Bioware has given us some of the best gaming experiences of all time. The Mass Effect Trilogy, the Dragon Age Trilogy, Knights of the Old Republic…that’s quite a list! While their last effort, Mass Effect: Andromeda, didn’t quite live up to Bioware’s expected quality, they now have a new sci-fi epic to make amends- Anthem! Can Anthem bring Bioware back into gamer’s hearts?
Anthem is a MMO loot shooter, something along the lines of Destiny and The Division. You’ll have to deal with some Destiny comparisons in this review because there are a lot of similarities. But first, let’s start with Anthem’s plot.
Anthem’s Story & Storytelling
Anthem’s plot begins in explosive fashion. You play as a Freelancer, a mercenary of sorts, who uses a Javelin to perform their tasks. I’ll talk about Javelins soon, but the game begins with you and a team of Freelancers making their way to the Heart of Rage- a cataclysmic event caused by the Dominion. Here you must deactivate the Cenotaph to stop the cataclysm which seems to be getting worse, and could spell doom for all.
Unfortunately the mission turns sour, with the surviving Freelancers being forced to flee to hopefully fight another day. Years later, as a result of this failed mission, the Freelancers are no longer held in high esteem like they used to, and now struggle to find work.
But the Heart of Rage still ‘rages’ on and it’s up to you to stop it, and a Dominion leader called The Monitor, and that is the basis of the story.
Before I say anything else, I think we have to just appreciate the fact that this game at least tries to have a storyline. Other comparable games, like Destiny and The Division, were really lacking in this department. You have to commend Anthem for giving us something that ties everything together, gives us purpose for every mission, and always feels like it’s building towards something.
It does get a little confusing at first, as the game just throws a whole lot of lore at you without much explanation. You’ll have to read about the lore in the game’s library section to get an understanding. It’s not a long storyline though, meaning the game itself doesn’t have the time to explain everything in cutscenes and conversations. Because of this, you’ll have to keep up on the reading, which isn’t a great way to tell a story because only the bare minimum is shown throughout the actual game.
But is the storyline actually good though? Well all I’ll say is that it pales in comparison to Bioware’s usual high standard. It’s not terrible either, but you never really feel that strong connection to the story like you would with Mass Effect, for example. The characters also play a part in this, and they don’t quite live up to that of Garrus, Liara, etc., but they weren’t too bad either.
I did enjoy the company of your Cypher, Owen. Yes he was fairly cheesy at times, but also felt relatable too. He had his own dreams and you kind of felt for him. I was also amused by Neeson Giles, the man who loves spreading rumours, and I was always looking forward to the next conversation with him just for a laugh. Most of the other character are forgettable, but at least they are still better than Destiny’s cardboard cutouts!
Before Anthem’s release, the game’s main selling point was the ability to fly. To be able to take off and fly like Iron Man in a huge world seems like a dream to play. To be honest, it really does feel like a dream! It’s all so seemless and fluid, and is made even more impactful with the sound effect of the Javelin’s little jets blasting off.
You ca’t fly around forever though, as you’ll have to stop every now and then to cool your jets. This does halt your momentum and fun, but it’s really not long before you can take off again. I’m a little surprised you can’t extend your flight time, but there are methods to keep your jets cool, such as flying through waterfalls and diving sharply downwards.
You can tell Bioware put a lot of time and effort into perfecting this, but there were also other gameplay aspects that shone too. Your movements also felt smooth and fluid, as your character feels more agile than expected. When you combine it all together, such as flying towards enemies, then hovering above them and firing bullets down was always exhilarating.
The gunplay feels satisfying which is another important aspect of Anthem. I relished every battle that ensued because I knew I was in for a blast. But there were some strange decisions that held the combat back from being truly great. Firstly, there’s no cover system..in a third-person shooter! How this system didn’t make the cut is truly baffling, as you’ll be facing hordes of enemies and preventing yourself from getting shot is kind of important.
There’s also no way to swap shoulders while aiming and shooting- another strange decision to not include this. I know this game is trying to encourage a faster pace, but you can still get shot while flying. These exclusions to Anthem didn’t really hurt the game too much, but an experienced developer like Bioware should have known better.
To add to the combat, there’s also the use of abilities and combos, which adds greater depths to it all. There are elemental effects that can be caused on enemies, and using certain follow up attacks will cause more damage, allowing for better teamwork when taking on tougher bosses. This was another area of Anthem that you can tell Bioware spent the time and effort to flesh it all out.
To round things up, there are multiple Javelins to eventually unlock and play as. There are 4 different types that are specialised in their own way, allowing for different strategies. The best part is, you’re not locked into any particular play-style from the beginning, as you can swap between the different Javelins and work out what style you want.
Anthem Mission Design
So far I’ve spoken about where Bioware has put most of their effort into- the polished movement, flying, and combat. But unfortunately they did drop the ball in other areas, as the mission design is one of those.
It felt like Bioware spent 90% of their development time on the actual gameplay and the remaining 10% on everything else. Because of this, the mission design greatly suffered. Every mission honestly feels exactly the same! You’ll play through the same mission objectives over and over again.
You’ll either be defending a certain area while fighting waves of enemies, searching for glowing orbs to bring to a central point while fighting waves of enemies, or searching for pieces of hidden gear within a certain range while fighting waves of enemies. You’ll be flying from point A to point B doing one of these particular objectives only to repeat this process until the end.
You would think after such a long development cycle that Bioware could think up of something more original and less repetitive. You’ll notice that repetitiveness is something you’ll encounter a lot in Anthem. It’s true that pretty much every online loot shooter contains these types of mission objectives, but that doesn’t mean Bioware couldn’t give us some more variety.
