REVIEW: Anthem - Good Shooter with a Lot of Room for Improvement

March 7, 2019
REVIEW: Anthem - Good Shooter with a Lot of Room for Improvement

In the last couple of years, developers have been trying to incorporate the MMO mechanics into the co-op games. This has become popular with the release of Destiny 2 in 2013. However, the game that really started this trend was Warframe, which was released before Destiny 2, but it never became popular, and it never became a triple-A game. Almost every title that has gone down that road, encountered many problems. Alongside the development of the story, characters, the variety and lack thereof in the gameplay, many problems were related to the content after the main story of a certain title ends.

These games were put into a new “Game as a Service” category, which means that games are now seen as a service to which gamers will come back again and again because of their huge content. Each player basically paid for the “barebone” title with its basic story while the ending and additional content they got through expansions or DLCs. This simply didn’t work well. In the beginning, there were mostly technical problems, but then those were overpowered by the problem of content. Every game, since this genre has come into being, no matter if it was a first-person or third-person shooter, has had this same problem, and no dev team has managed to find the perfect formula to solve it yet.

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Back in 2016, EA announced that its Bioware studio was working on a seemingly great title that fitted perfectly into the “game as a service” genre. That was the new “hot trend”, and everyone wanted to be a part of it. Though after its first announcement Anthem looked like a generic alien shooter, we all hoped that things would get better because the famous Bioware was developing it. Except for the disappointment the Mass Effect: Andromeda was, the gaming community believed that the team has learned from its mistakes and that it would go back to its perfect storytelling from the past and RPG systems that were a trademark of this studio before they joined EA. However, it seems that this wasn’t really the case. A few years after the announcement and a couple of delays, closed alpha and beta testings, Anthem is finally here.

Anthem is a third-person co-op shooter that you can play alone, with friends or random people chosen for you through an active Matchmaking system. The story is set in Bastion and Fort Tarsis. Fort Tarsis is a kind of a hub in this game where you collect contracts, talk to the NPC characters and learn about the nature and history of the Anthem world, what happened and why the world is in its current state.

In this world full of danger, Freelancers are the only salvation, and they often choose to be the protectors of all the citizens in this world, to fight the evil that is outside the walls of the cities. Each freelancer makes a contract with the one who pays the highest price for their work, but certain moral principles still exist. Almost everyone at Fort Tarsis serves the higher purpose which is to protect the city and their way of life. The contract system is the way you will get the missions you need to complete in order to progress through the story.

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In the game, there are various characters you will encounter, from those that will annoy you to those who are super interesting and whose stories you will want to hear. This is where we see the Bioware’s signature.

The story might not be unforgettable but it is very interesting at some moments, and some stories are simply genius, especially those told by old fighters, or better to say, retired Freelancers, then the stories of the oldest citizens, slimy individuals, and so on. The main story begins great as well as the character development, but as the game progresses, it starts to lose its direction and to fade. The variety of contracts or missions is nice until they become more and more boring as you approach the end.

The biggest problem that Anthem has with its story and its development is that it doesn’t really end. It will end after who knows how many planned expansions. In other words, Bioware’s idea was for Anthem to be just a warm-up at its release for everything that is going to come in the next 3 to 6 months. Whether this is a good move or not, judge for yourself.

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The best thing about Anthem is its gameplay mechanics. Third-person shooting at aliens and other monsters is smooth and looks fantastic, and Frostbite Engine makes it look incredible at certain moments. In addition, the fact that you can choose different javelins, that is the exosuits that Freelancers wear, gives you various options. It’s simply incredible how many builds there are for you to choose from, and how each character differs from the previous one. It doesn’t matter if you choose the Interceptor, Ranger, Colossus or Storm javelin, you can always be aggressive or passive, you can choose to rely on agility or to raise hell on earth for your enemies.

The customization of each javelin allows you just that. During your missions or free exploration of Bastion, you will come across various weapons and modifiers for your javelin. The modifiers and modules will define the way you play so that you can always choose the “build” that suits you most, or you can strive to collect all the modifiers and modules for your javelin.

Interceptor might be the most fun javelin because you have the greatest agility on the battlefield. You can simply inflict damage on your enemy and then quickly dash away, you can use your skills to attack from the distance or maybe be one of the soldiers in the front, though Interceptor is categorized as a “weaker” unit. Ranger is an all-around javelin that probably has the most variety in its gameplay. With this javelin, you can be useful both in close combat and in mid-range battles with enemies. However, Ranger is not as agile as Interceptor.

