BioWare’s Anthem is not a good game.
Anthem is a fantastic game, but it is buried under countless design mistakes and a heaping pile of bugs that have become the industry standard. Earlier, I wrote a review based on my experience with the demo, which was limited and shared only a brief look into the game proper. Now, with over 40 hours clocked, and all available story and side content finished, I have come to offer you my thoughts on the Anthem experience.
Without spoiling too much, I found the main story of Anthem certainly more engaging than the likes of Destiny, but also less fulfilling in its climax. I understand that some loose ends were left hanging intentionally, but the episode in question felt unresolved, despite having a plucky main cast whose banter I quite enjoyed, even if dialogue could be a bit stilted and disjointed at times.
Regarding side content: at first, I was afraid that the binary dialogue choices would be wholly arbitrary. I have since come to appreciate that BioWare has offered a variety of story outcomes that are built in a tree-like manner, much in the way that some visual novels operate. There ARE choices you make that DO have weight and impact. Without giving away too much, there is a storyline involving a spy involves you having the choice to have the spy killed, to let him live on as a double agent, or to have him exist brainwashed and happy without anyone knowing the difference.
However, some options, even outside of the main story, are arbitrary, and that does leave me disappointed. Having my choices influence the world is important to me in a BioWare game. When I tell a character something and they then disregard it and assume I chose the other option (and my character acts as though I did the same) it leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t like that each conversation is a gamble as to whether or not the option I choose will matter. That sets a bad precedent and doesn’t give me any ability to forecast whether I can just hold down ‘1’ or if it’s a conversation I should care about.
The game itself is… a mess.
The combat is and still remains one of the best parts of Anthem, and I cannot extol enough how much I enjoyed ripping around as an Interceptor. However, there are still some glaring issues that have yet to be addressed. The infamous Day One patch, which was supposed to fix many issues indeed did just that. It also created plenty of new problems, including making the game nearly unplayable for me.
Admittedly, part of this was also a problem of driver updates. After rolling back to 417.22 I was able to get through the final quest without too many dropped frames. That said, the sheer shift in performance pre-patch to post-patch is without question the worst part of my Anthem experience thus far.
Beyond just the framerate issues, though, is the much memed loading screen issue. Many people have complained about this, so I will be brief. One glaring problem is the inability to test new builds without sitting through at least four loading screens just to change your items. Initially resolved by allowing players the ability to swap gear at Striders in the world map, this feature seems to have been removed. One can imagine it may make a return at a later date, especially with the amount of complaining about the issue in question.
One other big complaint to levy is in design. A glaring problem is built into the loot system of the game itself; one that plagued earlier games of the genre and was resolved long before Anthem’s release. As gear scales up, earlier tiers of gear no longer feel useful for anything. Recycling them for their components also feels rather pointless, as those components are not useful either. Some system ought to be implemented to make use of these components in some way. Suggestions of perhaps a “craft up” system in order to make rare or masterwork embers out of multiples of low tier items have been made. There is also the possibility to exchange them for coin or some other useful materials, so long as they still serve some kind of purpose later in the game.
Aside from all of the problems of Anthem, of which there are doubtless many, I would like to give the devil his due. BioWare made a world that I fell in love with. The story of Anthem is one that draws you into the world of Fort Tarsis. It makes you care about the struggle of the Freelancers and the Sentinels to defend the free people of Bastion from the Dominion and every other beast on the planet that seeks their doom.
Every person, group, and faction have their reasons for being involved in the mess that is the world of Bastion, or at least the slice of it we get to see. Beyond that, there is deep and rich lore aplenty about the Shapers, the Anthem of Creation itself, and how everything that has happened so far leads to your character being where they are in the world.
More than that, one of my biggest complaints from the demo is that Fort Tarsis sounds dead and uninteresting. This seems to have been intentional. I have come to love that design choice. As you do more side content, and speak to more characters and help them, the city naturally becomes more bustling. Music begins to play around town and you start to feel the outpost come to life around you. This isolation, something I once found troubling, now feels a very natural design choice that makes your actions have a tangible impact. It’s subtle, but I think brilliant, and I have to praise the execution.
Is Anthem worth $60 right now, at release? Frankly, no, I don’t think so. Like Fallout 76, Destiny 2, and so many other games embracing this style of development cycle, Anthem is not ready at launch. As a consumer advocate, I believe that you deserve a better product for your money. If you want to spend $60 on a half-finished video game, though, that is ultimately your choice.
However, I do advise you to keep your eyes on this game. If you enjoyed Destiny and Borderlands, if you’re a fan of Mass Effect, or if you just love the idea of being Iron Man, don’t blink. BioWare appears to be listening and they seem committed to fixing the glaring issues that have sprung up so far. I have little doubt that in a few months, Anthem will wind up every bit the game that the fans of it know that it can be.
Those quick to see flaws and chase algorithms were quick to heap bad press and disappointment upon the game. The negative tide may prove to be insurmountable, but I think that Anthem could wind up truly being something special; a game that may rise to outcompete the likes of Warframe and Destiny combined. Only time, the efforts of the developers and the patience of EA’s board of directors will tell.