PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
AVAILABLE ON: PC (Origin), XBOX One, PS4
It’s been a while since I was really into a game. And I’m talking beyond just enjoying it. I mean like compulsively obsessed with it. For me, Anthem has been one of those instances where a game has occupied my headspace more than most games I’ve played. A game that I’ve not only thoroughly enjoyed, but a game that has really clicked with me. Ever since it released, I’ve played Anthem almost to a religious degree. Aside from going to work, sleeping, working out and all that important stuff, I’ve done nothing but play Anthem.
I already knew the game was going to be special when it was first announced at E3 2018. I was a bit shocked to hear about BioWare of all things releasing an online multiplayer shooter. It’s not really the first thing that comes to mind when you think of BioWare. The company is probably more famous for their work on games such as Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age and of course Mass Effect. Not only that but we haven’t really seen a new IP from BioWare in quite a while. It would seem EA were more than content to delegate BioWare to making Mass Effect sequels.
Then again with Mass Effect Andromeda being rather badly received, it makes sense that EA wanted to give the old BW a chance at something new. And in a way, that does make Anthem a truly special game. A new IP in a new universe, with a whole new style to it.
Anthem lets you customize your Freelancer by choosing your gender and appearance.
In either case, Anthem spoke to me in a way few games have done before. I immediately felt almost drawn to the game, in a way similar to how people in the game itself feel drawn to the Anthem. As soon as I saw those early demos where you could see people in different Javelins flying together, I could already just feel how fun the game looked. And that’s something I hadn’t really seen from EA in a while. A game that simply looked fun.
Fast forward to late January and I was lucky enough to get invited to the VIP Demo (which you can read my first impressions of here). And while my experience was no doubt buggy, the experience did leave me hungry for more Anthem. After having played the open demo a week later, I knew this was a game I was going to love. And even before the game launched, I saw negative reviews. The game was being absolutely torn apart by critics. I became anxious, if the game I was so hyped for, felt so much attachment to would prove to be a disappointment.
Luckily, when I played the game on its launch day on February 22nd, I felt the entire opposite reaction. I was not only having fun, I absolutely loved it. Yet that makes it even more confusing to me why so many people hate this game. That being said the game is not without its flaws either. So without further ado, let me go into detail about what I love and what I dislike about BioWare’s Anthem.
From beginning to end, the world of Anthem is a gorgeous place.
A Different Place, A Different Time
Anthem takes place on an unknown planet in an unknown time, giving it a bit of a Star Wars feeling where it could be the distant past or the distant future. The planet is covered in relics of advanced technology, all harnessing an immense source of power known as the Anthem of Creation. Unfortunately these relics can at times get unstable, doing all sorts of unpredictable stuff. Which includes terraforming, mutations and spawning in hostile creatures. The most unstable artifacts can envelop an entire area in storms, energies and creatures. Known as Cataclysms, you were once sent into one, known as the Heart of Rage. Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and most of your squad were killed, leaving you alone as one of a few survivors. And those who survived were both mentally and physically scarred.
As a Freelancer, whose gender and appearance is left up to the player, it is your job to keep the hostile monsters and factions brought on by the Anthem at bay. You’re given a Javelin, a powerful exo suit with flight capabilities, as your main weapon. In addition to flight, the Javelins are also equipped with powerful abilities and weapons that can strike true fear into your enemies. Your main goal becomes to put a stop to the Dominion, a hostile group whose goal is to use the Anthem for their own purposes. In other words, you have to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Which is easier said than done when you have no way of returning to the Heart of Rage where the Anthem is located. And such it is your job to find a way to return and keep the Dominion from obtaining the Anthem.
Customizing your Javelin with different weapons and abilities becomes necessary to survive.
