Bioware has a long and convoluted history as game developers. The studio is often cited as masters at crafting beautiful worlds with engaging single player stories, but they’ve seen some rocky launches of their more recent titles. (We’re looking at you, Mass Effect: Andromeda.) Still, players remained optimistic for the studio’s newest effort. Anthem was promoted as being a third person action adventure RPG where a small group of up to four players could cooperatively take on missions as the pilots of mech suits known as Javelins. What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, a lot. Let’s walk back to Bioware’s past with single player campaigns. Opting to make Anthem an experience that heavily relies on multiplayer is a bit of change up for the studio, and that shows in Anthem’s hub world, where most of the story takes place. While players are in Anthem’s hub area, their experience is almost completely separate from their party members’ experiences. Your friends’ names on the hud is the only thing that will give you any indication that you’re still connected to each other while in the hub. Any interactions with NPCs are player specific, neither cut scenes nor dialogue are shared. You’ll also want to be careful to not skip past the cut scenes just because your friends are in a rush as you are unable to replay any cut scenes later on. There’s not even an option for multiple save files or different characters. You’ve got one shot at Anthem, make it count.
Once you’ve interacted with characters in the hub world you’ll find yourself with a handful of missions that you can select to play along with your party, provided everybody readies up. You’re not able to select your mission until you enter your javelin, and the process of going through that animation is long winded enough that you’re going to want to be sure you’ve done everything there is for you to do in your hub world before you move along. Once you’re in your javelin you have the option to choose how you play. You can take on the story missions that you’ve unlocked by talking to everybody and their brother at the hub, or you can take on freeroam. This leads to one of the biggest disappointments in Anthem.
Everything about Anthem’s navigation is segmented. You can not casually explore the world while you’re in a mission, as getting too far away from your group will trigger the game to pull you back to the active mission area. Likewise, you can not dynamically hop into a mission from freeroam without returning to your hub and selecting everything over again. The same issue is prevalent with javelin upgrades. There’s a ton of customization options for your javelin, ranging from different body parts and paintable materials that let you adjust the cosmetics, to actual buffs and weapons that can be swapped out to increase your power level. These things, too, require being back at the hub world to access. There’s honestly nothing that can be changed dynamically.
And yet, somehow in spite of the quality of life issues that plague Anthem, the actual game play can be and is enjoyable. There is a ton of interesting lore to discover in the world if you can manage to get to it, and combat feels satisfying when you’re in the throes of a challenging battle with a group you work well with. The loot drop system has proven to be less than stellar, with higher level players still receiving common loot, but patch 1.0.3 does promise to adjust that particular gripe. Anthem’s missions are fairly linear. If you’ve played Destiny The Division you’ve got the main idea of how Anthem works, already. One could argue, however, that it lacks The Division’s seamless transition polish. Pick a mission, take out the bad guys, get the loot and get out. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a fine game play loop, and it works, but Bioware’s not really breaking any new ground here.
The biggest hope for Anthem’s improvement is for Bioware to step back and take yet another page from The Division’s book, oddly enough. Organize a task force of Anthem fans and listen to their feedback for ways on how to improve the game’s quality of life to make it a more enjoyable experience. The bones are there for a great game, even if it isn’t revolutionary. But there’s so many technicalities that need smoothed out before Anthem really shines.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher