I’m your density…
Anthem has been a long time coming, ever since its incredibly flashy reveal back at E3 2017, the game has looked like Bioware sat in a meeting and went “What happens if we put Iron Man in one of our games? Promising to be a cross between Destiny and Diablo. The problem is that it never quite manages to hit the heights of either Bungie’s space magic simulator, nor Blizzard’s dungeon crawling mega-franchise.
We’ll start with the good stuff. One of the core mechanics in Anthem is a rock-solid flight system, which allows you to leap into the air and, with a push of the left stick, catapult yourself across the lush green landscapes of the world with all the style and grace that you’ve become accustomed to seeing Tony Stark muster up in the Avengers movies. It’s a genuine rush, and it allows you to take in the relatively sizeable world with a sense of wonder, until your boosters overheat and you come crashing to earth again. Of course, you can flit under waterfalls to cool yourself down and extend your flight time, but there are moments when the amount of time you can soar close to the clouds feels arbitrarily short.
There is of course, the way the game looks. Anthem is a breathtakingly beautiful game, from the intricate details in the Javelins (that’s “mech-suit” to you and I), right through to the aforementioned greenery that peppers the landscape of the world. Explosions fire off with brightly coloured balls of flame that look hugely impressive, and the “base” of Fort Tarsis is littered with NPCs that look as good as most other games’ protagonists. It’s a bit of a technical marvel, is Anthem, and I can only imagine how beautiful this looks on a PC with enough power behind it to run one of the Javelins itself.
Anthem is a breathtakingly beautiful game…
Those characters do a bang-up job in terms of providing some depth to the world as well. Some of my favourite moments have been bumping into randoms in Fort Tarsis, with conversations flowing fairly naturally, as well as overhearing discussions from sets of characters discussing everything from debt collection to their adventures as Freelancers, the game’s name for its heroes. On a micro level, Fort Tarsis feels a lot like a more sparsely populated incarnation of Mass Effect’s Citadel, except without the option to tell everyone that this is your favourite store. Speaking of stores, customisation is another area in which Anthem shines. The ability to fully pimp out your Javelin is there in abundance. A huge amount of materials, emotes, parts and weapons is on offer, allowing you to make your Javelin look pretty different from any others that you’ll find flying about in the world.
OK, now that’s the good stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the stuff I’ve had some issues with. It’s been well documented by now that Anthem suffered some pretty massive technical issues during its “initial” launch period. The truth is that I’ve had a few of these throughout my time with the game. These range from the absurd loading times (and there are a LOT of those), the hard locks and full-on crashing of my PS4 (not quite as many of these, but enough to be worrying), or a bug which completely disabled the “action” button prompt across the entire game. Initially I wrote this down to being in a mission, but it actually impeded some progress in an area of the game that I’m going to discuss in detail in the next paragraph. One of the most irritating things, however, is the fairly frequent stutters that pop up throughout missions when you’re playing with others. These hindered a play session that was well into the launch window, to the point where it was no longer being any fun for me.
While I’m talking about things being not as much fun, let’s just talk about the “tombs” section. The overarching story (which isn’t the greatest to start with) was just about getting going and I was beginning to get invested, a section of the game brought everything to a grinding halt. Pun very much intended. You see, there’s a bit in the game that requires you to carry out a bunch of tasks before you can even continue. These range from killing a number of enemies with combos (fair enough, that’s fairly standard), to reviving teammates (again, not much of an issue), to opening a series of treasure chests. The problem with that, is that these chests don’t appear in the same place each time. And you can’t mark locations on the map, so you’ve got to fly around aimlessly until you randomly come across one in the world and hope that your random companions haven’t already swiped it. It was an infuriating few hours in a game that I was just starting to get my teeth into, and eventually I just ground out some of the World Events (akin to Destiny’s Public Events) until I finally had enough chests to continue.
Unfortunately, that experience soured me on a lot of what Anthem had to offer, and as things got going more and more, I found myself losing interest in it. I managed to get through the story and unlock all of the Javelins, which do offer up a set of unique ways to play through the game, but minor issues started to grate on me a bit more. The loot, for example, is scaled very hard to your level. This was similar in Destiny, but you were usually sure to find a rare item early on in the game, with legendary and epic stuff dropping as you got higher. I didn’t find a single piece of epic loot (except the one included in the Legion of Dawn edition provided for this review) in my time with the game.
I think one of my major issues with Anthem is that this is a Bioware game. As a studio, they’ve put out some of the most beloved franchises in video games with Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I was fully prepared for a game that was essentially Mass Effect x Destiny. A loot shooter with an engrossing story that would have me clamouring for “just one more run” in order to get a decent set of loot to add into my loadout. What Anthem is, in its current guise, is a pale imitation of both games. There’s enough story in a micro scale in Fort Tarsis to keep you engaged, but on a macro scale, it falls apart a little bit. There just wasn’t enough in the main narrative to keep me as hooked as I’d like to have been. With regard to the loot shooter side of things, there honestly didn’t feel like there was enough variety in the stuff that was dropping to keep me engaged, and the lack of the ultra-shiny stuff until the endgame was a little bit disappointing.
All in all, in spite of what I’ve said above, there is something about Anthem that I’m enjoying. It’s not got its hooks into me at the levels of Destiny 2 (which I sunk close to 150 hours into), but I’m curious to dip back into it and grind out some of the endgame content with some friends.