Roughly two weeks have passed since Bioware’s “Anthem” released on Feb. 22, and so far it’s been a comedy of errors. The game has faced one debacle after another since its first bug-ridden debut, most recently including game-breaking console crashes and a weapon system so bugged that the most powerful weapon in the game is currently a level one rifle. At this point, many players have come to expect this sort of delivery from the publisher, EA. The game studio maintains a profit-first mentality that regularly delivers unfinished games with promises to fix everything later. Bugs aside, the game has also come under harsh criticism for its numerous loading screens, convoluted loot system and heavy emphasis on “grind” gameplay.
I’d also like to add that much of the disappointment was a result of the overcooking of teaser trailers as there was more life in them than what six years in development have produced. Most game trailers need to be buttered up for player hype, but “Anthem” is way less than what was promised, including a mission that was only made for the trailer, not for play. For how long players had to wait for this game, more boundaries should have been pushed in regards to creativity, gameplay, story, graphics, character development, NPC interactions, etc. AAA game companies will only be able to get away with so much for so long. The trend these days tends to release the game on-time, without much testing, so the stakeholders are happy then use the purchase money to process patches later on.
“Anthem” takes place on a large world in some alien future. Humanity faces monstrous enemies that threaten to snuff out the last few bastions of life. The player controls one of the elite protectors that stand in the way of complete destruction. If this premise sounds a bit familiar, perhaps that’s because it’s almost the exact same type of world and plot as in the “Destiny” games. The biggest criticism I have for “Anthem” is that very little about the game truly feels original. For the most part, the game feels like EA’s attempt to capture the success of “Destiny.”
I don’t mean to trivialize the amount of incredible work that Bioware designers, programmers and artists put into creating this game. “Anthem” looks incredible. The scale and detail in the environment, the characters, the animations and everything else cannot be denied. The dialogue and side characters feel unique and genuine. It’s an incredible game, and yet its overarching concept feels underwhelming. The game also lacks that same level of polish in many other facets: the protagonist’s lines are dull and flat, the quests are boring and the four varieties of power armor — Javelins — do not feel quite distinct enough to produce interesting playstyles.
Replicating “Destiny” is an understatement. What should also be added are other games like “Titanfall,” “Halo” and a bit of “Star Wars” to boot. The graphics are still beautiful, though the distance is covered up more than anticipated. In its place are clouds, dust, walls, etc. that cover the waterfalls, the foliage isn’t as lush, the fabric doesn’t move as it should and NPCs don’t come to you. The player characters are lackluster at best. Instead, they are drowned out by the environment and each other. What’s amazing is the characters’ facial expressions, the music is intriguing and the story is engaging. The dialogue which is well done doesn’t fully contain a natural flow. Sometimes it feels rushed or mistimed.
Many of “Anthem’s” core game mechanics come from flagrant repurposings of another past disaster-of-an-EA-game, “Mass Effect Andromeda.” Both games feature third-person-shooter gameplay that relies heavily on leaping and dashing about the battlefield in suits of power armor. And both feature bland quests to find someone, kill someone or fetch something that all run together quickly, much like the other online multiplayer RPG: “Destiny.”
Despite the unoriginality, “Anthem” — at least on the micro scale — is a surprisingly enjoyable game. I’ve never been one for the PvE gameplay of “Destiny,” and the fast-paced combat of “Mass Effect” felt overpowered and dull. But together in “Anthem,” these two elements make for rapid, mobile teamplay that feels fantastic. And then there’s the one genuinely original mechanic from “Anthem:” the flight. The player flies Iron-Man-style across the landscape, easily dodging and weaving throughout the complex landscape. Transitioning between flight and combat is seamless and allows for exciting battles against behemoth Titans.
The tutorial leads the player in really well without keeping them from actually playing. The controls are fun with action-packed animations that really get the adrenaline going, encouraging the player to explore. Menus can be overwhelming at first but the number of options available makes it worth it to learn.
I agree that the fetch or kill quest missions are very repetitive. After the main story, the game becomes very grindy and not in a good way. Instead of adding more to extend the life of the game, the developers lazily increase enemies’ health by 3100 percent. To add even more annoyance is the scaling of the loot value doesn’t coincide with the enemy difficulty.
What has yet to be addressed are the extremely long load times making it feel like the players watch the game more than play it. A private game is not allowed as there have to be other players connected to the same server before even beginning. Last time I played in a story mission, the game crashed/booted me out which came with another loading screen back to the main menu. I chose the option to join back and was dropped off at the starting point after another loading screen. There was no marker on the map so I had to trace my steps and by the time I caught up, the mission ended. This was all on PC.
I would give this game a 6/10. EA and Bioware have a history of promising too much and delivering too little, and gamers everywhere are beginning to lose patience. Their production studios have the size and talent to produce absolutely incredible games, but instead, they stick to rushed development schedules and unfinished products. “Anthem” does a lot right, and yet it gets so much wrong.
My overall score for this game is about a 5/10. Even though the game isn’t all that new, it flows well and the story is immersive. Grinding happens to be a factor of most online action games. At the very least, there are more than 300 patches to come to fix the game. While the majority of these issues should have been handled prior to release, Bioware wants to improve player experience. This would include the server shut down issues and increasing the base damage of the masterwork weaponry.