BioWare’s Anthem, the eagerly anticipated new game from BioWare and EA, just launched for PC, Xbox One and PS4. We playtested the game on a PC – here’s the review.
When it was announced that BioWare was working on a brand new IP with Anthem, we were immediately interested. It was to fuse together the online multiplayer gameplay of titles like Destiny and the storytelling prowess of BioWare. After all, the developer – acclaimed for their work on series like Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age and Mass Effect – has had a strong track record in the latter for a long time now.
Despite their Mass Effect hiatus, Anthem sees BioWare returning to the world of science fiction. Taking place on a gorgeous alien planet, you assume the role of a mercenary with an Iron Man-like suit. There are four suits to choose from, and they roughly translate to character classes in gameplay – emphasizing either brute strength or agility, for example. Whatever you choose, your journey will take you past absolutely beautiful vistas – Anthem’s landscape is a mix of lush forests, rocky terrain, waterfalls and industrial areas. Everything is extremely detailed, making Anthem one of the most gorgeous titles to grace the gaming world – and it’s especially impressive when you consider that you’re playing in an online multiplayer environment.
There’s a drawback though, as Anthem is fairly power-hungry. This doesn’t translate into poor performance provided you have a decent enough gaming rig, but the game does spend quite a bit of time loading portions of the game world into memory. Since there’s nothing to keep you busy during these loading screens, you’ll be spending more time than you want twiddling your thumbs. There are also quite a few technical issues that need fixing, including graphics/rendering issues that should have been fixed before launch. Anthem’s still gorgeous, but the glitches break the sense of awe every now and then – giving me the sense that the game needed another month and a half of optimizations.
Your choice of armor also affects your ability in combat – a selection of weapons is built into each of the suit types and they have their own special abilities, which include an “ultimate” move that needs charging up. In that sense, there’s a bit of Street Fighter in Anthem as well. You can fight together with others through the game’s online multiplayer as well, but Anthem’s focus on aerial combat is so different that people (at least so far) don’t see to do much in the way of tactical formations and cooperations. Perhaps, given some time, this will change.
Narratively, Anthem is a bit of an odd mixture, especially for a BioWare game. Instead of traversing through a giant game world and mixing up combat with narrative (and character) development, you keep returning to the central hub that is the city of Fort Tarsis – a human stronghold. Here, you switch to a first person perspective where you talk to characters, acquire upgrades and receive new missions/contracts to undertake. It’s an approach we’ve seen elsewhere, but it makes the combat missions feel somewhat disconnected from the story and make Anthem feel underwhelming as a narrative experience, especially since it’s a BioWare title. Fort Tarsis and your combat missions seem to be connected by a loot system more than anything, and it’s not typically what I enjoy most in a BioWare production.
Mission objectives can also be incredibly generic, seemingly serving to fill up time rather than serve a narrative purpose. Sure, I can pick up 10 items of whatever, but why am I doing it? If you happen to be in an inconvenient location, tasks like these can quickly get frustrating. As a result, I found myself skipping side missions after a while, sticking to main storyline objectives instead.
While this may sound harsh, it’s only because expectations are so high for a BioWare title. Besides being beautiful to look at, Anthem is still fun to play – even though sections of the game world feel empty, exploring it doesn’t get boring and the combat works well. I just can’t shake the feeling that, with a little more polish and attention to the narrative, Anthem could have been something great. Let’s hope the coming months see Anthem grow into what we were hoping for.