Anthem Review | An unfulfilled destiny

Mack Ashworth
Anthem Info

genre

  • Third-Person Shooter

players

  • 1 - 4

Publisher

  • Electonic Arts

Developer

  • Bioware

Release Date

  • 02/22/2018
  • Out Now

Platform

  • PC
  • PS4
  • Xbox One

rating

This Anthem review contains my experiences with the game after 40 hours of gameplay and following extensive testing of the day one patch. I have blasted through every story and side mission, while also diving deep into the endgame. As Anthem is about to go up against another loot shooter, The Division 2, as well as competing with the well-established (and now Activision-free) Destiny 2, I knew I had to be thorough in my assessment of BioWare and EA’s big push into this space. These are games that players are looking to invest a huge number of hours into, as they chase awesome loot and ride the grind.

As a video game, Anthem does a lot right with combat, visuals, and a passable story. As a loot shooter, however, this title misses more than it hits, leading to a shaky foundation that will be tricky to stabilize.

Anthem Review | A BioWare game, you say?

anthem review

There won’t be any story spoilers here, mainly because I can hardly remember what happened in the 16 hours it took to finish the storyline and some side missions. BioWare used to be synonymous with great characters, awesome lore, and compelling story. I don’t see any of that with Anthem.

The protagonist and supporting characters are voiced well, but always come across as disappointingly soulless, and the lack of meaningful dialogue options had me quickly skipping through non-essential chatter. There’s no Paragon/Renegade system here, and certainly none of the romance options that are typically present in BioWare games. No, you most certainly cannot have sex in Anthem, if that’s your thing.

While the plot surrounds a world-ending power, I never got the sense that Anthem‘s populace really feared for their lives. Character animation quality is great, however, even if the story does this animation a disservice.

The world’s lore is interesting, but only the keenest players will want to read through the Codex entries and put up with the NPC conversations. I wish the world’s interesting qualities were better demonstrated within missions, in a “show, don’t tell” sort of way. The beginning missions do this wonderfully, and the first couple of hours are truly thrilling, but then it all just seems to fizzle away.

Considering the previous output from BioWare’s all-star writing team, Anthem falls well short of the mark in this department with its uninspired and predictable plot. If this was your typical loot shooter, then I wouldn’t be so surprised. However, this is supposed to be a BioWare game, and that comes with higher expectations, especially considering the focus its pre-release build-up placed on its story.

Anthem Review | If looks were everything…

anthem review

While its story might not amount to much, it’s certainly a looker. Anthem boasts some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen in a video game. The Frostbite engine has been used to create a glorious-looking world that is an absolute joy to explore. Throughout my journey, I frequently found myself stopping to take screenshots of my badass Javelin armor, looking all moody in the thunder and rain, or shining brightly as the sun rose. From battling enemies as lightning crashed down around me, to diving into an underwater passage to cool off my overheating suit, Anthem‘s presentation is second-to-none.

Following the day one patch, performance on PC is as expected. Loading times on my SSD-equipped computer are fine, though the frequency of loading screens are a little ridiculous. This becomes especially annoying when I want to equip a new weapon for the next mission. Four or five loading screens stand between the end of your current mission, equipping your new weapon, and loading into the next mission. I would often forgo the slightly more powerful weapon just so that I didn’t have to bother with the excessive loading.

Console users will have to deal with an FPS cap of 30 FPS and poorer loading times. I’ve played through the intro on PS4 Pro, and aside from a bug that’s automatically disabling HDR, it appears to look and play fine. However, I can’t provide a definitive call on that, considering the vast majority of my playtime was spent on PC.

Anthem Review | I am Iron Man

anthem review

Anthem also absolutely nails its combat. The big unique feature here is the added verticality. The ability to take the fight to the air, narrowly dodging attacks while laying waste to grounded opponents, allows for new approaches to firefights. There are limits to how much flying you can do before the suit overheats, but it feels well-balanced and prevents the mechanic from being too powerful.

In addition to flying, the combo system also makes Anthem‘s combat system special. When deciding on your Javelin loadout, you’ll want to ensure that you have a Primer (which sets up a combo) and a Detonator (this triggers the combo) at your disposal. Having both of these will allow you to attack with a Primer, then follow up with a Detonator to score massive damage. The “ding” you hear when a combo activates is super satisfying. Sadly, this mechanic is poorly explained by the game, and I feel that many players will go hours and hours without understanding what it does.

