BioWare’s Anthem was a bit of a showstopper when it was first revealed at E3 2017. We were treated to the introduction of a beautiful, lush alien vista where a character piloting an advanced exosuit took to the skies and rained a hail storm of bullets on an army of adversaries. Needless to say, heads were turned at the sheer scale of the world an intensity of the various firefights. Watching a mobile tank fly around like Iron Man was just the icing on the cake. But the honeymoon phase is long gone, and here we are in 2019 with the release in a few short weeks (and even earlier if you subscribe to one of EA’s Access services, but that’s a can of worms I won’t get into). EA graced us with a few recent demo weekends allowing everyone to get some hands on time with the game, so how does it hold up compared to the reveal?
Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. On one hand, the moment to moment gameplay is solid and generally very fun to play. On the other, rampant server issues and a various points of frustration bogged down the experience at times. Terraforming the planet with machine guns and completing missions with three other players was a good experience, until the time came to dole out the rewards, which the game outright refused to do multiple times due to server crashes and random bugs. In other words, Anthem appears to be your typical modern AAA multiplayer cooperative shooter in its launch window phase, with a bit more emphasis on story and the ability to fly and crash into everything to your heart’s desire.
You play a character known as a Freelancer, a mercenary of sorts tasked with protecting the human settlement of Fort Tarsis, both your home and base of operations. The fort is filled with characters to interact with in typical BioWare fashion, with dialog choices dictating your conversations and affecting your relationships. To leave the city and wreak havoc on your enemies, you must hop into your super powered exosuit known as a Javelin. There are four Javelins to choose from ranging from the well-balanced Ranger, to the hulking tank Colossus. Everyone starts with the Ranger, but your options expand as you gain experience. My personal favorite was the nimble, ninja-like Interceptor, and the ethereal magic wielding Storm was always a joy to pair up with.
I really enjoyed the original Destiny when it released, though that game also had its fair share of issues. Anthem gives me similar vibes, both good and bad. Though the gunplay in Destiny feels a lot better to me, the shooting mechanics here still control well and deliver satisfying feedback. One of the most enjoyable mechanics is the combo system. By chaining certain attacks together, you and/or another player can unleash a very sizeable burst of damage, which really incentivizes teamwork and mitigates the feeling of a group of lone gunmen who happened to be in the same area. Each Javelin also has a repertoire of support abilities to choose from such as temporary shield bubbles and marking a target for increased damage, and a devastating special ability from a barrage homing rockets to a flurry of invincible melee strikes. As for the (admittedly limited) flying, there honestly isn’t much else to say about it. It’s awesome, feels wonderful to control, and is easily the most fun I’ve had moving around in a game in a long while.
On the flip side I will admit I’m a bit worried about longevity. Again, like Destiny, Anthem appears to have the same general style of progression and mission design: fight large waves of foes while x does y, pick up loot, go to the next area, repeat until max level, then keep going anyway. Enemies in general are damage sponges, so fights tend to drag out combined with the absolutely insane amount of targets the game throws at you. I also had problems determining exactly where I was taking damage from at times, and noticed the enemy A.I. are all expert marksman and can apparently see through objects as they never stop firing in the exact direction of active players, even if they’re hiding behind a mountain. Having to repeat this cycle repeatedly will get old, as it always does. I can already feel the grind from my short time with the demo, and I really hope BioWare has some tricks up its sleeve to keep the experience from getting stale. Not holding my breath on that.
Despite my concerns, I still had a good time with Anthem and eagerly await the full release, almost exclusively for the ability to fly and crash into everything to my heart’s desire. If they can resolve the server issues and provide a bit more depth than the typical loot shooter provides, BioWare may have a exciting new franchise under their belt. See you in the wild.
Anthem will be available for PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC on February 22, 2019. Well, that’s for us normal, unimportant people. If you’re an Origin Access Premiere member you can start playing on February 15th and the same applies to EA/Origin Access members but your time is limited I think? Or is that the other way around? No, I think that’s… you know what, never mind. There’s a chart you can find online.