Fort Tarsis – Where It All Begins
Outside of missions you’ll be spending your time in Fort Tarsis, which serves as the game’s hub. This is where you’ll interact with NPC’s who you can have a chat with or get missions from. As a bit of a nod to BioWare’s earlier games, chatting with someone will bring up dialogue choices now and then. Unfortunately these are always simple binary choices of mostly a positive and negative response to the NPC. It almost feels superfluous to have choices at all if you’re not given a more extensive dialogue tree. Though it is nice to see how your dialogue choices affect the NPC’s decisions. I just wish the game allowed for a higher degree of roleplaying and more dialogue options.
That being said, generally the voice acting is great and the writing is really good. And not to mention funny, given how many times I laughed out loud during NPC interactions. And given how quirky and interesting the characters are I always found myself talking to them between missions for no other reason than just the joy of doing so. I just wish the conversations weren’t always so binary. But for how engaging the writing is and how much I grew to love the characters, I can forgive it.
NPC’s in Anthem definitely have some interesting fashion choices…
Customization seems to be a huge aspect about Anthem. While I wish the character creation for your Freelancer was more indepth, given how little you actually see of their face it makes sense that you wouldn’t need to spend a lot of time on it. The options you get are there to help immerse you into the role. The Freelancer is nameless and fairly bland in terms of personality, making them more of a shell for the player. So customization in that regard is adequate in my opinion. Heck, it’s great to see some customization at all given the demo only had a choice between male and female voice for the Freelancer.
Customizing your Javelin becomes almost 50% of what you do in the game as well. Using The Forge you can customize your Javelin’s gear and appearance. I was a bit afraid that cosmetic customization would be very restricted, but I am happy to say this isn’t the case at all. For one, you can basically choose any colour you want, you can access any part of the Javelin’s body you want to paint, and you’re even given a bunch of Vinyls to add from the get-go.
And any kind of cosmetics you want to purchase can be purchased using in-game currency. I’m a huge fan of how this game approaches microtransactions since they are entirely optional. And you can easily save up some in-game currency for that item you really want. So far I haven’t spent any real money on the game but it is nice knowing I have the option if I absolutely want to.
My absolutely BAMF Storm Javelin that I used for most of the game.
Strong Alone, Stronger Together
As you progress, you can unlock a new Javelin at levels 2, 8, 16 and 26. While you only have four to choose from, you can unlock any of them you want during these moments. The Ranger is the marksman and soldier type, focused on using grenades and artillery to blast enemies into submission. The Interceptor is a smaller and more agile Javelin, focused on melee and agility. The Storm has weak armor but packs the most punch, able to deliver elemental attacks that can set enemies up for combo attacks. And finally, the Colossus is the tank of the group. It’s able to shield allies from enemy attacks and draw enemy fire. It also is the only Javelin capable of wielding heavy weapons, at the cost of not being compatible with pistols. You can read a more in-depth look at the Javelins and their capabilities here.
There really isn’t any wrong Javelin to choose, each of them support wildly different playstyles. And there is no wrong way to play any of them either. Due to how versatile the Javelins are there are multiple ways to use them. Since all Javelins can use pretty much all weapon groups, with the only exception being the Colossus, you’re really not that limited in terms of range either. The combo system allows you to prime enemies using certain attacks. A combo can then be detonated by a different attack. These combos are often related to elements, as using elemental attacks will prime enemies for combos. This allows multiple Javelins to work in sync and time combos, often to devastating results.
Yes, Anthem has warp pipes. Off to minus world!
Iron Man – The Game
The above statement really sums up the experience of playing Anthem. While there is a slight learning curve to the controls of your Javelin, once you get used to them, playing Anthem is almost an intoxicating experience. The moment you realize how quickly you can go from running on the ground to soaring in the air, you really feel like you’re Iron Man. Exploring the world in Freeplay mode is really where you get a sense of absolute freedom, exploring the world at your own leisure and casually doing world events with other players. The game almost beckons you to explore every nook and cranny of it, to uncover collectables and bits of lore. A thing I enjoyed in particular was how seamless the transition between water and air was. Essentially when you’re under water, you’re still flying. So when you exit from a body of water you go straight into flight seamlessly.
