surf the Internet, scroll around social media and play games. Games are slowly becoming not for children only. Even though history claims that there were attempts to use video games as military practice tool, but until this day the thought of video game stays same, that it’s childish to play games. I can’t believe how this huge industry, numbers of specialists working on not  slightest details and creating meaningful messages can be still considered children games. Society needs to admit that playing became almost a lifestyle and a real activity.

The evolution of video games is fascinating. From couple of moving shapes imitating tennis to stunning graphics and deep storytelling. I can’t wait to see how upcoming 5-10 years will affect video games and their quality which is already beating all the records.

Anyways, it’s unfortunate to see how games industry has no difference comparing with other businesses and becomes uncontrollably greedy. Such as AAA companies. They are powerful and have all the resources to creative amazing games but something is stopping them. They find a gold mine in specific area and keep producing as much as it’s possible, gradually losing value, quality and originality until it is drained completely. On the other hand, There’s still hope for indie game developers but they often don’t have resources to produce all 3 game dimensions (mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics) perfectly.

…A game is a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.  -Salen & Zimmerman, Rules of Play (Can a word ‘rules’ not be used in definition of games? Games are fun, rules are not!) 

 

 

4.

Digital era is rapidly expanding. People use Internet for anything one can imagine. We communicate, sell and buy, broaden our knowledge, entertain ourselves and much more with the help of virtual world. As this virtual world consists of different individuals how do they represent themselves? The internet is a mysterious place full of various characters. People can become anyone they want without showing their true identity to others. Some stick to their names, others create new nicknames and take innocent pictures. It might seem as a fun and playful thing but it’s certainly not. In my opinion, Internet is a perfect tool for strange people who tend to impersonate, act or insult without any control. They feel untouchable online. The digital environment becomes dangerous and requires caution for sure. What really bugs me is that the Internet is still pretty new invention and many wrong actions happening aren’t taken seriously. Everyone do whatever or be whoever they want without thinking about other people, their feelings, cultural differences and consequences of actions. On the other hand, harmless self-representation is perfectly alright and people have a right not to reveal who they truly are for several reasons, such as bullies or real life threats.

I mainly wrote about negative things but I can also appreciate digital life for it’s creativity freedom. If self-representation is done right, doesn’t cause harm or intrude anyone, I believe, it can become a very specific art form. People all around the world create something fresh daily and most importantly have an option to share online with others. It takes a lot of effort to represent yourself the way you want people to see you. Make up, specific poses, glam, photo retouch can generate a whole new image of oneself. That is already in a way art. Be the best version of yourself. But it has it’s downsides. I feel that perfect representation builds audience’s high expectations which means that high standards must be kept constantly, both online and real world. Because if expectations aren’t fulfilled, there will be unsatisfied audience causing more Internet drama, exhaustion and time consumption. Of course, then appears questions like, how fake is online world? What is truth? Who should people believe?

The role of self-representation is important because nowadays we live in two worlds. Reality and online world. In reality we already have our identities. People see us the way we are, we can’t hide imperfections. Online world is digital, it’s not real but it’s new. It’s like a blank notebook page ready to be filled with all kind of stuff. Like a second chance to create whole new you. And as both worlds we live in are unfortunately, equally important today, self-representation also becomes important in digital life.

2.

Before this week the idea of digital art was extremely simplified for me. When someone mentioned DA the first thing which popped up in my mind used to be a drawing, a sketch or a manipulation made with the help of specific software like Photoshop, Illustrator, maybe 3ds Max. That’s it. I had zero understanding how broad this area is. Now it makes perfect sense for me that animations, installations, gifs, memes etc. are considered digital art.

The most memorable aspect of this week was Nancy Burson’s morphing technology. What I find the most fascinating is not the way it is practically used in law-enforcement agencies to identify specific people but the message created in her works Beauty Composites. Perfectly defined ideals from pictures of celebrities lets you see society’s  beauty standards, the way tastes shape with a cost of losing individuality and becoming one of many just to fit the frame. What’s also interesting is that beauty cult is existing for a long time already. It seems that it should be more relevant nowadays with perfect selfie culture but such creative composites carrying powerful meanings all the way from XX century is completely insane. But the question I’m really intrigued about is, what’s next? Will we gradually turn into similar dolls by following new beauty standards and wearing new masks on the old ones? Will individuality become extinct?

The meme making part was really enjoyable. I’ve never made one on my own before but popular meme pages are opened in my browser daily.

Capture

Elit

We’ve come to the end of the road as we now enter the final part of the course, Electronic Literature, henceforth called Elit. This is the part I thought would bore me the most but as I’ve found out this is something that I really enjoy, and I have enjoyed it many a time before. To my suprise, I’ve already talked about one genre of elit in the offhand comment about and old Lord of the Rings text based game, that falls within the genre of interactive fiction. As I’ve been playing some of these games from before and tried picking it up again recently this will be what I’ll be focusing on for this part of the course.

