Bioware’s highly anticipated open-world looter shooter Anthem is about to hit shelves and the digital marketplace in just a few days. With this in mind, I’d like to share my thoughts about the game and how it is certainly going to be nothing short of a polarizing title that’s going to dominate news cycles for quite awhile.
One of the biggest lessons that can be learned from Anthem is its story. While the game’s developers were largely transparent about its mechanics and its world they were not upfront with people who questioned them on the story. As you can imagine this was definite cause for alarm because Bioware is a developer that’s well-known for its immersive, non-linear, and action-packed single player science fiction stories like with the highly celebrated Mass Effect series. Now it would appear that we know why the developers shied away from discussing what they had planned for Anthem‘s story and it puts their deflections into perspective.
Anthem‘s story is an unimpressive afterthought. If players do not get too enthralled in the game’s run-and-gun fetch quests then they’ll be able to complete it within 12 hours, which is considerably abnormal compared to other AAA titles and previous projects from Bioware like Mass Effect 3 which had a story that was 35+ hours long. Part of this time is beefed up by the endless cut scenes, walking around the game’s hub, and its infamous plethora of loading screens which were present in the VIP and open demo. Yes, that flaw has yet to be improved and it is embarrassing compared to the seamless transition from one place to the next with zero loading screens like in Ubisoft’s The Division 2. If you are one of those players who enjoy the thrills of a lengthy story plus an endgame then I don’t think you’ll be playing Anthem much longer than the 12 hours. Not even the generic, forgettable, and predictable story and characters could get you to stay.
One of the elements that I found most interesting about Anthem during its announcement was the multiplayer aspect. Mainly because it was something that was considerably out of left field for Bioware given that multiplayer experiences aren’t something they’re exactly known for outside of the pay-to-play slogfest you call Star Wars The Old Republic. The game’s ability to allow players to form a four-person squad of Freelances and scouring its exotic world and getting into intense fights with a wide-array of enemies is something that is still very much a Bioware concept but it is one that’s half-cooked. Like most online action-RPGs, the final result is often underwhelming and players aren’t able to do as much as they previously thought.
For an online team-based RPG game, you would think that the developers would have considered that players are going to have to communicate like a team if they want to prove successful during the game’s various dungeons and instances. Unfortunately, Anthem doesn’t have an elaborate one that works well for both players who do have headsets and those who do not. Compared to other team-based titles like Battlefield or fellow EA title Apex Legends there is no way for players to communicate via emotes or canned chat, both of which have been fixtures of the open-world and team-based gaming scenes for decades. This can certainly makes Anthem‘s battles and occasional puzzle solving a real challenge because there’s no way for you to get everyone on the same page.
As you can tell, Anthem is a project with dozens of questionable design choices that are not fully realized or just don’t work for me. Some of these choices intentionally create a restrictive experience that bars you from really enjoying the world of Anthem. For example, if you get too far away from your teammates, you’ll receive a warning that you have to get back to them, and if you don’t then you’ll be forcibly spawned near them. Unfortunately, the flaws do not stop there. Most notably in the game’s freeplay mode, which like everything else in Anthem, is not exactly what it seems. The free-play mode restricts itself to four players per instanced world, despite the reasonable expectation of 16 players. Throughout my playthrough I just had no interest in engaging in the mode because a big world such as the one in Anthem just didn’t feel as lively as you would expect.
Of course, these are not the most egregious of design choices present in Anthem. The most egregious one would be its clunky and complex user interface. It is evident that the developers seemingly were more interested in developing an overly eccentric instead of one that is simple and navigable. It is so easy to get ensnared within not just one, but four menus, when you’re trying to find whatever it is that you’re looking for or just trying to get back to the game itself. There’s no real logic to the design, which makes doing just about anything in the game nearly impossible.
While Anthem‘s multiplayer is an interesting idea, it doesn’t feel as unique as other looter-shooter titles. It doesn’t have a personality of its own like The Division or Destiny, which are divergent from one another in a variety of ways. It feels like there’s no effort to diverge from those titles, either.
However, I will not say that Anthem is the worst game of 2019 because it is too soon to make that call. It has a lot of potential to gain its own personality, improve its technical faults, and turn out to be a much better looter-shooter than it is right now. Bioware certainly has the capability to do it as they’ve shown through their transparency and willingness to accept feedback from the community. I do sincerely look forward to seeing what Anthem becomes in the coming months and I hope that Electronic Arts does not abandon it like a lot of other projects. For now though Anthem is a title that sets a great first impression, but it is not exactly what it seems.
OVERALL SCORE: 5/10