Bioware’s new live service game, Anthem, is a mixed bag for me. There is a lot there that is done right, but there is this dark cloud of issues that is always raining down on you. I wanted to approach this review with a basic setup to make it easy to digest. There are some good things with Anthem, there are some okay things and then there are some really bad aspects to the game. This review of Anthem will discuss all three as we get to the bottom of what the heck this game is, so suit up.
Let’s start with the positives. If Anthem was a ten dollar Iron Man flight simulator that let you explore the world and discover all of the wildlife, I would say pick it up immediately. The flight mechanic in Anthem is perfect. Jumping off of Fort Tarsis to descend to the ground and then, at the last moment, transition into flight is seamless and addicting. You can tell that Bioware really poured the work in here as everything surrounding flight in Anthem was absolutely nailed. It is by far my favorite aspect of the game, which is great because you will be doing a lot of flying around the Bastion. A cool element added to the flight is that if you fly close to water, go straight down into it or go under waterfalls, you can cool your javelin off to fly longer. While I was flying I would always try to find a way to keep myself in the air as long as possible.
The story in Anthem is good. There is nothing groundbreaking, but I really enjoyed the characters and found myself caring for them. The voice acting and animations are very impressive, which helped me get invested in what was going on. I feel as though you learn a lot about the characters in a way that doesn’t feel too forced. Overall the story does a good job at setting up an intriguing world for the future and makes me excited to see what comes next. I will add that the final boss is a very cool fight, but the ending was a bit underwhelming.
Another praise for the game is that while you are flying around doing stuff, the surrounding world is absolutely stunning. The locations and lush environments are breathtaking. There is so much detail in each section of the world that it makes slayin’ baddies that much more immersive. Which brings me to my final “good” of Anthem.
The combat in Anthem is, for lack of a better word, fun. It is engaging and I find myself having a blast mowing down Scar or working with my teammates to take down those beefy Epic Ursix. The primer/combo system is exciting and that sweet sound when you pull off a combo is so satisfying. It is a fun way to work with your teammates. I play as the Ranger; when I throw out my frost grenade on a group of baddies just before an Interceptor goes in to unleash combo madness on them… it is one of the coolest things. Now, add in the perfect flying mechanic to combat and you have yourself a great time. Being able to just hover in one spot to get your bearings or get the advantage on a certain enemy is very fun and enjoyable. Then, you dart in one direction to help a teammate or dodge some oncoming rocks the Ursix has hurled at you. All of the quick movement and split-second decisions are exhilarating. The combat in Anthem is solid in Anthem and lays down a great foundation for the game as a whole.
Now, I’d like to move on to a few things that I think are good elements to the game but could use some work. As I said, the combat is great but the endgame and gameplay loop needs some attention. After completing the story you can either do strongholds, contracts or freeplay (and technically quickplay – where you drop into random missions) and that is it. I will say the contracts are actually pretty interesting. The narratives behind them are intriguing enough that I always found myself wanting to know more or to do the next mission to move the contract along. The three strongholds are fun but will get old pretty quickly. My favorite stronghold so far is the Tyrant Mine mission – probably because I hate spiders and this is the closest thing I have to getting back at them.
Freeplay can be either very engaging or a total bore. If you can get in and there are world events popping up here and there, and then you run into a Titan wreaking havoc, freeplay turns into an enjoyable expedition. But sometimes when I loaded into freeplay absolutely nothing was happening. There are collectibles that you can find scattered throughout the world, but most of the time I have no idea what any of it means so it is useless to me.
As you fight your way to the end you learn more about the lore of what is going on in the world of Anthem. This is why I really enjoy the contracts because you talk to Yarrow, Sentinel Brin (who is a hoot by the way) or Matti (or Sumner or Ellis) to get contracts to help them in some way. I won’t spoil it, but there is a contract with Yarrow that spans several missions that include a person impersonating a freelancer that you have to track down. It was great going through that to learn more about Yarrow himself, and just the world of Anthem as a whole.
When you are running through the endgame half of what you will be doing is making your javelin look slick, and in Anthem you definitely have the tools to do that. However, the customization pretty much stops with the paint. Don’t get me wrong, I have probably spent hours trying to find the perfect color palette for my Ranger, but I wanted to be able to put on different armor sets. There are a total of three different armor sets. That is just simply not enough to sustain the grind in the long term. I want to be able to grind for some good armor, and chasing just three is ridiculous. Speaking of ridiculous, let’s get on with the not so good things.
The technical issues with Anthem are simply unacceptable. I am playing on a PS4 and there is an audio issue that consists of the audio crackling all the time. When you are walking around Fort Tarsis and just overhear normal conversations the audio bugs out and crackles. It is becoming unbearable and is something that just might drive me mad. Every time I burst open the doors to the main courtyard I hear the crackling and just shake my head. Along with the audio, while in Fort Tarsis, I will see NPCs just whip around the area. It is funny to a degree but is something that is just so broken.
I think the worst issue for me (and the audio is up there) is the texture pop in. Geezus it is horrendous. Listen, flying around the open world is gorgeous, don’t forget that, but when you see hills and environments just load in out of nowhere, it is jarring and leaves me shaking my head again.
The gameplay loop is serviceable at the moment with fun combat and exciting moments but the loot you get from all that hard work is severely lackluster. We don’t have to be running around with Gjallarhorns or anything like that but all the guns look the same. You know that common auto rifle you have? Well, you will get an epic version of it that looks the exact same! It’s hard not to ask why – All I want is for my epic guns to look epic. I feel as though this is a fundamental problem that could have tremendously helped the gameplay loop. If I knew there were these cool looking epic weapons, I would love to put my nose to the grind to get one. It is very disappointing and I hope they add in some unique looking weapons later on.
So there you have it. Anthem is a live service and Bioware has already unveiled a ninety-day roadmap for the future. Some of the coming content looks fun, so I hope Bioware can stick with it to make the game into that something special we all want it to be.
But for now remember: “Sometimes people are more important than plants”. – Sentinel Brin