I’ve been looking at some of the great work from the elit collection we’ve been going through. It’s something just so satisfying feeling in control of the narrative yet you’re just shooting dice, in the dark, without your glasses. Anything can happen and you still get the feeling that you’re in control of it. This gets me all fired up to dust of the old dice bag and play some Dungeons and Dragons as well.

I’ve also gotten more confident in the writing process of these blogs as we go along yet I’ve chosen to stay anonymous through it all just to keep my sanity and preferred this not come up when you google my name.

Esports, revisited.

I’ve just gotten home from my trip to Los Angeles and I figured I’d blog about this since I didn’t get to the last two lectures, being out of the country and all.

What I do want to talk about is esports, as that is what I spend alot of my time on this past year. So we grabbed some tickets and flew out to sunny California for a week to catch some of the games at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank. It was super fun to see it live and feel the atmosphere in the arena as our favorite teams (my personal favorite is the South Korean team Seoul Dynasty) battle it out on the big stage. You really get the sense that a lot of money is being poured into this now, see picture evidence below.  This match was the last match on a Wednesday night so the crowd was in no way insane but it really got packed during the weekends.

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I figured a small update on the team is in order. Our team in the highest division has unfortunately been hitting some bumps along the way and we’ve lost our spot for the next season. We were actually supposed to be safe but as there was a couple of hiccups between some of the other teams we ended up at the bottom of the ladder and will be sent down to the division under. This was kind of a bummer, but it got better. The team in the lowest division on the other hand have had a great season, loosing only one map (out of twenty in total) so they’re on the expressway to a higher division. It’s been a lot of fun following these guys and gals through ups and downs for the last months and can’t wait til the next season starts in August. I will keep on doing this for immediate future, but I’m looking to maybe engage more local youth in Bergen and try forming a more local club as time goes on.

 

Empathy

Empathy games, that’s the hot topic this week as we delved into the this genre of games. As the name implies these are not the kinda games you play to have a good time, but they’re a great tool to learn a thing or two.

I’ve tried a couple of rounds of Spent after we got introduced to it. The premises is pretty basic, you got 1000$ to your name and you got to make it last as long as possible with all unforeseen expenses among other things.  Some of the messages that you get during a regular round can be pretty horrifying, and in the end your left with a feeling you don’t get from a regular round of your favorite feelgood games. I’ve also seen my sister use empathy card games with my nephew to try to get him to understand how something can make you feel.  This is an exciting genre that I will be watching closely as there’s already been some games that’s had great reviews and scores across the board from critics.

I’ve had my eyes set on That Dragon, Cancer for some while now so I guess this is a good a time as any to go a head and give it a try. I’m just a little afraid it’s going to break my heart.

Let’s twine it up

This week was a little different, we went to see the exhibit that Mia had set up at the faculty library. The piece consisted of red twine connecting different forms of text, art as well as some hidden QR-codes which directed you to different artwork and sites that had anything to do with text and digital art.

I like this way of interacting with exhibits, as I’ve already said about the museum I visited in Berlin. It’s nice to feel like a part of it, contributing in your own little way.

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What I take away from this is how amazing it is to see how the network that we’re all some small part of, crossing each other and making this great big whole. Even just a who’s not really putting it all in there can find a piece of himself there and that is pretty cool to me.

And of course we all got to enjoy a slice of ‘za (as they kids say?) while hanging out!

This is it, let’s go!

I guess I’m not alone about getting excited this week, now we’re talking about games. This is of course my favorite pastime and I do regard myself as a hardcore gamer, which is pretty funny since I haven’t really been playing a lot the last two years except a few AAA titles.

On the other hand, I started an esports organization (named Alopex eSports) last august with a couple of friends and have been doing that and watching our players practice and compete for the last couple of weeks

This part of the gaming industry is huge, and getting bigger by the minute. We ended up getting a spot in the highest division in Telenorligaen, which is our biggest national tournament, owned and curated by Gamer.no. We don’t play, just manage/coach the players and try to network with people in the industry.

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This season we only have 2 teams playing Overwatch but we’ll be looking to expand to other games towards the summer. I guess I’ll come back with an update about how the teams do in this season towards the end, so far we’ve taken a loss and a draw.

We’ll actually be traveling to the holy land of esport, Los Angeles, to watch some of the Overwatch League matches towards the end of April. I’ll make sure to grab some pictures from sunny California for the blog.

 

This reminds me, I have some trophies left to collect on Monster Hunter: World!