They say there is no such thing as bad publicity; a statement that certainly fit the description of BioWare and Electronic Arts’ latest release, Anthem, leading up to its release last week. It seems that ever since the original reveal trailer aired at E3 2017, negative news and issues surrounding the game have continued to plague one of 2019’s most-anticipated titles, even a mere week before the game was set to go live. I was admittedly nervous about playing Anthem for review given all of the problems, but was lukewarmly surprised with the game that BioWare actually delivered. Anthem has a long way to go, lacking a considerable amount of content and stability for a game as ambitious as it is. However, a great game does eventually seem like a possibility once Anthem finds its footing.
Players take on the role of a rookie Freelancer - a group of fighters dedicated to keeping the planet safe from harm through the use of powerful suits called Javelins - and are dropped into the action immediately, taking on the Heart of Rage. Unfortunately, the heroic legacy of Freelancers takes a hit following the unsuccessful mission. Years later, you and other Freelancers take on any contract work that you can get your hands on. Along the way, players encounter groups of wild monsters, bug-like humanoids known as Scars, as well as massive terrors known as Titans. The militaristic faction group known as The Dominion act as the main antagonist in the game as the sworn enemy of the Freelancers. Players are tasked with defending the world against The Dominion as they recklessly try to harness the power of the Anthem, which is the planet’s source of creation and energy.
Anthem’s best feature is its flight system. Jumping into a Javelin and taking to the sky is an incredibly satisfying experience thanks to the overall flight control system coupled with epic, sweeping landscape visuals. In all reality, Anthem is the Iron Man game that gamers have always wanted. Unfortunately, flight is limited by Javelins’ inability to keep from overheating, requiring players to drop to the ground for a short second while the suit cools down. Additionally, an invisible ceiling exists, enabling players to only travel up so high before being automatically redirected towards the ground, which is a shame considering free-falling from ridiculous heights is surely something every player would take full advantage of. Although the flight system is fun and fluid, that is essentially where the immediate success of Anthem ends.
One of the questions I kept asking myself while playing was: “Who is Anthem for?”
From the get-go, Anthem provides a lot for players to take in. Javelins have numerous uses and pieces of weaponry, but understanding all of the uses takes some time to figure out. One of the biggest pain points is using the same button for reloading and switching weapons. Quickly tapping the button reloads your gun, but holding it down switches the primary weapon. There is a pretty fine line between what is considered a “tap” and what is considered a longer hold, which causes too many ill-timed and unintended weapon switches.
It is clear that there is a desire to build out the world of Anthem through its lore and cast of characters. Tidbits of lore can be found by speaking with NPCs or through notes scattered throughout the world of Anthem, whether exploring in Freeplay mode or walking the streets and alleys of Fort Tarsis. Additional lore can be viewed in the user menu (which is a bit wonky to navigate). The amount of lore is a bit overwhelming, but is a good thing to have for those interested in the history of the Anthem, and provides useful context for those just trying to understand the convoluted relationships between the various factions that you interact with. Just be prepared to read. A lot.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, Anthem does well to keep you entertained for the first couple of hours as you go through missions, unlocking new features and upgrading your weapons and armor. However, the variety of mission objectives becomes stale and redundant pretty quickly. Traveling and defeating groups of enemies can only be fun and exciting for so long. Additionally, while the majority of missions include up to four players through matchmaking, more often than not, four players were overkill on a difficulty setting of Normal, which was surprising. Strongholds eventually become available, offering special four-player instances that reward players with better loot, keeping in mind that the higher the difficulty setting, the better the reward.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an Anthem review without touching on some of the technical issues that were encountered while playing the game post-day one patch. Connection issues still took place, generally happening right after completing a mission, in which I was kicked to the game’s introductory loading screen. Thankfully, I still rightfully received credit for completing the mission. Getting stuck in the launch bay was also a consistent issue, which was remedied by entering Freeplay mode, then immediately returning to Fort Tarsis through the game menu. Finally, it was painfully obvious that many of the cutscenes were used as loading screens, given the fact that the cutscenes were choppy, like a buffering video.
One of the questions I kept asking myself while playing was: “Who is Anthem for?” Is this a game that any casual player can pick up and enjoy, or is Anthem meant for a specific audience, such as those who enjoy the grinding loot system style of a game like Destiny? Anthem feels like it wants to be an all-encompassing game that any gamer could enjoy, but the fact is that it’s just not there yet. The deeper I got into Anthem, the more it felt like Destiny. However, due to its underlying potential, saying, “Anthem is just Destiny with jet packs,” is a bit of an oversimplification.
There is more to Anthem than meets the eye. It just hasn’t been fully realized yet. Hopefully, BioWare’s plans for the game’s future - as detailed in their 90-day roadmap - will help bring the game to where we all expected it to be by now. But until that happens, you are probably better off continuing to spend time in EA’s more successful February release, Apex Legends.
2.5 out of 5 stars
A copy of Anthem was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.