During E3 2014, BioWare revealed the new Mass Effect developed by their Montreal studio while BioWare Edmonton, the main team behind the original Mass Effect trilogy was hard at work at creating an entire new IP. This new game was touted to be a fictional world that would constantly evolve and change. At the time, the game had no name but a quick teaser trailer to whet everyone’s appetites.

Years later at E3 2017, BioWare finally revealed their next original IP, Anthem, in a stunning 7-minute long demo that showed a wild, untamed dynamic world filled with mysteries, intrigue, BioWare’s time-honored tradition of dialogue choices and the promise of compelling loot.

Fast forward to 2019, the time has come for Anthem to release and to show us why the game has been in development as long as it has been, by one of the best storytellers in gaming. Except, the harsh reality is that Anthem is a severe misstep; a game brimming with potential and interesting ideas bogged down by an uninteresting world, a severe lack of compelling content and more bugs than even an Ursyx could stomach.

The Anthem of something or the other

Welcome, to the world of Anthem.

Anthem begins with a cataclysmic event that sends your hero, and un-named freelancer armed with his incredible javelin exosuit, hurtling down a path of redemption after facing a crushing defeat. The plot centers around shaper technology that can reshape the world, but was abandoned by the creators leaving the world incomplete.

The main story itself is pretty standard; a ho-hum, cookie cutter affair of good versus evil using lore and language that is not quite fully explained unless you take the time to read the in-game lore.

At times the story is hard to follow for two reasons; it’s a bit all over the place and can sometimes feel inconsequential. By the time the credits rolled, I had a hard time remembering what I even did; a stark contrast compared to BioWare’s past games (I can recite all the events of Mass Effect 1-3, try me). To make the story even more difficult to follow, the missions apart from a few standout ones, involved the same ‘stand on this platform’ and ‘collect those glowing echoes’ which added to the general malaise of following the story.

Some side conversations are well performed for a game in this genre.

While the story itself fell short of expectations for a storytelling powerhouse like BioWare, it’s the voice-acting and banter between some of the characters that helped make the stories worth discovering. The best moments in Anthem comes from story beats that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the overarching narrative. Through the course of Anthem, there are some story arcs that eclipse the gravitas of the main story, not with false grandeur but with smaller self-contained stories.

One of my favorite moments in Anthem was a scene involving a character who turned out to be royalty, and a rich suitor who kept professing his love for her while we were trying to have a conversation. It was a silly moment that added some depth to the world and characters of Anthem, saving it from being another sterile atmosphere filled with 1-dimensional characters.

These small moments are so well realized, it begs to question where any of this emotion or care was in the actual campaign. When you’re at Fort Tarsis, you have access to many of these stories, it’s just a shame it’s a nightmare to actually navigate towards these conversations.

The decision tree is binary and without consequences, but it helps push the narrative.

The game also boasts a decision making tree similar to the companies previous titles, but only contain two paths with the answers usually leading to the same outcome. While it is not as compelling as its predecessors, it does add some amount of player agency at-least when getting to know some of the characters. Compared to other games in the genre which is usually just “I’ll tell you what to do”, it does feel nice to slow down and have a conversation sometimes, I just wish there was some impact to the choices you make.

Bastion, Fort Tarsis, and Beyond the Walls

A beautiful, flawed world to explore.

The world of Bastion is absolute eye candy; from the first moment you look over the waterfalls outside the gates of Fort Tarsis, all the way to the Fortress of Dawn. Anthem’s world is undeniably stunning. While you’re flying through the incredibly vertical world of Bastion in your trusty javelin, you may start to ask yourself a few things; one, for example, is “Where the hell am I going?!”

Anthem, has some of the worst world navigation I’ve ever seen in an open world game. With the lack of peaceable markers, navigating the world can be a bit of a chore. This becomes borderline frustrating when you can’t even track the world events scattered throughout.

Even when you figure out how to navigate the world, Anthem’s world is severely lacking a diverse set of biomes that differentiate from the other. To make a comparison for a moment, the first Destiny had some of the most uninspired worlds to explore, prompting the desire to run through it screaming trying to finish it as fast as possible, rather than carefully exploring it.

The game did, however, have various worlds to explore. Anthem, has the opposite problem. While the world is a thrill to traverse thanks to it’s amazing flight mechanics, it doesn’t feel compelling to explore the world since it is the exact same lush, jungles and ruins from end-to-end. At least, we have the hub world Fort Tarsis to break up the monotony of flying the familiar open-world.

Let’s hope Fort Tarsis is improved, or we move somewhere new.

Unfortunately, Fort Tarsis is the virtual embodiment of hell itself. Coming from games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Inquisition which featured fantastic hub worlds like the Citadel and Skyhold respectively, it eludes me why Fort Tarsis is so poorly designed.

