Anthem is an online third person shooter with an emphasis on progression and loot. It was developed by Bioware and is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Origin. This review was conducted on a standard PlayStation 4 system by Joseph Pugh.
Important Note About Anthem
As you can see, my review is a tad bit late. I’m okay with that though, in today’s gaming climate sometimes reviews can become obsolete as fast as they are posted. This is even more true for a live service game like Anthem. In fact, it is likely some of the things I’ll talk about today may well be changed in two weeks. But I’ve taken my time with the game, I’ve experienced a couple patches, some of which do affect my opinions of the game…speaking of that, before I get to the gameplay or the bugs. There is something important that needs addressing first.
A new patch was announced to be dropping on March 9th, and is a perfect example of what I was speaking of. The very top change is the point of interest here.
Respawn restrictions have been removed – Respawn timers are now based on the activity a player is in. Crit-Path, Agent Missions and other non-end game missions now have a respawn timer of 10 seconds. Strongholds, Legendary Contracts, and other end game missions now have a respawn timer of 30 seconds. The respawn timer Freeplay remains unchanged.
Regular readers will know that I’m a pretty hardcore gamer, I value difficulty settings (which Anthem has). I loathe when games do not allow players to fail. I had issues with it in Dying Light and FallOut 76 for example. Prior to this update, Anthem did not have this issue.
In certain heated areas, if you went down you couldn’t respawn, an ally had to pick you up. If the whole team went down, you all respawned, enemies were healed and dead enemies came back to life. It was like reloading a checkpoint. You play better, or you don’t succeed. The way I feel it should be. Especially in a game whose core focus is acquiring more powerful loot to take on tougher challenges.
With this change, you can now only fail if the entire team dies in a 10 to 30-second timespan depending on the type of mission you are playing. This not only removes challenge but encourages players to hide for 30 seconds while teammates respawn instead of reviving them. This is a serious change that affects everybody. I’m disappointed in Bioware for pulling the rug out from under the feet of the hardcore players weeks after release.
Even if the hardcore crowd fall into the minority. They purchased and have supported the game already, they matter too. This kind of change would be acceptable in alpha or maybe beta. Not in a retail release of the game after players have already spent their money. It is simply unacceptable and I felt it was important to point this out.
I should note, there is nothing wrong with catering to the casual crowd, they are gamers as much as I am. But a sweeping change that affects everyone who already purchased the game is a terrible slap in the face.
Anyway, back to the rest of the Anthem review.
You play as a freelancer on a wild and untamed world. You pilot mech suits known as Javelins. Working to keep Fort Tarsis safe from threats such as outlaws, the insectoid Scars, a high tech enemy known as the Dominion, and the mystical shaper relics. The setting and lore are very interesting and it isn’t afraid to bend reality in its world. After all, the Anthem of Creation is seemingly limitless in what it can do.
It’s all fascinating and the game includes a detailed codex that you will acquire and fill with information and can read over at your leisure. It’s similar to what the Mass Effect games had and while optional, it’s there if you want to dig in.
Gameplay And Story
The main story is average at best, the villain is forgettable and it ends somewhat anticlimactically. Yet Bioware’s stellar writing still exists in Anthem, but it’s easy to pass up. Between missions, you wander around Fort Tarsis to pick up contracts. There are numerous amounts of NPCs you can speak to and each one has there own story to tell. You can influence these stories through dialogue choices.
Future dialogue with the same NPC can be wildly different depending on previous conversations and they are fun and interesting. From hearing about the adventures of a lady attempting to pet all manner of wild creatures, to solving the relationship problems of two married spies. It’s all optional, but I recommend exploring it all.
The various amount of side quests also have their own continuing storylines and the voice acting and animations really sell it all. All of the NPCs are voiced very well and the facial animations help convey the words beautifully.
The moment to moment gameplay of Anthem is also one of its highest points. You start with one of four Javelins. You can unlock the other three as you play and each one has wildly different playstyles. Each one truly conveys the feeling of battling inside a powerful mech suit, except for the Storm which makes you feel like a straight-up superhero instead.
They have a great feeling of weight and the sound design really amps it up. The mechanical noises each one makes when moving around are fantastic. They also give you a great feeling of being powerful but the game remains challenging on higher difficulties (barring the new patch change).
The guns sound great when they fire and each Javelin has its own traits and equipment. The Ranger is an all-rounder and uses grenades, pulse lasers, and missiles, its ultimate is a massive missile barrage. The Ranger feels the most like you are playing as Tony Stark in an Iron Man suit.
The Colossus has the most health but no over-shield. It can’t dodge but can pull out a large physical shield instead that you can block damage with and most joyfully, charge and run down foes like they are bowling pins. The Colossus also uses high explosive mortars, railguns, and cannons.
