|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Release: February 22, 2019|
|Players: 1-4 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Blood, Language, Violence, Use of Tobacco, Alcohol Reference, Users Interact, and In-Game Purchases|
by Benjamin Maltbie
I’ve played hours upon hours of Anthem, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it in a subjective sense. In a critical sense, I can appraise it fairly easily; there’s a hell of a lot of good marred by questionable design choices and what feels like an industry-typical, contemporary monotony. At its best, the game shines and there’s potential here. Let’s start by looking at that.
For starters, this is a game made by BioWare, a developer that has a bit of a pedigree when it comes to storytelling. Almost immediately, you’ll realize how large the mythology of the game feels. A proper sense of looming darkness simmers under the surface, contrasted delightfully by the protagonist’s roguish nature. The characterization is topnotch as well, and the developers didn’t seem to rely heavily on stock characters; every trope you can find still feels fleshed out. Beyond that, they are all well-acted. Ray Chase and Sarah Elmaleh lend their talents providing convincing performances as the male and female protagonist, respectively. The game also features some celebrity voice actors, like Catherine Tate and a handful of NBC staples like Jo Lo Truglio, Kristen Schaal, and Jack McBrayer. These inclusions are pleasant, if not a little distracting at times.
The meat of the game, for me, lies in the classes or, in the parlance of the game, Javelins. Each one feels distinct and allow players to carve out roles for themselves in any squad. These come in four varieties: Ranger, Colossus, Interceptor, and Storm. The Ranger offers the adaptable, archetypal soldier style of gameplay. The Colossus is clearly meant to be a tank, as this lumbering monstrosity can absorb obscene amounts of damage. The Storm Javelin is basically a wizard casting spells from afar. Anthem's Interceptor is the game’s version of a ninja consistently up in enemies' faces, slashing away.
Beyond their basic features, further customization is available in the form of weapons and items. Each unit can change its primary weapon, secondary weapon, and three more slots that can produce different actions and effects. Combining these in unique ways means that a player can play how they want, meta be damned. Most builds seem functional. BioWare stated during a press event I attended that a lack of PvP meant it didn’t have to balance classes in the same way, and the benefits can be seen here. I’m also a sucker for mobility options, and the way each Javelin moves is a significant factor in determining how I choose between them. Flying, dodging, and sprinting across some of the most visually impressive environments I’ve seen in a while can be absolutely joy-inducing.
But then, you hit a loading screen. There are a lot of these in Anthem. You’ll get loading screens for changing menus. You’ll get loading screens between cutscenes. You’ll get loading screens for changing environments within a level. I’m almost surprised changing weapons in combat doesn’t induce a loading screen. These loading screens are also long and can break up the flow of gameplay. I recommend playing with friends with party chat enabled, just so you have something to do while the game is loading.
In fact, I recommend playing with friends in general. Coordinating with your team is part of what makes Anthem enjoyable and is part of the reason we choose classes anyway. Like Destiny, the clear comparison here, dungeons can contain puzzles. These puzzles can be frustrating alone. It’s good that there’s matchmaking to alleviate this, but there’s a profound sense of teambuilding in even solving the most menial of puzzles. It’s also a good change of pace that breaks apart the travel, shoot, travel, shoot gameplay loop.
This loop is a large part of the problem I had with Anthem. As fun as the classes are and as pretty as the game is, it doesn’t change the fact that I spent much of my time chasing waypoints. At each of these, I usually had to destroy a hive or defend an area for a few moments, and the challenge of these quests rarely caused me to break a sweat. I’d like to see the game use smarter enemies to maybe engage players a bit more.
Anthem, like a story in a novel or movie, has a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Even though these sections feel different, they will each grow tired before too long. The power creep that you experience in the beginning can be exciting for a moment. Then, in the middle, once you feel powerful, the game elicits a different type of joy. You feel like you’ve made choices in customization and are now reaping the rewards. Naturally, that gets tiresome soon. Once you reach the endgame, it’s all about narrative and getting stronger. The endgame is where Anthem really shines, but there are presently not a lot of options in terms of what to do.
Right now, it’s broken into two parts. There are Legendary Contracts. They are bite sized challenges that were quite fun to jump into, and I imagine they will be perfect for when a big time commitment can’t be made. Strongholds, on the other hand, are longer dungeons that can take quite a while to play through. I am excited to see how BioWare expands on the given options.
Anthem is a game that tries to be an answer to Destiny’s popularity and even seeks to answer some of the issues people have with that game. At the same time, it ends up feeling derivative, and any fatigue you have with Destiny is likely to carry over. Undoubtedly, there will be those out there who prefer this game; I am actually one of them. The PvE-only aspect is a nice touch, and it’s refreshing in a world where so many games like to focus on pitting player against player. The problem is that the enemies are rarely more than bullet fodder, and you don’t need to be much of a team in order to take them down. Still, Anthem is rife with potential and we’ve seen games transform into something amazing post-launch. I am hoping that will be the case for Anthem.