Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4
Release Date: February 22nd, 2019
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Price: $59.99 USD
There is a lot to say about Anthem. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Anthem has been a highly anticipated title from BioWare ever since its reveal at E3 2017. Unfortunately, many reviewers had to play this title without many of the major improvements implemented in the Day One patch. I set out on launch day, determined to find out what Anthem is truly about. Is it as harsh as some of the critics are saying? Did BioWare fall short, or did they pull through? As of writing this, I’ve logged two days and 20 hours into Anthem (according to Xbox Live). I’ve completed the full story, played heavily with gear builds and put in an extensive amount of time in the “End Game”. Let’s take a look and see if Anthem is truly worth the time.
Story – Freelancer’s Journal
BioWare is renowned for their storytelling and RPG games. Both Mass Effect and Dragon Age having massive cult followings respectively. They have given players a fantastic narrative driven experience that unfolds at the player goes along. Anthem however, is a different entity entirely. BioWare is diving into a new genre that very few have triumphed over, and if they have it took them years to do it. “Looter Shooters” such as Destiny, The Division, Warframe all stumbled for a good period of time before gaining their feet. Did it work out in the end for those three? It did mostly, but the player retention fell drastically because of a ‘Failure To Launch’ situation. BioWare did state awhile before launch that the story would be kept mostly “Open Ended”. Meaning it will have a good general narrative flow with no defining peak moments, other than the end. Well, we kind of got just that.
Anthems story lays a solid foundation as to what the worlds history is, what you do, your current situation and what might happen. You’re one of the few freelancers that survived the Heart of Rage, finding contract work wherever possible in Fort Tarsis. Ten years have passed since that fateful expedition, and now The Monitor, leader of The Dominion is up to no good again. He’s found a way to control the Anthem of Creation by using the Cenotaph, a Shaper Relic. Anthem has implemented a ton of lore in the game itself to sort of make up small gaps in the story. The lore does provide a ton of interesting information on the background of the world, its traditions and life. BioWare has truly created another interesting and incredible world, with heavy Arabic and Eastern influence in its culture. Another good way they provide a story experience is through some of the side characters. Each one that you can talk to has their own back story, situation, life and struggles. Even though you can’t choose four options per line, every once in a while you get a two choice dialogue option. For being a looter shooter and not an extensive RPG like their previous games, it’s enough to keep the characters interesting.
I know they intended to keep it fairly open ended for a story, but once I finished the main story there wasn’t really anything left to drive me forward in terms of a narrative. The story ends and kind of just.. falls flat. Yeah, you can talk to some of the characters in Fort Tarsis and finish up contract work, but that’s about it. There’s really no story for the end game content currently to keep you driving forward. This is a tough thing to have especially with a game that is so unique with such broad audience appeal. To keep the average gamer going in the long term, you need to set a solid foundation for a story from start to finish. For what’s there, it’s a solid presentation with little to keep you invested in the end game.
Gameplay – Destructive Beauty
It was difficult to NOT fall in love with how the gameplay is designed. Being able to fly around in your Javelin, a battle mech suit powered by the Anthem of Creation and guided by your Cypher, blowing up enemies in a gorgeous open world environment is so much fun. BioWare has created a fantastic foundation for an incredible new IP. Starting off with four different Javelins, each sporting their own play style. All four cover quite a wide array of play styles, so there is something for everyone even though there are new ones coming out in the future.
Once you’ve got that figured out, you are eventually opened up to multiple ways to play Anthem. Freeplay, story, strongholds, contracts or replay missions. With what we know about the story, that takes up a decent chunk of time at the start. Don’t rush through though, because you’ll burn through it and end up having to grind the rest of your levels. I did my best to balance out the contracts (Side missions, for a time) and the main story but still finished it at level 22. There is a ton to talk about for gameplay, so I’ll break it down into subsections for easier explanation.
I decided to roll with the Storm Javelin. It boasts being able to hover in mid air for an extended period of time, while also boosting your shield at the same time to take more damage. This allows you to be that eye in the sky damage dealer from afar. The Storm class has a wide array of abilities, also called your “Gear” allowing to setup for great combos for extra damage. The Storm, and other javelins are designed very well for their suited purpose. Play them for what they are capable of doing, and you will master your Javelin in no time at all. The Ranger boasts being nice a balanced, the Colossus a tank and the Interceptor an agile ninja. I found little issue transitioning from one Javelin to another.