The Interceptor is lightly armored but fast with a triple jump and triple dash. They focus on melee and have acid bombs and shuriken-like projectiles. They dash and dodge around the battlefield with grace and are great at single target damage.
The Storm has weak armor but it’s over shield is stronger when flying and it can hover longer than the other javelins. They rarely use guns at all, instead of calling down fire, ice, and thunder over large areas.
Most abilities fall into either a primer or detonator category. Primers inflict a status ailment on foes and if you hit a prime target with a detonator, it combos into a more powerful effect based on the type of Javelin that did the combo. Coordinating combos with teammates is an effective way to bring down tough foes or large crowds of enemies.
The enemies themselves are decently varied between the three enemy factions and the local wildlife. Some have armor or shielding, others have powerful snipers or launchers and they usually have specific strengths and weaknesses you can exploit when taking them down.
The mission variety is lackluster. They are mostly an excuse to go and kill things but a couple of them have a twist or two, but you will see them repeat often. In addition to story missions and side quests, you also have free play. Free play is a lot of fun and really invokes the feeling of being a freelancer roaming the area around Fort Tarsis and taking care of the trouble.
While in free play you will find crafting materials and it’s a good chance to find the numerous collectibles scattered around the world. You will also come across world events which are random missions that take place in free play, usually rewarding you with a chest of loot. Once you’re in the end game, you also have legendary contracts and strongholds to take on, which are tough raids with the highest rewards.
Finally, once you are level 30 you also unlock the first grandmaster difficulty to continue your progression.
Around level 25 and beyond, you start obtaining masterwork gear, which is loot that has some special quality to them. before then, loot is largely underwhelming, mostly giving a few specific stat boosts. I did have fun with the system, stacking as much armor on as I could on my Colossus for example. But it is a shame the majority of the interesting stuff is saved for endgame.
Once you’re at the end game, you will be doing strongholds, free play and contracts to obtain better gear to do grandmaster difficulty, to get better gear to do grandmaster 2 difficulty and so on. All in preparation for more content from Bioware. It can be repetitive, but its also the nature of a live service looter shooter. The free play is interesting and you also get daily, weekly and monthly challenges to work toward. I enjoy it, but not everyone will.
You also earn coins to spend on cosmetics, but at the time of writing, there isn’t a whole lot to spend the coin on yet. However, you are able to extensively customize the paint of your javelins right away and it’s a very nice system. You can do quite a lot that sets you apart from other players.
Anthem does have a lot of bugs, and while I applaud the speed at which Bioware has been addressing them, some of them have been severe. I’ve also had several disconnects, some of which would hold my loot hostage until I completed another mission. One bug, in fact, powered down my PlayStation 4. No damage was done, but it’s understandably scary when it occurs.
The loading screens are frequent and lengthy, combine that with disconnects and things can be pretty frustrating at times. I would like to praise the performance though, I rarely have noticed frame rate drops, even in chaotic battles.
Yet, some evenings I did find myself giving up and walking away from the game, from a combination of bugs, loading screens, and connection issues. These aren’t silly bugs like an enemy model clipping through a wall. They range from bugs that prevent missions from being completed, your loot being held hostage, statistical bonuses from loot that don’t function correctly, crashes and more.
The combat and flight are stellar, the voice acting is great, the characters are interesting and graphics and sound design are top of the line. I have been having a ton of fun with Anthem despite its flaws, even though I wish the more interesting loot showed up sooner.
The missions are ho-hum, but the combat more than makes up for it and the fact that all four Javelins play so differently is fantastic. Yet the games loading screen and bugs can put a serious damper on the enjoyment. It’s a decent foundation that will hopefully improve over time. The latest patch that removed the respawn restrictions is a serious low blow for the hardcore crowd, and it has dampened my enthusiasm a great deal for it.
I really can’t be clear enough about how unacceptable that type of change is after a game has already been released. Combine that with a large number of bugs and long loading screens and I find it hard to recommend right now, even if I want to.
At its core Anthem is a decent game, the right pieces are in place, it just needs some serious work on the technical side and it’s getting some to be sure. But sweeping gameplay changes that alienate certain audiences in the most recent patch doesn’t inspire me with much confidence for the future either.
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- Four javelin suits with each with a wildly different playstyle.
- Fantastically fun combat and flight.
- Free play makes you feel like a freelancer protecting the fort.
- The stellar voice acting really sells the interesting cast of characters and side stories.
- Lots of interesting lore to dig into.
- Beautiful graphics and solid sound design.
- The extensive painting system for your Javelin is great.
- Update 1.0.3 removed respawn restrictions making missions difficult to fail and pulled the rug from under hardcore players, an unacceptable change after release.
- Several bugs, some of them severe, one even powered down the PlayStation 4.
- Loot is lackluster until end game.
- The main story is sub-par, predictable and anticlimactic.
- Loading screens are frequent and lengthy.