Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Review Platform: PC
Release Date: February 22, 2019
Once BioWare announced Anthem way back in E3 of 2017 (after a tease during E3 2014), the game immediately had a ton of pressure to perform. After all, it was the studio’s next big project after the epic flop that was Mass Effect: Andromeda. Sure, Andromeda got a worse reputation than deserved thanks to some incredibly wonky animation choices, but the game was still an unwieldy grindfest of planetary exploration, random xenophobic murder sprees, and space sudoku puzzles. Which meant it wasn’t super stellar even without the animation troubles.
So naturally, Anthem had to do well.
Except, the game was an utter wreck of missing features, buggy cutscenes, broken matchmaking, and connection errors throughout its early access launch. Those troubles were supposed to be fixed with the Day One patch, but after waking up super early this morning or just not going to bed, many players (myself included) were still unable to connect to the game. Same old unending loading screen and crashes that we’d had during early access.
If you can get through to the game, what you find is an interesting combination of the usual BioWare character development and storytelling systems with multiplayer content that feels a whole lot like Destiny. Granted, those comparisons are inevitable. Anthem‘s Javelins look a bit like Destiny‘s Titan class characters, if a Titan decided to channel Iron Man.
The best thing Anthem has going for it is the gameplay. The keyboard and mouse controls for this third person shooter are pretty impeccable. Sure, some default keybinds are a little strange. I tend to hate mapping skills I use frequently to control, and quite a few of the major systems are mapped with control as the default. But you can easily shift keybinds through the menu, so you’ll be able to fully customize your keys as you like, which is pretty standard for PC games. Still, with all the hate for this game, knowing it got that right is absolutely a positive.
Outside of making sure the game has all the usual bells and whistles for control mapping (you can set look inversion, controller rumble, southpaw and legacy control mapping, the usual), the gameplay is super satisfying. Any enemy you kill drops a nice fancy “X” mark, so you know its dead. Didn’t ever think I’d need that confirmation in a game with visible enemy health bars, but it does make managing the hordes a bit easier to deal with. The combat is fast and fluid, and players have quite a few handy tools to use as freelancers that makes for some fun combinations. Sure, you have the standard FPS options of a melee attack and grenades, but you also get some nice strafing abilities, a base double jump, and a handy super for those moments you really get boxed in.
The only thing Anthem lacks in gameplay is customization for your freelancer. Sure, you can tweak every available portion of your Javelin to a ridiculous degree, but when it comes to your freelancer, you get two voice choices: male or female, and a few heads to choose from. That’s it.
Considering BioWare usually goes all in on the RPG-style character customization, this was a weird direction to take with Anthem. And I’m not sure I like it. Sure, you don’t often see the face of your freelancer, but I’d like to at least get the option of tweaking the default faces a bit.
It doesn’t help that the available faces all seem kind of flat when placed into the Javelin, as shown above. They just don’t feel like they belong. Which is a complete shame because in every other way, the game is absolutely stunning. The dynamic world the player enters as a freelancer is as gorgeous as it is deadly, and tooling around staring at the scenery is one of the true joys in playing the game. Booting it up on a 4K monitor is absolutely breathtaking, and something I’d recommend doing if you have the capability.
Which brings us to the major weaknesses of Anthem. Quite a lot of the end-game content isn’t exactly available right now, because its a live service game that just launched. There also isn’t much in the way of competitive PvP which is a major downer. A lot of the end-game content will be up shortly, but that means we can’t quite review it yet, since none of that is live.
The game’s post-launch content will start rolling out in March, so we will keep you updated on the status of the game once all that is out. However, it does mean end-game players are left with little to do outside of grinding Strongholds on higher and higher difficulties and trying to master every Javelin. Sure, there are some roaming Titans to combat and even a few some Outlaw bounties to hunt, but that does mean there’s no real rush in beating the game right now.
And that’s not ideal.
However, the piece of Anthem that is the most oddly disappointing is the story. Because BioWare is developing the game’s story like an MMO, the main campaign wraps things up in a way that is a bit unsatisfying. Because Act 1 of live content is starting soon, so naturally we need to have questions still at the end of the game. Which is an odd narrative choice. The story itself is a bit opaque at the start and almost insultingly lazy. Quite a few of the early story beats were flat out stolen from Mass Effect. The initial story setup might as well leave you on the Citadel ranting about how the Reapers are coming for the sheer lack of innovation. Things pick up a bit from there, and the relationships you can create with other characters are still unique and interesting, but the story of Anthem is rushed and lackluster.
Considering BioWare typically puts out games with incredibly gripping storylines, it’s a major disappointment.
But the biggest problem with Anthem so far has just been playing it. From all the bugs, connection issues, frame-rate difficulties, and plodding loading times, booting up the game just feels like an exorcise in Sisyphean masochism.
However, if BioWare can work out all of the bugs that have so far plagued this game, Anthem has a ton of potential. Because the story will evolve over time, so it can get better. End game content will start rolling out on a frequent basis in the coming weeks. But until then, the game remains a steaming hot mess.