While it was teased only a few years ago, Anthem’s been in the oven quite some time, so to speak. The highly anticipated looter shooter is finally out, but not without its share of issues. Coming off of a rocky demo experience, and a recently released day one patch, Anthem in its current form is a bit concerning, to say the least. There’s some potential here, though, and Anthem does have some charm despite its questionable design choices.
The premise of Anthem is relatively simple, you play the role of a Freelancer, a person capable of piloting an immensely powerful Javelin. After a job gone very, very wrong, you pick up doing various odd jobs for Fort Tarsis, the rag-tag outpost that seems to somehow be surviving in a very harsh world, packed with all kinds of loot. While the story itself is a little drab, Bioware is known more for their worldbuilding, and Anthem has plenty of it.
Rough Around Those Pretty Edges
Featuring some extremely impressive vistas to traverse, each area has its own rich little bit of information in the games encyclopedia called the Cortex, helping make this world stand out a little bit more. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself is a little rougher around the edges, as I had to really fine-tune the sensitivity to get it to a point I felt comfortable with and before I made any changes, my attempts at flight would likely get me put on a few watch lists. It doesn’t feel as good as you would hope, but thankfully the control options are robust enough that you can get it to a point that it’s playable, and once it clicks, you can start to see some of what made Anthem seem so promising.
The world of Bastion is pretty impressive from an aesthetic standpoint. It’s a sprawling, lush jungle dotted with all sorts of bizarre flora and fauna, and no small amount of decrepit ruins to explore as well. I would often go out of my way to at least take in the sights a little, especially with how much of a focus Bioware seemed to put on navigating the world with your Javelin. Massive waterfalls and downward descents rapidly cool your Javelin, allowing you to turn immediately upwards and continue soaring about Bastion as you wish, and you’ll be glad to do so, because the world feels massive at first glance, despite it actually being much smaller. Thankfully, the Javelins are well equipped to handle the various threats you will run into across Anthem’s campaign and freeplay missions. The sound design is excellent too, with each Javelin sounding powerful as it hums to life before you take off on the various contracts in the game.
Fly Like An Eagle
I initially got well acquainted with the Colossus, a beefy, shield-bearing brute of a suit that makes use of nothing but raw firepower, which was right up my alley. Mortars, poison cannons, napalm walls, tesla coils, you name it, I seemed to be able to wield it, and mixing and matching my loadout was quite enjoyable to do so. There’s plenty of variety in weaponry too, with some javelins only being able to wield certain weapons or attacks. You’ll unlock each one across the game, but the order you get to use them is entirely up to you. I also messed around extensively with the Storm, which was the polar opposite of my first choice. Featuring a more nimble look, it was focused on soaring high above, dropping massive lightning bolts onto the battlefield to turn the tide. Thankfully, each one plays distinctly enough that you won’t really get bored of any one suit, despite some feeling a little weaker than others. The customizations are nice too, allowing for you to really make your Javelins feel unique.
I have to give Bioware kudos for some really killer exosuit designs. I actually found myself spending way more time than I initially thought mixing and matching pieces to create a Javelin that not only looked cool, but would get the job done too. It’s by no means as granular as say, Armored Core, but there are a lot of purely cosmetic enhancements such as fabrics, suit styles and emotes that you can acquire in Anthem either via in-game gold or by microtransactions. Grinding for currency is a little bit of an issue, as the in-game options appear to be rather inefficient, eventually pushing players towards the paid route to unlock new cosmetics. This isn’t an awful way to go about implementing microtransactions, but it will definitely feel slower if you’re going the free route, and it remains to be seen if Bioware will tune this in the future to be more friendly to those who don’t want to throw more money at an already full-priced title.
Sadly, I can’t say the whole process feels smooth to play. When I do get into the overworld to fly around, it’s great at first, but then there’s a loading screen. Heading into a small cave? Loading screen. Boot the game up? Press Space to enter a load screen. It is infuriatingly excessive, and really takes you out of the experience Anthem tries to build. I had initially figured that such long load times would lead to smoother in-game transitions, but this was not the case Couple these frequent load times with some painfully dull mission design, and you have a recipe for a nice afternoon nap. The menus are also a chore to navigate, with my Map being bound to both the M key as well as the Escape key, for example. There’s also the frustrating aspect of not being able to swap gear mid-mission. That cool little bauble you grabbed? You can’t touch it until your next mission, and you’re going to have to sit through a number of load screens to even swap gear around. It’s a real annoying way to go about things with a game that is focused on finding better loot as you play.
The load times and odd menu design aren’t my only sore spots though. The flying controls don’t translate quite well to underwater segments. Much like my questionable, FBI suspect-worthy first flights, the swimming (or lack thereof) had me feeling like I was in a submarine driven by a lunatic. Movement here also had to be tuned quite a bit before it felt comfortable, but thankfully the underwater segments occur less often, so I only had to subject myself to them occasionally. It’s natural to want to tune a game to feel more comfortable, but I felt like I had to do so out of necessity. The voice-acting is largely passable with only a few characters giving standout performances (shoutout to Joe La Truglio, in that regard), with a few other celebrities lending their pipes to Anthem as well. The writing suffers the same fate, largely feeling forgettable, which is odd as some sidequests feature far more involving stories and had me curious as to how they would end. At no point did I find myself chomping at the bit to see what happens next with the main story, which is frustrating because of how much I was enjoying the lore of the world itself.
I could forgive the average story, as the gameplay of Anthem itself isn’t actually that bad. Encounters with enemies also encourage experimenting with your different abilities, and each Javelin plays well enough that I wanted to unlock each of them as I progressed. Loot is also varied and interesting, allowing you enhance specific aspects of each Javelin. What I can’t forgive is the uncanny valley-tier animations of the characters. During an early cutscene with Owen, right-hand man to your Freelancer, I saw him flash a smile at me that triggered my fight or flight response, and if I never have to see that kind of expression directed at me any time soon, I’d be ok with that.
Despite Anthem’s very noticeable hiccups, there’s enough of a solid groundwork here that I think Anthem can be built off of into something unique. Sadly, it falls into the same shortcomings as its predecessors, featuring a minimal endgame and some almost obtuse design choices. Anthem has a solid foundation that doesn’t have much built off of it, but hopefully, BioWare can build this title into something with a bit more substance. It’s disappointing as it feels like they were handed a golden opportunity to basically do the opposite of Bungie, but we will have to wait and see if this title will live up to expectations, or more realistically, just be better than it is now. Under this pretty coat of paint lies one mediocre game that is ultimately disappointing.
**PC Review code provided by publisher**
- Javelins are awesome
- Loads of customization
- Combat is solid
- Bastion is beautiful
- Creepy animations
- Dull story
- Controls could use some polish
- Needs more content