I have to preface this review with the statement that prior to playing this game I have been a BioWare fanboy for my gaming life. So, when I played the demos and the trial the “rose-colored glasses” were on and the fanboyism was in full effect. Yet, as I played Anthem and witnessed others play it, had conversations about it, and read reviews, I have to say that I’ve been more able to approach this game with a more objective view and not to be swayed by my initial bias.
The last game BioWare delivered was Mass Effect: Andromeda and if you know anything about that game, you understand the pain and suffering fans went through, with support all drying up quickly. I have to admit, during my initial playtime with Anthem, I didn’t see the issues others had been complaining about, especially those from PC players. I didn’t see the technical hiccups and crashes that were being experienced but ultimately, BioWare had a lot to prove with Anthem.
The game was released on February 22, 2019 for the Xbox One. Almost a week after PC players got it, I was able to get my hands on the “full” game and really dive into the game. I have been playing, living, and breathing Anthem for the last week. If I wasn’t playing, I was watching a streamer, if I wasn’t doing that I was reading the forums, watching reviews, or reading Twitter interactions. I was hungry for this game and to know all that I could about it and what others thought.
At first, I was very critical of those critiquing the game, but as I’ve started to watch others play and also play myself, I see that they weren’t “hating” on the game for the sake of hating it. They were properly critical of the game and thus wanted to have a much better product in their hands.
The flaws in Anthem are sadly more overwhelming abundant than its positives. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m not thoroughly enjoying the game, but I’m reminded of other games that have put me in this position of “emptiness” even though I’m excited to play, such as Destiny and even The Division. It’s hard not to compare Anthem to these games because they’re all in the same genre, Looter Shooters.
BioWare could’ve and should’ve taken this into consideration how those two games handled their launches, which were rocky, and tried to make sure that they avoided them. Sadly, BioWare made a massive mistake when they decided to launch the game in “parts,” thus splitting the player base and opening themselves up to a myriad of anger, frustration, hatred, and annoyance.
During my 10-hour trial, on my Xbox One, things seemed to flow pretty well, except for when I had to transition between Fort Tarsis and anywhere else, or any other instanced area. The loading screens were brutal to slog through and ate up a lot of my time in the trial. Yet, I wrote that off because it was before the “Day One” patch, which was forced because of that issue along with countless others that community encountered. Though it did fix a lot of issues, many still persist and some are game breaking. I documented all the issues that I’ve encountered in the game and listed them from most annoying to the most minor. I have listed all the things that I’ve enjoyed about the game from most enjoyable to least enjoyable as well. So let’s speak on the issues first.
The AI in the game at times can be very unresponsive. I’ve been in missions where the Ursix, a large, aggressive creature has literally stood still for upwards of 3 minutes as my team and myself emptied our ammunition and skills into it. It wasn’t until it was near death that something “clicked” and it began to respond, but by that time a simple rocket took it out and the mission cleared. I don’t have a fix for it, but having a rather challenging fight rendered obsolete but this bug can be immersion killing.
Despite the open world being massive and vibrant where you see wildlife roaming, it’s empty. Outside of the occasional world event and a Titan from time to time, it still feels like there’s not much “life” to the world. I would love to see the Arcanists out and about, maybe even some Sentinels moving around the world, or even a Strider walking along the wild land to give the world a more “alive” feeling. I mean the first time you experience the open world, it’s breathtaking, but once you’ve spent 30+ hours flying around and seeing the same things with very little change, it becomes rather boring.
Another issue with the open world would have to be the map, which is hard to use, and its lack of features within it. As large as this world is, not having the ability to set way-points to make sure that you’re going the to the right destination is ludicrous to not have in place. I can deal without a mini-map, but having to open your map every couple of seconds to make sure you haven’t gotten turned around or managed to fly the wrong way is annoying, especially when trying to get a specific place.
Additionally, the tethering system is too aggressive. There have been plenty of times I’ve been no more than two seconds behind my team and the pop up to catch up kicks in and gives me a countdown which can either be 30 seconds or eight seconds. Then if you don’t manage to make it in time, you are hit with a loading screen, pulled to your team’s last location, which they can still be in transition. This can set you up for multiple loading screens in a row unless you can communicate some way with them. This feature is really annoying because you place people in this huge world with things to collect and explore and yet you force them to focus solely on the main mission. I understand this may have been done to prevent trolling in a sense, but I still feel like they need to tone it down a bit.
But my biggest gripe in the game is that in Anthem you are mandated to do certain missions in the open world and they take up a lot of time. Examples would be the Tombs missions where you have to complete specific events in the world to open up four tombs, then you have to navigate in the open world to unlock them.
Upon reaching them, you collect a couple of embers and a “note” and that’s it. It’s extremely underwhelming especially being that if you didn’t play much in the open world, this can add on several hours of forced grinding to your game, especially if you’re looking to just playing the story. Then to make matters worse, after you complete the tombs, you have to go back into the open world for another forced mission where you have to hunt titans to progress the story again. It’s really a bad design choice to make people have to play a specific aspect of the game mandatorily just to get through the story.
