It has proven to be very difficult to avoid reviews and opinions in the lead up to Anthem, and even harder now the game’s released. I have done everything I can to avoid it, but like I said, it’s been hard not to miss. I’ve not delved into it, however, at best I’ve seen a trailer, watched Dantics’ video from when he breaks down what each suit can do from the demo, and played the public demo. I’ve gone in half-blind, basically.
I really like this game.
Yes, I’m sorry guys. I like it, I dare to like the thing that everyone else thinks it’s cool to hate right now. I don’t think Anthem is perfect by any stretch, but I am currently very happy at Level 20 after sinking in as many hours as my level over the last weekend and more hours since.
There are plenty of valid concerns, some I’m going to bring up in this review – but as I said, I like this game and I’m not going to stop it because people who don’t even own it say I should hate it.
Anthem is an online multiplayer co-op RPG that has ultimately doomed itself from calling itself a ‘Live Service’. This is what I like to call a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. Anthem is damned as it has gone this way, because people cry out that they then don’t have a complete game. They’re damned if they didn’t, because if they released what they had with no road map people would cry ‘But where’s the rest?’. It’s a difficult spot it’s put itself in, but we gamers are nothing if predictable in our conflicting expectations.
As a Live Service, Anthem is going down the route of many other online games where it constantly aims to add to the story and evolve the gameplay as time goes on. They have already released a 90-day road map of what’s to come in the future, which I like, others hate. I may just start referring to this game as ‘Marmite’.
Cracking into the actual gameplay experience, you play as a Freelancer. Freelancers are protectors of humanity and go beyond the safety of walled cities to explore the wider world and defend those who have ventured out there too. They do this by using Javelins, complex mechanized suits that come in four varieties: The Storm, The Ranger, The Interceptor and The Colossus.
You begin the game as a rookie Freelancer playing in a Ranger suit, learning to get to get to grips as you quite literally undergo a trial by fire as you bumble by molten lava and flame-spitting Wyverns. You quickly learn that you are there to try and shut down a Shaper Relic, the thing that’s causing all this magma nonsense and spawning many gribblies in the area. Freelancers are heroes, and now you’re one too! Until your team is horribly outmatched and get stomped on by some Titans. Oof. Pretty good introduction sequence to the kind of thing we can expect in the future though.
A hop, skip and a jump later and we’ve gone ahead two years. You are a lone, washed-up Freelancer now, working only with your Cypher (AKA the guy in the chair) doing any contracts that you can scoop up. It pays the bills, but not a whole lot else. The other Freelancers are scattered to the winds, and no longer seen as the heroes they once were. They failed two years ago, and people can’t bring themselves to trust them anymore. In true Bioware fashion, however, you’re here to prove that all wrong. By simply existing and not being a total failure by getting your work done, you start to attract the attention of important people within your less than stellar but charming home of Fort Tarsis. Time to honour the Freelancers and bring them back to glory.
It’s a good premise, and a good way to kick off the story. You start at the top, sparkly eyed and wishing for the world, only to have it crushed, leaving you to start over again. It’s a simple but effective trope, and it’s executed well throughout the story. The overall story in Anthem is as BioWare does best, a main thread with many things interweaving to reveal broader and intricate worldbuilding achieved through conversations with people you’ll meet along the way. The bad guy is a big looming Storm called the Dominar, who seems horribly interested in the same Shaper Relic your team were unable to shut off. I do have some gripes with the story, but sadly those would be spoilers. There are instances of this where I’ve felt the writing has been lazy.
Interacting with NPCs in Anthem has the BioWare polish on it, you talk to everyone and they each have unique personalities and storylines that you would come to expect from Mass Effect or Dragon Age. The voice acting is also great, with some familiar voices in there if you listen out for them. The female voice I’ve been playing with has been great, and from feedback, I’ve gone from friends using the male voice they’re liking him too.
The game encourages you to play as a public expedition, meaning others can join in on your game to complete the missions. My partner and I have exclusively been playing on Hard, and I can comfortably say that on PS4 this has been a brilliant experience, we’ve not matchmade with anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. I’ve heard iffier things about playing on Normal however, but haven’t given it a go myself.
The Javelins themselves are fantastically varied and the abilities really do set them all apart beautifully. As I’m only Level 20, it means I’ve unlocked three out of four of the Javelins. My main is Interceptor, followed by Storm and Ranger. So Colossus is the only Javelin I haven’t had a go with, luckily my partner mains a Colossus and his summary of playing one has been “You get the biggest guns, the biggest suit and feel like a total badass. It’s your job to take the flak and dish out punishment as well.”
The Interceptor is a fast-paced melee machine with some nifty and nippy tricks that make it a fantastic flanker. This is the playstyle I absolutely adore – whilst my teammates are drawing the aggro to the front, I can sleuth around the side and start cutting my way in from the back. Your abilities can create really interesting combos, one of my favorites to play is a simple Cyro Glaive thrown to freeze an enemy and prime it, then follow up with a Tempest Strike to detonate.
As well as this, being able to triple jump and triple dodge hugely appeals as a glass cannon type. There’s enormous danger playing Interceptor because there’s less armor and less health than the other Javelins, but if you get your dodges and flight timed right you can minimize the damage done to yourself and maximize it against enemies. I’ve loved the balance, especially as I’ve been taking on the harder challenges, one misstep and I go down. It’s as simple as that. The Interceptor’s ultimate is the Assassin’s Blades, an amped up melee slashing move that allows you to go all out against enemies. It’s also a detonator, so if you can team up with those who can prime a group for you, following up with this ultimate is sure to clear an area fast.
