GAMING POINT OF LOU – THE FAIREST ANTHEM REVIEW OF THEM ALL
Alright here we go: no bias, no agenda. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks putting some serious time into Anthem (after all, a game of this type cannot fairly be reviewed until you have spent a significant amount of time leveling up, hitting the endgame, and seeing how that core loop will function) I don’t owe EA or BioWare anything, and unlike many others in the industry I’m not worried about them pulling advertising, or inviting me to “Content Creator Summits” I’m not an EA “Gamechanger” and probably will never even be invited, so what I’m going to write will be as honest a review as I can muster, so buckle in and lets take a look at probably the most divisive release since Destiny 2 launched back in September of 2017.
Anthem burst onto the scene with an impressive reveal trailer at E3 2017, (I’ve linked the original video below if you care to watch it) developed by BioWare, (which is one of the premier RPG studios in gaming history) it set its sights squarely on the “Shared World” shooter genre which up until that point was dominated by the Destiny franchise. Now it bears mentioning that by E3 2017, Destiny 2 was still 3 months from its initial release, and Anthem was already beginning to stake it’s claim, offering players a huge open world, and the ability to actually FLY around the environment in Mech suits called “Javelins” (think Iron Man) it was one of THE talking points of the show and immediately landed on the watchlist of millions of gamers worldwide. As 2018 came and went (coupled with the specatacular failure that is Destiny 2) and it’s February 22, 2019 release date inched closer, BioWare began to pull back the curtain of what could possibly be our next great obsession. Then the demo happened… a demo so riddled with issues and bugs that many wrote the game off right then and there, leaving both developer BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts on the defensive in the few short weeks leading up to launch.
Well I’m here to tell you CATEGORICALLY that the game is nowhere near as bad as the denizens of various publications, and social media platforms would have you believe, BUT it is nowhere near perfect either, oh don’t get me wrong, there is a hell of a foundation here, and the sky is the limit in terms of the future, but the game is far from a finished product, which sadly is the fate of many games these days. Live service games especially suffer from this. With development costs being so high and companies being beholden to shareholders, there are neither the time nor the resources available for a game to get delayed six months to a year which was par for the course in the “olden days”. Now the first year for games such as Anthem mostly function as extended beta testing periods and the paying customers are the ones who pay for the “privilege” of testing the game (but that’s a rant for a different time). In any event I find myself burying the lead, so lets get back to Anthem shall we? So what did I like and what needs to improve. Let’s tackle them one by one.
The World: Simply put, the world is staggeringly beautiful, it feels alien yet familiar, offering picturesque waterfalls, mountains, valley’s, lakes, rivers and caves all pockmarked with the ruins of past civilizations, it’s ripe for exploring, and most certainly a highlight. With that said, I would definitely appreciate some more variety in future expansions, maybe a desert setting or something high up in the mountains, there would be no harm in having different ecosystems to play around in. Hell they could make an entire area based off the “Heart Of Rage” mission / Stronghold, where we see an area absolutely DEVASTATED by the Anthem of Creation.
The Controls: Coming out of the beta I was already pleasantly surprised with how well the Javelins controlled. Third Person shooter controls can be wonky to say the least but what I experienced in the full release is something else entirely. I have NEVER had a Third Person shooter control this precisely, transitioning from the ground to the air even while in combat is seamless, everything is mapped to the controller in such a way that I never feel that my thumbs or fingers have to make any odd movements to accomplish what I want (I’m Looking at you Bethesda, with your weird habit of mapping jump to the “Y” or Triangle button). The aim assist is generous without feeling “magnetic” and regardless of which one of the four Javelin’s I choose to be at any given time, the controls never feel out of place. I hope that BioWare gives a Ted Talk on how they accomplished this, because I want every other developer to take notes. I also love how each Javelin plays completely different from each other. The Storm hovers at the edge of the battlefield raining down devastating AoE (area of effect) elemental attacks, while the hulking Colossus (my main) holds the line on the ground collecting agro and tanking massive amounts of damage. The nimble Interceptor is a single target DPS / Flanking powerhouse and is the prototypical “Glass Cannon” dipping in and out of combat while dishing out a large amounts of damage against single targets, and the Ranger (my Alt) is the jack of all trades. I prefer to play it as a Mid range DPS, occupying the space behind the front line Colossus, and ahead of the Storm, cleaning up whatever gets missed, but the Ranger offers the flexibility in it’s builds to function as either a single target DPS (like the Interceptor) as well as using it’s Bulwark Shield (a protective dome) to act as a secondary “off tank”.