There are also, of course, the guns, but these are not very interesting at all. There are three types of guns per weapon class, which have different fire rates, functions, and whatnot, but with so many abilities ready to be combined between players, shooting at an enemy feels like a cop-out. Sometimes guns are necessary for tougher enemies, or on higher difficulties, and that’s when the gameplay tends to slow down and become a lot more tedious.

Anthem Review | Attack of the Clones

anthem review

Using the Colossus to stomp through enemies, or the Interceptor to slice them up, left me satisfied with every encounter I experienced on the regular difficulty setting. The Ranger and Storm Javelins have their strengths, too, and all four Javelins are unlockable within the same playthrough, meaning no replaying the story for different classes.

Unfortunately, even with these cool-as-hell Javelins combining arms, with Combo “dings” going off and awesome explosions being triggered, it’s hard to ignore the repetition when it comes to the enemies you face. Encounters quickly feel like deja vu, with the same baddies popping up and being dealt with in exactly the same way. Sometimes they’ll have “Epic” in front of their name and require a few more punches to down, or maybe a “Legendary” and take more hits still, but they are all the same boring base enemies at their core.

Another race is teased towards the end of the game, but I suppose BioWare is saving that for an expansion or, EA-willing, an Anthem 2.

Anthem Review | Definition of “insanity”

anthem review

Enemies aren’t the only aspect of Anthem lacking variety. The entire game feels jarringly empty and recycled, with its gorgeous graphics failing to distract from the absence of actual new content.

It’s not that there aren’t any missions — there are actually a whole bunch — but they all contain the same loop of going to a point on the map, killing some enemies, interacting with an object, killing some more enemies, and then “Mission Complete.” The ability to fly and traverse underwater is rarely used for entertaining gameplay, which is a damn shame. I’d have loved to see more reality-altering effects of the relics, too, creating some truly wacky challenges and encounters. With a story that isn’t anything special, extra pressure is put on gameplay, which it just can’t handle.

Even worse is the blatant padding employed to inflate the time taken to complete the story. A few hours in, after some actually well-paced intro missions, players are hit with a quest that demands several hours of farming Chests, finding collectibles, playing through missions (potentially replaying them), achieving different types of kills, and other bits of boring busywork. I couldn’t believe that this mission needed to be completed to continue on with the story, but there it was, demanding I go out into Freeplay to continue blasting through the plot.

This would have been less arduous if the world map wasn’t terrible. Limited fast travel is my first issue, with no waypoint function being the second. At least let me plop a marker down so I can track my path towards a location, instead of constantly having to bring the map back up to my face.

Anthem Review | Limited customization

anthem review

The variety of available loot is also disappointing, with different weapon types and Javelin equipment being very limited. More often than not, you’ll want to immediately scrap the loot you get. If you let this build up, space in the Vault will become an issue.

Even after the day one patch, there are very few cosmetics to spend Coins (earned in-game) or Shards (premium currency) on. While the default Javelin armor sets all look brilliant, available customization is sorely lacking, with only colors and materials allowing for slight personalization.

Having viewed developer streams and previews where more cosmetics are in early builds of the game, I have to assume that BioWare has them ready to go at some stage. They just aren’t here right now. It’s not a good look to launch with so few cosmetic options, many of which require a big chunk of in-game currency, or a significant real-world investment.

When more loot does eventually show up, there will be the issue of not being able to show it off. Anthem’s hub area is single-player only, so you don’t see any other players. There is the Launch Bay, but I only went there a handful of times. You can interact with other players in this area which is nice, but there is no other reason to go there. And, as Anthem doesn’t have PvP, you won’t be emoting to taunt your enemies or intimidating them with your impressive weapon skins. Most interactions with players will be out in the open world and during missions, where the focus is on shooting enemies and getting through the waves of enemies as quickly as possible, rather than checking each other out and emoting wildly.

Anthem Review | Friend or foe

anthem review

Despite BioWare marketing it as a shared experience with friends, Anthem never really makes the most of its party systems. In fact, grouping up with others can often lead to frustration, as an aggressive tethering mechanic forces you to stay close to your teammates, or suffer the consequences of (yet another) loading screen. Also annoying are the puzzles, which require you to rotate statues and match symbols. The thing is, all players can interact with these statues, meaning that dealing with overly enthusiastic puzzle experts, as well as straight-up trolls, can be a problem.

