The looter shooter is a genre that has gained massive popularity over the last several years due to the likes of Destiny, Warframe, The Division, and even back to Borderlands in the previous gen. I’d like to say Anthem attempts to take the trials and tribulations of these previous titles, and make something fresh, enjoyable, and all it’s own, but that would be lie. In its final release, it appears Bioware and EA didn’t even bother looking at the mistakes and successes of Anthem’s forbears; in fact, it doesn’t even look like they remembered their own.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: February 22, 2019
Visually, Anthem can be anywhere from stunning and remarkable to puzzling and bizarre. The environments are almost universally a lush jungle filled with color, sometimes interrupted by the occasional cave or structure.
Texturework on important objects, such as the Javelins you’ll be flying around in, is detailed down to the smallest rivet, but can be strikingly muddy on things like rocks, plants, and even the walls of your city.
The world can look gorgeous when hurtling through it at full speed, but stop to take a closer look, and it just seems like something was forgotten or disregarded.
As mentioned, the Javelins look outstanding, and you’re given a suite of options as far as coloring your own, even down to the individual materials. Of course, this is where I have to mention the in-game microtransactions, and their place in Anthem.
On offer is a rotating stock of armor pieces, emotes, premium armor materials, and crafting materials. The armor variations are the biggest sin, as this is the only way to obtain customization for the look of your Javelin outside of the aforementioned colors and materials.
As the review title may suggest, loading screens are a massive problem. These screens are just static backgrounds with a small animation in the bottom corner, and can last anywhere from a few seconds to two minutes on a standard mechanical hard drive.
Apparently a developer mentioned the game was optimized for solid state drives, but acknowledged that it’s unreasonable to expect the general populous to be running one. Meanwhile, load times were still reportedly bad even on SSDs.
In spite of that, I’ve read that m2 drives run the game like a dream. Taking into account the times listed above, here’s a small breakdown of what the average person might expect when undertaking a mission from the mission select menu.
To adjust equipment, load into Forge > Adjust, load back into mission select > Matchmake and load into mission > Possibly change zones, requiring load > Possibly change zone again, requiring load > Complete mission, load into mission success screen > Load back into Fort Tarsis.
It’s possible, depending on the selected mission, to spend more time in load screens than actually playing. A few times, I even had the game not load a portion of the map I was on, particularly in Fort Tarsis, your home base.
To exacerbate this issue from time to time is the game’s tether system, which will give any teammates not within a certain range of the mission area a short timer before simply teleporting them if they don’t make it in time.
Sadly, this is something that results in yet another load screen. I also once played a mission where my team killed the boss at the end before some dialogue finished, the mission status bugged, and thus, we couldn’t complete it.
Mission structure itself feels shockingly antiquated for a game of this scale in 2019. Almost every mission boils down to: go here, touch this, stand in that circle, and collect these orbs to return to a special space rock.
All the while, you’re fighting off incredibly dumb AI enemies that will almost try to stand in your line of fire. The flip-side to these walking range targets is the enemies that take bullet-sponge to another level – Titans. I got forced to fight several of these things while leveling.
Titans have a ridiculous amount of health compared to any other enemy type, ignore line-of-sight, constantly spawn minions, and are only vulnerable in small glowing parts on their body – they were never a fun experience.
The only plus side of all this is the overall movement, and wow, if this was in a better game, it would be truly special. Never have I come so close to feeling like Iron Man, boosting into a fight, hovering over the battlefield, and raining down a hellstorm of bullets and elemental power.
That leads me to the Javelins themselves; the Ranger, Colossus, Interceptor, and Storm. The Ranger is pretty much your all-around bog-standard soldier class, with grenades and a missile barrage ultimate.
While the game doesn’t have traditional RPG-like roles, the closest to a tank you can get is the Colossus, who has a taunt, and instead of the quick dodge the other suits have, can just use a deployable shield to run around with. The Interceptor is melee-based ninja / rogue-like class, with abilities centered around debuffs, and setting up combos.
