Anthem [PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC]
Released: January 25, 2019
It’s hard to believe it’s only been a month since BioWare and EA released the heavily hyped Anthem on PC, Xbox One and PS4. It’s a game that had a lot of fanfare behind it and was poised to be the next big thing from BioWare. It’s an open-world looter shooter stepping in to compete against the likes of Destiny, The Division 2, and Warframe.
It was to be the “cinematic” looter shooter with a story. Fast paced gameplay, unique builds that would matter, and loot you’d want to chase… these were the things that was going to separate Anthem from the others.
Before I continue with the review, I’ll state that I was pretty hyped for Anthem. Not initially though. I was actually pretty disinterested in Anthem from its initial reveal up until about January of this year. I veered away from what my gut instinct was telling me about the game and fell into the hype trap. BioWare was saying some good stuff on the livestreams. The trailers were good, and people that I like from the Destiny community were heavily hyping it up as being some great PvE experience that we don’t get in Destiny because of PvP balance concerns.
So I bought the game, but I didn’t just buy Anthem… I pre-ordered it digitally for PS4. Played the “early access beta” for pre-ordering, and enjoyed my time with the beta/demo. Even told my friends that I play Destiny with that it was a game I’d be maining for a while as I could tell I’d be hooked on it.
Yet here we are a month after release, and I’m just now getting to this review. It’s not because I’ve been too busy playing it, but rather because I haven’t been playing it. Prior to coming back to work on this review, I hadn’t touched Anthem since hitting level 30. It had been at least two weeks since I played the game.
Beautiful, Yet Bland. Fun, Yet Boring.
When Anthem went live on PS4 at 11pm CT, I was on it thanks to that digital pre-order. Played it a solid three hours that night, and then most of the evening and night on Wednesday. I was loving it, and continued to do so for about the first week the game was out despite my playtime of it dwindling (not the game’s fault).
The more I played it though, the more I began to see that this is literally it. This, whatever I was doing right then, is all the game was. And I had done that five or six times already. I think it was standing in circle waiting on a progress bar to fill up while killing waves of enemies. Fun started to dwindle and more and more I came to the realization that this is boring.
“But you did the same thing in Destiny waiting on Ghost to open doors,” some Anthem apologist might exclaim. True, I did, and I thought about that while essentially doing the same thing in Anthem and also thought about why I was never bored by it in Destiny.
And my conclusion was that standing in a circle shooting waves of spawning enemies isn’t as fun as having an entire room to play in while killing enemies that aren’t bullet sponges. The gunplay in one game is fantastic, and the gunplay in Anthem is just good.
I’ve found that I consider Anthem to be fun in short bursts. It’s not a game I can marathon. The flying around is phenomenal, although I do have an issue with it that I’ll talk about later, and the abilities of the different javelins are mostly interesting. I’ve mained a Ranger, that’s the one I like the most. But the guns really aren’t that satisfying, nor is there a lot of them. It’s like three per class of weapon.
“This isn’t Destiny, use your abilities,” another Anthem apologist might say. Sure, again the abilities are great. When I’m playing on hard at the time while leveling and working through the story, it’s not my fault that my drops for ability items were all primers and no detonators… which meant no combos. It’s not my fault that I can’t change equipment in the middle of a gun fight, let alone mission like I can in practically any other game.
Anthem is a looter shooter, and for me it just gets both of those aspects wrong. The loot is uninteresting, but to BioWare’s credit they are working on fixing loot inscriptions and drop rates. But the shooting is passable and decent, but itsn’t overly satisfying. Shooting things in Destiny is fun for the pure feel of it. Shooting things in Borderlands is fun for the feel of it (though not as smooth as Destiny) and to see what crazy thing this weapon might do. These aspects of Anthem are, in a “word,” meh.
It’s not just the minute to minute gameplay that’s fairly boring and repetitive though, it’s the world itself. The game looks great, graphically it’s beautiful. But the world is so bland and samey. It has the same problem The Division had; it’s an environment that looks the same and is sparsely populated with enemies. It results in too much time, in Freeplay, flying around looking at scenery that rarely changes while infrequently coming across a few enemies unless you stumble upon a world event.
There’s nothing to break up the monotony of it.
Online Live Service
Like others in the looter shooter genre, Anthem requires an always active online connection. Unlike its competitors, Anthem isn’t nearly as friendly towards its more solo inclined players. You can play the campaign solo, and you can do the side quests and contracts solo as well. At least to a point; this isn’t a game were most people are likely to play content on Grand Master 3 solo the way they would max torment in Diablo or World Tiers in Division.
If you want to do Freeplay, you’re going to have to matchmake and join a game with up to three others. If you want to do one of the games three Strongholds, essentially a strike for the Destiny fans, you’re going to have to matchmake for it. Of course you can avoid matchmaking by having your pre-assembled team of four, but there is no solo in Freeplay or Strongholds.
The problem of course is that this actively hampers a portion of the playerbase from enjoying or grinding strongholds. Some don’t like to play with random people, but more importantly matchmaking takes control away from the player. If you just have time for one Stronghold, but you’re friends aren’t online, you have no clue about what your experience is going to be like.
You might get dumped into a stronghold in progress. You might find yourself in a game where people leave after getting the first or second chest. You might not ever see the final boss of the stronghold. If they do stick around, they may be underleveled or just not that good.
It’s less of a problem in Freeplay, although if you’re trying to run a path for chests or materials, you could enter a game session where it’s already been looted and you missed it. More importantly than that though, you can’t just jump into an activity by yourself, be it Freeplay or Stronghold, and then have your friends join you when they’re ready. If you want to play together, you have to just sit around and wait for everyone to be ready.
