To be upfront, I’m usually “the Destiny guy.” But naturally, I had to come in with an open mind in reviewing Anthem. That’s a given since I’m drawing upon similarities between both games — and both are online shared-world looter-shooters with RPG mechanics. Recently, I did a technical review for Anthem as well, going in-depth about graphics, controls, and performance. Now, it’s time to focus on how well these all add up with gameplay and story.
As such, I’m happy to report that Anthem is better than Destiny in every way except one — being an online shared-world looter-shooter with RPG mechanics.
Note: This review is based on a build prior to the Day One update.
Smooth Flight, Clear Skies
In Anthem, the movement is as fluid as it gets. A single button press after jumping boosts you to the welcoming skies. Anthem’s environments are nothing short of breathtaking. From lush, green fields to rocky mountain crags, the scale is enormous. Adding to these are other thematic locations from burned-out ruins and ancient temples, to futurescapes evoking a sense of sci-fi fantasy.
Some facets, such as giant platforms known as Striders, might even remind you of Star Wars’ AT-ATs. When you soar, the glaring sunlight strikes at your vision as birds and other creatures flutter around. You seamlessly transition from one area to the next, and can even dive into the cool, dark waters below. It’s a living, breathing world that enraptures you the moment you step foot in it.
Make no mistake, Anthem is a gorgeous game, although that beauty also meant occasional frame rate drops. Flying to dizzying heights adds a unique perspective, but that freedom is marred by winds buffeting you as an invisible wall. Also, bumping into pillars means the complete loss of character controls with Freelancers flailing their arms wildly.
Anthem is a visual joy, offering unparalleled verticality and locations that will leave you staring with awe. Except, none of it is enough to keep interest going.
As a Freelancer, you don a Javelin exosuit. Each has unique traits and capabilities in combat. The Colossus is a beefy tank capable of shield-bashing enemies and unleashing a torrent of flame, and the Ranger is an all-rounder that emphasizes versatility. The Interceptor is a sleek and agile suit, dashing to and fro with hit-and-run moves. Meanwhile, the Storm Javelin is reminiscent of Destiny’s Warlock class, frying opponents with space magic.
The sound of clanking footsteps echoes in your ears and boosting to fly with your Javelin is accompanied by a thunderous sonic boom for good measure. Do yourself a favor and play with surround sound on because it’s amazing.
You can mix and match weaponry and skill sets to complement your play style. Elemental abilities include flame, ice, acid, and lightning attacks along with ultimates, and you can do combos on enemies. Like any game with this mechanic, you don’t actually get combos every time. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Most players I’ve encountered seem to randomly spam attacks.
While combat in Anthem can be a blast (pun intended), it gets repetitive due to the lack of enemy types. Anthem throws a variety at you, but only a few of them stand out. There are spiky aliens and little soldiers, along with floating Cirque du Soleil dancers, Starship Troopers’ arachnids, and horse-dog hybrids.
Enemy diversity may come from different models, but their scripting is woefully inept. Most just stand there shooting at you. Many will spawn from the ground. There are big gorillas alongside even bigger gorillas that sometimes throw rocks. You’ll see titans, lumbering creatures that spam flame attacks, that take a while to bring down. Eventually, even the biggest creatures become tiresome and repetitive because Anthem’s only idea for challenging combat is to throw more enemies at you while beefing up their health and armor.
Given that Anthem allows you to combat opponents while flying around the battlefield, you might think there are dozens of enemies in the air. That’s not the case. Outside of floating wizards, the only flying enemies are fire-breathing wyverns. These aren’t enormous creatures reminiscent of Game of Thrones. They’re just regular-sized lizards with wings. This lack of air combat challenge and misuse of existing verticality mechanics show a design that wasn’t fully realized.
If repetitive combat doesn’t get you down, then the mission structure will. Almost all of them involve going from point A to point B, shooting stuff, then going to point C to shoot more stuff. Often, you’ll need to wait for NPCs on comms to finish their dialogue before the next waypoint appears. If a teammate happens to reach a new area, you’ll be prompted to fly to them quickly or you’ll get teleported via loading screen. It deters AFKers and keeps teammates from lagging too far behind. But it can be quite jarring because it’ll still try to throw a load screen at you when you’re relatively close by. Teleporting happens quite frequently, and it gets incredibly annoying.
Some mission phases require you to stand in a green circle and wait. Others require you to pick up lunchboxes to put them in a glowing sphere. Oh, and sometimes you get to fly to collect glowing orbs to put them in the said glowing sphere. You might also be asked to spin some pillars as part of a puzzle, but there’s little in the way of guidance or engagement. Most people I’ve seen just solve puzzles through trial and error. Almost all mechanics feel rudimentary, not enough to entertain you in the long run.
Anyone who’s played a game like Destiny knows how the story can be disjointed at times. Well, Anthem’s story is disjointed as well.
The game begins with a supernatural, world-changing machine that can create new life and new creatures. There are bad people who want to use that machine. You have to stop the bad people. Simple. Effective. Bland.
