Anthem Review

Dan Webb

It genuinely boggles the mind that it’s taken eleven years for some developer out there to go, “you know that Iron Man fella? That would be a good game mechanic if we could nail it, right?” Okay, okay, we know that Airtight Games and Capcom tried to tackle with it with Dark Void in 2010, but we all know that was a huge pile of faeces. Anthem and the devs over at BioWare have achieved just that, however, the whole Iron Man fantasy, ironically in a year where he could potentially meet his maker. Unfortunately, BioWare’s expedition into the ‘looter shooter’ genre is not much of a fantasy in other areas… unless you find staring at a loading screen your ultimate fantasy. If it is, ready the tissues! BioWare’s take on the looter-shooter genre is an interesting one. One that truly excels in some areas, but is a bizarre misstep in others. Many other areas.

Anthem takes place on a mysterious planet, one at the behest of an omniscient energy source known as the Anthem of Creation. You play one of the world’s Freelancers, an exo-suited up crew of guardians of the realm, tasked with keeping the peace and in this particular instance, tackling the Heart of Rage, a cataclysmic event that has plagued the nation of Bastion. Anthem boasts a cast of really likeable characters and an intriguing story from the beginning to the end, and really feels like a BioWare creation at heart, which is a definite pro for games of this ilk. While BioWare has seemingly delivered a nice step up for the events to come, it's a true shame that a lot of the game’s coolest lore lies in its library – it’s basically Destiny’s Grimoire issue all over again.

From a gameplay standpoint, Anthem is a truly enjoyable romp that excels from a combat perspective. With multiple Javelins to try your hand at, which each represent different playstyles – and ones you can switch between on the fly without having to start a new character like *ahem* Destiny – you’ll be flying through the air and dropping onto foes from 100 feet in a matter of minutes. The fact that each suit has 12 separate abilities and powers to choose from as well mean that you can truly create a Javelin that will suit your playstyle. Sure, the Ranger may be a little vanilla, but the Interceptor and Storm Javelins are truly a sight to behold and you’ll be chaining combos, dashes, and utilising the brilliant flying mechanics in no time whatsoever. Genuinely, we absolutely adored the minute-to-minute gameplay while in the open-world and it’s everything we want from Anthem. It truly is.

That, unfortunately, is where the praise ends.

Anthem is a game chock full of baffling design decisions that range from the ridiculous, like not being able to switch weapons and abilities on-the-fly and only being able to do so at Fort Tarsis’ Forge – heck, you can’t even check your loadout when anywhere but in the Forge – to the more basic, like not being able to add custom waypoints in the open-world. Unfortunately the mission design structure for the most part is devoid of creativity and completely soulless as well, meaning you’ll largely be doing the same thing over and over again throughout the game. Thankfully the game’s combat saves it here somewhat. Oh, and don’t get us started on that mission early on that basically says: “here’s a list of open-world activities to grind, go away and do that and then come back.” Honestly, I could sit here for hours and just reel off the game’s weird design decisions, but we won’t do that as we value your time as much as we value ours.

Where Anthem is a complete letdown though – especially from a looter-shooter perspective – is with its loot. In my 30-odd hours of playtime I got one masterwork drop and zero legendaries, which for a shooter meant to entice with its loot is frankly preposterous. In fact, the whole lack of meaningful loot in general is an oversight and shows BioWare’s lack of understanding for the genre. For instance, all the guns pretty much look the same, the only difference between a common and a masterwork is the skin… compare that to Destiny and you’ll see why Anthem is a mile behind its sci-fi competitor.

The same goes with armour for your Javelin as well, which considering Anthem is a third-person shooter is unfathomable. Anthem’s visual customisation might as well not exist. We absolutely applaud the decision to allow players to customise the colour and vinyls on the armour; that bit is great. But only having a few options at launch to differentiate the actual visual aesthetics of your Javelin is bonkers. BioWare has even cocked up the store as well, which at any one time (in its current state) has only a handful of items, some of which only apply to certain Javelins. Anthem is a looter-shooter, essentially without the loot bit. If BioWare doesn’t act fast to rectify this, this will be the death of the game.

