Anthem has been a good six years in the making, developed by the creators of iconic titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and the Mass Effect series. This time, the talented studio steps into new territory with the looter shooter, to take on the likes of Destiny and The Division. However, this genre of shooter is beginning to get a little crowded and the whole “live-service” formula isn’t always the easiest way to keep fans hooked and returning for more. This could be down to the fact that most games of this ilk tend to release somewhat unfinished with fixes and content to be added at a later date (such as the equivalent of a Raid not arriving until May), usually detailed by a roadmap. However, then there’s the added burn against fans with such games is that they almost always are packed with micro-transaction enticements, with an unreasonable grind in an attempt to lure you in to speeding more money to jump ahead of said grind. But with Anthem having the backing of EA, not to mention the talented BioWare, will they be able to make Anthem a true long-term success?
In Anthem, you play the role is a Freelancer, a once legendary figure to the people of Fort Tarsis (the main hub area where you’ll pick up missions, choose your loadouts, interact with NPC’s and so forth), sadly the people of today are a sceptical bunch and for one reason or another, the Freelancers aren’t looked upon so favourably anymore. Powered by a variety of Exosuit’s known as Javelins, the Freelancer embarks on quests to ensure the safety of the citizens within the walls of Fort Tarsis and to aid those in danger beyond them. However, when a threat emerges, known as the Anthem of Creation, it bears upon you to stop this ancient relic from falling into the wrong hands, namely an imposing villain known as The Monitor, leader of the Dominion, who would love nothing more than to harness its power and rule upon the people of Fort Tarsis in a reign of true tyranny. In truth, the story soon becomes somewhat forgettable after you get a few hours into the game, though it does have some nice cut-scenes at times.
There are four types of Javelin classes to begin with, but as you progress in the game, you’ll be able to unlock all four, so that you can swap and change as you please depending on how you wish to approach the mission. You have the Ranger, which is more of an all-rounder. The Interceptor, the quickest and most agile, however it does seem to take a little more damage. Storm is probably my favoured Javelin; this elemental suit can deal damage from a further distance using frost, fire and lighting. Finally we have the Colossus, the tank of the Javelin classes, this suit may be the slowest and clunkiest, but it gives out and takes more damage than all of the Javelin suits. You can also customise your Javelin with a number of vinyl textures and colours, it’s nothing major, but with a little imagination, you can quite easily make your Javelin standout from the crowd. This will all be done in the Forge, the same location as when choosing your loadout, which includes support gear, grenade launcher types and components, which give you added perks. Additionally you can purchase additional vinyls, armour and emotes, but they’re both of limited choice and are quite expensive. But in saying that, I think there are enough colour schemes to choose from, so I felt no need to purchase additional cosmetics.
In terms of gameplay, I’ll begin with the positives of Anthem. Firstly, flying around in the Javelins, is immense fun. Not only does it look cool playing Iron Man, but it also feels great too. There’s nothing clunky with how it plays as it’s all so smooth and free flowing, and to top it all off, the combat feels rather great too. To coincide with your firearms, you can get various attachments for your Javelin, from grenades, heat seeking rockets, ice rays and more. It may take you a while to figure out which loadout works best for you, but after a few hours or so, you’ll have that figured out for the missions at hand. I just wish however, that you would be able to change weapons and attachments on the fly during a mission, rather than being restricted to making the changes in the Forge before you head out on a mission. Little can be said about the weapon variety too, because other than having categories of Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic and Legendary, as well as power levels, weapons are very samey You can also acquire the highest end of weaponry, with the Masterworks, once you reach level 30 and they can be obtained via Stronghold missions on the Grandmaster difficulty.
You can of course craft weapons, mods and attachments by gathering resources from missions and dismantling unwanted items, but until you get to a decent level, I found that it’s not really worth wasting resources on crafting, at least until much later in the game when you’re able to craft better items, that you’re more unlikely to just discard after an hour or so. Within release week, a lot was said against the loot drops of Anthem, mainly due to the fact that they rather sucked and felt very underwhelming, and that was true, at least in my experience. However, a new patch has been released recently that has improved the loot drops. Not by a great margin, but I certainly noticed better items dropping from higher-end missions such as Stronghold. However, the Stronghold missions soon get repetitive, as there are only three of them, one being based upon the final mission of the campaign. And when you consider that Stronghold missions supposed to be the best method of loot drops, repetitiveness soon becomes an issue.
