"Anthem" Review

You can make plenty of parallels between developer Bioware’s newest game Anthem and developer Bungie’s Destiny. Both these games are essentially new IP. Both these games are attempts at trying something new while still retaining some of the developers’ signature touch. And ultimately, at least at launch, both these games set a foundation to be built upon for an exciting future more than they do anything exciting in the here and now.

The big key difference between these two games is the release timing. Destiny was the game that ushered the always online, “shared-world MMO-like” style of shooter back in 2014, and with that came exciting developments and plenty of missteps. Not to mention another contender in the genre appeared halfway through Destiny’s lifecycle in the form of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division, a game that also did as much right as it did wrong as Bungie’s shooter. Releasing five years after Destiny’s debut, Anthem theoretically has the homefield advantage of coming after both Destiny and The Division went through their growing pains in this particular genre. 

Flying high on that Iron Man fantasy.

The release of Anthem also comes at a particularly precarious moment for Bioware. Having taken a massive critical mawling after the abject failure of Mass Effect: Andromeda and subsequent shelving of its seminal sci-fi series, Bioware is in search of a win. 

While Andromeda’s failure can be chalked up to the game being given to the lesser Bioware team in the studio’s portfolio (the now defunct Bioware Montreal) and a very troubled development cycle, Anthem comes from Bioware’s main Edmonton team (with subsequent help from all its other branches) which delivered the beloved Mass Effect trilogy and just five years ago released a game that unanimously won a lot of Game of the Year awards, Dragon Age: Inquisition. For all intents and purposes, Anthem is their big bet, and they’ve sure put a lot of eggs in its basket.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that Anthem came out the way it did and didn’t take full advantage of its position.

Get the right angle, and the game is astoundingly pretty. 

When I think of my time playing Anthem, I can only think of one word: schism. This is a game where the schism between quality extremes is such it'll give you whiplash. Here is a game with a very cool combat system that’s somehow let down by an unfulfilling gameplay loop. Here is a game with incredible art and succinct visuals, let down by a limited, non-varied, non-changing world. Here is a game attempting to weave narrative and storytelling to the genre in a way its competition hasn’t tried as much in the past, yet its story is muddled, has nothing to say and just continuously gets in the way. And ultimately, here is a game where the love, craft and care of the developers is there for all to see, yet its continuous baffling design decisions and occasionally broken systems makes you question why it even shipped at all.

It is so insane to me how Anthem managed to squander so much potential not just from potential lessons imparted from its competition, but from its own making. Despite releasing five years after Destiny’s much troubled vanilla release, it sure feels like Anthem was made in a vacuum, releasing with almost the exact same problems. It’s a game that is mile wide yet inch deep. You constantly see how much care went to so many areas, yet you wonder where the depth went. The main campaign is so anemic in what you do and so surprisingly short, it makes you wonder if the game, which has technically been in development since 2012, ultimately was cobbled together very late in development. It’s the only way to explain why the game you’re playing at the very beginning feels the same by the time you reach the visually interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying “ending”.

Prepare for the Challenge of the Legionnaires to take 84 years to complete.

I don’t think anything encapsulates the game’s problems better than the “Challenge of the Legionnaires”. After a pretty slight but occasionally fun romp through the game’s early story moments, here comes a moment that immediately hard stops the story just as things start moving, putting you into a senseless grind that won’t advance the story until all the challenges are completed. These are banal “achievement-like” objectives that sometimes are vague in what they want from the player, occasionally don’t register that you complete them, and ultimately have nothing that you would consider a worthy pay off. It stops the story for such a prolonged period of time, don’t be surprised if you’ve already forgotten where the mostly forgettable story was at that point. It literally made me want to go play Mass Effect: Andromeda than continue the challenges, which is a scorching thought in itself.

Get ready to see this screen a lot (if it hasn't crashed yet).