As fun as this is though, the core of Anthem’s gameplay is still that of doing quests. And similar to older BioWare titles you have “Critical Quests” that are essentially story missions, “Agent Quests” which serve as side missions, and “Contracts” which are basically just shorter “go here do this” missions that serve as more of a way to level up than serving any actual story purpose. And while you can do all this in public matchmaking, and are encouraged to do so in order to have a full squad, I would say I never really enjoyed the game much in this mode.
Nearly all cutscenes in the game are in first person. Luckily the face capture is excellent.
Especially on a first playthrough, playing in public mode pretty much ruins the experience. The issue is that when you’re playing with strangers, you really have no idea how they are going to play with others. And sad to say a lot of the time you risk running into people completely ignoring you when you’re down and need repairs. Or worse, rushing ahead. And thus forcing you to follow them since the game will automatically respawn you with the group if they advance too far ahead. Granted BioWare did address this issue by making the timer more lenient, but it’s still an issue when you’re not allowed to play at your own pace.
Thus I highly recommend playing the game in Private Mode on a first playthrough. Even if you’re just playing with a single friend, it’s totally worth it. This allows you both to enjoy the game at your own pace. As well as listen to the dialogue which in all honesty is far too good to be ignored. Anthem is truly a game that comes alive when you can play with a group of close friends, and all of you can communicate with each other while playing. That’s not to say public play doesn’t have its place though. During Strongholds and Freeplay, which are essentially public game modes, it’s never really much of an issue. Since there isn’t really much story to pay attention to and you’re just there to earn some XP and loot.
Similar to vistas in Guild Wars 2, the game world is full of spots where you can stop and take in the view. It really lets you appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into creating the world of Anthem.
Anthem gives loot to the player in mainly two different varieties; crafting materials and items. Crafting materials can be embers, plant material, mineral material or Javelin parts. All are necessary in order to craft your own weapons and gear. You can also craft sigils which are single-use items that grant you certain bonuses for a single mission. Whether you wanna focus on defense or offense, these sigils actually make a fairly significant difference in gameplay. And it’s highly recommended to at least use one for each mission.
Items can be anything from weapons to gear for the Javelin you’re using. Now here’s where a little confusion comes into play. Items have a rarity and a Power level. The rarity doesn’t really seem to mean anything as it seems to scale with your level. And since all item drops are client side, if an Epic item drops for you, it doesn’t mean it will be available to other players. So the rarity doesn’t seem to affect all that much, other than the fact the more rare your item is the better stats it will have.
The power level also doesn’t really seem to indicate much, other than how powerful the weapon is. But since weapon stats are completely random, it’s possible to have a weapon with a higher power level, but with WORSE stats than a similar weapon with a lower power level. The game also had a bit of an issue of assigning useless bonuses to several items. Though BioWare did thankfully address this in a recent patch. But it seems as a general rule the rarer the item and the higher its power level, the better it is. Just keep an eye on the bonuses and stats as well since it might not always be the case.
People who played the demo might remember the Cataclysm event at the end. A foreshadowing of things to come it would seem.
Not Always Well
Generally I would say Anthem has been an amazing experience for me but that’s not to say I didn’t run into some issues with it. The menu system is extremely confusing to navigate, with several menu options often being placed at the bottom of the screen in small text. I’ve had a hard time just finding where things are and I wouldn’t exactly call the menus intuitive at all. It took me an entire day to realize where I could claim my pre-order rewards.
And it doesn’t exactly help that a loading screen separates you from customizing your Javelin. And you have to wait for it to load every single time you want to customize, which is going to be a lot I promise. Luckily some of this is addressed by the fact you are given the choice of going directly to the Forge screen after a mission. There’s even a public lobby option called the Launch Bay where you can access numerous options between missions.
Anthem is simply a fun game to play, no matter how you put it.
