It’s no secret that Anthem has had a bit of a ropey start. From an almost failed beta test, to broken mechanics for EA and Origin Access members, it’s a game that’s failed to gain the traction it needed to sell through those initially predicted six million copies by two weeks after launch. And even now, I can’t see it keeping many players flying around.
However, not all is doom and gloom for EA’s new third person shoot ‘n’ loot title. It’s fun admittedly, but it just doesn’t stretch beyond the boundaries of basic, and at its core it fails to do anything differently compared to similar titles. And in some cases, does them worse. In this article though I’m going to be concentrating on the storyline, as I am not yet at the endgame segments so can’t comment on what comes next once the campaign is out of the way.
Anthem’s very basic and simple narrative is set on the planet Bastion and is centered around the journey of an unnamed Freelancer, making their way through a good vs evil story chasing the Anthem, an “energy source of pure creation that causes catastrophic disasters, violent storms, and terrifying mutations.”. The Dominion, an awful militaristic society wants the Anthem to take control of the planet. Of course, you and your merry band of ragtag characters have to stop this. Bioware have been known in the past to produce these huge singleplayer stories. Just look at The Old Republic or even the Mass Effect titles. But for some reason it all feels a little plain and empty with Anthem. It’s as if the story was secondary behind the action. Most missions start with a one on one conversation with a character in Fort Tarsis, your home hub, and ends by speaking to that person again. What more, there’s a mechanic in place that requires you to have empty conversations with various members of the community to boost your standing with their related Freelancers, Arcanists, or Sentinels faction. After a while I found myself skipping these. They just got tedious, especially with certain characters like the borderline masochistic thirsty boy that seems to only talk to you about the various women he’s creeped over and failed.There are some gems though, like the interactions you have with the legendary Freelancer Haluk. I was also impressed with the facial animations, and the minute movements like eyebrow raising and subtle smiles depending on which answer you gave during the multiple choice sections.
There’s no surprise that most of the game is focussed on combat. Being a shoot ‘n’ loot game after all requires you to kill enemies and harvest the floating shiny crystals that pop out of their bodies. For this though, you need a Javelin. A Javelin is essentially a mech suit, that come in four styles. The Ranger I can only describe as a jack of all trades archetype that relies on rockets and grenades, the Colossus that’s slow and can soak up vast amounts of damage, the Storm, a floating glass-cannon that reigns terror on everything below with elemental attacks and finally the Interceptor, a nimble ninja with a sword that deals huge close range damage. Every time you leave the safety of the home hub Fort Tarsis, you do so in one of four Javelins.
The main storyline is called The Critical Path, which sees you take on various different types of missions throughout the main campaign. I wasn’t expecting much, but I never really am from the story of these types of games. It’s all about endgame afterall, but Anthem’s storyline felt like a real slog. When I say types of missions, I really mean two. Objectives in each mission would either be stand in this area fending off waves on enemies, collect x / 6 floating orbs to progress. It’s repetitive structure that really hinders gameplay, and it’s something that I was VERY surprised with, especially as it’s Bioware, the kings of gaming storylines. Most of the story campaign and even sidequests are instanced, but the game did send me out into Freeplay mode twice throughout. Once to harvest certain resources, and another to unlock several tomb doors which was essentially busy work.
Once you’re in the open and travelling to a mission, the game map opens up into this glorious vista made up of huge canyons and tunnels which can be explored to your heart’s content. The Javelin suits have rocket packs which can be used to fly around the beautiful scenery. There’s limited use though due to overheating, which plays into the setting quite nicely as you will need to skim lakes, fly through waterfalls and freefall from the sides of cliffs to cool down the engines and extend flight time. Every single mission requires you to fly from Fort Tarsis to the mission’s start point, which means more flying time which is great if you ask me.
Combat is also one of Anthem’s strongest features. Weapons feel powerful, and talents feel devastating as every time you use them, huge puffs of colour explode in front of you. It’s just a shame that the type of items you can use feels very limited. There’s only around 20 weapons split off into six weapon types in the game, which seems a lot if you’re comparing that to single player experiences, but for a looter shooter title, it’s not enough. Especially when they look the same. Every common weapon, being a heavy pistol or assault rifle or autocanon, look exactly the same as the epic versions of that gun. The only differences I’ve seen are the masterwork weapons, but even then they’re not hugely different. After all, you want to look like a badass if you’re going to be mowing down waves on enemies. Customisation to your Javelin is also very minimalistic, with only a couple of aesthetic changes to each suit, with one being stuck behind a paywall. I wasn’t expecting anything else, this is EA after all, the king of microtransactions. And shame on you, this is a £50 game! Gimme some more options to customise my Javelin with you pirates.
Outside the combat and flying mechanic, you start to notice some glaring problems that I really pull you from the immersion of EA and Bioware’s latest title. The biggest of the bunch is loading times. Every single place you seem to want to visit requires you to go through a loading screen. Leave Fort Tarsis, loading screen. Get to your objective instance, loading screen. Leave the instance, loading screen. Okay, you get my point. And don’t get me started on the ability to change your loadout which requires a solid four or five loading screens to get to. It really puts you off experimenting with new loot that you pick up on missions. This follows on to no stat graphs anywhere. A detailed look into overall strength and power of your Javelin in some kind of breakdown graphic would make the whole number crunching and getting the most out of your gear so much more interesting and appealing. Right now it almost feels redundant on which weapons and skills you need to take with you into combat. During the story campaign, I very much ignored the secondary stats of my guns, focussing on the overall power level instead.
By far the most fun I had was playing through the single Stronghold mission I was given during the story campaign. Strongholds are your standard dungeons, a level that throws waves and objectives at you and finishes off with a big old boss. On the harder difficulty, these prove challenging and prompts communication and teamwork, especially to pull off those combo attacks that can be performed between two or more Javelins.
Anthem by no means is a perfect game, but at the same time I look at things like Destiny 2 and Diablo 3 at launch. Both of those titles had problems, and most notably around their respective lack of interesting loot systems. Anthem suffers from the same illness. But it can be saved, and I believe that in time the Bioware doctors will do it justice. But right now, it’s hard to call this game anything other than boring, with a few glimpses of excitement.