One of my favorite modes of the game is Freeplay. The world of Pandora, and the amount of effort that went into creating such a beautifully unique environment is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Anthem. There is so much to explore and see, and with the freedom of movement and the vastness of the world it feels like it wont end. There is a ton of lore to go find, hidden locations to discover, enemies to eliminate. This is a world where i found myself having a tough NOT wanting to get out and explore it. One down side, is the Freeplay missions are not as sporadic as they were during the demo. This makes it difficult for a specific end game quest to be achieved.
Well, the idea is good and the design is decent. The follow through though for these being the staple of End Game content? Non-existent. These in the end are simply dungeon runs. Even though they boasts the best chance of acquiring great gear, it can be just as easy doing contracts or doing quickplay for missions. After the story is completed, you unlock two strongholds bringing the total for use to only three. This is a small amount, which is unfortunate considering the viability and the variety of what Anthem can offer in terms of content. Boss encounter design is actually better than I anticipated. The final boss fight is a good example of what could lead to more intricate and difficult encounters in the future. I sometime glimpse the game World of Warcraft in some of these Strongholds. They remind of the dungeons in World of Warcraft, but only about half of what those even were. In the end, they are kind of enjoyable and viable, but only pose as a warm-up for what’s to come.
These are nothing but a simple way to quickly do a three or four part mission for loot. There is nothing overly outstanding from them, other than legendary contracts that offer a higher chance of good rewards. They are also used to quickly level up your reputation with three factions which I will touch on in a different section.
Not much to touch on this one. Hit up Quickplay to reinforce other Freelancers during their missions. You get increased rewards from helping out others, and usually end up near the end of the missions. Want some quick guaranteed OK loot, this is the place for you. It’s great to team up with some newer players, waving to them as you land in can be fun.
This is something I think BioWare will have to consistently tune and expand on. I can’t expand a lot on this, considering each javelin has their own play style and combat style. Overall, the combat feels good but kind of clunky at the same time. You’re either using your gun most of the time, and some of your gear abilities or vice versa. As a Storm I’m focused more on my gear abilities than I am with gunplay, whereas with the Ranger/Colossus they are more gunplay-focused in comparison to using their gear abilities. Combat is smooth, has good variety with a OK variety of weapons, but nothing too outstanding.
Gear is an integral part to the game. Component make up and composition is important. If you want to maximize your Javelin to it’s most potential, keep an eye out on gear stats and how they work together with your abilities and personal stats. There is a decent amount of variety available to keep it somewhat intricate, but there doesn’t feel like there is enough. Being able to have an OK amount of different abilities throughout the game does allow you to play your own way. I was able to find myself hanging onto Burning Orbs, and Frost/Lightning Explosions as a Storm class. On the plus side, if you have multiple gear load outs that you like you can save up to five of them in the Forge.
This is a hidden gem in some games, if they are handled correctly. If there is too much of a grind to reach the max level for the associated rewards, people are discouraged. Balance it out right, and you will have both the casual and hardcore audience striving to max out these reputations. Anthem currently has a total of three: The Freelancers, The Sentinels, and The Arcanists. As you play the game, you will work through each factions levels, one through three. Contracts earn roughly 100 points per associated faction you obtain the contract from, gathering materials helps as well and lore. Maxing out these reputations takes awhile, considering level three is 3000 points to hit max. If you want all the crafting and customization colors available to you, aim on getting these reputations maxed out.
This is easily one of Anthem’s strongest assets. They allow you to make your Javelin very unique, giving you all the tools to make it look exactly how you want. Adding actual textured looks, such as Cloth, Heavy Cloth, metallic Panel, Bare Metal, Hardened Plastic, Leather, and a whole lot more. Put on top of that six different areas you can apply that to, with a custom color wheel for everything except metals.. The combinations can be endless. there are a couple of disappointments though. They tied certain additional metal colors and wear states to the reputation levels. So if you want the “New” wear state, you have to unlock level three Freelancer reputation. The different suits for the Javelins are basically non-existent as well. There’s only two additional sets you can purchase for each Javelin, and they are not exactly over the top amazing. As a whole though, this is some of the best customization i have seen aside from Warframe.