Core Gameplay Loop, and Endgame: Now this is purely subjective, as it’s a different strokes for different folks type of thing, I for one am a fan of Anthem’s core gameplay loop: do activities – acquire gear to do harder activities, repeat harder activities – get even better gear to do even harder activities, then once you get strong enough to partake in the HARDEST activities the game has to offer, the loop switches from focusing solely on raising your power level, to acquiring the gear you need to fully OPTIMIZE your builds (Think Diablo). What that means is you will be running the same activities over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, but it’s not about the activity repetition, it’s about the chase for that one weapon, that one perk, that one component with the right inscriptions (rolls) to get your build exactly how you want it, I’m sorry to say if that doesn’t sound appealing I would refrain from purchasing this game as that’s what it is. As it stands right now, there are three main activities in the game, Contracts (regular and legendary), Strongholds, and Freeplay. Contracts are issued by one of the three main factions in the game: The Sentinels, The Arcanists, and The Freelancers, each contract is comprised of three randomly generated events with a randomly generated boss or win condition at the end of each event, they take about 15-20 minutes to complete, and you can run any number of them in a day, they also function as a way to raise your reputation rank within each faction which in itself grants blueprints for you to craft off of. Legendary contracts are limited to one per day per faction, and are basically harder versions of standard contracts that offer better rewards for completion. Strongholds are what currently function as “Raids” in this game, they average about 30-45 minutes per run, and the events in them are fixed. These are where the BEST rewards in the game come from, and completing them on the hardest difficulty (currently Grand Master 3) is the goal. Freeplay is exactly what it sounds like, you (and 3 other people) drop into the open world and you can roam around to your hearts content, completing random world events, hunting Legendary bosses, or running chest farming routes etc… it is a very efficient way of acquiring gear if you get yourself on a good farm run, but I prefer to run contracts. BioWare smartly included optional matchmaking (with the exception of Freeplay, that is always public) for ALL events in game, which is a great move for solo players that don’t have a clan, or group of friends to play with, as it allows them access to every in game activity.
What I don’t like:
Lack of meaningful events: While Contracts are randomly generated, so you are not completing the same event the same way all the time, they do get old fast as you do see the same types of events repeat frequently enough as you complete them. Only having three Strongholds to complete gets old fast as well. I do enjoy the challenge of equipping myself to face all the events on the hardest settings, but a wider variety of events to get there would go a LONG way towards keeping it fresh. This game is absolutely begging for more to do, more Strongholds, full on Raids, a Horde Mode, randomly generated dungeons akin to The Divisions “Underground”, even the ability to replay the story missions on the harder difficulties (those are already IN the game but completely abandoned once you finish them) would be a welcome addition . While BioWare has consistently promised to add (free) updates to the game, and to a schedule of limited time events in the open world, there should have been more included with the base game, full stop.
