To say that Anthem has had a rocky launch is an understatement. The high-profile title has been lambasted from pillar to post, at best being described as repetitive and buggy, at worst being described as boring garbage. While its certainly got glaring issues, the current vitriolic distaste for BioWare’s shared-world shooter has reached a feverish pitch that is bordering on neurotic. It’s a hatred that is in part fuelled by the masses’ need to see gaming’s most evil corporation get its comeuppance, but I can’t help but feel it is obscuring the fact that the game still represents a development outfit with no small amount of passion for an ambitious new outing. They’ve fallen short of the mark, but anywhere you care to look in Anthem there’s evidence that BioWare care deeply for the title, and it gives me faith that they’ll eventually be able to make it resemble their original vision.
I’ll preface this short opinion by saying that I understand the criticisms levelled at Anthem; there are far too many load screens, there is too much disconnect between Fort Tarsis and the outside world, the game’s lore is hidden in a cumbersome Grimoire-esque clusterfuck, you are practically forced into playing as a group, and persistent technical issues such as disconnects from the server resulting in lost loot are a little too common. In short, Anthem is a game that is easy to hate; if it’s negatives you’re looking for, Anthem doesn’t take its time in showing you a number of them early doors.
Like Owen smashing this peace pipe, people just need to relax
But despite all this, I find myself having a blast. Firstly, the story and characters are highly underrated. I don’t think the game is likely to win a Nobel Prize for Literature (although if Bob Dylan can I guess there’s hope for us all), but personally I find the central premise rather intriguing. I will admit that I had to read up on the technical terms and some history in the Codex to be able to tell my Arcanist arse from my Shaper elbow, but once I had the basic gist I found the lore of Anthem to be well-crafted, and the story leverages it well. This is aided significantly by the almost universally excellent voice-acting and character animations. I find myself caring for the citizens of Fort Tarsis and beyond. I enjoy wandering around and having near-pointless conversations with characters both big small in the grander scheme. It’s a testament to the strength of BioWare’s writing ability that they can inject Anthem’s denizens with such an endearing sense of humanity, which is no mean feat in our medium. For those who don’t want to brave Anthem’s clunky menu to uncover its lore I can’t really blame you, but for those who praise the Soulsbourne series for its deep narrative told almost 100% through item descriptions then Anthem might just be the game for you.
In case no one has told you, Anthem is a game of staggering beauty. The sense of sheer freedom you get when you fly across the beautifully detailed landscapes like some sort of justice-delivering space wizard is simply phenomenal. Things like the simple act of jumping off a platform and diving into a deep valley only to stop millimetres from a river’s surface to cool your jets is pure magic. Flying through neon-lit caves and impossible structures left behind by the Shapers continues to draw me in even after dozens of hours. I’ll admit to the fact that there’s no real point in exploring the frontier’s nook and crannies, and the game far too often wants to barrel you down a linear path, but the world of Anthem is nonetheless one of wonder, and traversing it a pleasure.
God rays? More like straight trash rays, am I right?
Gunplay is also fantastic, riffing fairly heavily on one of Andromeda’s stronger assets in the prime/detonate combo system. Guns feel weighty and the powers at your disposal are both flashy from a visual perspective and combine nicely from a strategic standpoint. Every mission you do you are practically guaranteed to get various new bits of gear that are better than what you began the mission with, fuelling the desire to push on towards the endgame where you can hunt for elusive but powerful Masterwork-tier loot. The gameplay loop at the heart of this shooter-looter is compelling, even if the title falls victim to killing its own momentum with so many load screens and maladroit mission management.
Although I can personally say that Anthem’s positives shine brightly enough that I can navigate its many negatives and enjoy myself, it certainly isn’t my opinion that everyone needs to rush out and buy this game immediately. Time is needed to iron out severe technical issues and polish the gameplay systems such that it works together as a cohesive whole. I don’t think a game should ever release in such a state, particularly an always-online title that practically shoves multiplayer down your throat, but give it time and I feel Anthem will mature into something brilliant.
It’s convenient to hate an EA-published title that’s getting critically panned, but it’s not like the talented men and women of BioWare were stroking their soul patches like Aladdin’s Jafaar leading up to release wondering how they could design a low-quality product while maximising profit. Questionable design choices have certainly been made, and Anthem’s moving parts only partially work together, but to dismiss the title altogether is to do a disservice to a developer who have proven they have a passion for their work. The ambition is there, but the execution isn’t…yet.