Weapon drops aside, the not so great loot system could very well be down to the fact that EA are enticing you to spend money via the in-game store. Whether it is emotes, resources or cosmetic items. Because the aim of a looter shooter is to make the player feel rewarded with loot, and if you’re not getting them satisfying feeling or getting the resources fast enough, some players may feel inclined to jump the queue and spend some real-world money for that feel good factor. Which is fine for that player, it’s their money. But from EA’s side of things, making a reward system, so unrewarding in the hope of getting more money from the player, who has already stumped up money to buy your game, doesn’t sit too well with me, even though that’s a common trend across the industry right now. I know it’s the way of the industry now, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve got to like it. Look I like to grind for rewards, but if you want to get more money from me, I want a rewarding game that makes me feel good following the completion of a challenging quest. I’m far less inclined to spend money if a quest makes me feel “meh”. But that’s just my personal preference of course.
Things don’t get much better with Anthem’s mission structure either. In most cases, many of the missions or contracts as they’re know here, will require you to travel to a location of the map, fly to mission markers, shoot some enemies, followed by the old tired formula of holding a position and fighting off enemy waves, which is something that I grew very tired of in Destiny. Other missions might require to you track down objects and activate them or collect orbs to deposit them at a drop-off point. In all fairness, the shooting and flying does provide me with a lot of satisfying fun, but the repetitive mission structures can only last so long and personally, I expected something far more creative from a studio as talented as BioWare.
Thankfully, Anthem does have another saving grace alongside the shooting and flying, and that’s the absolutely stunning visuals. To put it mildly, Anthem looks as good as any game that I’ve ever played on a console. The Javelin suits look great and badass, but the world itself is truly marvellous at times. I don’t know what BioWare were doing during the six years of Anthem’s development in terms of creating interesting missions, but they clearly spent a lot of time making Anthem’s world look as good as it does. There are multiple layers of terrain, from under water, on land and to the skies, all of which are brimming with wonderful wildlife and lush scenery that entices you to explore just a little further.
Sadly however, unless you’re in Freeroam, you won’t get much of a chance to check out any of this gorgeous scenery while on missions, or barely have enough time to even open a treasure chest if you see one on your travels. Because if you’re with other players that race from A to B like their life depended on it or if they’ve holding back a turtles head in anticipation of using the toilet, you’ll be continually pulled into a loading screen to be dropped into their nearest location, even if you’re literally just a few seconds away. This can be even more annoying, such as when I was with one player that seemed to be cheesing his or hers flying speed, so that they were flying at an over-the-top speed, it was insane and frustrating to be in a mission with that particular player. But even so, you’ll still find yourself being pulled into loading screens far more then you’d expect.
I understand that it’s unreasonable to go off and explore every corner while on a mission with others, but the window distance between players is so frustratingly short, you can often find yourself being pulled into a loading screen, after loading screen. And speaking of loading screens, Anthem has a lot of them, in and out of missions. From loading into a mission, going into your loadout screen in the Forge and more. I get that this is a visually demanding game, but I just wish that BioWare find a way to shorten the amount of loading screens or even the length of them via a patch, and for god’s sake please, sort out the issue of continually being pulled to players so frequently during missions. And that’s not even considering the frustrations of loading back into the game with a loss of connection or game crash, which I have experienced quite a lot, far more than most games recently.
Despite Anthem being six years in the making, it still somehow feels like it’s been released too early. There’s not enough mission variety or Strongholds, the weapon loot pool still feels quite shallow and much of its endgame content such as a Raid are months away. Sadly however, this seems to be the standard with “live service” games, which is why I’m not much of a fan of that particular concept. Anthem is clearly a game that has great potential and already has some great elements at its core such as the flying and satisfying combat. But I just can’t help but feel how much of a great game Anthem could be if it releases later in the year from September or even the as early as the summer.
Maybe by the end of the year Anthem will start to fulfil its potential, but with its lack of content and a gruesome grind that entices players to spend more real-world money, Anthem should have been so much more at launch and this whole “potential” excuse for “live service” games is getting more difficult to wash. By all means, if Anthem seems like a game that you would enjoy right now, then go ahead, but in my personal opinion, I really do think that you’re better off holding out for a few more months when issues such as connectivity and the excessive loading screens are fixed, and of course when there’s more content. There’s a great game somewhere hidden beneath the tombs of Anthem, it’s just not there quite yet.