QUALITY OF LIFE: This one is in all caps because it is the SINGLE LARGEST THING that Anthem needs fixed ASAP, and it is such a long list I’m going to break it up:
For the love of all things sacred you need to be able to place waypoints on the map when you are flying around, this has to be the worst world map setup I have ever seen. Freeplay drops you into the whole world, and says “Go for it” you have no idea where or when the world events are launching, or even how to get there, and with your matchmade Freeplay event only consisting of four players that always seem to scatter to the literal four corners of the world you are generally left alone to do almost anything in Freeplay by yourself if you choose to go in solo. It’s beyond unacceptable. A minimap in the corner of the screen wouldn’t hurt either. I hate the map bar that this game uses, I hated it in Elder Scrolls 20 years ago, and time has not softened my feelings for it. (Note: BioWare has already stated that improving fire team communication is very high on their priority list, so hopefully that changes quickly, it would be unfair of me not to include that in this revie
In game instruction: holy cow this game explains NOTHING to you, the Elemental and Combo systems are the two most IMPORTANT combat systems in the game (especially at higher levels), and there is nary an in game instruction on how to use either of them. How do the primers and detonators work? and what the relative elemental types are strong and weak against? Players shouldn’t have to use Google or Reddit to figure out how your games’ systems function, it should be IN the game. Hell, Pokémon does a better job teaching you about the elements, and what they are strong and weak against in their games. I’m not advocating that the game needs to hold players’ hands, but maybe including a tutorial in the prologue mission would have been worthwhile.
The loot acquisition system is turrrrrrrrrible, when a piece of loot drops it just tells you that you acquired “an” item, and what the rarity of the item is, for instance it just tells you that you got a piece of “Epic Gear”. In order to see what you actually got, you have to finish or end whatever activity you are in, go to the “Forge” check out the item, if you want to test it, you have to equip it in the Forge, then launch an event, if you find you don’t like it, you have to end the activity, go back to the Forge to unequip it and re-equip something else. Does that sound frustrating???? Well it is even more so in practice. You NEED to be able to equip items and weapons on the fly, for that matter, this game also allows you to save five different builds for each Javelin, but you can’t switch between them on demand, no no, you have to repeat the same steps for changing a simple piece of gear. No one setup is perfect for all situations especially in Strongholds, sometimes you need to tweak your setup for the situation at hand. As a secondary note on this matter, they need to stop making us go back to the Fort after EVERY contract, if I pick up three contracts I would like to finish all three before returning to the Fort to pick up more, maybe I’d like to go directly from Freeplay to a Stronghold, but nope, can’t do that without multiple loading screens and trips to the Fort.
Loot variety: As it sits right now, there is only a smattering of different guns in the game, even the Masterworks and Legendaries are just variations on the same basic guns, The Javelins only offer two support abilities to chase, and only a small handful of gear options, at the end of the day, random inscriptions (rolls) do help, but they really need to add more to the loot pools, and they need to add armor to the game as well, as of this writing there are only a two or three options per Javelin available for purchase with either in game currency or real money, but there needs to be armor pieces in the world to grind for as well. Granted the armor is purely cosmetic in this game, but it would seriously help if per se, each Stronghold had an armor set you could grind for, there are only so many times I can change my Javelin’s paint job to make it feel different.
Well there you have it, in its current state Anthem is a solid B- in my book. I want this game to be great in the worst way, I want BioWare to fulfil on the promise of what this game can be because the foundation is there, I can see a great game wanting to break free of it’s shackles, and truthfully I’ve played the snot out of it and I do really enjoy it, but it can be BETTER, and that promise is what needs to be delivered on. So far BioWare has been not only listening to, but also engaging the community almost non stop, they have also been busy deploying fixes as fast as they can, (with another scheduled for March 12th) so you can see with your own eyes that they are trying, and unless they completely drop the ball I will continue on this adventure with them, and enjoy the ride.
Until Next Time Everyone,
Be Good To Your Fellow Nerd
Addendum: As I was writing this, a rather important issue came to light involving PS4 players, there were rumors circulating that Anthem was “bricking” consoles (rendering them completely inoperative). According to EA and BioWare, during the course of their investigation they were unable to find one instance where a PS4 was rendered unplayable. They do acknowledge that there are instances where the console will freeze, which requires a special reboot of the PS4, and they are currently working on a fix for the issue.