Anthem (Xbox One Review)
Mediocre is a word that is seldom used in the gaming industry today. A game is either the best thing ever to happen to the medium, or hot garbage. Six or seven out of ten then doesn’t mean a game is notoriously bad, far from it, although you’d be lead to believe otherwise in some comment sections. It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s not anything special either. Bioware’s new IP is one of those games.
Anthem is not so much a step away from what BioWare is famous for, but more of a rocket propelled leap. BioWare are known for their multi-layered characters, quality writing, and great story telling. So it’s a shame that none of these classic Bioware traits are present in Anthem.
What is present are all the defining features of a bog standard loot shooter. You accept a mission, go to point A, do a task, go to point B, shoot some bad guys, get your loot and head home to equip and level up. However, the game’s main gimmick (and that’s what it is) is both its best and most annoying feature. You get to fly, exactly like that well known Iron Superhero. BioWare have nailed the feel and the controls of the flight mechanics. Zipping around the map feels great, with solid controls meaning you can get from A to B with ease. However, someone thought it was a good idea to have a cooldown system for the flying.
While you fly around or hover above enemies, a small bar appears and begins to fill up. Once that bar fully fills, your suit overheats and comes crashing into the ground, making you run around like a bird with clipped wings. You can negate this by flying through or near a waterfall, slip underwater, or slow the bar down by flying above a pool of water. What should have been an enthralling exploring quickly turns in to a laborious chore thanks to the need to keep an eye on the metre. It is a pointless feature looking to add a bit of realism in amongst an entirely Sci-fi adventure. Why Bioware thought that in a world where enemies can appear by a portal out of the blue and giant Ash Titans appear from “relics” there needed to be a limiting factor to the player’s exploration is entirely beyond me. It’s not too far of a stretch to assume the technology create an adequate cooling system for a their most advance line of defence is baffling.
It stings that bit more when it’s the flight and movement that Anthem elevates it above the norm, especially in combat. Combat is constructed with abilities, not too dissimilar from those in Mass Effect, and a variety of weapons to burrow holes in enemies with. From there you rinse and repeat in different locales until you reach the end where in you repeat the same process all over again but with better gear. It’s a pretty standard “game as a service” structure. And that’s fine as you work through the story. I had a great time getting new loot and working towards the finale. The world of Anthem is probably its most interesting character. Its lore is hidden in the cortex you find around Fort Tarsis and they are an interesting read. The characters are not on the same level as those found in Dragon Age or Mass Effect quality, but there is a nice mix of people for you to talk to. The real concerns are when you’ve surpassed all of this, it’s the end game. The end game is piss poor.
At the time of writing, Anthem’s end game is made up of quick play missions, three strongholds (think Destiny’s strikes) and free play. Once you hit the level 30 cap, you get access to the three Grandmaster difficulties for all the different game modes. It’s here where the best loot lies (when the looting system doesn’t shit the bed). It might sound like this is a good basis for the end game in theory, but one of these missions is available from the start, so you might have already experienced it more than you’d like before it becomes your one of your very limited options, and one of the remaining two missions is also the very last campaign mission. It’s appalling.
By the time I had reached a point to truly experience the end game, I’d had my fun. Games as a service are strange beasts. They sell as full releases but rarely justify the asking price until the first set of DLC embellishes upon what already exists. It’s clear that this was already the intention of Bioware and EA given that the release of Anthem was accopmained by a continued plan of support for its first year, offering players an insight in to why they should continue playing or even returning at key points to see what’s on offer.
Anthem is not a bad game, far from it, but it is not a good game either. I had a great time flying around (even with the stupid overheating mechanic), fighting enemies felt great, and getting new loot was always exciting – even if we know that it’s now inconsequential in terms of damage. However, once I finished the story, there was nothing in the end game that warranted me staying any longer than I have to. Given Anthem’s current state, I can’t recommend it over titles like Destiny 2, or even The Division. Those games will help scratch that loot shooter itch much more than Anthem will, even with its excellent combat system.