It’s true that Anthem has received a critical flogging online and the subsequent comment sections follow suit. Early on, I wanted to argue that these not-so-positive views were based on pre-conceived and possibly biased notions of what Anthem should be falling into the ‘games as a service’ category. I couldn’t comprehend the disdain because I was having an absolute blast while playing it. Then, I began to notice the cracks, in both its performance and design.
Anthem doesn’t shine as a loot-based RPG or story-driven narrative experience. It works best as a competitive co-op shooter in the same vein as Destiny, Borderlands or even Gears of War.
It’s incredibly satisfying to nose dive a flying Javelin suit into an enemy horde and begin blasting away with three other players by your side, each working together to perform combos which are effortlessly achieved even when playing without voice chat. Same goes for the larger than life boss encounters where teamwork is essential.
Even when you and the other players are working together there’s an unspoken competitiveness that lies under each objective that’s only fully realised when the enemies are dead, the mission is over, and the scores are tallied.
Anthem’s combat is strong thanks to the familiar third-person shooting that’s paired with the aerial traversal of the Javelin suits. Players can take off and fly at any time pulling off simple but satisfying manoeuvres and even firing at enemies from a hovering position. The Javelin’s engines do overheat which then need to cooled by flying through waterfalls, nosediving or landing on the ground.
On foot, each Javelin can make use of two guns at any given time. They include the usual mix of pistols, shotguns, light machine guns, assault, and marksman rifles. There are also customisable arrays of rockets, grenades and class-based abilities. Melee attacks too.
Each of the four Javelin classes can be extensively customised. Things like colours and decals can be played with from the get-go, but changing the appearance of each suit with different machined parts requires you to spend the in-game currency. Players earn currency from completing missions, but of course, there’s always the option to pay with real money through microtransactions. Though I never found this necessary as earning enough currency to buy parts was easy.
Anthem takes place in the part sci-fi, part fantasy world of Bastion. It’s a mix of green valleys, decaying ruins and shanty towns all enhanced by dynamic weather, plus an abundance of underwater and underground caverns. It’s a truly gorgeous landscape. It’s just a shame that there isn’t much to interact with beyond shooting enemies and collecting resources for crafting.
The story, side missions and their objectives are repetitive and uninspired. While each mission may begin under the guise of something new, it always falls into the usual ‘go here and defeat all enemies’ or ‘collect x number of relics and return them to the objective.’
Fort Tarsis, the home or headquarters, is a dull location that unfortunately requires a lot of attention. Between missions, players must return here to upgrade Javelin suits, purchase items and talk to characters to receive new missions. There’s no option to continue in the wilds of Bastion after a mission is complete. Here, the gameplay shifts to a first-person perspective with no jumping, combat and minimal communication with other players outside of one particular area. It’s all an unwelcome change of pace.
Developer Bioware is known for its sharp writing and story that adapts to players’ choice. Anthem has neither. Other than a few cut scenes, the story unfolds through lore hidden throughout Bastion like collectables. Unless you have a desire to stop and read pages of text on-screen, it’s easy to miss most of the world building.
The characters you encounter in Fort Tarsis are well acted with realistic animation, but the frequent and lengthy conversations become a chore. Most encounters offer dialogue options, but unlike other Bioware games, they have little to no effect on the outcome.
By all accounts, Anthem’s launch week on PC was a disaster, marred by frequent crashes and disconnects. Fortunately, I skipped the PC launch and jumped on the PlayStation 4 version on launch day. Still, I encountered painfully long load times.
Several days later, Anthem received a 10 GB update which only made things worse. Disconnects became frequent, and several times the game has failed to load my Javelin, replacing it with a seemingly random combination of upgrades and colours. These are all issues that can easily be fixed, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating.
Anthem is pegged as a live service, meaning the game will evolve. I’m sure Netflix wasn’t amazing on day one; still, it’s hard to recommend Anthem to players in its current state.
Bioware and publisher EA have already outlined that Anthem will receive more content over the coming 90 days, including new missions, rewards, a new stronghold and something called a Cataclysm, which is described as a world-changing event that will bring with it an entirely new experience. Hopefully, Anthem will receive stability and performance updates before the new content drops.
Despite its flaws, Anthem is a fun experience thanks to the Javelin suits and co-op gameplay. I still believe this game deserves more praise than it has received and there is definitely a solid foundation for something great. So let’s hope Anthem can reach its full potential before too many players move on to something else.
Anthem is available now for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Man of Many received a copy courtesy of the publisher.