Reviewed on Xbox One X
When I think of Bioware, I think of incredible stories with countless twists and turns, supported by some of the most well written and memorable characters in gaming. Bioware is responsible for 2 of my favourite video game franchises, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. When playing Anthem, I had glimmers of what make their games so memorable and appealing, however, so many differing aspects consistently hold this game back from being anything good. A decent story, interesting lore and fun combat cannot stop Anthem from resembling a shadow of what a Bioware game used to be.
You play as a freelancer, an adept pilot capable of wielding the power of Javelins, Ironman-like mech suits. Two years after a catastrophic mission to deactivate the Cenotaph in the Heart of Rage, a relic that can control the Anthem of Creation, the main character is completing the odd jobs to get by in Fort Tarsis. This escalates into grouping up with your old team in order to re-enter the Heart of Rage to get to the Cenotaph before the Monitor, who would use it for his own nefarious purposes. A long story short, the bad guy wants power for cliché reasons, and you must stop him. The main story is nothing unique or really engaging, the main issue is that it is way too short, it can easily be completed in about 8 hours if you simply blazed through without completing any side missions. This means getting invested in the narrative is incredibly difficult.
The characters that you meet along the way are genuinely likeable, varied and memorable with strong voice acting. Owen in particular is a standout, however, he never gets fully developed and is side-lined about two thirds through, which is a real shame. Faye and Haluk are other strong and well written characters. Most of the side storytelling and relationship building is done in Fort Tarsis, which is a mixed bag in all honesty. Here you meet a wealth of other people who have their own story to witness and expand on. There are even dialogue options, but these are so bare bones and with little real impact that these could have been left out, they feel so surface deep. It is not all bad, there are a number of intriguing side narratives, from a woman who sees you as their dead child after being in denial from grief, or a man who’s brain and memory is hijacked and given a new persona and you witness these revelations alongside his partner. It is moments like these that show the glimmers of the old Bioware and show what the game could have been like. But these moments are far and few between and instead highlight the unfinished and rushed work.
One thing that is plain to see is that the graphical quality and the world are stunning. Playing on the Xbox One X highlights this fact even more in clear 4K. From the streets of Fort Tarsis, to soaring through the lush canyons and woodland sections, Anthem shows off its high-quality visuals, placing it as one of the best-looking games of the generation. Character models are good and in cutscenes they are brilliant and lifelike. Its clear Bioware took on board the criticism from Mass Effect: Andromeda and spent time making sure facial animation was strong and natural, capturing subtle movements and realistic expressions. The world is not without its faults, particularly in landscape variety. Much of the world feels too similar, making it hard to distinguish where you are on the map, causing a lack of memorability in the design. Its also a shame that the open world is just one big mission level, where, outside of main and side quests, there is very little reason to go on freeplay to explore the map. It would be better if the open world acted as a hub space as well, with its own npc’s and side activities. Despite this, flying through the picturesque and breathtakingly grand vistas never gets old.
The combat is where Anthem truly shines, where the responsive controls and unique feel of the four Javelins helps make combat a kinetic and exciting endeavour throughout the game’s runtime. Whether your sprinting on the ground, dodging incoming fire and attacks, soaring and hovering in the air, you always feel like you have complete control, nothing feels sluggish. This is such an important aspect in making the combat feel slick and utterly responsive. As a freelancer, you get to pilot a selection of mech suits that all feel and play completely different, which is something that Destiny has never really perfected itself. The Ranger Javelin is the jack of all trades suit, its versatile with decent movement, defence and attack capabilities, and is the one most people will start off with when they begin the game. The Colossus is the tank of the four, with great defensive abilities including a shield and can wield strong heavy weaponry. The Interceptor is the ninja Javelin, incredibly agile, fast melee attacks and can utilise poison abilities. Another personal favourite is the Storm Javelin, essentially the ‘mage’ class. It wields elemental abilities such as ice, fire and lighting to deliver powerful, focused and AoE damage. As I said before, all the Javelins feels so unique with their own strengths and weaknesses, however, chaining different abilities from the same or the different Javelins is crucial to pull off combos to deal even more damage, which is particularly useful in events such as the strongholds. Another great thing is the extensive customization of your Javelins. You can change the material and colours of every aspect of the suits, making it certain yours will stand out as unique from everyone else’s. On a more negative note, the one thing I wished was better was the selection of weapons at your disposal, so many of the weapons feel the same, without the engaging and fun abilities, the combat would not be as great as it is, however overall, it is a strong system.
The various missions that you will complete can be very intriguing, however, the problem is that despite the narrative that accompanies the missions can be interesting, the structure of every quest is so repetitive and simple. It does end up becoming quite a chore the further in the game to pursue every side mission available. Most go along the lines of fly across the map to point A, kill a bunch of enemies, fly again to point B and kill waves of enemies and a boss. Yes, the combat is fun, yet this doesn’t compensate for the quests being very bland. The free play missions that appear while exploring the map in this mode are even worse, I ended up playing the exact same mission protecting a large machine 3 times in a row.
The best type of content the game has to offer is the strongholds, large and lengthy dungeons/raids that require up to 4 players to complete. These are challenging and genuinely fun to play through, however, there isn’t enough of these to keep the fun and challenge last for too long. After a couple of runes, you know what to expect and even on the harder difficulties, you start to have a system that works every time. One of the biggest issues and glaring omissions this game has is the lack of a pvp mode. Other than the strongholds and legendary missions, the endgame ends up being lacklustre, having a pvp mode would have really improved this and make the game have longevity. Grinding for higher level loot becomes pointless in the end, as just getting it to complete the highest difficulty strongholds isn’t compelling enough of a reason.
Anthem had so much promise, where my love for Bioware gave me hope that the game could pull through and have at the very least have compelling characters and narrative. However, in this regard it only succeeded partially as the characters and story were interesting to an extent, but the game was far to short to fully flesh these out. The main story would take around 6-8 hours to complete, doing all the side missions bumps this up to about 20 hours. By this time, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, with no pvp, there is nothing really compelling you to grind for stronger loot. A great combat and customization system are the highlight of the entire experience, but these alone can’t drag Anthem into being a good game. In the end, the game was rushed to completion by a development team with no experience in how to make a live service game enjoyable and that makes players continually play for a long time. The future content roadmap looks bleak, making me lose all hope for Anthem to get any better, making it for me a hopeless, average game with glimmers of greatness hidden within.