An identity crisis in video game form
Bioware is showcased as a shadow of themselves with Anthem.
Anthem is a delusional game. From the moment you tread your feet into the wild jungles of Bastion, flying around like Iron Man with a variety of skills to fight the variety of fascinating enemies., your jaw is dropping because of the beauty of it all. And when your first set your feet into Fort Tarsis, the safe fort cemented with fascinating and entertaining characters, your first thought is that Bioware actually delivered on the promises they’ve made over the last six years. A Mass Effect-like game, but also MMO-like with powerful weapons and abilities you can chase while defeating the biggest and baddest fiends you can imagine.
But all of this is also Anthem’s main problem: it’s trying to roll along purely on the promising first impression. It’s not until you’re a few hours deep that you discover that Anthem isn’t even close to what they have advertised, and that it’s actually closer to soulless than anything.
A half-baked narrative
On a hostile planet, the humanity has barely survived thanks to a barely surviving breed of warriors called Freelancers. A long time ago a breed of aliens shaped the planet after their wish thanks to something calles «The Anthem of Creation», a mystical device with power no one has true knowledge about. And as a freelancer it’s your job to keep these mysterious powers from doing too much damage and preventing more apocalyptic events. It might sound interesting from this brief summary, but it seems like Bioware aren’t entirely sure what they’re doing with their own narrative. You can tell that the story is more character driven than anything, because they have constructed a lot of interesting characters with brilliant facial animations and interesting stories based on events that took place before the game’s narrative.
But these characters are locked in the narrative prison Bioware call Fort Tarsis. And since this is a looter shooter in the spirit of games like Destiny and The Division, you could forgive the narrative and dismiss it as one of the least important parts of the game. But after every god forsaken mission you’re forced back to Fort Tarsis to walk an unnecessarily slow and long distance, just for a wonky exposition dump from one of the many characters helping you in the battle. The whole space feels like a waste of time when these characters could’ve been out in the field and delivering it there, especially when you consider the long and boring loading screens Anthem force you into for what seems like every click of a button.
A shotty Iron Man sequel
One of the few things Anthem actually do well is the gunplay and action. You have the choice between four different javelins, the Iron Man-esque suits the freelancers use. You have Ranger, your typical military stereotype. Colossus, the giant tank meant to jump in first and defend the rest of the team. Storm, the master of elements. And last, but not least, Interceptor, a sort of robot ninja focused on CQC. All four have their place, and are fun to play around with.
The problems start pouring in after a few hours, though. Even though all the javelins are fun to play around with, you’ll find yourself hitting the snooze button once you realize how shitty the mission structure is. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a missing scientist or destroying a Shaper relic that can destroy the entire planet. All the mission rotate between half a dozen minor tasks that you have to complete.
Stand here for a few minutes and defend the circle.
Clear the area of enemies
Pick up these eight objects and place them in this circle. Oh, and you have to defend that one too.
After a while it gets numb, and even strongholds that are meant to be the most difficult and engaging content builds on the damn concepts with nothing else to help enhance them.
The looter shooter category this game has been lumped into doesn’t really help either. All the fun abilities tied to your javelin are also part of the loot that can drop, which makes it increasingly difficult to customize and experiment with your builds. You would rather have something that increases your power level and makes it easier to fight the hardest foes than keep around the common-tier ability that seems super good. And even though the abilities are the best parts of the javelin, the weapons in the game are a small sour dash on top of the the terrible dessert Anthem is serving you.
And i’m aware the game is in third person, but couldn’t they at least have tried with the weapon looks? It doesn’t matter if the weapon you get is common or legendary, they’re all the same base look and are about as creative as giving a kindergarten crew a bunch of cardboard and finger paint. It’s not until you get the best loot (names masterworks and legendaries) that there’s an inch of creativity , and to get there you have to suffer your way through 20-30 hours of the same dozen of tasks.
There’s a lot of if’s and but’s surrounding Anthem. It looks good, but feels soulless. The fundamentals are there, but the mission structure is horrid. The abilities are cool as hell, but the weapons are terrible. It’s clear that this game was released several months before it was ready, and Bioware seems to have lost what made them a powerhouse in the industry. They’re responding fairly and quickly to critique so far though, and they might make the game what it deserves to be some months down the line. But as for now you should just steer clear.