Anthem fails to live up to the expectations thanks to bugs, odd mechanics and lack of content; but, there is hope for the future.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release date: February 22, 2019
Anthem has been out in the wild and available to the masses for well over a week now. As one of the latest “games as a service,” reviewing a title of this nature is always a tricky thing since the game is designed to be always-evolving. But after hitting max level, experiencing the end game loop, witnessing BioWare’s reaction to certain issues and reading up on the 90-day roadmap of post-launch content, I’m confident in knowing where Anthem is heading.
This review is based on the current state of Anthem, though, and right now it’s a technical mess. It’s fun, sure, but the problems plaguing Anthem are vast.
Anthem in its current state is an assortment of glaring bugs and odd – mostly bad – developer game design decisions that do their best to ruin any sort of fun you may be having with the overall combat mechanics.
Anthem is an incredibly frustrating experience but does a good job keeping me coming back for more. It’s hardly the only game as a service to launch this way, but a part of me was hopeful that BioWare had looked around the landscape, took note of what other developers did poorly, and would revolutionize the looter-shooter genre. Ultimately, they fell victim to the same issues that plague many other games of this nature.
The original Destiny repeatedly comes to mind when playing Anthem. It had great promise, but under-delivery. The only difference between the two is in what aspects Anthem falls short.
Anthem puts you in the role of a Freelancer, essentially a gun for hire by locals to carry out specific tasks. Set two years after a botched mission to enter something called the Heart of Rage and deactivate the Cenotaph, the story picks up when an agent hires you to locate a spy who went missing while undercover. What unfolds is a sci-fi story that lacks memorable moments.
As a game from BioWare, expectations were high with hopes for a story filled with interesting characters, clever dialogue, and unexpected twists and turns. Anthem offers some of that, but overall the campaign is a disappointing experience that’ll mostly leave you wanting to boot up the old Mass Effect trilogy.
In between the core missions, you are free to roam around Fort Tarsis, a frontier city that serves as a hub for most of the game’s story. It is here where you can interact with NPCs, pick up new missions and contracts, and customize your Javelin. How BioWare went from creating Mass Effect‘s Citadel to this uninspired, convoluted maze of a city is incredibly disappointing.
Unfortunately, Fort Tarsis is your home in Anthem, and it’s where most of the world-building exists. Conversations with NPC characters – some interesting, most not – will reveal details about the world that exists around you.
Anthem is an incredibly frustrating experience but does a good job keeping me coming back for more.
During your conversations, you’re sometimes prompted for a response (out of two options). This is a subtle nod to BioWare’s classic dialogue system. The consequences of your responses are far less noticeable, however, and have – in few cases – only a minor impact on Fort Tarsis.
For those of you heavily invested in Anthem‘s world and the people who inhabit Fort Tarsis, you can easily get caught up in the many conversations offered to you. If you’re approaching Anthem for its action, there’s no real harm in skipping over most of the game’s dialogue.
The problem with this style of delivery is that it argues with the multiplayer approach to gameplay. Playing with friends who might urge you to skip past these conversations in order to get into an expedition quicker does the story a disservice. The struggle to balance my desire to experience the story while also keeping my impatient friends content with the pace of play created an internal struggle which left me feeling if this was truly the right approach for BioWare to take.
But it’s understandable why someone would want to rush into the action; this is where Anthem shines. The combat mechanics are what keep me coming back regardless of the game’s flaws – and there certainly are plenty of them.
Anthem‘s combat has helped me through some of the game’s most frustrating mechanics, design decisions and bugs. This includes multiple blue screens and an issue that actually caused my PlayStation 4 to inexplicably shut down.
Yet, for some reason, I’m compelled to return, and that’s because I love the combat. Flying through the world in my Javelin is an incredible feeling as I skim the rivers, dive into the deep bodies of water and soar across the mountain ranges.
The world of Anthem is beautiful, though sometimes feels a little lifeless. While flying around, you’ll encounter the occasional world events and other activities to keep you busy (like searching for collectibles, hidden symbols, etc.).
Missions, contracts, world events and other side tasks in Anthem lack variety. They are background fodder to give you purpose. It’s an excuse to go out and enjoy the game’s combat loops.
Missions in Anthem typically revolve killing a group of spawning enemies, collecting some sort of object and taking it to another location, and/or holding a specific point for a certain amount of time. Occasionally, the game will throw in a light puzzle which involves you searching the nearby environment for context clues or symbols.
The world of Anthem is beautiful, though sometimes feels a little lifeless.
The lack of variation gets repetitive very quickly which makes Anthem‘s end game reliant on how much you enjoy the game’s actual combat mechanics. If you’re the type who simply wants to shoot things and grind for better gear to challenge yourself in the game’s more difficult gameplay settings, then you can probably look past the repetitive nature of the quests it presents you. If you’re looking for revolutionary mission design and story structure, you’re going to be left disappointed.
That said, combat in Anthem is incredibly satisfying. Taking on swarms of enemies or giant Titans in the Javelin feels amazing as you wield powerful abilities and a variety of weapon types, all of which make you feel like a truly powerful hero. Throw in the flying mechanic, and Anthem‘s combat will create some pretty memorable moments as you zip through the air while laying down an explosive fire.
Each of the different Javelin types feels unique and powerful in their own right. This helps keep the combat feeling fresh, though I’ll admit I never got tired of burning enemies with the Colossus.
Anthem‘s combat also uses a Combo system in which players can activate certain skills in an order that launches powerful attacks. Having synergy with your teammates is important, especially as you take on the more difficult settings, like Grandmaster.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Anthem, provided you don’t mind the repetitive loop. The Valor Challenge, for example, is unlocked when you beat the game and requires you to complete 100 Events, 25 Strongholds, 25 Contracts, and 25 Quickplay missions. This will keep you busy, for sure, but you’re going to get bored very quickly if you don’t enjoy Anthem‘s core mechanics.
As I’ve mentioned, the combat has helped me forgive some of Anthem‘s issues and keeps me coming back, but it’s not always a pleasant experience. This game is incredibly frustrating in its current state, and a lot of it is due to bugs.
The state in which Anthem released is inexcusable. From constant game crashes to a broken free play system to a health bar bug, the list of problems plaguing Anthem goes on.
“Game as a service” shouldn’t mean releasing a buggy game and then spending the next few months fixing it – and I don’t think it was ever intended to be that way. The service should be about releasing new content, not fixing content that should’ve been ready to go at launch.
I can overlook gameplay tuning, such as BioWare addressing the loot system. But how the game was released in its current state – especially free play, which works properly maybe 25 percent of the time – is mind-boggling.
Beyond the bugs, just some of Anthem’s design decisions are baffling, like having to visit the Forge to change you Javelin loadout. Or the lack of notifications that alert you when an ally is downed. While it’s possible some of these poor gameplay designs are due to technical limitations, it’s annoying nonetheless.
There’s no screen to display your stats, a crucial feature in most shooter-looters. The party system is clunky. The menus are slow to respond. The mini-map and not being able to set waypoints is terrible. Inventory management is a mess. These are things that hurt the overall experience of Anthem. I have a hard time believing these problems are active decisions by BioWare, but rather limitations (or maybe a result of a game being rushed due to deadlines). In the end, it doesn’t matter. The game suffers as a result of them.
There are so many ways in which Anthem isn’t player friendly. While it’s possible that BioWare can address these issues over time, the game in its current state leaves much to be desired.
BioWare has already laid out its plans for Anthem for the next three months and included is some very intriguing content, including Cataclysms. But they’ve got to get these bugs under control first, or else very few people will stick around long enough to see whatever BioWare has planned.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.