Let’s be honest, Anthem has had some good but also bad press lately. A lot of people having a straight up bone to pick because it’s produced by EA, and people saying that BioWare is now under Their thumb. I certainly don’t believe this is the case, but we are sweeping the companies to one side for now, and purely focusing on the game itself. This game has a lot going on and a lot going for it, with of course a few baggage items. So, let’s get started with my most anticipated game of 2019.
You are in Bastion, a region filled with human colonies, vibrant and lush forests, huge alien structures, and wild unforgiving creatures and beasts. It’s unclear when or how humans colonised on an alien planet, so it’s just something you sort of have to accept. You are a Freelancer of the settlement Fort Tarsis; a group of individuals putting themselves at risk around Bastion to keep the world safe and in control, by using special mechanised exosuits called Javelins.
To make things even stranger, you have to learn about what the Anthem is. The ‘Anthem of Creation’ is some sort of entity that is the sole reason life has flourished on Bastion. Years and years ago, a colony only described as ‘The Shapers’ created machines and constructs to try and control the Anthem to shape the world how they see fit, but mysteriously disappeared, leaving vast amounts of untamed relics and technology that can end up both unstable or worse, used as a weapon.
So, humans, Javelins, unstable shaper relics, Bastion. Now here’s where the role of a Freelancer becomes more apparent. Other than the creatures that roam Bastion, there are also different enemy factions and races, all with their own agendas and ideologies to take over Bastion. Scars are an alien life form that are practically scavengers, salvaging and creating huge settlements from destroyed transporters and wrecks, and looking to weaponize shaper relics no matter the cost. Outlaws; a group of humans who have been kicked out from society to live amongst each other, surviving and creating their own lifestyles outside the safety of settlement walls.
A dangerous and formidable group of bandits and outcasts, known for taking whatever they can get their hands on, even other Javelins. Finally, you have the most technologically advanced enemies, the Dominion. Advanced energy weapons and technology at their fingertips, along with strict military style doctrine, these guys don’t mess about. They even have genetically enhanced beasts added to the arsenal, which makes them a formidable foe.
This is the enemy that the storyline takes place around. A settlement called Freemark was attacked by the Dominion, because it held a shaper relic called the Cenotaph; a relic capable of tapping into the Anthem, so naturally they wanted to control it to shape the world how they see fit. A battle ensued, and the Dominion conquered Freemark, but the Cenotaph couldn’t be contained, which created a powerful cataclysmic storm which destroyed Freemark. That location was then known as the Heart of Rage, and although their efforts had been pushed back.
The Dominion leader: The Monitor, was hellbent on getting back to taking control of the Anthem and the Cenotaph. This is where you come in. Your contacted by an agent of the group Corvus; sort of a collective of spies to protect Fort Tarsis. She warns you of the Dominion’s attempts to control the Cenotaph and tasks you with ending their plot.
Without going into much detail, apart from what I’ve mentioned, I think I’ll leave it there to prevent spoilers. It’s a good plot, full of characters, emotions, treachery and hardship, it was an enjoyable playthrough. Although I think it could have been a little longer, it’s definitely set up for more content in the future, so this plotline is not the end. I can see DLC being heavy with additional storyline believe me.
Before we jump into the wild lands of Bastion, flying around like a certain Avengers hero and blowing up everything to high heaven, let’s talk about the more personal experience of Fort Tarsis. When in the Fort, you are in first person. You can do many things around the Fort; walk around and explore, find collectibles to add to your codex and learn more about Anthem’s lore, upgrade and customise your javelin at the forge, pick up contracts and missions, and of course progress with the story.
It is an atmospheric place to be in, filled with life, troubles and community. It doesn’t always feel like a chore being there. There’s even a social hub for you to see other players and their javelin customisations, allowing you to party up and venture off with them. Of course, there are also stalls in which you can purchase additional looks and emotes for your javelin too. It is the central hub of preparation, and the one place a freelancer can rely on for safety and work.