When you disembark from your javelin, you are immediately grounded with some of the worst movement I have ever experienced in a first-person medium. That’s right, Fort Tarsis is completely in first-person for some reason, but even that is a design choice that I won’t argue.

What I will argue is how completely dead the world feels from its presentation visually, to the sound, the overall ambience, and even simply just moving around it. The game, post-alpha/beta, received the ability to sprint that didn’t really change the monotony of walking around the world.

Every blip can be potentially interesting, if you can stomach walking around to get there.

Then we have the launch bay, the social space, this time focusing not on your story but emoting random strangers. Unlike the tower in Destiny or the many safe houses in The Division, the launch bay is devoid of a reason to exist other than to bring players together in a suffocating, lifeless space.

Strong Alone, Stronger Together

Moments before jumping into one of your Javelins.

So far Anthem may not seem like a very good game, and there’s some truth in that. But I will say this, Anthem is one of the most thrilling games to play in this genre. When Destiny first released, it was saved by the fact the gameplay was tight and satisfying; the same can be said for Anthem. The feeling of piloting a javelin is exhilarating and liberating, something I can’t say for its peers in the ‘looter-shooter’ genre.

Anthem’s movement is amplified when you take into account that each of the four-launch javelins actually feel distinct from each other. Anthem’s Ranger, the work-horse of the freelancers, is a standard mech-suit that feels balanced between flight, speed, hovering and dodging. Then we have the Interceptor which is essentially a mid-point between the robot ninja from Warframe, with blistering fast movement, dodges and an emphasis on melee. Storm, a class that uses elemental magic to deal massive damage and can teleport around the battlefield; this class feels a lot like a spiritual successor to the biotic vanguard from Mass Effect. And finally, the Colossus, the sci-fi dad bod simulator and the strongest and largest javelin which is also the only class that can carry heavy weapons and is equipped with a physical shield. Each javelin feels unique and purposeful, encouraging teams to have a balanced make up depending on the scenario.

My Mass Effect inspired Storm with an epic armor set purchased in the store with in-game coins.
The colossus, strong and ready to punch the crap out of anything.
The ranger, the all around balanced Javelin and a paint job inspired by EVA-01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion

Javelins feel even better when you look at the games amazing combo system that relies on primers and detonators. The system works like this: say you have a storm that has a primer where they can use an area-of-effect freeze blast to hold enemies together, and then a detonator in the form of chargeable fireball. What you get is some fancy fireworks that cause immense damage to enemies.

Anthem boasts hundreds of combinations of primers and detonators, it’s just unfortunate that the game doesn’t actually explain it. I figured it out myself accidentally during the alpha when I shot a group of enemies frozen by my teammates storm, which then results in a satisfying “COMBO” lighting up the combat area.

C-C-C-COMBO

There is something that has been bothering me since the alpha, Anthem’s gunplay feels like an afterthought when you compare it to the abilities in the game that are clearly the star of the show. The weapons actually hinder the experience than add to it. Anthem’s lack of focus on the gunplay and the focus on under-the-hood elements like abilities, leads to another severe issue that the game will continue to struggle with unless it is addressed.

THERE’S NO LOOT IN THIS LOOT SHOOTER

Great stats, looks like my last sniper.

Anthem’s loot, like many other loot-hungry games, come in the form of shiny colorful gear that makes grinding the same levels and missions worth it. The issue is that Anthem’s loot comes in the form of abilities, components, support, and guns, and only one of them has any sort of discernible visual change.

Components and abilities tie into the min-max nature of Anthem, where the player has access to thousands of combinations, especially when you have six gear slots by the time you hit level 23 and two primary abilities. These all tie together into a satisfying experimentation cycle where you spend hours tweaking your build; the issue is that they’re all under the hood.

It’s what’s inside that counts, since the outside looks like the same for everyone.

When it comes to guns, they all look the exact same with some sporting a different shade of beige or blue. There is nothing discernible about the guns whatsoever, until you get to masterworks and legendary weapons which feature a unique name and some more visual flair. The whole point of a loot shooter is the act of showering you with cool-ass loot that you break down when you find something better. Right now, I have no idea why I’m grinding the game if the loot is as paltry as it seems.

But the absolute worst offender, is how armor cosmetics are handled. In Anthem, you don’t pick up armor pieces in the wild since the game doesn’t tie stats to them. With that, we have a slippery slope straight into MTX-ville where the prices are as high as the grind to get them. All of the armor cosmetics are tied into an in-game store where you can purchase them either individually or as a set using coins or shards.

The pricing isn’t the issue, but how it is tied to MTX and not progression is the issue.

