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Anthem – Does it stand up or take a knee

We have been looking forward to Anthem ever since it was announced at E3 2017. We’re big fans of BioWare in Enthusiast Towers; we even have some Mass Effect: Andromeda apologists. The idea of the Canadian developer creating a new sci-fi IP had us salivating at the possibilities. After all, these were the people who created the Mass Effect franchise as well as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Well, Anthem is finally here and I think it’s safe to say that it hasn’t lived up to many people’s expectations. I’ve now spent well over 45 hours playing through the game. I’ve completed the campaign as well as all the Stronghold events on Grandmaster 1 difficulty. I think it’s a game that absolutely nails some things but falls a little wide of the mark on others. So, what works and what doesn’t?

Movement

I am Iron Man! Arguably, one of the best things about Anthem is the movement. The way the game handles flying is spot on. Numerous Superman and Iron Man games have tried and failed to provide gamers with good flying and walking/running mechanics. BioWare has knocked it out of the park on their first attempt. The transition between movement on the ground and either hovering or flying is handled really well. I think the best compliment that I can pay to it is that the controls never get in the way. It is all so intuitive.

Combat

One of the bits I was most worried about going into Anthem was the combat. As much as I loved the Mass Effect franchise, the shooting and combat was not its strongest point. Admittedly, as the series went on, they refined it to become something that worked well enough. It was never great, though. For Anthem, Bioware has got it dialled. The combat is similar to Mass Effect in the way that you use both weapons and powers. However, the shooting mechanics feel solid enough to be part of the Battlefield franchise. While the combo system can be a little confusing to start with, once you get the hang of it, you can become a complete killing machine without the need for guns.

Visuals

Anthem is one of the best-looking games available on Xbox One. I spent most of my time playing on Xbox One X, and it really is a sight to behold. Your base, Fort Tarsis, looks stunning with such incredible texture detail. Out in the open-world, the game still looks great. Trees, waterfalls, derelict buildings, all appear incredibly realistic. Even in combat, the visuals look a cut above the rest. The particle effects and elemental strikes fill the screen with colour while also providing useful information and a treat for the eyes. BioWare seems to have extracted almost everything possible from DICE’s Frostbite engine and then pushed it even further.

 

Story

BioWare is known for creating great stories and narratives. From early Xbox titles like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchise, they have shown a deft touch at creating gripping stories. Unfortunately, Anthem never hits these heights. There are a lot of big ideas alongside some nice smaller touches, but it never really grips you. A lot of this, I think, comes down to the antagonist. The Monitor, who looks like a cast-off from Destiny, is never really that engaging. He doesn’t cast a big enough shadow through the game and is only mentioned, or featured, on a few occasions. If this was from any other developer they might get a little more leeway, but we know that BioWare can do better.

Performance

We’ve come to expect big online games to have issues at launch. Most big games have a demo/beta/stress-test before releasing to iron out these bugs. Anthem was no different, using gamers to test out their servers by allowing them to play a bit of the game. Both the VIP demo and the open demo were plagued with server issues. You would have thought that this would enable them to correct these problems and it would be smooth sailing for launch. Of course, this was not the case at all. Even now, over a week since the full launch of the game (don’t get me started on that spreadsheet for release dates) the game is still pretty unstable.

The performance issues aren’t just related to the online connection, though. The game may be particularly gorgeous on the Xbox One X, but it may be the only Xbox that can run it properly. I also have an Xbox One S, and when I played the game on that, I noticed some frame rate issues. The worst of these are in the Fort Tarsis area. I dread to think how the game would run on an original Xbox One. You might want to approach Anthem with caution if you are using an original console.

Loot

Anthem is effectively a looter shooter. This means that loot is an important part of the game. While the basic system is OK, it does have some quirks that need addressing. The first is the dropping of common, and even uncommon, items while playing on Grandmaster difficulty. No one playing at that level will have common or uncommon items equipped, and they don’t want any new ones. Another issue I have with the game is that there isn’t a big enough variety of weapons. The ultimate loot game is Diablo III. There are loads of different weapons that are then iterated on with different bonuses to create thousands of possibilities. Anthem has three different types of each weapon and then a handful of Masterwork weapons. There just needs to be more variety.

Multiplayer

Anthem is a multiplayer focussed game. But is it? Really? It is perfectly possible to play through the entire game in singleplayer. It is not possible to play through the entire game in multiplayer. Walking around Fort Tarsis can only be done as a solo player. It’s possible to complete all of the missions on your own. Yes, you gain more experience and have an easier time of it playing with other people. It’s not essential, though. There are times that the game comes across as a singleplayer game that has had multiplayer forced on it.

Another thing about the multiplayer is that most people don’t squad up. Instead, they just use matchmaking and go about their business. In the 45+ hours I’ve spent with the game, I have never come across anyone communicating. There’s no text chat. As a default setting, in-game voice chat is turned off. These are hardly the actions of a game that wants players to play together. While I don’t have a problem with the lack of PvP, the fact that multiplayer just seems tacked on seems more like a business decision than a creative one.

Content

It seems, at the moment, that every ‘live service’ (cue Jim Sterling-type voice) game launches bereft of content. Sea of Thieves and Fallout 76 were particular examples of this. Anthem, while providing more than those two, is also guilty of being a little light on content. The main campaign is only around 10 hours long. I have often said that I would prefer a shorter, tighter story that has an impact rather than a longer ‘flabby’ campaign. However, when you’re trying to craft a game that will keep people hooked for months to come, ten hours is very short. There are also only three stronghold missions. These events which are supposed to be the pinnacle of the game are great, but you can get tired of them pretty quickly. It’s not helped by the fact that they are part of the campaign and not their own special thing.

BioWare have announced that they have a roadmap for the next few months to add new content for Anthem. If that’s the case, then why not just delay the game for a couple of months to add it in from the beginning? This would have helped to assuage complaints about the game being a little light on content. There’s now going to be a lot of pressure on BioWare to see what they can bring to the game. The ending of the story teases a new enemy. These will no doubt be featured in upcoming content. If they hold that back for Anthem 2, I can imagine there being a revolt among fans. My guess is that it will be in a big annual update akin to what Destiny does. Of course, they may lose all their fans by that point if there isn’t new substantial content soon.

Well, that’s my thoughts on Anthem. What did you think of it? Are you enjoying flying around in your Javelin? Feel free to share your thoughts and Anthem stories in the comments section down below.

Steve Clist
Joint Editor-in-Chief at our sister site XboxEnthusiast, Steve also has a serious love for Nintendo. His first console was an N64 and it was love at first sight. He may specialise in racing games but will give anything a shot. He's also a serious guitar player and musician. Basically, Steve rocks. Need we say more?

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