I wanted Anthem to succeed more than I wanted my own two lungs. Before I continue, I feel it is important to stress just how much I wanted Anthem to work. Almost every aspect of the concept appealed to me – a large open world, taking on enemies with your friends, and a story that makes a multiplayer game feel like a well-polished single-player game. Sadly, BioWare really couldn’t find a way to make it all work as a cohesive package, despite the game brimming with potential. A vision that could have showcased BioWare’s talent, but seemed to have been blurred by the stress of a community losing hope and a developer desperately trying to prove that they can make a comeback.
BioWare is a company that has built a huge reputation on their immaculate storytelling, but none of that seems to be present in Anthem’s campaign. You’re a Freelancer who survived the Heart of Rage, a storm so deadly that it can reset life as we know it. The Freelancers have taken a huge blow since then and you are struggling to make ends meet, until an opportunity to save the world from the evil Dominion arises. The story uses all forms of buzzwords, and ancient locations to entice you, but there isn’t much effort outside of the lore dumps between conversations to make any sense of it all.
Characters lack depth and the world itself feels like there is little-to-no life present. The story has nothing we have never seen before, even going as far as to make The Monitor (the main villain) act like Thanos stole one of Tony Stark’s suits and decided to conquer a new world. For lack of a better word, the story is very uninspired. There was a minor twist that had potential, but for some odd reason, BioWare didn’t develop the character any further, but instead, just cast the character aside for later.
BioWare went to great lengths to work on the facial animations and movement of characters, which resulted in a lot of awkward poses and more eyebrow twitching than a drunk man at a bar trying to flirt with you. To say that it was a creepy experience would be an understatement. Outside of that, certain characters seemed to be more interested in the objects around you, with the voices of the characters not being very convincing. It really breaks the immersion when a person is telling you they are missing their dead relative, but keep looking around the room like they’re chasing some vagabond mosquito. Now, imagine this scenario from a person who sounds like they’re about to deliver a punchline to a long-running joke.
It felt like Anthem was trying so hard to prove that it was a worthy, new IP, that it forgets to actually work on the tasks at hand.
Fort Tarsis was set to be the glue that held the campaign together, but just like the story itself, it left nothing to be desired. You go out on a mission, only to get told to return so some random NPC can tell you about that one time they painted a vase for no reason. A lot of Fort Tarsis seems to have been designed to keep you locked in an area with meaningless conversation, so you can waste fifteen minutes of your life. I really wish the story didn’t try and shove the past down your throat and worked more on the situations happening in the present time.
The game spends more time trying to teach you about those that have come before, than trying to explain anything currently happening in the story. It felt like Anthem was trying so hard to prove that it was a worthy, new IP, that it forgets to actually work on the tasks at hand.
The choice system reflects the mundane nature of the conversations, with one of the dialogue options being “nope” and “no” in an interaction with an NPC. That being said, the redeeming qualities of the story make you wish they would do more with the game. In my entire playthrough, I was on a rollercoaster of emotions with how the story progressed. Every moment felt like one step forward and two steps back.
The world in which you explore and play countless missions looks breathtaking, but can feel incredibly lonely and devoid of… anything. I’ve spent a good few hours in Freeplay, trying to find what the best of Anthem’s world could show me, but I was left with rather silent, awkward flights with those who entered with me. There are a few World Events that will randomly spawn in to give you something to do, but that in-and-of-itself is very buggy and will often disappear mid-event.
In terms of actually encountering an enemy, I was pleasantly surprised. On the surface, Anthem feels like your typical loot-and-shoot game, where you just spend hours shooting at meaningless enemies. But there is more to it than meets the eye.
Your abilities fall into three categories: detonators, primers, and a grey area in-between. Setting up your Javelin to use the priming and detonating system will allow you to combo. This combo system does bonus damage to enemies and will be a very core aspect of working with your teammates. One member primes a target, the other person swoops in for a devastating blow. Gunplay feels good, but not too heavy hitting, as to remove focus from the Javelin’s unique abilities. There is a good balance between the guns and abilities, giving you the choice to focus on either powering up your Javelin’s abilities or simply work on perks that improve melee or gun damage.
…if you have played the demo, you have basically seen all of what Anthem’s mission structure has to offer.
Sadly, the gratifying gameplay is let down by poor mission design. Every mission feels almost identical. Moment-to-moment gameplay is enjoyable, but doing a mission that feels like the sixty other missions that came before it can feel rather tiring. To put it into perspective: if you have played the demo, you have basically seen all of what Anthem’s mission structure has to offer. You load into a mission (oh, the accursed loading screens) and fetch some stuff that the NPCs ask you to do while shooting hordes of mindless enemies and getting asked to move to a different location to do this all over again. You then come back to the Fort for mindless conversations and get asked to go out and do it (you guessed it) all over again. Outside of a few mechanically different boss fights, there isn’t much to justify the repetition of Anthem. Even the endgame doesn’t have much to offer aside from Masterwork items that change your abilities, but you have to grind through the same missions over and over, in order to get to them.
The visuals and sound design for Anthem are immaculate, to say the least, with beautiful particle effects taking the main stage. No matter the Javelin, the battlefield always lights up with beautiful displays of explosive power, and really does a good job and visually showcasing just how much power these mech-suits have.
That coincides with the robust customisation options. You can change almost everything about your Javelin, down to the material that it is made out of. Sadly, there aren’t much armour variations at launch, with one of the armour packs being locked behind the Legion of Dawn Edition. That aside, microtransactions are locked to cosmetic items only, but you can buy those same items with in-game money that you grind from missions.
BioWare has clearly put a lot of focus on Anthem‘s aesthetics. Everything has astounding attention to detail when it comes to how the game presents itself visually. I really can’t fault Anthem on how it looks on a visual level, but I would’ve personally traded the graphical prowess for some depth in the game.
It is sad knowing the BioWare that once held its head high, is now trying desperately to spread their clipped wings and fly once more. Anthem has the potential to be something greater than it is, but BioWare needs to focus on a clear path to get it there. Anthem may be riddled with bugs that break the game, but there are core elements of the game that can’t just be fixed with a simple update down the line. Playing Anthem was like watching a child who could be a brilliant scholar, to just go out and join a gang instead because that’s what everyone else is doing. Anthem should’ve set a trend, but it instead decided to follow others.
Anthem set out to be a game for everyone, which turned it into an a hollow representation of what BioWare is capable of.