Coins, are the in-game currency that can be earned by playing while shards can be purchased with, well, real coins. The other day I bought an “epic” armor set for my storm which was roughly 61K coins which took me quite some time to get to. If you don’t want to grind, they will set you back about 850 shards or about $8.99 USD for 1050 shards since the increments are 500, 1050, 2200 etc. In this state, the fashion game in Anthem is tied to how long you play and your wallet, and not by say completing a stronghold on the grandmaster difficulty. That, however could change since BioWare announced that Strongholds will contain vanity chests players can open, but they haven’t made clear if armor sets will be included.

End game, is that you?

We saved the world, silenced a relic or two, kicked a grabbit, and hit the level cap. So, now what? Unfortunately, that’s the big question that worried me during the Alpha all the way to launch; Anthem has a big end-game problem. Right now, Anthem features three strongholds which are comparable to a strike from Destiny or a dungeon from an MMO, legendary contracts which are repeatable, random missions, mundane free-play activities and the ability to do them all on a difficulty mode called Grandmaster which can go up three difficulty levels.

And that’s about it.

Anthem has a severe end-game problem, which is rooted in the games overall lack of content. Even the story missions featured in the game had the same structure of flying somewhere, standing in a green-circle, shooting stuff, maybe an ash titan or two and a hasty end-mission counter. This lack of content translates into the end-game where, well, you basically just do what you did in the campaign but while fighting harder, spongier enemies. This is clearly the shortest section in this review, which reflects the state of Anthems end game.

The State of Anthem

At this point, I couldn’t get out of this screen and had to force quit.

Anthems alpha and beta were the furthest things from stable experiences, with rubber-banding, lag, poor optimization, crashes and load screens that were long enough for me to actually make a sandwich. When the game released for Origin Premiere members, it was at a slightly better state but many bugs persisted including the frustrating audio bug where the game loses all sounds, and yes, the loading was still a pain. When the final launch actually came, a patch did fix the game’s loading which was a relief, but the audio bug, as well as others, still remained prevalent.

Loading. Loading everywhere.

BioWare could have definitely delayed this game a bit instead of relying on day-one patches to suture a wound that is not getting any better. It’s sad to see the state this game is in, because under the rubble is an absolute treasure that will hopefully grow over-time as they support the game over the years. BioWare has already released a 90-day road-map detailing what players will be experiencing, if they do decide to stay.

Anthem’s 90-day road-map.

But to sound unprofessional for a moment, I really truly hate the tethering system in the game where you can’t go a few feet away from your party without a disgustingly designed counter pops up in the middle of your screen, forcing you to scramble to your party before the game inevitable teleports you to your team after a loading screen.

If No Mans Sky can allow you to be in your friends party when you’re literally a galaxy away from each other, then Anthem can let me pick up some materials before being ferried away like I’m on a field trip from school.

My team-mate, is right there. Are you kidding me?!

Final words

Flying into a hopefully brighter future.

Much like the shaper technology that left the world incomplete, Anthem ironically reflects the story itself; an unfinished world brimming with potential, lost until it can be rediscovered. Anthem is a deeply flawed game that is heart-breaking considering the pedigree involved with developing it. While this review may seem harsh, I would like to point out by saying I really do hope this game is given the time to flesh out both its world, as well as its identity. The entire experience has reminded me of a microwaveable burrito; delicious, warm in some parts and frozen solid in others.

Right now, Anthem needs to cook a bit longer and to discover what kind of game it truly is. BioWare needs to adapt the mantra of their own characters; to rebuild and redevelop the legacy of the Freelancers and remind us why they are some of the best storytellers and world builders.

After this review, you would assume I would probably not play Anthem anymore. The truth is I am still enjoying myself despite the issues plaguing the game. It’s the same feeling I got from The Division and Diablo III, where discovering and experimenting with builds is exciting and rewarding. Much like its peers in the genre, Anthem needs to experience the growing pains of being a live-service game.

This review was based on a PC experience: Intel® Core™ i70-8700K CPU @ 3.70GHz, 16 GB Ram and Nvidia GTX 1080TI.

Anthem Review
The Good
  • Exhilarating movement and addictive combo system.
  • Some notable NPC interactions, interesting lore that's there to uncover.
  • Tweaking and experimenting with your build is satisfying.
The Bad
  • Main story is forgettable.
  • End-game is bare-bones.
  • Not too much loot, for a loot shooter.
6.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Robin Ghosh (a.k.a. SpectreRobin) is a Sr. Staff Writer at GAW. He is a published writer, photographer, videographer and budding filmmaker and is currently the content director of TABOOZAPP. Having recently finished his masters in media production at Ryerson University, he is gearing up to take his career to the next level (ha, gaming pun). Robin is in love with role-playing games, sim-shooters like Deus Ex and Prey and has a soft spot for survival games like DayZ. He will play anything with a good story and a compelling world to explore. That being said no matter what year it is, he will probably at some point have a craving to play Skyrim again for the 3rd time..4th? Who knows, he really....really likes Skyrim.