Also odd is the way that cutscenes sometimes only feature your Javelin, while at other times they include all of your party. It’s quite bizarre, honestly. There’s no acknowledgment of these three other Pilots, and no comment about their absence when they’re gone. This is a single-player story, with your three invisible friends jumping in to help deal damage.

Anthem Review | We’re in the endgame now

anthem review

Anthem does a terrible job of explaining many things, including its endgame offerings. Upon completing the story and returning to the Fort Tarsis hub, you’ll be given an endgame challenge which demands four objectives be completed. Frankly, these challenges are ludicrous, asking for 100 Freeplay activities (random events in the open world), 25 Strongholds (larger missions with a boss, of which the game has only three), 25 Contracts (replaying missions), and 25 Quickplay runs (replaying even more missions). I’d say there’s at least 20 hours worth of objectives there, all plopped upon your lap. I’m about halfway done, keeping my sanity by playing on Easy, though it would be nice if tougher difficulties counted for more completions.

This initial endgame objective has me extremely worried about Anthem’s longevity. While I know BioWare is planning to support this game with free content, I’m also aware how quickly loot shooter fans finish games and love to obsess over the grind towards being “raid ready” and earning the rarest loot.

Now it’s not that there isn’t any endgame loot in Anthem, as Masterworks and Legendary equipment do exist, it’s just that the method of earning them isn’t explained all that well. If you do want to equip the most powerful weapons, you’ll be needing to master replaying missions at the tougher difficulties. Strongholds are the most demanding challenges here, though there are only three of them at launch.

Ultimately, to really stick to the endgame grind at launch, you have to be a player who is obsessed with mastering optimal mission runs, or who wants to try and perfect every possible Javelin combo, or is committed to completing the daily, weekly, and monthly missions. For most people, however, I think Anthem’s endgame will be extremely disappointing. With no PvP with which to hoover up gamers’ hours, Anthem’s PvE endgame needed to really deliver. At the time of writing, when the game is at its most expensive, that just isn’t the case.

Anthem Review | Always online… except when it’s not

anthem review

Even after the day one patch, which fixed a lot of my initial complaints about the game, in terms of stability and bugs, I still ran into numerous issues. While I no longer suffer from missions that glitch out and force a restart or infinite loading screens which demand to be force closed, I have still come across a number of “Unknown Error” messages, and too many occasions where the game kicks me from a server and fails to let me rejoin. The sound cutting out is also a problem that continues to pop up. While I understand that every game, even big-budget titles, have their networking troubles and bugs, the frequency of Anthem‘s errors is concerning.

Another issue that I started seeing after installing the day one patch was missing voiceover lines. Subtitles would appear, but the protagonist couldn’t be heard saying them. This also affected one of the Agents you work with, making for some very one-sided conversations. I’ve also had my Javelin colors reset to default upon loading into a mission. They then return to normal when the mission is complete. A minor issue, but an issue nonetheless. When the audio and visuals start to go bad, Anthem loses all charm.

Anthem Review | The EA way

anthem review

As evidenced with the day one patch, BioWare can right many wrongs in a very short space of time. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little impressed. However, the day one patch came too late for those players who got the game early through EA/Origin Access. As soon as EA started selling the game, it became open to attack and criticism, and you only get one go at a first impression.

As we’ve seen with many online games published by EA in recent years, they tend to launch in a questionable state, before being spruced up with post-launch patches and content drops. Often this is too little too late, and I fear a similar future awaits Anthem. There is content planned, as illustrated by roadmaps, but I don’t know how effective this will be in encouraging gamers to buy now and play later.

Unfortunately, I feel like fixing this game goes beyond patching glitches, squashing bugs, and then cramming in expansions. To bring this title up to the must-play level, many aspects of the game need a full overhaul. Without that, Anthem will keep its good looks and compelling combat systems, but remain distinctly average when it comes to the loot shooter content that truly matters.


Anthem review code provided by the publisher and played on a PC (Ryzen 7 1700, GTX 1070) and PS4 Pro. 

REVOLUTION REPORT CARD

2.5
Rating
Box art - Anthem
Iron Man simulator.
Visually stunning.
Free DLC.
Cosmetic microtransactions.
Lack of variety in literally every aspect.
Uninspired story.
Technical hiccups remain.