And of course, I would be remiss to not mention the numerous bugs that are still in the game. Often it can be very minor things like enemies glitching out, items and quests being wrongly marked as new, the wrong mission being played, or servers failing to connect. Or it can be major things like the game crashing or audio completely cutting out. I wouldn’t say these bugs have been severe enough to ruin the game for me though. And they haven’t been frequent enough for me to consider them a massive flaw. But it’s definitely something to be aware of.
And yeah, the final mission did feel quite anticlimatic. I wouldn’t exactly call it bad by any stretch, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for either. Calling the puzzles in the game puzzles is also a stretch. I’ve seen more challenging puzzles in children’s puzzle books. And then some missions suddenly throw really obtuse puzzles at you that takes you ages to solve. It’s either too easy or going full “what the heck do I do”. The game also feels a little barren on content as it is, but given BioWare’s plan going forward, I am still looking forward to what’s to come for Anthem. Because despite all these issues, I’ve had an amazing time with Anthem. So far it’s been one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in 2019.
“Yes. It is true. People hate this game.”
A Beautiful Anthem
In terms of visuals, Anthem is absolutely gorgeous. And running perfectly smooth on my Ryzen 7 1800X rig with an 8GB RX580. I haven’t run into any kind of major performance issues, with the game generally running at a stable framerate, and very rarely dipping below 60 FPS despite pushing my hardware to its limits. Of course, the Frostbyte engine has always been beautiful and Anthem is no exception.
I especially love the animations and motion capture work. It truly feels like a lot of it is acted in front of you, and it helped me get really engaged in the story. I also loved just taking in the gorgeous landscape, and I love the fact the game has a seamless day/night cycle. There’s also an incredible attention to detail, with your Javelin looking increasingly damaged as it takes more and more abuse. Stylistically it does look similar to games like Warframe and Destiny, but still stands on its own. It’s really hard to compare it to anything in terms of setting, and the world feels like a mix between various cultures. It often clashes but in a beautiful way that almost symbolizes nature’s and humanity’s diversity.
Underwater segments of the game are particularly noteworthy, showing off some amazing lighting and designs.
I’ve of course already mentioned the voice acting which I think I have nothing bad to say about. Everyone gives a great performance here. Even the main character I enjoyed who has an almost dry wit to them. Sound effect work is also really good, I especially love the combo sound and the sound work on the attacks and weapons. The weapons just have a really satisfying punch to them, especially the shotguns.
And while I wasn’t 100% into the music and I’m still not as orchestral music isn’t my cup of tea, it has grown on me considerably and I found myself enjoying it a lot. Even if some of the instrument choices such as using a didgeridoo felt a little weird to me. It still isn’t a soundtrack I’ve enjoyed as much as the original Mass Effect. But it serves its purpose for sure.
A shout out to my co-op buddy Kira who kicked serious ass during our campaign.
A Flawed Masterpiece
To sum it up, Anthem is not a perfect game. It’s got its flaws for sure. But it remains one of the absolutely coolest games I’ve ever played. In some ways it feels like a spiritual successor to Mass Effect, with a similar focus on a mystical energy source, and the threat of the end of the world. And playing this game just makes you feel like the coolest badass that’s ever existed. Your Javelin moves with such elegance and flair that you can’t help but just grin when playing the game. It just has this indescribably coolness to it that you feel when playing it. And I simply haven’t played any other game like this recently. What it lacks in polish, Anthem more than makes up for in charm and I am sad to see so many people just not seeing it.
Anthem does not deserve the hate it gets, nor does it deserve to be called a bad game. To anyone who doesn’t like Anthem as much as I do, I completely understand your criticisms for the most part. But saying Anthem is one of the biggest disappointments of 2019 is being way too harsh.
The game does microtransactions perfectly, and since it’s co-op there’s no way to gain an unfair advantage. It has an amazing cast and story that still grabbed me and it’s a game I’ve simple been unable to put down since it came out. And to me, that’s the sign of a good game. So whatever you may think of Anthem, I absolutely love it and I think it deserves to at least be played. So if you find this game on a discount, don’t hesitate to pick it up.