Anthem was shown to the world at E3 in 2017. We were shown a graphically beautiful game showcasing an astonishing open world with amazingly lush environments and a densely populated wilderness which can be explored on foot or flying. Taking control of, what can be most easily described as your very own Ironman suite, your Javelin. Gameplay looked amazing, combat seemed to be something to rival the likes of Destiny. Taking your Javelin into combat in any manner you choose, be it on the ground with the Colossus, which is the 'tank' class, the Ranger, 'all-rounder', Storm, controls magic, or the Interceptor, all about moving fast and getting in and out quickly. Combining these classes with 3 of your best friends seemed great! Having Bioware at the helm of this monumental RPG-title could only produce something stellar. With Bioware heading colossal titles such as Dragon Age, Mass Effect and even the legendary Star Wars: The Old Republic, Anthem has absolutely EVERYTHING in its favor.
When the Beta arrived players were met with gross server issues, many players clocked less than 1 hour of play during the Beta weekend due to these issues. Still, there was good feedback from the ones who did manage to clock time during the Beta. Roll forward to launch day, which was met by a group of fans on two polar opposite opinions. Many were still extremely excited for what was toted to be the "destiny-killer", which is a rather big statement, but from what was shown during gameplay it could easily reach or surpass that statement. The other half was getting ready to be met by a broken, unpolished, mess of a game. What was found when the finished product loaded up on my console was neither the former nor the latter...
The Story begins... in the middle?
Anthem is set on an alien planet where mankind has scraped out some sort of existence due to the brave and heroic actions of a small group of exosuit warriors known as the freelancers. A strange alien race known only as the shapers took control of the "anthem of creation", a strange energy that permeates everything. These aliens suddenly decide to disappear and leave all their Anthem-infused tools to cause major destruction and disruption all throughout the planet. Leaving only the freelancers to try and clean up and resolve as much of the Anthem-caused chaos as possible... Reading that Anthem sounds like it's setting up to deliver a narrative experience worthy of an Oscar nomination at least! Instead what you get is a story that feels unfinished and disjointed.
Fort Tarsis is what you would call home in Anthem, a large, visually stunning, bastion of mankind on the planet. Filled with many charismatic characters to speak to. Problem is, none of these characters ever accompany you out on missions and they also never leave their set positions... making them feel more like enthusiastic quest-givers from MMO titles than actual characters in a RPG. Never spending actual time with them or enduring hardships causes there to be absolutely zero connection with them, and this makes the regular insights into their lives annoying and empty. Which is the complete opposite of the enemies of Anthem which has such minimal screen time that I still have no clue as to what their mission or motivations for their mission really are?
Unlike games such as Red Dead Redemption 2, interacting with secondary characters offer absolutely nothing in terms of character progression or story progression. The interactions feel nothing more than an awkward exchange of dialogue to fill time and space. With Bioware at the helm, you would expect Mass Effect-like characters that actually have effects on your story and even make re-occurring appearances throughout the game. Shame on you Bioware!
Completing a mission will have you brought back to Fort Tarsis to painstakingly have to trek across the whole of the fort, walking down the same streets and alleys over and over to collect a mission and come back to the launch pad to start it. Fort Tarsis, as beautiful as it feels like a waste of time at the moment. It is supposed to create freedom of choice and exploration but at the moment it is simply a painful way to reach the start of the next mission.
Time to suit-up!
Hopping into your Javelin and zooming off into the jungles of Bastion does make things better. Firstly the jungles are ridiculously dense and pretty. Secondly, yet have I to experience the joy of flying through the jungle with your squad mates on either side on the way to your next mission. The flying makes you feel like a true hero and doing it with friends makes it ten times better! But once the missions start, things become repetitive. The first couple of missions feel fresh and fighting is good but after your fourth mission, things have become boring and repetitive.
Whether just playing a random mission, or free roaming or taking on a stronghold mission ( these are like a 20 minute Strike like in Destiny 2), Anthem still only has a handful of objectives which the game just reuses time and again. No matter my mission, be it finding a lost scientist or destroying a shaper relic I will ALWAYS need to defend a specified area for 30 seconds and then use my radar to find "valuable" intel on my objective, which I could not be bothered to even remember. During these missions, you will quickly discover that a map that was toted to be large and features many hours of exploration is actually rather small and has you fighting in the same areas and caves on multiple occasions during the campaign.
What saves Anthem a little is the fact that combat can be rather enjoyable. Each javelin brings a unique combat perspective and having a squad with each type of javelin in it can become extremely powerful and make you feel like a real hero. The essence of the combat system in Anthem functions around teamwork. The squad will need to first inflict status effect from one ability, called a primer, before using a second ability, detonator, that will trigger a combo and cause massive damage. Problem with the combo system is that it never gets explained apart from a short brush-over in the tutorials. Lack of clarity extends to the entire loot system. Loot has aimless stats that is never explained and finding a weapon you actually like but happens to be weak, simply has you searching for a higher grade of the same weapon. Even your javelins have stats which are all pretty mundane and cumbersome.
Working against its own Strengths
Anthem has so many loose threads that I constantly find myself asking why... Why is the mission screen so detailed? Why does it tally experience points after level 30 when these points serve no purpose anymore? Why would I need hundreds of crafting materials if I can only craft weak gear that I will never use? and so the list goes on...
EA and Bioware have already detailed the way forward for Anthem and just like Destiny 2 and The Division, it is sure to change a great deal in future updates and possibly become a very playable and enjoyable game. Bioware has been extremely quick to respond to comments and criticism and on how they plan on correcting problems.
Fundamentally Anthem has a lot going for it. Spectacular scenery, amazing flying mechanics, decent combat, but the pacing of the campaign is way off, moving at snail's pace at the most boring of parts and racing through pieces that should have been fleshed out to give the story some more meat. Would I recommend it right now? Probably not, should it be looked at after a few updates and expansions? Most definitely!!! Anthem needs to focus on keeping aspects that are supposed to be fun, fun, and not let them become a choir. But there are many aspects that can be lauded, customizing your Javelin and stepping out into the sunlight with your fresh new paint and weaponry is really satisfying and defeating a stronghold on grandmaster difficulty cannot be explained in words. Let's hope that Bioware can shape this the way Ubisoft took a very broken Division and created a great game, with time.
Special thanks to Prima Interactive for supplying the review game
JP Du Preez
JP Du Preez is a father that enjoys all things tech and gaming related.
He loves new tech and is always keen to unbox the next set of headphones and start reviewing them.