Technically, Anthem is a bit of a mess as well. When things kick-off – which they frequently do – on the One, the One S and the PS4 the frame-rate is all over the place. It’s not even completely stable on the One X or the Pro either. And it doesn’t matter which console you’re on, the frame-rate in the in-game cutscenes is bloody awful. Visually though, it’s stunning on the Pro and One X, while disappointing on the budget-end consoles. Again, it doesn’t matter what console you’re playing on for the pre-rendered cutscenes, they’re just plain awful compared to the in-engine stuff. And this is before we’ve started talking about the bugs, which are numerous. Whether you’re talking about the missions that make you retry because the next objective doesn’t pop or the enemies that just straight up disappear, it’s a bit all over the place. That’s not even taking into account the one time it stopped counting my Alliance progress for a fair few hours or the time I levelled up to 28 three times because it wasn’t tracking my Stronghold progress.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all are the Anthem’s insanely long load screens and the frequency of them. This is no exaggeration, but in the few tests we did perform, we generally found that from an hour’s gameplay we were looking at load screens for a good 10-12 minutes of said hour. That’s between 15-20% of your time sat staring at a static screen. And you know what the worst part of it all is? There is literally nothing to do in them. Nothing. They wouldn’t be so bad if you could fiddle with your character or something, but you can’t. Nothing. Nadda. We’re not overplaying their frequency either: die, load screen; move from the open-world to a dungeon, load screen; fall behind your party in a mission, load screen; finish a mission, load screen; go to the Forge, load screen; leave the Forge; load screen.

Seriously, without being able to switch your weapons on the fly, many a scenario can play out like this: finish mission, get new weapon, load screen to get into the Forge, load screen to get back to Fort Tarsis, then a load screen to get back out into freeplay. But wait, you actually don’t like this weapon, so then you leave the expedition, load screen, go to Forge, load screen, leave Forge, load screen, go back into Freeplay, load screen. It is utterly ridiculous. I’ve never known a game like it.

From a post-game perspective, you could argue that Anthem is lacking here too. The endgame in Anthem is basically this: grind. That’s it, and I know what you’re thinking, “Dan, that’s basically what Destiny, Diablo, Path of Exile, The Division, etc.” is, and you’re right, but without the lure of the loot, the whole process of the grind itself is not nearly as alluring. The endgame does open up more Strongholds (a la Strikes), so that’s cool, but honestly, what’s the point in grinding when all you can unlock is a gun that kind of looks like the one you have now?

The truth of the matter is that buried somewhere beneath the poor optimisation, the endless load screens and some downright ridiculous design decisions, there exists a good game. The game looks fantastic on the high-end consoles, the score and world-building is classic BioWare, as are the characters, and the combat is top notch. It's just a shame how much shit you have to wade through to experience all that. Does the game feel rushed? Absolutely! Can Anthem eventually be a great game? Damn straight, with some tweaks and some major work done on load times, it totally can. It just isn't right now, which is a real shame.


Great voice-acting and a wicked score.

On the high-end consoles Anthem looks absolutely fantastic, not so much on the low-end consoles. Whichever version you’re playing, though, prepare for a less than adequate frame-rate.

Genuinely, the only thing from making Anthem a complete disappointment is its playability. The flying, oof! The combat, nice! It’s genuinely a joy to play.

Anthem is, plainly put, a bit of a mess. A looter shooter with a poor loot focus and with more loading screens than Windows Vista.

Dull as dishwater. No creativity, lots of grinding… like Anthem itself, baddumtsh.

Anthem is a game that despite poor optimisation, agonising load times, bizarre design decisions and an unbalanced loot system, can actually be a lot of fun to play. The open-world, story, characters and combat are all solid, the rest, not so much. Anthem has potential to be a good game, it just isn’t right now. It could be one day though.

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