You’ll piece together more of the story as you go along and meet new friends, but none are especially memorable. There’s the Grizzled Russian Veteran and the Annoying British Tech Expert #37023. There’s also Fat Roman Reigns, Twi’lek Lady, Science Nerd, and a cast of characters with less charisma than a wet rag. I just assigned random nicknames for them since Anthem will keep introducing new NPCs like a revolving door of well-wishers and greeters.
Conversations give you two dialogue choices, but neither actually matter. You’ll also experience banal banter from time to time such as expository dialogue, technobabble, and maybe a comical moment or two. Who can forget the moment when a character said: “There’s an Ursix on ur six… get it, your six? Haha!” I sure would like to, because I have no idea how a BioWare game ended up with this sort of writing.
Even better is an unnecessary plot twist that will shock you. Except, not really. It will remind you of BioWare’s masterful villain reveal in the classic Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and show you storytelling at its low point today.
There And Back Again, An Anthem Tale
Because of the endearing personalities of the characters, you’ll need to come back to your personal fort to talk to them after each and every mission. I’m not exaggerating. If you want to keep adventuring with quests and contracts, then you need to get to know the people of Fort Tarsis.
Each mission or contract comes from an NPC or whiteboard, and they have the same personalities. You need to interact with those to get an objective marker. When you’re finished doing the repetitive actions in each mission, you go back to Fort Tarsis so you can walk (not run) to NPCs. There, you’ll encounter the same lifeless dialogue and get new objective markers. Oh, let’s not forget, you’ll have lots of loading screens. One shows your Javelin powering-up (it’s nice but it gets tiresome after a while), and then another before you spawn in a mission. If you’re lucky, you can get a loading screen between these two loading screens!
Anthem, by design, takes you away from the action and adventure so you can play “getting to know you” like it’s your first day on the job.
Friends We Meet Along The Way
On the other hand, for an always-online, shared-world game, Anthem’s social features are bare and lacking. The Fort Tarsis hub is a personal space. Other hubs such as the Launch Bay may have other players but you cannot chat with them. The same goes for missions. The most you’ll do are emotes. If you’re downed, you stare at a red screen hoping someone will notice that you need to be revived. There is built-in VoIP, but I’ve only ever encountered a few randoms using it.
Matchmaking will always split you up from the strangers you’ve encountered, undermining the social experience. If you don’t befriend them, you’re likely to never see them again. If you encounter people in free play, you’ll hardly know what they’re doing since everyone’s just flying around. The world map doesn’t show you flashpoints or places of interest — you’ll need to fly to certain zones to know if there’s something going on. Quickplay is also horrendous, as you can end up in missions with bugged steps and no way to progress.
Although the game is online, it feels more like a single-player action-adventure title with the online multiplayer mechanics tacked on for good measure. It boggles the mind that Apex Legends, made by Respawn but also published by EA, has “ping” mechanics, text chat, and even text-to-speech features. Anthem has none of these.
Anthem’s endgame offers you the chance to relive exciting moments. Meaning, the endgame involves doing the same missions and dungeons you’ve done before, only harder so you can get more loot. But finishing the campaign doesn’t bring you anywhere close to level 30 cap, which is when higher difficulties become available. The endgame loop goes on in circles with many bumps along the way. There’s no PvP to help pass the time, either.
Since Anthem’s way of challenging you is to beef up enemies exponentially, most regular mobs will eventually put you down in one shot. Your endgame is simply crouching and hiding until enemies are down. It’s no wonder that many players are just running Strongholds, grabbing the first chest, and then leaving.
The loot, even later in the game, feels unrewarding as it’s the same types of items just with more or better modifiers. Legendaries and Masterworks to boost your character’s capabilities are still determined by RNG, and only a small handful of components and modifiers will offer a world of difference.
You cannot change your weapon or skills loadout on-the-fly after starting an activity. You also don’t know what items you’ve obtained until you exit that activity and go back to your hub. It’s like if Diablo or Path of Exile required you to use the town portal each time you picked up something new because everything needed an identify scroll.
Soar High, Crash Down
Anthem has moments that truly capture you and hold your eyes in place, filling you with a sense of wonderment. There are times while when I truly felt that this was a game I would like to continue playing for a long time. Yet those feeling quickly pass when I get thrown into repetitive activities, meandering dialogue, and mind-boggling design choices.
Anthem, without a doubt, is better than many other games, including Destiny, if we only look at it in parts. Taken separately, its qualities and traits are the wet dreams and creative musings come to life for every sci-fi, action, adventure, and RPG fan.
Sadly, when you put them all together, the whole is less than the sum of these parts. You’ll have something that is all style and of limited substance. As an online, shared-world looter-shooter with RPG mechanics, Anthem is like the Holy Roman Empire. It’s neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire to begin with.
Without a doubt, the game promises a ton but offers very little. It’s a shame because BioWare is capable of so much more, and its new but already dedicated fanbase deserves a game they can find engaging for a lengthy period.
As one NPC says during a conversation: “Some people like boring.” If you do, you’ll like Anthem at its current state. There’s a good chance that the game will eventually improve. But right now, needs a lot of work to compete.