The Storm is what I fell for, as it can most closely be compared to a mage or other caster, using elemental-centric abilities to both prime and detonate combos, while also being able to hover longer than the others to provide an aerial position.
Combat is kept simple, instead focusing on being as flashy as possible. Everything you do, from using abilities to dodging, is full of particle and wave effects popping with color.
Guns feel as if they’re missing the punch other games provide, and this makes some of the more bullet-spongy enemies in the game seem even worse, as it just feels like you’re not doing anything, despite seeing the numbers on your screen.
Powers and abilities compensate somewhat, always leading to a satisfying ‘oomph’ from explosions and impacts, especially when the right two powers are used on the same enemy to create a combo blast.
Equipment, abilities, and guns, admittedly, have a painfully basic variety, keeping the same models, names, and types throughout rarities, not allowing the kind of variety seen in Destiny or the like.
Rarities are also level-locked, requiring you to reach a certain level threshold before receiving the next tier, starting with grey, then green, blue, and finally purple.
Yellow gear, or Masterwork, is found in Grandmaster difficulties after beating the main story and reaching level 30. Masterwork is the only level gear that feels special, as it carries unique perks not seen on any of the other tiers, à la Destiny’s exotics.
Another mixed bag in Anthem is sound. With a decent setup, combat can be a cacophony of bass-filled explosions, rhythmic staccato of gunfire, and pleasing feedback noises from things like detonating combos. When not in combat, it’s iffy at best.
There’s ambient sound in the open world, but it’s hardly noticeable most of the time, and often you’re moving past sources so fast you really only notice the sound of your boosters.
In Fort Tarsis, there are NPC characters everywhere, yet it’s almost unsettling how dull and quiet the place can be. Music is almost not worth mentioning, as I can’t remember how a single track went in the entire game. It’s there, I guess.
Bioware used to be known for it’s characters and narrative storytelling, but that couldn’t be further from the case here. The primary storyline is basically convoluted and generic sci-fi.
The story centers around the ‘Freelancers,’ a group of, for all intents and purposes, are guns for hire who pilot the Javelins. The intro to the game shows your character and his/her team about to charge into a ‘Cataclysm’ called the Heart of Rage.
Events transpire, and many Freelancers die, along with a great many civilians. This leads to reduced trust in the ‘Lancers, and your character in the city of Fort Tarsis. It’s then up to you to help rebuild that trust, and build up allies to help you eventually re-enter the Heart of Rage to put a stop to it.
A mid-game twist also occurs about halfway through the story that’s supposed to feel like a serious emotional moment, but it just comes off as dumb and undeserved.
During the process of leveling, you’ll have quite a few side quests available to assist you in gaining experience. From my 40 hours with the game, there were very few examples of that classic Bioware charm, and all too many instances of nonsensical dialogue either intended to be funny or inspiring.
Taking these characters seriously was made even more difficult by the fact that other than a few background NPCs in Tarsis, all interactable characters simply don’t move. All day and all night, they just stand in one spot; their only purpose far too obvious just for you to talk to.
This leads to them being both under- and over-animated, as they’ll just stand there waiting for you to walk up to them, but once you engage in conversation, they apparently use this time to exercise, as they constantly move while talking.
In the end, this just results in yet another failure from a once-great studio, and at this point considering their publisher, possibly Bioware’s death knell. It might be dramatic, but I personally feel this may have been Bioware’s last chance, both with customers and EA.
The movement and some combat elements are very much the only positives in a seemingly ever-growing list of negatives, and that really goes to show that some major game developers simply can’t, or won’t, learn from their or other’s mistakes. Many issues I encountered in my time with this game I’ve already been familiar with, because I’ve seen other games have them and fix them!
I’d be remiss not to mention that I personally really enjoy looter shooters, way back to Borderlands in 2009, and I actually adore Destiny (fight me). There was a part of me that really hoped this would be Bioware’s comeback, but that just wasn’t meant to be. Anthem doesn’t just not reach the bar set by others, it doesn’t even attempt to reach for it.
Anthem was reviewed on PC using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.