REVIEW – Anthem is Bioware’s latest epic sprawling Sci-fi story, in-depth characters, and with a fun added twist of being a looter shooter with great loots. At least I wish I could say that but sadly I cannot. While Anthem was created by supposedly at Bioware’s A-Team for the past six years it bears none of the hallmarks of a great looter shooter or even a competent Sci-fi RPG. In fact, many mistakes that were made by the likes of Destiny 1, Warframe and Tom Clancy’s The Division is repeated, and in some cases worse.
Anthem in 2019 feels like a weird paradox. A videogame about a ragtag group of mercenaries fighting against an oppressive regime in flying Iron Man suits, in a lush jungle environment of a destroyed world should be a recipe for fun an excitement. Instead, Anthem is a mishmash of odd concepts, out of date design philosophy and technical limitations that would make any gamer’s hair go white in 2019.
A World Left Unfinished By The Gods- Or In This Case Bioware
Anthem takes place in a futuristic world where mysterious beings called the Shapers left their relics thousands of years ago, and disappeared. Now humans live in fortresses and use massive suits called Javelins to protect themselves against the forces of evil (Aka Dominion), and any aggressive wildlife. Plus those relics still pose a threat as they can activate which can cause untold mayhem in the world of Anthem. There was also a big rebellion against a dominant race called the Urgoth, who has not been seen in the past couple of hundred years.
All of this is again, a good base to make a fun Sci-fi story out of. Yet it just ends up being horrible, and that is mostly due to the setting, and how the story is told. There’s barely any cutscenes, and everything is an in your face method of storytelling. Characters will look at you saying their lines and will overexaggerate when they say the words. It looks creepy, and while the animation is leagues better than in Mass Effect: Andromeda the dialogue feels like a copy of a James Gunn movie. Everybody quips and makes jokes all over the place, and the main character is a smarmy badass, which would be fine if not everyone was doing it. There are few interesting characters shown in the Fort or during the story, but they never get to shine too much.
Bioware also had trouble with the narrative, and how they allow the player to interact in this story. It is usually a binary choice in Fort Tarsis, and most of them do not result in any difference to the main story. There are some interesting ideas with some of the side stories, but those can only be experienced at the Fort, and are not weaved into the gameplay. Fort Tarsis is weird because while it is full of people it still feels lifeless, and static. With NPCs waiting for you to speak to them, to blurt out their next expositionary lines. The story’s big boss in this epic is a letdown, and the way it ends is just downright insulting. The game has an ending, but it is one of the worst ones I have seen in years.
The world looks beautiful, from close, and even from the distance. Yet there are no distinctive features in the game world. All of the missions take place in the same generic jungle, or in a cave. That’s it, those are the two types of locations you have. Everything meshes together in this game, and there are no distinctive features or landmarks besides the occasional random shanty town or giant tower. It feels generic and uninspired, even though this game is supposed to take place in a crazy world where anything can happen. The world will make you feel bored, as there’s not much you can do in it and has barely any interactivity.
Loot without loot
There are four javelins in the game total, all with four unique playstyles. The Ranger which acts as general purposes Soldier has a weapon that acts like Tony Stark’s Jericho launcher. The Colossus, which has a giant metal shield that allows you to tackle enemies like an NFL football player (best one I liked playing as). The Storm, which allows you to rain down elemental attacks from above, and can fly the most. There is also the Interceptor which is sort of effective in close combat and is a fun support character.
The game gives you basically two weapons to equip, six upgrade slots to unlock, one support skill to use, and two skill slots per Javelin plus their ultimates. It is a lot of fun flying around the map or hovering about the enemy raining down death onto them. The general moment to moment combat is fun. You pop abilities that deal massive damage, or you and your teammates combine different effects to do combo damages against enemies. A fun concept for sure as having an effective combo is a sure fire way to make enemies melt. Sort of as there is one problem with the gameplay and that is the loot.
The gameplay of Anthem should revolve around collecting loot so that you can kill the next badass monster or enemy to get the even better loot. It goes from common, uncommon, rare, epic, legendary, and masterwork. Except that most of the guns look the same, besides a couple of neat little inscriptions, and the loot themselves are just downright puzzling. The loot pool and the loot generator feels like it was put together so quickly that it does not make sense. Player’s would expect getting an epic grenade launcher would mean you would get grenade launcher related ammo extensions, or fire rate, or even special ammo types.
Instead, you get an LMG that has stats related to pistols or grenade launchers, while pistols would give you buffs. Or you would get a fire grenade ability that has +% damage related to Ice Damage. You might get an epic upgrade for more sniper rifle damage, but then the other two stats are related to something else entirely. You might think this would be to force the player to mix up things, like for instances having an epic sniper rifle with one or two assault rifle stats, so that you can use an epic tier assault rifle with sniper stats, to force you into close and long range combat. Except the stats are so random there is no rhyme or reason. A sniper rifle might have a stat boost for a pistol magazine upgrade, an LMG damage boost, and an ability damage boost.
It ends up being frustrating, and not only you have to deal with trying to get the best roll possible, but some of those rolls also will not make any sense. It really kills any satisfaction of the loot, it does not matter if you get an epic shotgun if most of the stats are related to a pistol.