I mentioned there about combos. Basically, in Anthem, any abilities that prime (signified in the ability by a circle with a dot in it) has a chance of inflicting a status on the enemy, you can then follow that up with an ability that detonates (signified by a star shape icon). By doing this, you can get a combo on your damage against any enemy. It’s an interesting feature, and truly I haven’t explored it that much outside of the obvious means. However, I expect with some playing around with team composition you can really rack up the combo numbers.
Storm is my second Javelin and the one I take out more on Freeplay expeditions. Freeplay is as you’d expect, the open map available for you to explore, gather materials for crafting and complete public events. I’ll admit that the public events feel pretty samey, but I hold out hope that more will be added as the game progresses. The Storm, belovingly nicknamed space wizard by my group and many others, has lots of space magic. It’s known more simply as ‘Elemental Power’ and this means you bring the thunder to any fight – literally, if you’ve equipped Lightning Strike, which calls down a lightning bolt from the heavens on your enemies. Storm is a fantastic build to play, and I love how different it feels to the Interceptor as well. The ability to hover high up and go full on battleground management is a great feeling, and the way the Storm’s abilities hit are satisfying and powerful as you would expect of this majestic beastie.
The Storm’s ultimate is Elemental Storm, a barrage of elemental power repeated over and over within a time frame against enemies. The attacks can both prime and detonate, so if you wanted to watch the combos really rack up, try partnering it with Colossus’ Siege Canon ultimate – which is a series of big, loud and explosive impact detonators.
Out of the three unlocked, the Ranger is the one I’ve played the least. However, I have enjoyed how versatile the suit is and how it is so much more than a ‘default’ suit. This Javelin I believe falls under the category of easy to learn, but hard to master. The Ranger in the right hands I think can be utilized as quickly as an Interceptor with the hit of a Colossus if you nail it just right. It’s the Jack of All Trades, and this suit is likely the one I’ll actually be choosing when I start tackling even higher levels of difficulty thanks to its versatility.
Anthem‘s world itself is utterly beautiful, the foliage and water are especially beautiful. Flying over ravines and waterfalls is a great experience, and delving underwater is a gorgeous sight to behold as well. However, one of my biggest problems is that a lot of areas look really similar. Without a means to add custom markers to the map, I’ve had situations in Freeplay where I’ve gotten hopelessly lost and to frustrating ends. A good example of this has been where my partner and I were fighting a Titan out in the world, both got downed and respawned only to realize we had no idea where the titan actually was. We found another later, thankfully.
There are distinctive areas, but you can’t actually identify those on the map unless you remember the names of each of those places. I have the memory of a sieve at the best of times. I couldn’t tell you what was in the Emerald Abyss, nor the Eastern Reach. I do know what’s at the Fortress of Dawn, but the clue’s in the name there really.
I really like the way that the crafting system works in Anthem, and I’ve found that I’m terribly addicted to constantly bumping up my favorite abilities to a point where I’m doing it for single levels. Wasteful? Absolutely yes, but is it satisfying watching those numbers creep up and up? Also yes.
The crafting ties in well with the loot system. Loot itself is found as common, uncommon, rare, epic, masterwork and legendary items out in the field. You aren’t told what you get, which I find really exciting, because there’s no pretense to what you’ll expect. I’m at the point in the game where epic loot is dropping now, and it’s exciting to see the higher tier gear starting to drop. You find out what you get at the end of expeditions, where you can then salvage anything you don’t want and go straight to the Forge where you can equip your new shiny gear.
This gear helps to increase the level of your Javelin, and each one will have its own score whilst your pilot level will remain the same across the board. It’s good to note that enemies are scaled to your pilot level and not your Javelin level, so when you get out there with your new unlocks you’ll either have to pay equal attention to leveling them all or just focus on one or two. With the way things are going, I feel like I’ll be honing in on my Interceptor and Storm for now, and maybe in the future, I’ll bring my Ranger up too.
In Anthem, ranking your new Javelins up isn’t too difficult though. You can throw on higher tier weaponry which will make the level jump up on its own, and as you play you can begin unlocking the gear challenges. Gear challenges, amongst the hundreds of other challenges that Anthem has in store for you, help you to unlock gear at higher levels through obtaining blueprints for crafting. Much like leveling your Javelins, it means if you favor one or two pieces of gear above others it’s going to quickly outpace the rest of it. Don’t worry though, you will still get high-level drops, but it may be at an uncommon tier rather than rare, for example.
Sometimes when you’re out playing missions or in freeplay, you will go down and need someone to repair you. Standard practice in any online game. However, when knocked out in where the enemies are at their thickest, you can end up sitting there for a long time and in respawn restricted areas you can be pulled back to a respawn point miles away. You head in and because you don’t make it to the mission area in time you get hauled into a load screen and THEN back. Would be quicker to just fly there. I can understand it’s a means to ensure everyone’s forced together, but it’s been an issue everyone I’ve partied with has had.
Also, internal game invites please? PSN’s default game invite is awful. Enough said there.
Overall, I think Anthem is a fun experience and best experienced with friends over party. If you’re able to, definitely play missions on Hard as you’ll get better loot and a better matchmaking experience. This game is not perfect by any stretch, but you can already tell that this has a clear path that it wants to pursue and take us all along for the ride. I seriously recommend giving it a try if you don’t mind a game with grind and seeing what it has to offer. Remember, this is a BioWare game developed by the original Mass Effect trilogy team – they know what they’re doing! ME2 is still one of the best games out there, and I think Anthem can easily hit this standard as the service rolls out.