- Game: Anthem
- Consoles: Xbox One, PS4, PC (Reviewed)
- Publisher: EA
- Developer: BioWare
- (A review copy of Anthem was supplied by the publisher.)
When it all clicks, BioWare’s Anthem is one of the slickest, coolest looking games on the market. Soaring through the air, blowing up aliens, and landing dramatically in the heat of combat is damn near euphoric. This is the closest we have ever gotten to truly feeling like Iron Man and the level of polish on display during battles is superb.
Yet, for every adrenaline-pumping high there is an equally depressing low. There are some absolutely puzzling choices made throughout and Anthem’s core design feels like different components were just stitched together. Individually they all work, but when combined together the game becomes unfocused and confusing.
There have been a lot of comparisons thrown around leading up to Anthem’s release, with Destiny being the most common. This is an odd comparison, as Anthem is very much a story-driven RPG that’s being cannibalized by its heavy push towards multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong, performing flashy combo moves on hordes of enemies is deeply satisfying. However, playing with others is a double-edged sword that Anthem gleefully stabs itself with.
With the Day 1 patch most of the lobby troubles of Anthem have been resolved. While this makes joining a mission in progress slightly rarer, the co-op nature of Anthem still leaves a lot to be desired. On the normal and even hard difficulty settings, a coordinated team can easily blast through most of the simplistic objectives. This can be amended once you start delving into Anthem most challenging modes, however, most users might find their initial run of the campaign quick and unengaging.
A lot of this is due to the simple and very straightforward level design. With the exception of tougher, dungeon-like missions called Strongholds, players will find themselves repeating the same tasks over and over again. Too many levels involve flying to an area, shooting some enemies, and then holding down a button for a few seconds. Sometimes you’ll have to use a radar to collect items, but even this mechanic is overused. Their boring and uninspired, with most levels eliciting an eye roll from me as my all-powerful Javelin needs to once again collect some relics.
Thankfully, piloting the Javelins constantly feels exciting and engaging. Players can select one of four Javelins before a mission begins and once they are all unlocked you can freely swap between them at your home base. Each exo-suit boasts three core abilities, two weapons, and an ultimate skill. Each of the core skills can be changed out for others you unlock such as the Colossus’ high-powered flamethrower or Storm’s ice blast. This gives the user a solid amount of customization options that can suit your preferred playstyle and benefit your team’s set up.
There’s a Javelin type for almost everyone. Whether it’s the beefy and explosive-oriented Colossus or the nimble, melee-focused Interceptor, each exo-suit plays completely differently. Mastering these Javelins takes some time since there is an intracity to how each one moves and flies. While there are some tutorials hidden behind a comically cumbersome menu system, it’s up to the user to figure out how to best utilize their flying death machine.
Weapons and gear come in four distinct rarities, with Masterwork being the highest. To its credit, Anthem throws a generous amount of loot at the player, but its bogged down by a terrible menu system. It takes several steps and minutes to just equip new pieces of gear. There’s no test range and you cannot swap your gear on the fly like in other loot-focused titles. It’s such a puzzling decision that comes off as artificially inflating the length of the game without adding anything substantive.
Visually, players can paint their Javelin any color and can change out various parts such as arms, legs, and the torso. Changing the look of your Javelin doesn’t impact the gameplay, which makes the lack of actual cosmetic options confusing. So far, additional parts for your exo-suit are limited and some of the best can be purchased using the in-game currency or real-world cash. As I progress towards the end game I hope that more cosmetic options unlock.
There’s also some seriously impressive facial rendering for the main cast. While I experienced a little bit of screen tearing and assets that didn’t load in, this was never a substantial issue. A lot of the main bugs also appear to be resolved, however, the A.I. really doesn’t appear to be that smart. Most engagements have them running at you and unless they’re carrying a shield you can easily gun them down. Your foe’s interactions with certain abilities are also inconsistent. Too many times would I use my Colossus’ Battle Cry to attempt to draw fire, only to have the afflicted enemies outright ignore me for several seconds.
Tying everything together is a solid story with some endearing characters. BioWare has put a lot of emphasis on the plot and people inhabiting the world. You assume the role of a Freelancer, one of a few pilots that survived a failed mission to keep the world from ripping itself apart. What follows is a complicated web of characters and factions, all of which are vying for control. The Freelancer can either be male or female, both of which are fully voiced.
Anthem’s campaign and characters are genuinely great. Watching your Freelancer’s relationship build, fracture, and grow with different comrades is compelling. A lot of this is thanks to the terrific writing and voice acting which helps Anthem’s world feel alive. It’s just a shame there’s nothing to do in that world once the credits roll.
When it comes to the end game, all Anthem boasts is some challenges, farming for loot, replaying old missions, and Strongholds. The latter is the best activity offered, as these dungeons offer a few unique scenarios that will test even the most hardened team. Even though I fully expect more Strongholds to release down the road, only having three at launch is a bummer. There some of the best missions in the game and I certainly imagine how stale running them will get in a month or so.
Anthem is a game that’s at war with itself. There are elements of a loot-based RPG, but everything gets dragged down by the lackluster end game and puzzling UI choices. While the campaign is certainly enjoyable and flying around like Iron Man literally never gets old, Anthem is just a big empty toy box. Perhaps in a year or so it will be a more substantial experience. But at a certain point, games need to stop relying on future content to justify a lackluster beginning.