Despite so many bewildering moments that just cast a pall over this entire game, I still have to say that, for the most part, when things like an endless loading screen didn’t force me to restart my console to then rejoin my team on a mission where they were in the middle of an ending cutscene I couldn’t see, only to then leave me stuck at a mission debriefing where I had to restart my console again and only get awarded XP and none of the loot I picked, Anthem can sometimes be fun. Yes, that anecdote I just wrote is an example of how much some of the game’s current brokenness can be pervasive in the game, and I’m shocked how EA continuously keeps releasing games in this state just to fulfill their fiscal year. But just as I still saw a lot of potential with the core foundation that I saw with a game like Destiny that kept me playing, there is a core to Anthem that is still very sound and compelling.

Whenever the game wasn’t fighting my enjoyment back, I still wanted to keep going. The combat in this game, with the combination of the different javelins and the Ultimates you could use, gives the game a bit of a unique identity compared to other “share world” shooters. It doesn’t have the “oomph” and tight feeling of combat that Destiny pretty much perfected, but what it does with its speed and craziness is still fun enough to bring me back. Yes, the gameplay loop is really not satisfying at the moment, where the decision to not be able to swap your gear and equipment on the fly really goes against the game’s push for build diversity. Seriously, who ever thought picking loot and not being able to equip it in the moment but until you loaded back to your base was a good idea? What it does is make you sit through an asinine amount of loading screens that’ll make you just want to stick to your current guns and abilities, and sometimes you’ll even forget to go back to the forge to swap your gear. The system needs an overhaul ASAP, because it hampers what I feel is a good gear game that really comes into its own the deeper you level up and the drops increase in rarity and quality.

The speed and spectacle of combat is the game's strongest asset.

Having experienced the growing pains of Destiny and its sequel, as well as the growing pains of The Division, it would be foolish for me to declare Anthem has no prayer when this era of “Games as a Service” (and specially games with loot in them) has shown me that so many games have improved over time and dedication from a developer. Like seriously, if you’re still judging one of those other games on how they were on release versus how they are now, you are foolish. It still doesn’t give developers a pass to release something not up to snuff at launch, but games no longer live and die by their launch state these days. With a lot of promised free story DLC for the next 90 days, Anthem may even be the most extreme case of this “Games as a Service” era we live in, cause the roadmap for those next 3 months sure looks like it'll make the game more robust rather quickly. Whether it changes the core systemic issues of Anthem remains to be seen, and it makes me wonder how much time will be needed for these things to be ironed out.

The time to make the game better is where my worry for Anthem intensifies a bit. Both Destiny and The Division were projects both Bungie and Ubisoft Massive were given enough time and dedication to turn around, and they are both now in relatively good places. The big question is whether or not EA will have the time and patience to let Anthem figure itself out, specially with how relatively quickly they pulled the plug on support for Mass Effect: Andromeda. As it stands right now, Anthem is a game that is weirdly both better AND worse than Mass Effect: Andromeda in many ways. While I still had a modicum of good fun out of it, there is enough here that’s wrong enough for me to suggest you wait for a price drop unless you’re a massive Bioware fan that’s willing to live with the caveat the game could potentially get better over time like other “GaaS” have in the past. Provided that EA gives Bioware the time to realize the vision of this Live service, that is.

But until then, I can only review whats in here, and with what it is, Anthem is leading the charge as the first major disappointment of 2019. This officially makes this game Bioware’s second big miss in a row, and makes me wonder (and worried) what the future holds for the studio.

So, how about that Dragon Age 4?


Written by Alejandro Segovia.

Anthem was reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4 with a copy bought by the reviewer. Pictures used were captured via the PlayStation 4''s SHARE feature and taken from EA's website.

Game Scoring rubric:
★ : 1 point  ☆ : 0.5 points

★★★★★: Essential. Excellent games. Close to flawless. Transcends any minor flaws it may have. 
   ★★★★: Great/Highly recommended. Great games. Some flaws worth mentioning, but nothing to worry about.
      ★★★: Okay/Recommended. Good games. Contains things worth playing & experiencing, but flaws can hinder the experience.
         ★★: Caution/Questionable. Mediocre games. The flaws start to significantly hinder anything good the game has.
             ★: Avoid. Bad games with terrible design decisions and flaws. No fun to be had. Don't waste your time.


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