Gaming

Anthem (Late Impressions)

Before going into my thoughts on the game itself it’s probably worth a brief recap…

Bioware’s once hopeful online shooter Anthem has received quite a beating since its release in February of last year. Going up against another game with similar appeal in The Division 2 had a very strong chance to divide audiences but no one expected it to go as wrong as it did. A raft of issues from Anthem‘s launch quickly forced Bioware to change direction on their planned DLC strategy and fight to keep the game alive. I missed most of these dramas in relation to the game as though I came away from the pre-launch demo seeing promise I ended up choosing The Division 2 based on the strength of the original game (eventually!) and that all my friends were heading in the same direction too. While I certainly got my money’s worth from it but interest had dropped away rapidly… far quicker than it did with the original Division.

No, that giant thing is not the expectations of gamers overwhelming us.

Which brings us back to Anthem. No major game from last year I think was savaged as much as Bioware’s latest game. It was like the critics of Mass Effect Andromeda got together again but also invited their friends, family, and a stockpile of torches and pitchforks, along to see the fireworks. We had one of our major retailers here give them the ultimate beatdown while also marking the game down by a significant margin. Even now the game is still selling there for only $4 AUD which is unheard of here unless it’s a pre-owned game clearance and close to the ultimate insult for any publisher. Around the time this happened the first rumours began to swirl of Bioware looking to fully commit to getting Anthem right in a way that’s akin to many of Ubisoft’s efforts to fix their launch efforts. It seemed like too good an opportunity for many here to invest in a game that might turn out better in the future so many had taken the chance. And now that it’s official I thought it was worth grabbing a copy for myself – better yet I was able to get the Legion of Dawn edition of the game (with bonus DLC) for that same $4 AUD price. Seeing as I have the game now it seems silly to not see what the current state of it is rather than wait…

For those who don’t by know, Anthem is another take on the online co-op shooter that games such as Destiny and The Division have made popular. The more missions and objectives you complete the more powerful your character becomes and the more loot you acquire to help tailor them to your own play style and fashion preferences. The unique twist Anthem adds to this genre is the Javelin: a powered exoskeleton that not only lets the owners become walking tanks but grants them the ability to fly for long distances. At face value it could almost be “Iron Man: The RPG”. The flight aspect of the Javelin is really pushed throughout the game as you’re constantly having to fly out from your base of operations to the location of your next mission so you get to experience that part of the game a lot. With four different Javelin types available there’s variety in capability too – makes me think right away of the fantasy archetypes of Gauntlet (Warrior, Valkyrie, Elf and Wizard) but in mech form as the capabilities of each align nicely to those with their balance of abilities. And because you can (eventually) have each available to you it’s easy to change to one that better fits your needs for a mission.

Have flying suit, will travel.

I’m still working through the campaign now and it does feel like something I’d want to play right to the end. The world building is fine even if the names are a bit random (the “Anthem of Creation”?) but the Javelin suits are really fun to use and great at laying waste to enemies. But I still think it is fair to point out a few things…

Strengths

  • The lore and story is not too bad. There’s plenty of mystery as to why things are the way they are and the introduction does well in setting you up for the campaign ahead of you.
  • The Javelins are great. The feeling of being able to leap up and then fly away is pretty awesome. A good Iron Man vibe though with all the guns maybe War Machine would be a better comparison?
  • The verticality of the environments is impressive and really unique. There are mountains to soar up to and underwater caves to dive into and everything in between. It gives you a chance to really test out your Javelins.
  • The weapons feel good for the most part. They all have their own pros and cons that fit their purpose and the system in place tries to encourage you to keep working to upgrade to higher level versions as soon as you can. The Legion of Dawn DLC did give my Javelin some seriously high level gear that’s carving up enemies which is making me think they may be a little overpowered.
  • Having missions try to join you up with other players is nice in that it tries to ensure you are never playing alone and be able to (hopefully) get support from others. But it also has disadvantages…

