Available on: Xbox One, PS4, and PC
Genre: Loot-Based Action RPG
Official Site: https://www.ea.com/games/anthem
Release Date: February 22nd, 2019
The love/hate relationship I have with Anthem is as complicated as many relationship statuses on Facebook. I’ve been going back and forth between a two-star or a three-star rating for this over the weekend at nausea. Full disclosure, at this point in writing the review, I still haven’t officially decided on that rating yet. But, I trust that we’ll get there.
When you are in the trenches and fighting anything the game throws at you, Anthem is at its best. But when it falters outside of that, the game falls quicker than your javelin after overheating.
Let’s start with what Anthem gets right. Yes, the game does appear to have a noticeable graphical downgrade compared to its E3 demo a few years ago. To be fair, this is the case for most games out there today. Despite all that, I still believe Anthem is gorgeous. The world of Bastion and the character models within it look fantastic. There are no “tired faces” to account for here. It seems that this was something Bioware put emphasis on after the harsh (but justified) criticisms of Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Like I said, at its core, Anthem thrives. And for me, the core of this game is the high-octane gameplay with 4 players. There’s nothing better than being in a tough battle with your squad as you try to mow down waves and waves of enemies. If you’re playing with friends, you’ll be organizing how to combo your skills together and trying to map out which major foe to take out next. If you are just playing with random people, the plan actually doesn’t change all that much (albeit with less communication). Stay close to your team and try to group up with another javelin that best suits your abilities for combo purposes.
For example, I played through most of the story as a Storm javelin using an ice build. I never put out the most damage in any squad I was placed in. But, my ice storm froze groups of enemies for a few seconds, leaving them vulnerable to attacks and combos from my more powerful squadmates. Most of the time, I somehow played with a random Colossus javelin. All I would have to do is use this ability on a group of enemies and let my tank do the rest by running shield-first into the chaos, killing them instantly.
Which brings me to my next point. Every javelin feels important in their own unique way. The Storm and Colossus are an awesome combo, as the one-two punch described above is almost unstoppable. The Storm is a range-type character who uses elemental attacks to deal damage. If you decide on the Colossus, you definitely feel like a walking tank, dealing and taking mass amounts of damage with ease. The Interceptor is a one-man show. If there’s a group of Scars, Outlaws, or Scorpions nearby, I found that the Interceptor is the javelin for the job. This class is insanely quick and plays at a frantic pace. Unless you’re battling a Titan or something huge like that, this is probably the best javelin in the game (as of this review).
The Ranger is just kinda there, I guess. Okay, it’s the boring default class that is decent at everything. But, boring is still useful. A good Ranger build has been the MVP of many missions during my playthrough thus far so don’t be dismissive of the Ranger just yet. Flying with every javelin is extremely fun as well. This mechanic is one of the brightest aspects of Anthem and one that helps set it apart from other loot-based shooters.
Then we have Anthem’s story, which takes a while to get going if I’m being honest. I’m not going into any story details as the plot can get complicated and we just don’t have the time for fleshing out the narrative in this review. Here’s what you need to know. The first few missions are a chore to push through but it really picks up around the mid-way point. After that, the narrative was outstanding and left me pretty satisfied with its conclusion. Most of the main characters were fun with great voice acting to back it up.
Before we get into the bashing portion of the Anthem review, there’s one last thing to talk about. Strongholds. These missions are wildly entertaining whether you’re attempting them for the first time or the 100th, which isn’t something I would typically say for other loot-based shooters. These Stronghold missions are essentially mini-raids where your team must battle through waves of enemies and solve puzzles to make it to the boss.
My biggest issue with Anthem is that it just doesn’t feel complete. The game has so many bugs and visual glitches that you would think you’re playing a Bethesda title. Characters would be missing from key cutscenes and I’ve had plenty of situations where a low-level enemy refused to take any damage. Like I mentioned above, I enjoyed the game’s main story and those main characters. I cannot say the same for the rest in Fort Tarsis (the game’s version of Destiny’s Tower). Most of these side characters (excluding Matthias) feel lifeless and, if you run a little too fast across the map, these characters will actually jolt into place. Although it is unintentionally hilarious, it just solidifies my point about the game’s lack of polish.
