Nothing but extreme opinions – but does it have to be that way?
Spoiler alert: It really doesn’t!
I few weeks ago I played the Anthem demo for two weekends in a row and was pretty much immediately hooked. The game has fun combat, a beautiful scenery and not even the load screen bugs (of which I had surprisingly few to be fair though) could stop the enthusiasm.
But then the demo weekends were over. Waiting. After flying around in my Javelin, most other games I had laying around seemed a bit boring at that moment. But the game was not to come out for another two weeks at least, so what is a person supposed to do? In my case, when I am really waiting for something specific and am in that phase where literally everything else is boring, I usually skip through a bunch of games for a couple of hours each. Keeping busy so to say. That is normally when I re-download that one MMO I stopped playing a year ago. Or try to play Mass Effect again only to realise that I know every line by heart and HATE the combat of the first part so much I’d rather play anything else. Or I try something new. Usually in a genre I rarely play, or something I know almost nothing of.
So in these two weeks I did exactly those things. Redownloading an MMO I stopped playing: I downloaded FFXXIV because suddenly that seemed like something I really wanted to try playing again.
Then I redownloaded Mass Effect Andromeda and started a new playthrough… Which felt like the slower, less fun version of Anthem’s combat.
So, something new… I started Path of Exile and wow. Rarely have I been this bored in a game before I even left the tutorial. I played for less than an hour and then deleted the game again.
Then, one evening when I was browsing through the Anthem subreddit, I thought “huh, people keep mentioning this Warframe thingy. Maybe I should take a look at that?” Downloaded it… aaaaand completely forgot about it about five minutes after clicking the Download link. Until 2 days later a friend seemed to have had the same idea and I remembered that I had actually gotten that game already and could try it out.
And at this point I feel like I kind of have to give a shoutout to @DieFeineLinie who at some point had already suggested that game to his wife and to me – which to this day I seem to have no memory of. But I totally believe it. In hindsight it feels almost ridiculous that that game went past me for so long. Another friend, @TheWuestenratte remarked on Discord that it felt like I was really desperately trying to fill the Anthem shaped hole in my life and she was absolutely right!
Sooo, as the reader might have guessed, I started playing Warframe that night. And. I. haven’t. stopped. since.
For explanation: I went into this game totally unguarded! I didn’t know what it was, what it might have promised or not, and had absolutely no idea what I should expect. And I really didn’t expect anything at all. At the most, I was looking for something that could maybe keep me a bit busy for the next handful of days.
Let me tell you about my first experience with this game. It is simultaneously the greatest and the weirdest thing I’ve experienced as a gamer in the last couple of years. Everything about combat and movement is so very intuitive… The design of those systems is something amazing because you feel fluid, graceful and, most of all, powerful, right from the start. It is an absolute joy to move around in this game. And it never stops. One could argue it gets even better, but that would almost imply that it is worse at the start which it absolutely isn’t. I have never played a game where movement was this fun. The closest thing I could think of would be Saints Row IV – and even that only very loosely.
So the systems were easy to pick up. The rest? Is somehow some of the most in-depth customization I have ever had in a game. And it’s… a lot! If you try to make sense of it all as a new player? Don’t bother. You are on your own with finding things out, and I guess people that have a need to know everything there is from the start will be annoyed by this. But if you are fine with figuring out things over time? This is heaven. You can’t really ruin anything by lack of knowledge, the game has even auto-systems for some of the more complex things (like modding your gear which looks complicated at first – and then gets super obvious a while later.)
I was kind of hooked! The game looks and feels amazing, has some of the best combat I have ever played (in terms of how much fun I am having – that is basically all I care about here, ok?). It’s like Overwatch and Saints Row had a baby and decided to let it be raised by Farscape and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The music is wonderful, voice acting is nice, the story starts very sparse and in between but so far has been interesting – and I have been a tiny bit spoiled and know that there is a lot to come – but I am taking my time getting there. The PvE seems super easy to get a hang of and the community around it has been really nice and helpful so far. Plus, it boasts probably the most fair and well done free-to-play system I know. You don’t ever have to spend a single cent on this game if you don’t want to. Everything is achievable ingame – and in a reasonable amount of time. You can even trade ingame items for the premium currency. Get whatever your heart desires. FOR FREE!
So, I can say I definitely found something to occupy my time, and I was pretty happy about it. Once Anthem was out, I’d have two nice games and would not burn myself out by binge-playing only one. (I am a binge-player, not gonna lie here. If a game is new I usually lose interest in other games until I’ve finished it at least once.) But then Anthem came out. I started playing on launch day. On the second day. And on the third? I was kind of bored again.
How the hell? What happened? Well, Warframe happened. And not in the way you might think it did. I didn’t suddenly turn around and think, “Oh, this one is free, so I don’t need the other one anymore” – I definitely still had fun in Anthem. But the combat that had felt new and exciting two weeks earlier felt kinda sluggish and slow after release. And that is not because the game got worse. On the contrary – Anthem did a great job in improving a lot of things for their launch. It just so happened that I did a lot, too, in those weeks and some of it seemed to have raised the bar onto what I consider fun.