Coupled with an insane amount of loading screens, the barrier to just play the way you want to play is a tad to high for my liking. It feels like a system in early access, not a polished and released one from a Triple A developer.
Fly High, Crash Hard
Flying in Anthem is the one thing in the game that actually works really well. Flying feels fantastic. It’s almost on the level of the feel of moving fast in Warframe. So then it should surprise no one that this fun feature that performs well has to be made frustrating in some capacity.
For some reason, you can only fly so far before you overheat. This forces you to periodically land and then wait a second or two for the cooldown meter to dip down before taking off again. As flying is the means of getting around the map quickly, this is an absurd mechanic. It’d be like having to stop your stop sparrow in Destiny to allow it cool down before continuing. I’m just trying to get from A to B, I don’t want to have to stop three times for a cool down.
There is no solid reason for the mechanic to exist other than to frustrate players and make it take longer to get to where you want to go. The game itself is wholly unrealistic, so you can’t even say “well making it overheat when flying is just adding realism.”
While the overheating aspect of flying is one of my bigger frustrations with the game in between the actual fighting, my biggest issue with the game has been the crashes. I play on a PS4 Pro, and Anthem has crashed out to a blue error screen more than any other game that I’ve played. A few times is whatever, but when it happens once a session, then you’re telling not to play the game. There’s just no excuse for it.
Those crashing errors don’t even account for the number of times the game has lost connection or had an error with pilot update or whatever and sent me back to the main menu. Bugs are one thing I can overlook to a degree if they’re silly things, but crashes and errors aren’t silly things. The crashes have been completely inexcusable and have been, even more than boring gameplay and uninspired loot, the main reason I don’t play it very much anymore.
There’s only so many times you can do be doing a mission, crash, and then come back in. There’s too many loading screens in this game to make putting up with that frequently feasible. I’ll just play something else, something I know probably won’t crash on me.
The Looter Shooter That Learned Nothing
BioWare has supposedly been working on Anthem for many years now, but there were plenty of games in the genre or closely related that they could have learned from (they even pretended they did). Two Destiny’s, a Division, Warframe, even Diablo 3 though it’s not a shooter.
One of the bigger complaints about the original Destiny is the lack of story. Anthem was suppose to be the game with the story. This was, after all, developed by famed RPG makers BioWare. The story was going to be great. Except it wasn’t. The story is no better than the stories told in similar games. It’s coherent, which is more than the original Destiny can say, but they all have about the same impact… nothing.
That’s not necessarily a criticism from me either, I don’t typically care about the story in any game that’s meant to be playable continuously past the story in an endgame. Story is just for leveling and lore to get you into the real game, the endgame.
One of the things that plagued Destiny is upheaval within the studio. People leave, story gets cut up, things get reworked and there’s not enough time even with a delay to correct everything. The same happened with Anthem. Some BioWare vets left during development, including the lead animator and senior creative director of the studio.
Destiny 2 doesn’t have an endgame. The Division doesn’t have an endgame. Instead of learning from that, Anthem launches with the most shallow and nonexistent endgame yet among its main competitors. Three Strongholds, again strikes, and Freeplay (essentially patrol). And I guess three daily legendary contracts and soon a legendary mission a day.
The endgame here is chasing gear through these activities that might have a higher gear score than what you currently have and might have a slightly better inscription on it. Yet players figure out that because of the way the game handles balance, none of it really matters and you’re better off not even having an item in certain slots.
Anthem truly is the first game I’ve ever bought and felt like I was paying to be an alpha tester. It feels like a game that was released as soon as it got in a mostly working (when it’s not crashing) condition. Everything is half baked; the loot, the actual gameplay, the alliance system, the vanity, and even the micro-transactions are lame and uninspired.
The missions, or contracts, largely revolve around three, maybe four, mechanics that are repeated to death. Stand in the circle, scan this, or pick up these relics and carry them to an objective. Rinse and repeat, mission after mission. There are some puzzles, but they practically slap you in the face with how to solve them.
Hope For The Future
Anthem in its current state is polished only in looks. Game looks great, and can be fun if you only sit down and do a contract and bounce. If you can play this for an hour or more at a time, more power to you. You can handle mind-numbing repetitiveness much better than I apparently can.
The game has some serious issues, with the crashing. The good news is that the game just seems unpolished, and that means that there’s nothing that can’t be reworked, replaced, or made better. The endgame could develop. The loot could get better. The frustrating elements could be removed or made better, and to be fair some already have (like being able to quickly launch into a contract or mission without having to slow walk back to your javelin, assessing the forge without standing right it, etc.)
Basically, Anthem could go the way of the two Destiny’s, Division, Warframe, and Diablo 3… it could get really great in a year or two. But I bought the game at launch, to be playing it now, and so that’s the only thing that can be counted. There’s always hope for a turnaround, but right now Anthem is decent at best.
I had fun while I was playing it, especially in the beginning. I still have fun with it, just in short bursts. I’m not done playing it; I’ll play if some friends want to do something or a contract or mission a day. But by and large, the little fun I have with it currently is offset by the feeling of regret. I wish I hadn’t bought it now. I wish I hadn’t gone digital with it, at least then I could’ve traded it.
I’m positive that the game will eventually be really good, but if I could go back in time I would stop myself from buying it and just wait until the time when the game actually gets better than merely decent. I should’ve listened to my gut instead of allowing myself to fall into a hype trap, especially consider it was EA and post-Andromeda BioWare we’re talking about.
Anthem gets a two out of five: FORGETTABLE.