Building off of Fort Tarsis, I don’t see the point of the branching dialogue options. In other Bioware titles like Mass Effect, you had a connection to your character, saw that character via a third-person view 100% of the time, and your choices made a fundamental impact on the game’s story. There are no big-time story decisions to make in Anthem. Due to the game being in first-person and a lack of development for your freelancer, you don’t have that connection to him/her. At the end of the day, the system feels tacked on and completely unnecessary.
Now, I love the actual gameplay in Anthem. Especially during Strongholds. But, some of these mission designs are lackluster at best (particularly in free-play mode). Go to this spot, stay in a green circle for a few minutes, kill enemies, and repeat. These types of missions are too abundant in Anthem and it does make the game feel way more tedious than it should be at times.
While I’m getting the negatives out there, I might as well rip this band-aid off. Anthem’s loadout system is terrible. Let’s say you just got a new ability that you want to try out. So, you equip it to one of your loadouts and launch an Expedition to test it. Now, if that skill ends up being a dud, it could potentially ruin your entire build. But, since you can’t change this ability during the mission, you are forced to be a useless squadmate for the duration of said mission. This problem can be solved down the road, however.
Bioware does not need a massive rework to fix this. Instead, they could allow us to equip another entire loadout (not individual gear) during missions. If someone changes their loadout, give the player a long cooldown to make up for the change. This would be better than having players leave halfway through a Contract or constantly needing revives due to a lack of offense.
Also, these excessive loading screens are infuriating. It seems like everywhere you go in a mission, you encounter them and, for launching expeditions, it may take a few minutes to even find a match. Personally, I think my record time waiting was about a minute and a half. It’s hard to get immersed in this game and its story when every five min…
…utes, you encounter a loading screen.
The Future of Anthem
Overall, Anthem feels like an Early Access game, much like many other loot-based shooters. This is a growing problem though as it is starting to become normal for people to say “Yeah, it isn’t done yet but 6 months from now, the game is going to be amazing!”. This isn’t a good thing. Bioware should have had a lot of these bugs fixed by launch. The mission design shouldn’t be so tedious. And there should not have been as many loading screens seen in the final product. For once, I wish a loot-based game would just come out complete on day one.
But, this is where we are now and there is nothing we can do to change how Anthem launched. Bioware, however, can make a few key changes to make Anthem worthy of the $60 purchase. Luckily, Bioware got the flying mechanics and core gameplay down, almost to perfection, giving Anthem a strong foundation to build off of. The story took a while to get going (mainly due to the insane early challenges you had to complete) but when it did, it was an entertaining 10+ hours. Endgame for Anthem is fine for now, especially since Bioware released an update to fix the loot-drops for Grandmaster difficulty missions. What matters going forward is Anthem’s post-launch roadmap, adding more cool customization options for our javelins, and the upcoming raids (called cataclysms).
Verdict: Is Anthem worth the $60 right now? Unfortunately, I would have to say no. However, Anthem is poised to be a great game later down the line. This pains me to say based off of my earlier statements. Anthem’s poor reception isn’t a dire situation where EA and Bioware should cut their losses. The foundation of a great game is there and the 4-player gameplay is a blast every time you hop on. Bioware just has to fix their biggest issues and provide that worthwhile endgame content they promised via their roadmap. If they do those things, you can go ahead and bump this up to a 3 out of 5.
- Gameplay is extremely fun, especially with a full squad
- The story was entertaining, even if it took a while to find its footing
- Each javelin has its purpose
- Due to the strong foundation, Anthem can still have a bright future ahead of it
- Loading screens. So...many...loading screens
- Not being able to change your loadout in-game
- An excessive amount of bugs, glitches, and crashes
- Games-as-a-service model continues to deliver unfinished products
- RPG elements seem tacked on and Fort Tarsis is underwhelming