This is a doozy. Probably one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had playing Anthem. There is an end game, but there isn’t. It’s the end of the game, but its just a gear grind to get ready for an actual raid or end game activity. Breaking into Grandmaster 1 difficulty was tough at first, but after a few Masterwork drops fell into my lap the difficulty became more bearable. Downside, it has been hard as hell to get a variety of items. They tend to fall into the same category for awhile, or repeat the same gear ability two or three times before changing to something else. Maybe it’s my luck, maybe its the game. So what’s my goal once I complete the story? A certain challenge that I won’t go into detail about, but you’ll sure be looking at a lot of grinding. Options to gain gear, replay missions, contracts, strongholds and freeplay are all are fairly equal in obtaining gear. It’s up to you to find out which one you enjoy. Outside of that, there’s nothing to it. Get excited for that Cataclysm a couple months down the road..
Where do we even start? I really love this game, but there sure is a lot of issues with it right now. Even after the day one patch, there are issues abound. Some can drive a player off, some are insignificant. I’ll name some and let them speak for themselves. There are too many to really remember though.
- Enemies disappearing, like they can’t decide to spawn or not
- Enemy bullets traveling through walls
- Unbalanced weaponry
- Poor enemy AI
- No “I’m Down!” signal the player can activate for players to see
- No waypoints
- No queuing up for multiple events
- “Slamming” into the ground repeatedly after landing
- Audio cuts out at random times
- Tethering/Boundaries are horrible, way too short
- Missions boundaries need to be extended
I can go on about multiple things, but I’m going to save that for another article later on. Anthem proceeds to be a buggy mess after launch, even though the response from BioWares team has been swift. It is pleasant to see such responsiveness from a developer, considering they had a small patch put out the next day to fix some major issues. Among all the good things Anthem has to offer, there are also a lot of issues.
Audio – Anthem of Creation
BioWare did a great job in creating an audio environment that really made you feel like in a whole different universe, yet similar to our own. Walking through Fort Tarsis, you can hear the hub bub of the crowd, chatter between civilians and work going on in the background. When you dive off into the world of Anthem, one of the first things you hear is the sound of your jets kicking in. It’s that moment of recognition that ties in the moment you open up yourself to a giant world, that you are free to move around in. Add in the chatter and songs of the wildlife, you feel like you just jumped into James Cameron’s Avatar. Almost everything you hear in Anthem has a sci-fi twist to it. The way it’s been tied all together helps shape Anthem‘s world.
Visuals – Monstrous Beauty
Anthem is a visually stunning game from start to finish. Fort Tarsis alone is a graphical wonder to wander around in. The Frostbite engine is being put to a different use this time around. I have to say, what a great way to put this engine to use. Not like it didn’t have its uses before, but wow. I’ve been consistently impressed with the world BioWare created. The environment is so unique and fresh. Having a mix of deep jungle, boggy marshes, tacked together metal fortresses to trails of Strider carcasses and under water caves. The vibrancy of the colors in the world is outstanding too. Deep water blue, to vibrant pink algae plants there is a never ending supply of outstanding environmental elements. Out of all of Anthems faults, the visual design of the game stands out as a major plus. This ties very well into the customization. The variety available in customizing your Javelin just makes the journey all the more personal. Freeplay is easily the best way to experience the environment and its visual beauty. Take your time, don’t rush around, there is a ton to discover.
Anthem is an incredible new IP from BioWare that has some awesome potential. The open world, sci-fi feel of an Avatar-like world truly make it something to be desired. The combat is good, though a refined enemy AI would make it a lot better. Having certain enemies glitch through walls/objects, or just stand there while you unload clip after clip doesn’t make an enjoyable experience. The end game has left much to be desired, and is fairly empty in regards to driving a player towards an end goal. The story is consistent, but a little too open ended to keep the player engaged for the long term. Audio is fantastic, even though there are some occasions where audio cuts out. There are still tons of bugs and technical issues that need to be addressed, and are hindering the game substantially.
There is a very solid foundation laid down for Anthem and its future. Having been excited since the reveal, launch day and the subsequent time has been enjoyable but also a let down. I do enjoy what’s there, and there is a lot to be enjoyed, but this is one of those occasions where maybe a six month delay would have done a lot of good for Anthem. There is much that’s left to be desired, and so much potential that could have been. I can only hope there is an extreme amount of post-launch support. Keep listening to the fans, keep addressing issues, keep putting out fixes and changes. These types of games evolve best over a period of time, and I really hope this happens the most for Anthem. I look forward to putting even more time into this game, but for now I have a difficult time seeing myself continue playing once I’m fully geared.