Since before Anthem launched, BioWare has been teasing its mysterious Cataclysm endgame experience. It was hyped up as a world-changing feature that would challenge the mettle of Anthem's hardcore players. Cataclysm was supposed to launch in May, but Anthem's turbulent launch and myriad of core problems, like highly repetitive missions and boring loot, got in the way. And after missing most of its April update deadlines, BioWare announced it was delaying their entire post-launch roadmap—Cataclysm included. But today Anthem lead producer Ben Irving and community manager Jesse Anderson hosted a livestream on Twitch to finally show off what the hell Cataclysm actually is.
The wait has not been worth it.
Don't get me wrong, Cataclysm is cool. But after waiting for so long to be revealed—and set against the backdrop of Anthem's fundamental flaws—Cataclysm is hardly a reason to reinstall Anthem if you're already frustrated with the disjointed mess of BioWare's loot shooter. Not to mention it still doesn't have a set release date, though players can test it out on Anthem's upcoming test server in the next few weeks.
While Cataclysm was often compared to Destiny 2's raids, it is a very different kind of experience. As Irving explains, Cataclysm is a timed event that will take place over eight weeks, with new loot and activities rolling out each week. The first two weeks of the Cataclysm event don't really count however, as all they'll offer is new in-game challenges that reward new vanity items for missions and Strongholds you already have unlocked. After those two weeks pass, the Cataclysm itself will be available. Here's how it works.
Into the storm
Once the six-week Cataclysm event kicks off, players will have access to three new story missions with "high-quality cinematic scenes" and a brand new area called The Cataclysm. The new story missions will help bridge the events of Anthem's original story campaign with this new event, but the meat of this update is found in The Cataclysm area itself.
This new area is an open-world zone ravaged by a supernatural storm. The goal behind Cataclysm is to team up in a squad of four to complete various objectives, earn points, and defeat a final boss before a time limit expires. Those points are then turned into a currency you can spend on new gear that will be rolled out on a weekly basis once the Cataclysm update is actually live.
Unlike a Stronghold or a traditional dungeon, however, the Cataclysm is a nonlinear area that players are free to explore at their leisure. You won't have much time to take in the sights though, because your time in The Cataclysm is dictated by a timer and extreme weather effects that constantly chip away at your suits' "Stability Meter." If that meter runs out, the storm will quickly deplete your health and kill you.
Scattered across the map are various arenas with specific objectives that, when completed, reward your team with points. These arenas look pretty similar to the repetitive free-play events that players are familiar with, but Irving did say that the objectives will involve some puzzle solving. That doesn't inspire much hope, since Anthem's attempts at puzzles has so far been more frustrating than fun. These arenas will also have safe spots that can be triggered, giving you a temporary reprieve from the Cataclysm's harmful effects. Solving the objectives of each arena will increase your score and your time limit.
To maximize your score, Irving says there are plenty of secrets and puzzles that players can complete that add bonus multipliers. One of the more obvious ones, for example, is killing enemies while suffering from the harmful effects of the storm, which doubles the points you get.
The ultimate objective is to defeat a boss called Vara, which Irving did not go into much detail about. Once she's defeated, your score will be doubled and the Cataclysm will end. So the overall idea is to quickly clear objectives and kill enemies, earning bonus multipliers to get the highest score you can while still leaving enough time to defeat Vara. Even if you don't defeat her in time (or you die trying), you'll still finish the Cataclysm—just without her massive double bonus.
The Cataclysm will change each week that the event is live, too. New arenas will be made available while others will be locked off and "Inversions" will add modifiers like upping the damage of shotguns or reducing the effectiveness of elemental effects to encourage players to try different strategies to maximize their runs. A leaderboard system will give bragging rights to those who can clear The Cataclysm fastest with the most points earned.
But what about the loot?
One of the biggest frustrations Anthem players have had is with its boring and stingy loot system. But beyond Cataclysm adding more powerful loot, the frustrations of Anthem's gear system will largely remain in place. Each time you finish a run in the Cataclysm, your points will be converted to a currency that you can spend at a vendor in Fort Tarsis on "battle chests"—which sound like they'll only contain randomized rewards.
The contents of these loot boxes will change week after week, starting with some new melee augments before finally offering some brand new types of weapons that haven't been unveiled yet.
While this new loot will be more powerful than anything currently in the game by a small margin, Catacylsm will also add higher rarity tiers for support items, some new masterwork gear, and a new slot that changes the behavior of your javelin's melee weapon. These will be added to the regular sources for loot, too.
In addition to that, there are some positive if minor fixes that will affect the whole of Anthem's gear system. The biggest is that the Luck stat, which helped influence rare loot drops, is going away entirely and drop chances will be boosted as if you had your Luck maxed. That means more loot more often. Items that once offered extra Luck will now add armor instead.
When will Cataclysm be released?
We still don't know, but the good news is you can play a beta version starting sometime in the next week or so. We'll have more information on that as it's made available, but you'll have to download an entirely separate beta client for Anthem—if you can spare another 60GB of drive space that is.
The beta servers won't be live 24/7, but Anderson says players will be able to jump in for a few days at a time and test out new Cataclysm features as they're being developed and provide feedback. That feedback will help BioWare determine how powerful new Cataclysm loot should be as well how it should tweak the overall experience.
After such a long wait, though, I'm not all that excited by what BioWare has been cooking up. I like that Cataclysms are a dynamic race against time where you have to find that perfect balance between staying safe but also pushing your score ever higher. But this feels remarkably like Anthem's boring free-play mode with a timer slapped on it. One of the worst parts about Anthem was how repetitive and simple its mission objectives were, and though this stream didn't go in-depth on what it takes to complete an arena in the Cataclysm, they sure seemed similar. I'm worried that after a few runs, the Cataclysm will end up being the same repetitive grind. And rewards stuffed inside of randomized loot boxes doesn't exactly whet my appetite for Anthem's mundane loot. At this point, I'm not sure what would.