Now, I did mention that it doesn’t always sound like a chore taking contracts and talking to the weird and wonderful people of the fort, but hear me out. Around the fort, there are many people you can talk to, find out their stories which is sort of like a little mini game. You get additional experience for the different factions by listening to these stories from all sorts of personalities. Being somewhat of a ‘completionist’ I was determined to talk to everyone on the map, and there was a lot, too many in fact. BioWare did a fantastic job of creating beautiful visuals and conversations with these people, including some famous voices like Joe Lo Truglio from Brooklyn 99 and Catherine Tate, but I felt there was too many to talk to.
You end up spending more time in Fort Tarsis chatting than you do fighting for the Fort’s safety. I don’t even talk that much to my wife, let alone other people. All I’m saying is it could have done toning down the amount of people you can talk to, I mean of course it’s optional but if your someone who doesn’t like having blips on a map because you might miss something, then sometimes having too much can overwhelm and take you away from the main features of the game.
Javelins are your bread and butter in Anthem. Each Javelin is different in their own way; playstyle, Combat, weapons, ordnance, you name it. It’s good to have this much versatility between each suit, and what’s also great is that once unlocked, you can switch between what suit you can play in, so you don’t have to just main one suit, there’s options for you. Each javelin also has their own ultimate ability, for that little extra flare.
There are 4 javelin types in total:
– The Ranger is the Jack-of-all-trades suit. 2nd most agile javelin in the game, capable of quick jumps, dodging, and is your standard soldier type. Decent enough health and shields but you need to use your agility to evade most of the damage. It’s ultimate fires a volley of micro missiles to anyone targeted and, unique to the ranger, can also be done during flight.
– The Storm is more your ‘mage’ type of javelin. Its party made with Dominion technology, which allows it to use elemental attacks more effectively. Its main focus is on being in the air, as it’s bonus to shield strength relies on it being in the air, which means that the Storm can hover the longest out of them all, making it the perfect damage dealer from afar.
– The Colossus. My personal favourite but I’ll try not to be biased. One of the strongest Javelins. What it lacks in ability certainly makes up for in toughness. Is also capable of carrying the much heavier weaponry, such as the Auto-cannons and Grenade Launchers. Alongside having an array of mortars, rail guns and flamethrowers available, it’s dodge is replaced with a shield; one of the most underrated pieces of kit for this monster. The shield can be used not only for defence when picking up downed allies, but also as a human wrecking ball, knocking down opponents ready to be picked off by the rest of your squad.
– Last but by no means least, The Interceptor. Fastest of them all, incredibly quick and agile in any situation. The polar opposite to the Colossus, with not a lot of armour, but lightning fast dodges can close the gap, especially that its ultimate is twin blades that can deliver serious damage up close. It is a human missile of destruction.
So, you’ve chosen your javelin of choice, but you want to be prepared before heading out. The Forge is the one stop shop for all your javelin needs. There are 3 main features of the Forge itself; Gearing Up, Customisation, and Crafting. Finding better equipment and ordnance is essential to your javelin becoming stronger. Upgrades for your Javelins equipment, customisation options and crafting aspects all come with a rarity level, going from common to high end masterwork and legendary items. High end rarity’s, especially for equipment, can come with additional buffs which can really pay off.
Equipment itself will have a level – The higher that level, the more powerful and stronger your javelin becomes, so you want to be aiming to get not only the highest possible gear, but also the right equipment that suits your playstyle, whether that be using mortars or long-range attacks, to gear that is perfect to set up combos and status effects.
We will get to combat soon, but a key point which relates to that from gearing up is knowing what ordnance deals status effects and which ones are detonators. What’s also important is the components slots. As you level up, you unlock a total of 6 slots for components; powerful, additional buffs which can change the way your javelin acts. For example, on my Colossus, I have a component that provides 300% more damage using my shield, so when I knock enemies over, it deals a significant amount of damage. It’s a good system, and a familiar one if you have played the likes of Destiny. It’s not the same, but there are similarities.
