You’d be hard pressed at this point to read a piece of Anthem news that didn’t mention – for better or worse – that “D word”, Destiny. Comparisons of Soderlund’s 10 year journey quote to the original leaked roadmap for Destiny, of Javelin exosuits to Destiny classes, content release cycles, gameplay, you name it. It is really hard to find any reporting on Anthem that doesn’t also comparatively mention Destiny.
The main thing these two games have in common is that they’re open world/shared world action RPGs. There’s plenty of debate to be had about which game did invent that genre, but one thing is certain. Destiny didn’t invent the action RPG; it only brought it to console.
How are these games alike, and how are they different? Let’s dive in.
Setting and Lore
Destiny is, at its core, set in a magic based universe sprinkled with a little tech. Everything in the Destiny narrative is about the Traveler’s Light, a magical force that has gifted Guardians with Supers and immortality and grants their weapons additional powers and abilities. There is a bit of tech in the universe, but it is the “B” story to the Light’s “A” story.
While we know little about Anthem’s universe so far, we can distill some things from the game play reveal and other bits of information floating around out there. The Anthem universe seems to be tech-centered. Missiles with lock-on, mortars, Javelin exosuits, a Fort, jet packs, these are all technological constructs. No magicians required.
The Javelin exosuits appear to be a key differentiator here. Whereas in Destiny your character is locked into a single set of abilities based on your initial class selection, Anthem appears to allow you to change abilities/classes on the fly, by simply changing Javelin exosuits. If true, this would be welcome, as it would greatly reduce grinding and increase casual accessibility.
The Destiny world, at least the Destiny 1 world, is anything but open. There’s a series of disconnected zones on a map. Want to go somewhere? Go to orbit. Go to map. Go where you wanted to go. Bungie has proudly chimed in that there is no more going to orbit, but you still have to go to the Director to go to a different area.
What we saw in the Anthem reveal appears to take a markedly different approach. The player walks to the edge of Fort Tarsus and prepares to take “The Dive”. As they did so in the demo, they looked around. To the right was a “this is a tough activity” looking skull. There was a flag off to the player’s right as they dove down. It appeared they could have just flown to these locations. This is in line with world navigation in other Frostbite engine games such as Mass Effect: Andromeda or Battlefield.
To be fair, we’ve only seen a small vertical slice of the game, and we don’t know more than we know. Is Fort Tarsus the only Fort, or is one of many Forts scattered about the world? Does all the action take place on one planet, or are there many planets to travel between? We know that Frostbite has technical limitations with maps larger than 10,000km2. Nevertheless, going from a/the Fort directly into activities is more seamless than what even Destiny 2 appears to be offering.
Activision has completely married Sony when it comes to Destiny. Okay, really, when it comes to anything, Sony is Activision’s clear preferred partner. Destiny has had one year exclusives on guns, PvP maps, PvE strikes, wearable armor, everything. You name it, if there is a category of Thing in Destiny, there is at least one PS4 Exclusive Thing in that category. Bungie briefs Destiny news with the Sony briefing at E3. Every piece of marketing material lists PS4/PS4 Pro before any other platform.
Meanwhile, EA has a strong relationship with Microsoft and the Xbox platform. EA Access, EA’s subscription gaming service, is only available on Xbox. Many EA Sports titles are only available on Xbox. EA chose to reveal Anthem to the world at the end of Microsoft’s Xbox E3 briefing, and EA is listing Xbox and PC before PS4 on all its marketing materials. There’s nothing definite yet as it’s just too soon, but all indications are that Xbox players will receive some kind of preferential treatment or access when it comes to Anthem. At minimum, Xbox players would get the first crack at Anthem via EA Access’s 10 hour pre-release trials, usually the week prior to general availability.
Again, we seem to have a comparison of opposites. In Destiny, you have limited third-person interactions in social spaces (think emotes or sitting) and total first-person perspective out in the game world. Meanwhile, in Anthem, Game Lead Jonathan Warner confirmed on Twitter that the social spaces would be first-person, while play out in the world would be third-person.
The Ten Year Plan
Much ado has been made about the Patrick Söderlund interview, particularly Söderlund’s quote about the “10-year journey” Anthem might begin. This has been widely misquoted and distilled. The original quote was that Anthem might be the “start of, I think, maybe a 10-year journey”. There’s a lot of hedging there. This strikes me as much more of a vision statement than a statement that anyone is firmly committed to anyone. Nevertheless, the community and press alike have seized on the quote for the purposes of, yep, comparing Anthem to Destiny.
Those who know about Destiny know of it’s original leaked 10 year roadmap, laying out a vision of “Game, minor DLC, minor DLC, year 1 major DLC, minor DLC, minor DLC, new game…” That Destiny roadmap is completely out the window, with minor DLCs being replaced with live events, Destiny 2 arriving a full year late, etc.
One important thing to bear in mind here is the very different business relationship between Activision/Bungie and EA/BioWare. Bungie is an independent company that has a publishing agreement with Activision for Destiny. Meanwhile, EA wholly owns BioWare. This is hugely beneficial to Anthem. If the release date needs to slip a little for quality’s sake or the project needs more money to deliver the best results, EA has deep pockets to cover it. If Anthem is a huge success, BioWare can call the firepower not only of its own three studios (Edmonton, Montreal and Austin) to bear, but also that of EA’s massive global resources.
Destiny and Anthem aren’t really the same game, or similar. Nearly everything about the two games is opposite. Anthem isn’t a Destiny clone, knock off, or successor. Quite the… opposite.
Editor’s note: This article received quite a bit of negative reaction from the Reddit in particular. Those who disagreed respectfully underscored where I failed with this article, in not pointing out the much larger similarities between the two games. I agree with that, and will try to provide a more balanced viewpoint in the future.