Anthem is a good game! With the potential to become a very good one down the line, and I honestly hope that that will happen. That both the fans and the studio will ALLOW this to happen. At the same time it feels empty to me. (Again, which might change down the line, but I am talking two weeks after release here.) Empty in a sense that it has gorgeous visuals – but only really one biome that is not that varied. Empty in a sense that it focusses so much on how much you can customize your javelin – but there are only four and the visual options are very… limited. Empty in a sense of the missions both in the story and in gameplay having less variety in gameplay than I personally would like. That the enemy factions feel kind of the same in combat. All things that don’t necessarily have to stay that way – there is loads of room to bring more into this and there are certainly many more things coming. And notice how this is a subjective opinion. I can fully see why some of my friends are enjoying it.
I haven’t given up on Anthem yet. I’d say I am not even close. But at the moment? My personal enjoyment when spending time in that game pales to the fun I have playing Warframe and it’s not just because of game mechanics. I can ignore negativity quite well. I am also adept at filtering out the “Studio X can do no wrong!” crowd. But it is really, really tiring to constantly do so. I am sick and tired of watching one tips and tricks video for settings on Anthem, only to have my youtube recommendation bombarded by “IS THIS THE DESTINY KILLER?” or “WHY ANTHEM IS TRASH” videos non-stop. I am exhausted by the constant discourse that makes liking something seem like a penalty sometimes and trying to enjoy things like a chore. That also in turn makes it impossible to bring up valid criticism. That makes you feel like you have to either avoid everything (which I honestly don’t feel I should be expected to do damn, it, I LIKE the internet and I like discussing things. Civilly.) or write tons of disclaimers in front of every sentence about the topic. It brings with it a certain weariness. Especially when you can’t even talk to most friends about those things because they are firmly on either of the more extreme sides.
So, the Anthem bubble did burst a bit for me. Partly because of ingame things I am not happy with yet or that bug me, and partly because of the surrounding culture. I soak things up like a sponge. It’s hard for me to genuinely enjoy myself if I have to tiptoe around everything and am constantly surrounded by negativity and hype at the same time. The healthiest way for myself is to just… don’t engage for a while. I want to like this game but I feel I will have a much better chance doing so when the release hype has died down and the ingame issues are addressed.
That was not supposed to happen. Warframe was supposed to be a short distraction. When I read that it was free to play I thought the thing most dangerous to me would be me losing my wallet to another fancy cash store. Instead I kind of lost my heart. I think I have honestly fallen a bit in love with this game and the people working on it. A smallish studio that just seems to care so damn much about their game. A game community that seems to be working WITH the developers instead of against them most of the time. A company that took cash generating systems that made them a lot of money out of the game again because it felt unethical to them. That does live streams with their devs several times a month, talking to their players and being in a constant back and forth with them. A studio that literally says “Sometimes we need to make money – so these are the plans for our next bundle we wanna sell for convenience – what do you want to be in it and how much should it cost?”
They have quickly reached Larian-levels of likability for me and I appreciate the feeling of being in the loop about what is going to happen in the future of the game this much. That is something I have never experienced with one of the bigger companies. And you can’t even argue “well, small game, small user base therefore it’s easier for the community to be nice.” Small studio: Yes. But the game is anything but and the user base is surprisingly large. It is continuously in the top 10, up to the 4th spot of most played games on Steam. This shows, to me, that it is very well possible to have a good developer-player-community relationship where everyone treats each other with respect. I’m not just looking at the devs here but also the community itself.
A reviewer I read a while ago mentioned, that unlike many other gaming communities one can watch online lately, the Warframe one seems to be surprisingly optimistic. Digital Extremes is making an ambitious game, trying out new things constantly and the community has their back and supports them in it. Even if something doesn’t work right at their first try, they are not being ripped to shreds for it and given a lot of chances to course correct or to improve. And they do. That in particular is something I have been missing dearly in other gaming spheres where the only acceptable opinions lately seem to be “best thing ever, will destroy all competition” or “the game is dead and the worst thing ever made”. It is refreshing to, even from the sidelines, to take part of such a generally optimistic and enthusiastic community that is able to discuss the good and the bad.
A community surrounding a game that is wonderfully weird and most of all ambitious. You feel it while playing, you see it when looking back at the games evolution through the years that this is something born out of love for the genre and for video gaming in general. A fantastic meetup of developer vision and consumer wishes that collide somewhere in the middle, look around and decide they are both down for experimental shenanigans.
Anthem sort of went on a back burner for me through this. I am pretty certain that I will play it at some point and will probably enjoy it. Just not now, it seems, and that’s ok. In the meantime, I really hope that they go a somewhat similar way when it comes to ambitious risks and communication. Anthem is brandnew and has a lot of room to grow, and in my opinion, games like Warframe benefit everyone around them – even those who don’t play it because they show what is possible, not just in something as obvious as content, but in the whole machinery that surrounds the game itself. Both, developers and also very much the gaming community, can learn from them. How to talk to each other, how to implement stuff, how to hold your devs accountable without crossing a line and most of all: How to love and support a game and help it grow and expand by giving both critical and loving feedback.
Yes, of course Warframe has issues too. Every game has. But compared to so many others, this game seems to constantly be surrounded by a culture of optimism and encouragement to a degree I have yet to see from AAA companies, and it is refreshing and infectious in its enthusiasm. It is something I wasn’t even aware of just how much I needed it before I experienced it.