It seems to be the ‘in’ thing at the minute to hate on Anthem. Social media is full of people chiming in with their thoughts and opinions. A lot of it I agree with and a lot I don’t, after it’s broken beta it has a lot to do to win people back and prove itself a worthwhile purchase. Its reviews have not been glowing by any means, I will be doing a review now in its current state and a follow-up review when I get into the endgame. I will provide comparisons in the second review and see how it’s evolved.
The beta was quite enjoyable, I did not seem to have anywhere near the number of issues others had. I think this was due to me not really playing much until the Saturday, it was broken for just about all of Friday and outside of a few crashes and long loading situations I had a pleasant time. The freedom of movement was superb, the combat, the lore and the world. I disliked the cut and paste quest structure, finicky UI and over-complicated composition of the game.
Firstly I will say that due to the time we got our review code this review will be based on Anthem already having two patches. Aside from a few server niggles, it has been on the whole, very stable. I had to reboot once when I got stuck at the end of a quest but apart from that, I have had very few issues. I played multiplayer with friends and with my sons and had a minimal amount of issues. It was a far cry from what I experienced in the beta, load times can sometimes be slightly long but they were still miles ahead of what I had previously experienced.
Story-wise I really like the world of Anthem, sometimes it can seem convoluted with talk of Cyphers, runes, shapers and things like ‘The Heart of Rage’ but I like it. I definitely prefer this over a very basic story. There is so much to learn and discover. So many locations, so much history, I love the science-fiction setting and I really like to learn about its world. The characters are also quite fun, I do enjoy talking to the people dotted around Fort Tarsis between missions. Your Cypher, Owen, I especially like. He seems like the kind of person I could get on with. Friendly and slightly mischevious. The characters seem well fleshed out and are animated and voiced decently.
You are a Freelancer a member of a dedicated force that protects Fort Tarsis and keeps the Dominion at bay. Fort Tarsis and the Freelancers are not what they used to be, broken and decrepit. Once looked to as heroes and legends the freelancers have been reduced in number and in stature. It’s up to you and your team of heavily armoured Javelins to find out why the Dominion have returned, return Fort Tarsis to its previous glory and make the Freelancers great again.
I do have a slight issue with Fort Tarsis, it seems overly complicated and slightly too large for what you need it to be. In between missions you normally have to speak to NPC’s and travel around to complete various errands and tasks. Everything is so spread out. I did have issues early on actually finding some of the characters I needed to speak to. I had an issue in the beta where I thought you walked too slow. This thankfully has been addressed in the retail release but I still think it’s still a bit on the sluggish side. Maybe the hub area will fill up more over time and all this space is required, but for the moment I think it would definitely benefit from being a bit tighter designed and the player having an increase to movement speed.
My favourite thing when playing Anthem is it’s movement and combat systems. They are just so much fun to use. Who doesn’t want to fly around like Iron Man and lay waste to endless amounts of evil foes? The movement system is so fluid and fast. Once you have got to grips with the controls it all becomes very natural and you can pull off deadly manoeuvres with ease. Alternating between flying and hovering, shooting and evading all at breakneck speed is exhilarating. The combat is so fast and intense and I think it’s this gameplay at the core of Anthem that is it’s greatest quality. It may have issues elsewhere but the main gameplay is fun and rewarding.
The combat is also something that I find outstanding. You have various special abilities depending on what Javelin you are currently piloting and what loot you have equipped. Your abilities, as in all games of this type have cooldowns and it’s how you use them that defines how successful you will be. Creating combos with certain elements and types of ability will create massive damage. I loved playing with different combinations and styles to see what works best. It was also pleasing to try out new ability setups when you had picked up some new loot, to see if it suited your playstyle or not and maximize your damage output. Team play also comes into effect, throwing down shields and helping your teammates can shape a battle. Working together to take down bosses and the harder enemies is critical.
The systems behind the combat and actual gameplay are very similar to other games of this type. You collect loot and as you gain levels your loot gets better, enabling you to take on tougher missions and adversaries. You can craft these items and weapons as well as finding them and anyone who has played Destiny, The Division or other games of this type will feel at home here. Your gear score, again, as in all games of this genre is calculated by what gear you have equipped. You can tell how powerful other players are by what their current gear score is. It’s all a numbers game, get better gear, kill bigger stuff to get even better gear. The cycle goes round and round but the fact that Anthem’s movement and combat are so good, it does not seem an issue so far.
The mission structure does bother me slightly at the moment. It all seems to be go here, kill stuff and report back. It’s a good job the movement and combat are so moreish, otherwise, I think these quests would quickly start to become boring. I am only 10 hours in though and these things could change. I will revisit everything in my follow up review when I have finished the game.
Graphically, Anthem is beautiful. Everything is crisp, shiny and so detailed. The world is stunning and varied, the flora and fauna are gorgeous and vibrant. The Javelins are so detailed and rendered very intricately. The effects when in battle are magnificent. Lightning crackles down, fire flashes and burns and all the effects are stunning to see in action. It’s all bright, brash and in your face. I did see a bit of asset pop-in here and there and there is some aliasing in places but it’s few and far between and does not detract from the gameplay at all. Overall I love the art style and the presentation on offer and it’s all very pleasing on the eye.
The soundtrack to Anthem is top notch. I have listened to it a few times and I love the song from the start screen. It’s beautiful and it will be something I listen to, even when away from the game for a while into the future. The tracks are superb and fit the style of the game perfectly. The sound effects and voice acting are also excellent. There is a specific chiming sound effect you get when pulling off a combat combo that’s so pleasing. It accentuates the feeling of creating these combos. It’s a very pleasing sound and makes pulling off these combos so rewarding. The voice acting is all believable and not once did I feel it was rushed or performed badly. All this helps to keep you immersed and grounded in Anthem’s world.
Since the beta, and after 2 patches it seems Anthem’s performance has come on leaps and bounds. I have had hardly an issue in my first 10 or so hours. As I stated earlier I had to restart it once and I have had a few long loads but this is an amazing improvement on what was previously on offer. I have had a few framerate drops while flying around or when combat got really hectic. This again was very rare and did not get in the way of the gameplay at all. Don’t get me wrong, it does need some more work to improve load times and slight issues while traversing the world but overall the performance is light years ahead of where it was in the beta.
I feel my time with Anthem so far has been mostly positive. I have enjoyed teaming up with friends and family, completing quests and collecting and crafting loot. It’s beautiful, the sound design is superb and it’s a gorgeous place to be part of. The lore and story are interesting, if not a bit convoluted. I enjoy the gameplay loop, even if sometimes the missions seem a bit similar to each other. The combat system and traversal systems are amazing, when you get good at it it’s all very rewarding. It does have it’s issues though. Repetitive quest design, slight performance issues and an overly complicated hub area do hamper great gameplay that is buried underneath.
The load times do need looking at, luckily they are not too frequent. I remember Bloodborne’s load times being similar and in that game you died a lot. After a patch or two though it improved massively and it’s still one of my favourite PS4 titles to date. Hopefully, something similar can be done with Anthem.
Hidden at the heart of Anthem is a fun game that most people will enjoy. I do feel a lot of people are being overly critical of the game. Yes, it has its issues but with time and work on Bioware’s part, I think it could be a very enjoyable game. Only time will tell though, I will revisit this review in the near future when I have finished the story and I start taking part in the end game grind.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*