I do have some minor issues I could elaborate on like the death screen lacking any type of ability to interact with the game, limited mission types, no way to access the forge outside Fort Tarsis, or that playing on Grandmaster essentially turns every enemy into a bullet-sponge monster that can quickly render your javelin to a sparking mass of metal in mere seconds. Those things I feel can be patched in, as can most of the other issues I listed, but they were things I was able to brush past.
Now that I’ve gotten the complaints out allow me to speak on the things I have enjoyed with Anthem.
The first thing I enjoyed from Anthem is the story. Recently, BioWare has been harshly criticized for the story being “not up to par.” Now compared to the legacy BioWare has crafted of past, they are known as one the best gaming companies to make story-based games. However, let’s keep in mind this game’s main focus is to be a looter shooter, the story most of the time doesn’t really matter that much and I feel like a lot of the criticism they have received for this is unfair.
I actually think the story was quite good. There are memorable characters like Faye, Haluk, Owen, and Tassyn just to name a few. The ending did feel a tad bit lackluster, but they did open it up for more story content to continue further down the road that I hope does come out in free DLC or fairly priced DLC.
Though the main story may be decent, at about 15-20 hours, there’s some awesome side stories in the game which are played out in Contracts. Contracts are side missions that you pick up from NPCs or at times off the Contract Board. They vary in difficulty, with the Legendary versions be withheld until you beat the main story. Yet, completion of these contracts lead to some awesome exploration into the world that you don’t get from just doing the main storyline. Legendary contracts are some of the most difficult contracts you can acquire with the reward being a piece of Masterwork gear to add to your arsenal but be forewarned, an uncoordinated team will wipe fairly easily against the Legendary enemies.
Similar to the story, the Javelin customization is both robust and limited at the same time. The actual frame of the javelins are limited, as they only change if you spend coin, in-game currency, or shards, premium currency, to buy physical alterations to your Javelin. On the other hand, changing colors and materials of the Javelin are way more robust since you have the ability to make the Javelin any color you want after accessing various materials. Partner that with the wear states that range from dirty to clean, and you can go for whatever “look” you want.
In addition to offering customization options, Anthem has crafting which overall is pretty straightforward. In it, you unlock blueprints via story progressions, such as sigils and consumables, or through challenges, weapons, seals, and launchers. As you unlock higher rarities of these items you use specific materials and embers of the specific rarity, from uncommon to Masterwork, to craft that item. Crafted items will always be at the highest possible level they can be when you craft them. Due to this, it makes crafting a very viable means of bolstering your Javelin during the lull period of slow gear progression.
Now let’s speak on the combo system which reminds me a lot of the combo system from Mass Effect Andromeda, being that it’s the same company it might just be the same system. In Anthem, you have primers, which set up the enemy for more damage, and detonators, which trigger a combo effect and equate to massive damage and special combo aspects too.
Each Javelin has its own unique way of utilizing combos in the game as well, Ranger has higher combo damage one a single target, Storm can chain primer effects to nearby enemies, Colossus can trigger a large AOE combo in a small radius, and Interceptor gains an aura that does various effects depending on the element. Using combos in Anthem is a great way to burst down stronger enemies in the game and also allow for some awesome team synergy.
The flight and gun mechanics in Anthem feel quite good. Being able to zip through the air is an experience that can only be summarized as awesome. The handling of your javelin feels really good and responsive and being able to transition from full flight to hover is great too. The guns in Anthem feel nice, I feel like when I shoot a Devastator sniper rifle and I see that explosion and large yellow numbers appear overhead that I actually did something to my enemies. Same with the chainguns that the Colossus use, when I mow down enemies with it, I feel like a brute taking down inferior beings in my wake.
Anthem came out with a fairly decent arsenal for the Javelins and I have to say I’m content with what they came out with. I do however hope that they don’t just leave it at that number of weapons and eventually expand the roster allowing for more unique play styles to be created. Also, Masterworks and Legendaries that are in the game are cool too. They each have their own unique perks that can change how someone plays, for example, the Avenging Herald gives 200% bonus damage to the Heavy Pistol while hovering. Having this equipped while having a player spec into the ability to hover longer or use it on their Storm being that Storms have the longest hovering time amongst the Javelins.
Overall, I have to say I have been enjoying my experience with Anthem. Does it have its bugs and issues, yes it does, but most games that have come out in the realm of “Live Service” started this way. I do hope it doesn’t take BioWare as long Bungie or Massive to get their game in a great spot to be viable, but only time will tell. I’ll be playing this game for some time to come and will only hope that it gets better by year’s end, because honestly if it doesn’t address the issues they have now, I can definitely see this game being forgotten fairly quickly. Once they show some new things in the game I could see my rating raising in the future.
Overall, I have to say I have been enjoying my experience with Anthem. Does it have its bugs and issues, yes it does, but most games that have come out in the realm of “Live Service” started this way. I do hope it doesn’t take BioWare as long Bungie or Massive to get their game in a great spot to be viable, but only time will tell.