If Anthem is out to change the way the industry looks at betas, demos, or whatever it is you choose to call the early access period for a nearly-completed game, then I’m all here for it. The public at large gets access to Anthem for the first time at the end of the week, and we’re already getting the idea that Bioware is handling this demo quite a lot differently than other, similar efforts from other developers. The biggest clue is right there in the name: this is not a beta, this is a demo. Most modern betas are demos of a finished product these days anyway, but that’s what makes it so refreshing that Bioware is just coming right out and saying it. But that’s not the only change from the established format that the developer is making. Bioware’s Mark Darrah–who has been giving out a ton of information on Twitter–recently outlined several ways in which the demo is going to be different from the main game:
So how’s the Anthem demo different from the game?
– we start you in the middle
– no tutorials
– no pilot picker
– balance is super different
– economy is completely different
– 6 weeks less bug fixes
— Mark Darrah (@BioMarkDarrah) January 19, 2019
So, true to the concept of a demo, we’re playing a version of the game specifically designed to pique our interest. It’s a fairly big departure from the usual beta setup, which usually just drops players into the beginning of a game and lets them experience the first few hours with most of the rest of the content gated off. That’s what we almost always see from games of this kind, but it comes with some real limitations: not only are we inevitably playing a less interesting part of the game, it sort of spoils the early hours of the final release and forces us to play them again when the game actually comes out. That’s especially true when the demo or beta comes so close to the final release, as is pretty common these days. It’s less a problem in PvP games, but I remember finding it odd in situations like the Destiny 2 beta.
This sounds a lot more like the “vertical slice” concept of a game demo, which is oftentimes what we as press see during preview events. The idea there is to show someone as much of the game systems and features as possible in a format that makes sense. That usually translates to a mid-game mission with some abilities and game complexity already unlocked, or maybe a series of snippets from several missions.
I’ll reserve judgement on anything and everything Anthem until later in the week, but so far I’m seeing a refreshing element of care being taken with these pre-release things, and that’s refreshing.