After an exchange on the Discord on Saturday, I though I am going to give you my two cents on the state of the game at present:
Areas most improved:
- You can go from one expedition into the next without having to load into the Fort first. At the end of each expedition you now get a choice to either go back to Launchbay (which is functionally a lobby), to the Fort (which is your story/singleplayer component) or go directly into the menu to launch another expedition. It is not an automated quene and you still have to slot you permanent buffs manually (which is kinda required once you graduate from Hard-difficulty; which is required to access the best loot). This essentially makes forming a squad much less of an inconvience during Freeplay, as you can just go out of a session, have your loot unpack and then form the squad before heading back out.
- You can access the Forge, aka the loadout menu, at any time. While you will still have to go back out of/finish an activity to unpack loot, and go back to the Fort or Launchbay to swap Javelins, you can now change your gear on the fly. I am personally not much a fan of this one, but I can see the convinence.
- The ammount of "broken at joing" Missions/Strongholds in Quickplay is down almost zero. Mission breaking because a player is dropped in by the matchmaking/disconnected or the matchmaking dropping you in an already broken mission was a plague at launch. This has gone down significantly.
- Functional map for the Freepay-area. The map in Freepay is bare-bones. It shows you where the other players are and gives you a handy "golden thread" of your last minutes of movements. But what it is still missing is an efficent way to find active world events, esspecially those other players are engaged in - the best point you can hope for that is when you either get close enought for game to provide you with nav markers, or player getting downed (as you can see that icon across the entire map).
Freeplay however now has a lot more navmakers to help you find mobs without having to be near ground level all the time. It also helps to keeps down the ammount of unwanted, aimless flying as you can basically go from one marker to next in any subdivision of the Freeplay area.
- Drop-in joing during any activity. This is the worst issue with higher difficulty Contracts and Strongholds. There is still now way to functionally invite players into an ongoing activity, as far as I can tell. Mostly that is because all activities are capped at 4 players and the matchmaking ensures there are no free spots.
- A system to warn you of priority threats nearby. There are number of enemies in Anthem that have very low time-to-kill against you, e.g. the Scar Hunter, and you frequently find yourself surrounded by enemies than can take you down with their numbers. So prioritizing which targets to tackle is key to survival, esspecially once you play on Hard or higher difficulty. In a team, having a functional composition will usually take care of that - having a Storm or a Ranger on your team means that you have a player that can hang back and coordinate - but if you are not that coordinated or just playing a pick-up game, you just out of luck and quickly find yourself downed by an enemy just outside your field of view.
Now, I also have access to the Cataclysm Test Server - like most players who bought more than the standard retail version.
The Cataclysm is not exactly a game changer gameplay-wise. It's essentially a mix of Freeplay and a Stronghold, as the objectives resemble more those of a Stronghold, both in difficulty and coordination with other players required, but there is no linear progression through it, you can theoretically tackle them in any order you like - you can technically even head straight for the Boss. I say "theoretically tackle them in any order" as the timer forces you to be economical about that - while completing an objective returns time onto the timer that ammount is fixed, which can leave you with a net loss.
In the Cataclysm activity you also have to content with a Stability meter, which constantly drains unless you are in safe zone (some objectives are in safe zones, some are not). You can refill Stability through drops found in the envoirment or dropped by enemies. If your Stability runs out, your shield shuts down and flight time goes down signifcantly. It's actually a nice mechanic to keep you moving outside of combat (in combat you are moving anyway), even if you just walk through the objectives.
There are also a few additions to regular Freeplay coming with the Cataclysm, which are, by my count less than a hand-full, new enemy variations, some new World Events and Crystals. Crystals are basically a new Harvet point, similar to Minerals, Vegitation and Scrap. However currently they exclusively provide Embers, which have been one of two limiting factors in Carfting so far (the other being Javeling-specific parts).
EDIT: Before I forget: I finally get the ability to change the attributes of your meele ability!
Vedict: The impression of playing an Early Access Game is not gone - neither on the normal build and esspecially not on the PTS build. But so far it has been moving in positive direction - and considering that is probabily still bottom of the barrel in terms of technical support at EA, huge leaps should not be expected.
I can't in good concience issue "buy"-recommendation, although I personally enjoy Anthem very much, but it much less worse than it used to be.
ps. The Cataclysm also comes with a little story campaign. While I won't comment too much on execution as what you see on the PTS is unpolished to say the least (a central story cutscene is even watermarked with "Unfinished Cinematic"), it is more supplement to the "Heart of Rage"-campaign than a continuation. Not just because almost all of the characters seem to be returning just for a cameo (including one of my favorites, fellow Freelancer Rythe) but because it mostly adds context to events of the "Heart of Rage"-campaign, e.g. why the Dominion was backing the Monitor.
There are some cringeworth moments in the writing, particularly one where writers forgot the cardinal rule regarding re-telling jokes, and like with the "Heart of Rage"-campaign some connective tissue appears to have been left on the cutting room floor, BUT it also very competent writing on average. I am actually curious to see if they can replicate the emotional ressonace I had with the presentation of the original campaign, once it all put together.