Weaknesses

  • There are way too many loading and matchmaking screens. Many other games have made this aspect more seamless so it really breaks the flow with how often it comes up, even when entering some areas within the game world such as temples and caves. I really wished they adopted a system more like Ghost Recon Wildlands that kept you in an open, streaming world instead of these instanced versions per mission. It would also make the free roam mode pointless which I’m wondering if it already is as it seems there mainly to farm resources and XP.
  • When you get hooked up with randoms during missions you can run the risk of them spoiling the experience if they are only interested in pushing through quickly for XP. When it takes a long time for the mission to load it’s frustrating to then see your fellow players taking short cuts and breaking the narrative.
  • Fort Tarsis is mainly window dressing. It all looks great, the character models are highly detailed and emotive and a lot of the story comes from your constant visits but it is completely detached from the rest of the game. A lot of it could have been replaced with cutscenes so players could get back into the action faster.
  • Being able to interact with your mission spoils only after you leave the mission is a real shame. It’d be cool to think you could pick up a new weapon during the course of play and swap it in to see how effective it is during the rest of a mission. Just about every other game allows this.
  • The demo really spoiled us for cosmetic rewards but playing the real game I wish I would see more being dished out from the start. It’s going to be a while before I find enough options before I can truly make my Javelins my own.
  • Even after a year on the market the game is still buggy. A couple of times it has paused for long enough that I thought my console had locked up.

From what I can tell I still have a lot more to see in Anthem before I can make an balanced conclusion. I need to get into a few missions with mates too. But at least from my impressions so far this does not seem to be that gigantic gaming disaster it was made out to be. The idea is there and parts of it do sell the concept well but it’s big fail is that it’s really rough in its execution and was pushed out far too early. Maybe a lot of it is also down to the Frostbite tech not being in the right state for the developer’s ambitions at the time… I don’t know. I still think Ghost Recon Wildlands, and even The Division, handled this open world and the missions within in a much more seamless fashion so it’s technically possible and if the game were reworked to operate in a similar way I’d say that’d be a big win for it. But right now Anthem puts in a lot of roadblocks which stifles that “one more mission” feeling. If you’re playing Space Iron Man there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from flying to one location to bust up some bad guys before flying to another location miles away to bust up some more.

You can still have some good times with the game and if you can get it for a good deal too even better. And if you subscribe to EA/Origin Access it’s right there in the Vault for you to check out. I’d be curious to see if it will remain in the Vault when this rebooted version eventually arrives or if it’ll disappear for a time and be returning to retail again in a revised edition to help recoup costs. Those who own it already may be lucky to see it patched up but anyone new to the game may need to pay for the privilege to see what’s changed. But this is all guesswork – the truth of it will come come out when the new Anthem shows up for players to see. In the meantime there’s nothing wrong in seeing what’s out there with the game as it stands right now.

Anthem is out now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Playing on an Xbox One X.

3 replies »

  1. A lot of things stood in the way of Anthem’s success — BioWare hasn’t historically been all that good at shooters; people don’t like EA; people don’t like “games as a service” (with a few notable exceptions); and everything I hear about this game seems to make it sound like something I’d much rather play by myself. The frequent load screens and matchmaking sound like an absolute killer.

    Props to them for being willing to try and revamp the whole thing, but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough for them. Stranger things have happened of course — Final Fantasy XIV says hello — but I’m not sure at this point if EA and BioWare have the goodwill required to tempt people back.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Final Fantasy XIV is an even better example of a company turning around their game but I think you’re right in thinking EA/Bioware aren’t up to the task. There’s not a lot to suggest right now they can pull it off.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Agree with the sentiment here. While a developer like Ubisoft has been able to improve games dramatically (The Division, Rainbow 6 Siege) there definitely is no track record with EA. If Bioware are given more control (unlikely) anything is possible though.

    Liked by 1 person

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