Thankfully the fun gameplay actually negates a lot of these criticisms, because even though the missions are repetitive, the game is still fun to play. But the biggest offender that actually killed the game for me…was the tomb mission. I’m sure most gamers reading just might agree, as it’s been known as a bit of a roadblock for many.
Basically, the tomb mission involves completing a series of challenges that’s required to enter the tombs and continue the story. Sounds fine, right? Except these ‘challenges’ are nothing more than obvious filler that’s designed to pad out the length of the game. You’ll have to complete tasks like complete 5 World Events, find 15 treasure chests, kills certain amounts of enemies, etc.
It’s fine if this was just a side mission, something to do over the course of the game, but to be forced to grind out previous missions and aimlessly scour Freeplay mode in order to progress the main story, is one of the laziest mission designs I’ve ever experienced in any game.
In fact, it’s just plain insulting and shows Bioware doesn’t respect the gamer’s play time. Luckily everything you’ve done in the game so far does automatically count towards these objectives (but that wasn’t the case in the launch week), but there’s still grinding to be done. I just can’t understand for the life of me that Bioware would think this is fun!
So apart from the usual missions, you’ll be able to play through strongholds, which are the equivalent of MMO dungeons. During the main story, you’ll be able to play through only 1 stronghold until post-game, and then you’ll be able to play a whopping 3 once the main story is over. This is pretty pathetic when you think about it. I know more will be added over time, but even Destiny had quite a few Strikes before the first expansion.
This almost spells certain doom for post-game, which is where you’re supposed to spend most of your time. With only 3 stronghold, no raid, and any new content still a while away, Anthem will struggle to hold the interest of many gamer’s for a while. Time will tell whether they’re still interested by the time new content arrives.
So now we’ve covered the main story missions and strongholds, that really just leaves Freeplay. I know there’s the side missions/contracts, but there’s not much to cover there. In Freeplay mode, you can fly around to gather resources, take part in world events…and that’s about it.
At least in Destiny, you were able to take part in patrols, and never-ending series of small missions. But Freeplay in Anthem really lacks any kind of meaningful content. Of course, you can grind out the tomb challenges here, but I’ve already had my rant about that.
So the moral of this story regarding the actual content of Anthem, is that it really lacks effort and thought. Variety is the spice of life, and Bioware were content in keeping it mild. Yes there will be more content in the future, but you’ll to wait a while for it, and you’ll have to pay extra for it, something almost no gamer can appreciate.
The loot in any game like this is always that drive, that ultimate goal, and that ever-dangling carrot-on-the-stick. Loot, or gear, in Anthem is done a little differently. You don’t have the traditional pieces of armour like helmet, boots, etc., but instead can equip grenades, weapons, and components that gives some stat boosts and perks.
Every time you level up, you’ll gain access to something new (like a new component slot) and it was actually pretty exciting whenever I levelled up. I’ll admit though that Anthem’s equipment just isn’t as exciting as the more traditional gear system. Getting a new legendary torso armour is always going to be more exciting than some invisible component.
Now when it comes to equipping your gear, you can’t actually do it from your menu like in every other loot shooter. You have to go to the forge in Fort Tarsis in order to do so. Yes it makes sense because you have your own mechanic that makes these installations to your Javelin, but from a gameplay point of view, it’s quite inefficient and unnecessarily time consuming. This is especially true when you have to endure a loading screen just to equip gear!
But overall, when it came to the loot, I never felt that addictive hook you’re supposed to get with these games. That’s possibly one of the reasons I lost interest about halfway through the game.
Anthem’s Fun Loading Screens
Speaking of loading screens, why not dedicate a whole section of this review to loading screens, considering Anthem dedicates a lot of the game towards loading screens as well? It’s almost meme-worthy the loading screen fiasco that Anthem has generated. There’s a loading screen for every occasion!
Want to equip gear? Loading screen! Want to start to mission? Loading screen? Want to fly in a cave in the ‘open world’? Loading screen! It’s crazy how many times you’ll be staring at the loading screen in Anthem. They’re not particularly long (except when you first start up the game), but you’ll see them frequently. They just tend to break the immersion when you see them this often.
Another type of screen that was strangely omitted was a stats screen. Anthem contains RPG elements- why was there no screen to check my overall stats? With all the perks, buffs, etc, that you get from your gear, I’d like to know how they impact me.
Anthem Review Summary
My Anthem review has been a mixed bag of praise and criticism. But considering the quality of the developer, there certainly should have been more praise, but with Anthem, this isn’t the case. It’s evident that more time was dedicated to some areas of the game, but not in others, and I believe the game suffered as a result.
The gameplay itself is the biggest highlight, it’s really fun to play and is super polished. The movement, flying, and combat are all top notch and should be enjoyed by everyone. Bioware’s attempt at a storyline in this genre should be commended, even though it may not live up to their previous games.
But it’s the actual content of Anthem that hurts the game the most. Repetitive mission design, lack of strongholds, and that awful tomb mission, are among many aspects of Anthem that may put many gamers off continuing this game.
It’s just hard to believe that despite Destiny coming out out nearly 5 years ago, and other MMO loot shooters released in the meantime too, that Bioware were not able to avoid some of the biggest criticisms from those games. Because of this, Anthem feels like a step backwards. Considering the reputation of the developer, and financial support of one of the biggest publishers in gaming, this is inexcusable.
Maybe Anthem will become a better game in the future, but gamers deserve the best product a developer can give from the beginning and not have to wait for expensive expansions. The potential was there, in some ways it lived up, but in many it didn’t.