Also On: PS4, Xbox One
Anthem is stunningly beautiful, an absolute treat to look at, and the best moments are spent flying around appreciating the world around you. Once the shine wears off however, you are left with a muddled, weak story full of repetitive fetch quests and meaningless ?choices?. With the name BioWare behind a title, I approach a game expecting a rich and immersive story, with meaningful dialogue, relationships and choices.
Anthem delivers none of that. I would go so far to say the story is weaker than that of the original Destiny, to which Anthem is inevitably compared. Long and drawn out dialogue seems to exist as filler to grant the illusion of a deep story, but none of these players connect to each other and none of your choices truly change how characters feel. You can have characters in a mission that will say things or act a certain way toward you, that will completely contradict themselves or change their position as soon as you return to Fort Tarsis. Dialogue in the mission goes so far as to be distracting, with random exposition and senseless chatter drowning out the sound of my teammates and I trying to coordinate. It is just an honest disappointment to be so let down by the story from a developer who has done so much in that arena.
Anthem has you playing as a freelancer, a sort of hero/mercenary type who pilots a Javelin, which is basically an Iron Man suit with various powers depending on which class you choose. Anthem gives you access to four classes; the Ranger, which is your all around generalist with rockets and middle of the road abilities, the Interceptor, which is the super fast melee based class designed to get close to the enemies, the Colossus, the giant tank class with massive firepower but slower movement and abilities, and finally the Storm, basically a flying mage with shields and an incredible hover ability. Each of these Javelin classes has enough going for it to bring some diversity to your play. I recommend trying them all out and seeing what suits you the best. I personally love Storm, the AOE attacks and hovering over the battlefield for the duration of the fight are a lot of fun, and the satisfaction from chaining combo effects for massive damage can?t be topped by the other classes.
Even with the excitement of the Javelin suits and the diversity of their combat abilities, the mission structure in Anthem reaches levels of boredom I never thought possible in a game with so much potential behind it. Combat is broken up by fetch quest after fetch quest, followed by some standing on a control point until it unlocks, giving you the ability to go fetch some more things to bring back to the control point, at which point you can progress through a door to go fetch some more glowing balls of light or gather some broken piece of a relic that prevent you from doing the thing that makes Anthem so cool in the first place, flying. These quests get frustrating and boring after about an hour, and with 15-20 MORE hours of the exact same thing to come before you reach the exciting ?endgame? content, playing almost becomes a chore. I can count on one hand the number of meaningful and exciting quests in the main story line, and even those don?t feel like they fit with the story as a whole, which is muddled and inconsistent to begin with. Throughout the entire campaign, I never felt the overarching narrative. I never felt compelled to do my quests for anything other than completion and getting to the end.
To add boredom and frustration to the already boring and frustrating quests, the load times and load frequency is unbearable. Loading was the big header that was addressed in the day 1 patch, but it does little to reduce the irritation of hitting 4 separate load screens between missions. For every two minutes of fun and engaging combat, there are 18 minutes of loading, fetching or listening to someone drone on about nothing, or worse, something related to the story, but so loosely connected or tonally incorrect from what you had just done that it ends up laughable. In addition to this, frequent bugs like audio drop out, character breaking, enemies failing to load on screen but still able to shoot and damage you and broken endless load screens pop up often enough to break any immersion you feel.
Variety is another big thing I look for in a massive RPG like Anthem. Variety in who and what I am fighting, and variety in the loot that I am gathering. Unfortunately, this is another arena in which Anthem fails to impress. Enemy variety is almost non existent. You will be fighting the exact same foes at level 30 as you are at level 1. Even the unique named enemies end up repeating over and over throughout the game. Simple additions to health and damage output are all that differentiate an endgame enemy from what you fight on your first forays into the world. Loot suffers this same fate, especially while you grind your way toward the endgame. Drops in the missions are simply glowing, colored diamonds that you pick up, with the loot itself only being revealed once the mission has finished. Until you reach the masterwork loot level, which you won’t see until you finish the game and start doing the strongholds, everything remains mostly the same. There are slight changes, but a new Assault Rifle is not much different from your old, aside from some stat changes. The loot is not EXCITING, there is not enough visual change or exciting effects or stat changes to make it an interesting grind. Once you get masterwork items, this begins to change, but the road there is long and filled with forgettable loot and forgettable foes.
Not everything in Anthem is disappointing though, despite how it may seem after what I have written so far. The gunplay is tight and precise, and movement on the ground and in the air is fluid and fun. Flying into a fight, then hovering over the field in my Storm javelin raining down lightning and bullets is a hell of a lot of fun. Coordinating with my teammates to get maximum elemental and status combos on a big boss is both effective and extremely satisfying. Watching bullets just tickle their health bar, then dropping three ultimate abilities at once and just decimating them is the highlight of any mission. I was never upset to find combat in Anthem, and despite the many, many shortcomings the game has while getting there, I always had fun fighting. The combat never really loses its shine. Once you master an approach or technique, you can always find a way to adjust it, or come at it another way. It is clear a lot of time and effort went into making this part of the game, and it is very much appreciated among the rest of the mediocrity that Anthem presents.
In addition to the solid combat, the endgame Strongholds (similar to raids in other games) bring a welcome level of difficulty and excitement to the game. These are replayable, and with adjustable difficulty levels for different chances at rare loot, they beg to be played over again. The bosses in these areas are exciting and difficult, each requiring a slightly different tactic to bring down. Fighting through Strongholds with my friends is hands down the best thing that Anthem has to offer.
With all of that, I cannot recommend Anthem to anyone at launch. There is simply way too much bad to allow for the good to truly shine through. The endgame content is really good, but the boring grind and unbelievably shallow story on the way there do not justify a $60 purchase. I am not turned away however, and I have hope that in time, Anthem will become something solid, not unlike Destiny before it. For now though, Anthem is little more than the framework for a good game.
Note: EA provided us with an Anthem PC code for review purposes.