The Anthem of All Glitches
Weird world design decisions, loot problems, and general gameplay being just okay would not be much of a big deal. However, all the issues are also made worse by a couple of other general gameplay issues. You cannot switch your loot out, for instance, mid-gameplay. The player has to go through several loading screens when finishing a mission, going into an inventory screen, then loading into the Fort Tarsis, and then back to selecting a mission. So a player might encounter three loading screens before going out into the world back again.
The game is also chock full of technical bugs, lags, and constant server disconnections that make the game at time unplayable. Plus if you get disconnected you could end up losing your loot, which after a forty-minute raid it is not a great experience. Also, some objectives might not trigger, or collectables not respawning if a player goes AFK, or if you die you might be teleported behind a locked door. There is also the tether system in the mission where if one player goes too far ahead it can end up with everyone getting teleported, or even miss cutscenes/dialogues during missions. Patches can fix this, but the amount of time you lose if these happen during gameplay is unacceptable.
Early Access Flights With Iron Man
While the game offers multiple difficulty levels ranging from Easy, Normal, Hard, and Grandmaster 1-3 (Unlocked at Level 30), all it does is raise the HP, and damage output of enemies. Said enemies are brain dead and have two modes, stand and shoot, or just run at you. No tactics, they just run around aimlessly, and try to do damage against the player. Oh, and if people thought Destiny and Division had bullet sponge enemies, Anthem just takes the cake – especially on higher difficulty levels. The Ash Titans are especially fun as sometimes only hitting their weak points that flash for a couple of seconds is where you can do damage against them.
There is also free play where you can go anywhere in the world and do world events. Yet these are not marked on the map, cannot be marked by a player on the map, and have no way of telling the three other players: ”Hey there’s an Epic Boss here come help out”. So you end up mostly soloing it, or just going after the other three people hoping you encounter something fun. There are no raids, but there is a section called Strongholds, which are similar to Destiny’s strikes. There are a total of three strongholds, and more will be added in future updates. After the day one patch these strongholds now give out chests with loot in them (this was not available before the release date, and it was hard to discern if you got anything from a boss).
There’s also a lack of feedback from enemies when getting shot, and most of the enemies are uninspiring. There are three factions in the game Outlaws (humans that are basically bandits), Scars (that are actually giant bugs), and the Dominion (oppressive human regime). While they sound different and look different in terms of art style they end up lacking in variety. The three factions have one or two outstanding units that are very specific to the factions. Yet I never felt I needed to deal with them too differently. Some of them have shields, or some might have more health, but in the end, it did not matter if I shoot them with a shotgun or a sniper rifle. Do effective combos and that’s it, a few enemies might have some resistance to certain elements, but as soon as an enemy shield is down you can melt them (Besides the small number of bosses).
Peashooters In Mos-Eisley
On the flip side, some skills feel worthless due to the developers not explaining how their combo system works (YES MIKE I READ EVERYTHING! Still does not make sense!), and which skills does what type of trigger mechanism against an enemy. Also while it is really great they put in a portable shield for most classes, it feels really ineffective against most enemies, and will just disappear in two or three shots. Speaking of gears there is no stat page, and the health bar likes to switch its health bar markers randomly. So you are never sure how much health you actually have, what damage percentages you deal, and if it matters at all. The only part where you see any changes is the ammo storage for weapons or their clip size. Everything else is really difficult to figure out if it helps you or not.
Flying is also while fun just becomes a chore, and while I get you cannot have a player flying infinitely against enemies for balance reasons – the overheat mechanic is flawed. At least it should be disabled for travelling, and should only be active inside combat. Even as level 30 Soldier with consumables active it felt like a chore to maintain. The player never really uses flight or hover during combat, and even if it is used there are a lot more risks associated with it.
Most guns are ineffective unless you gain very specific skills, and upgrades, as most enemies with shields, are bullet sponges. On higher difficulties, you will be emptying hundreds of rounds into enemies before they finally die, or lower their shields so that you can combo them. The weapons lack the punch, and sound design, plus even if they are legendary or Masterwork tier it does not give the weapons any speciality. There are no ice or fire bullets, or just in general something crazy, unlike in Destiny, or Warframe. Most of the Masterwork weapons look different compared to a basic weapon, but not by much.
No Beauty In Mediocrity
Anthem is a beautiful game and has some fun moment to moment gameplay, but it is an utter technical failure, and such a game released in 2019 is a shame. The roadmap posted for the first three months is a bit odd, as the main even The Cataclysm is only coming in May 2019. I cannot recommend this game to anyone in its current state, as there are a lot of issues with it, and the gameplay is just not fun.
The endgame is also non-existent, and there are barely any items you can buy from the shops. You have two armours you can buy per javelin. That is it, nothing else sadly, and that kills customization a bit. While there are a lot of paint options, it still results in most javelins looking sameish. Maybe in six months, there is something worthwhile down the line or even three months from now in May? By that time though Division 2 comes and that already showed a lot more endgame and content, so who knows if Anthem will have any legs to stand on, or if even EA is willing to support it more than a year.
+ Beautiful environments and effects
+ Lots of quests and the setup for a sequel could be fun
+ Moment to moment gameplay is fun….
– …but everything else on the gameplay is boring
– Horrible technical issues
– The loot is unsatisfying, not grind worthy
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action role-playing
Release date: February 22, 2019