Colossus is the most robust and the strongest javelin with the best shield and possibilities for you to inflict the most damage to your enemies by choosing the right weapons. This javelin doesn’t have almost any agility but that is made up for by its endurance. Finally, the Storm javelin offers completely different gameplay than any other exosuit. It is almost static but incredibly fun to play with because you can inflict a lot of damage to your enemies, and the whole concept of this javelin is based on skills, or what some may say, “magic”. This javelin is the best for controlling and destroying groups of your enemies.

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Each of the described javelins has a special superpower that you can use when your enemies close in on you or when you want to show how powerful you are. Also, it’s all about your tactics and play style, if you want to crush your enemies or just toy with them, or you want to witness those perfect effects that happen when you use your superpower. Therefore, javelins are very diverse, but so are the weapons that you carry and they also define your play style. Therefore, the choice of how you want to attack your enemies is entirely yours.

I can say that this “gameplay loop” is the best thing about this game. Which is unfortunate because Bioware is famous for its storytelling and progression systems in their titles, not for gunplay mechanics. The gameplay mechanics, shoot outs, flying, dodging and killing your enemies is the only aspect of this game that works perfectly.

One more thing that Bioware did right with this game is the creation of the Bastion region in this new world. You can explore the map on several levels, on the land, in the air, and under the water. Each part of the map seems impressive and gives a whole new meaning to exploration.

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Now, back to the development of the story. As I already said, it was planned for this game to get a lot of new content in the few months after its release, but, at the same time, that is the biggest problem when it comes to this title. When you finish this and spend a few hours collecting the best equipment you can find, that will make you stand out among other players, there is no more challenge and there is a lack of missions you can play.

Special missions are actually missions planned for the later parts of the game, and aside from that, there are only 3 Legendary Contracts you can get. That’s it when it comes to the endgame content of this game, so if you want to have fun with this game after you finish it, this is where you can find it.

The good thing is that to finish the game you’ll need about 20 hours, which is 20 hours of various content, and to “squeeze out” all the meaning and content out of the most difficult and endgame missions you’ll need about 30 or 40 hours more, which means you get about 50-60 hours of fun until it becomes pointless to play it anymore.

The problem with games like this is that players have to be entertained at each moment, even during that stagnant period when they wait for new content. Here, there is just not enough content to keep the players entertained after they finish the main mission that has not so interesting and satisfying end. Still, Anthem is incredibly fun to play until you reach the end because of all the options and the variety of gameplay that offers to its players.

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When it comes to its graphics, Anthem looks amazing, and its audio and voice acting are great. Acting is good but at some moments it’s irritating because of the way certain characters are developed but, thankfully, you don’t interact with them very often.

There are other problems, other than its content, and these problems are technical, and they are big. Luckily, I’m writing this a week and a half after the game was released so some of those problems are solved, like the loot system, and also the latest patch fixed the issue that made the search for better equipment pointless because it didn’t allow players to make progress in the game. Other even bigger technical problems that the dev team might not be able to fix are still there.

There is the announced “seamless” world that isn’t at all what this word is supposed to mean. When it was first announced, Anthem’s world was described as a world that has a life of its own, that lives without you in it, where animals and monsters attack one another, where you can go wherever you want, start any mission or activity. However, this is not the case.

The whole world, except when Free Roaming, is divided into small segments, even in Fort Tarsis. You can’t customize your javelin and choose a mission at one place, everything is “hidden” behind a load screen. You can’t even start a mission and finish it after only one load because each different segment of that mission brings you one more load screen. When you finish a mission, if you want to choose another, you have to go back to Fort Tarsis, and that’s when the longest loading awaits you.

Now, imagine how much worse the situation was before the latest patches, and you can justify the low grades Anthem got in the first week after its release. The loadings are not so long now but they happen very often, and that annoys many players because there are games such as Assassins’ Creed Odyssey, RDR2, Far Cry 5: New Dawn, The Witcher 3, in which there are no loading screens whatsoever, and all of these titles have an equally beautiful world, and some of them have even a more beautiful one than this one.

Final Impressions

Anthem is based on a great idea with excellent gameplay mechanics, shoot outs, flying, exploring, but it is overwhelmed with technical and content problems that shouldn’t have happened.

We waited for this game for a long time but, unfortunately, what we got is a title that simply isn’t finished. Because this is what is called “game as a service” which depends on the additional content that the dev team is there to provide, the situation can change in a couple of months. For now, maybe the best option is for you to slowly enter this world, with a lot of patience, but if you don’t have it, then maybe it's better for you to wait for the first great patch that will, hopefully, solve many problems in this otherwise very good title.

I’ll just mention one more time that Anthem is very fun to play because it offers many options and a variety of gameplay. However, based on the current state of the game, I give it 7.5/10.