Customisation is referring to the look of your javelin itself, and the devs have worked a good amount of magic into this feature. It’s starts pretty standard, being able to purchase and unlock different armour pieces for your javelin, like the arms, legs, chest, ect. Then there’s also customising your emotes which is standard, how you look when you jump into a game, during a game and when you finish a game. But then it gets a little more unique; you can add vinyls, change the wear state of your javelin such as worn, battered, dirty, clean. Not only can you change different colours on different parts of the javelin, but also their material, which is in abundance. Metals, plastics, paints, leathers, each with their own colours and textures, which look and work really well.
These can also be purchased with earned currency as well, so there’s even more variety. It’s a great feature and fun to see all sorts of combination of colours and materials from other players, which are constantly being blasted across social media.
Finally, Crafting. I mean it’s called the Forge right, so of course there would be this feature. It’s pretty simple; as you progress, you’ll acquire and upgrade blueprints, which will allow you to craft everything from components and equipment to firearms. The more challenges you complete, missions you play and reputation you gain with the factions, the better blueprints you will unlock. I don’t think this feature really kicks in until the end game which is a shame, since you find equipment at better levels easily.
Exploration and Flight
You can explore Bastion at your leisure in Freemode, complete missions such as Contracts, assist other pilots with their contracts or take on a Stronghold. Freemode is the only game mode which will allow you to freely explore bastion at your own pace, as any other game modes will teleport you to your teammates and objectives if you’re out of the objectives zone. There’s hundreds of more collectibles around the world, such as landmarks, mystical hieroglyphics, notes from previous explorers, all which count towards challenges and expand your lore on the game. They can also be found during the other game modes, but only if you have time to look for them. Random events which can drop additional loot can also occur during Freemode, and depending on the difficulty level you dropped in on, will depend on how challenging the encounter is.
Of course, this wouldn’t be entirely possible if you didn’t know how to fly the damn thing. Luckily, within the first story mission you are taught about how to use your javelin and its mechanics. Flight is a little jarring at first but once you’re familiar with the controls it becomes almost second nature. It’s so easy and fluid to use and it’s an awesome edition.
The javelin can only fly for a certain amount of time however, before it overheats and sends you thundering to the ground – it’s a shame, but understandable. Luckily, there are some tricks and tips you can use to prolong your flight for a little longer. Going into a steep dive and flying close to water can keep you cool and slow down the overheating process. Whereas if you fly straight into waterfalls and deep water, you can completely reset your overheating meter without dropping down to recover. Mastering this early will enhance your gameplay tenfold, and get you into the fights early.
If you thought flight comes second nature to you, Combat should be exactly the same. It’s fast, explosive and can sometimes have a lot going on. The mechanic itself of point and shoot is easy, as is using your equipment. Movements are fluid but you sort of have to be on your game with the camera, because it doesn’t look in the same direction as you run around like a headless chicken. That being said, it has improved significantly since the demo’s, and in certain circumstances can be really tough engagements especially against Titans; they’re a piece of work. Apart from the standard enemy factions you encounter during combat, you also have beasts such as the Scorpions, bug like creatures that can swarm and shoot acid at you. As well as the enormous Ursix, which I can only describe as an armoured hybrid between a rhino and a guerrilla.
The problem I have is with the enemies themselves. Some of them are perfect for their roles; tough, agile, able to move around fluidly and freely to get into better positions. But some of them, mainly the cannon fodder, the lower level enemies that spawn to you in abundance are just a bit too squishy and mundane. They will spawn, stand, shoot, die. There’s nothing really more to them, you expect them to communicate with one another, get behind cover and have a bit more personality to them. It’s just a little disappointing, as much fun as it is bombarding their spawns for combos and additional Exp. When they are in swarms, they can still provide a tough engagement with the amount of firepower against you, but even still, a little more character and movement from them would make for better and more interesting gameplay.
Not spoiling anything, but after the main story, there is definitely a set up for additional DLC, storylines and more content inbound. End game also includes additional challenges, contracts, strongholds and high-level gear to unlock. It’s not a bad effort, but a little lacking. The challenges are good to chase for as well as levelling up to get the highest level gear and weapons, but with the storyline being quite short it could have helped reaching this sort of level sooner throughout the campaign. Whether that means they should have made it harder, extended the story, or added the DLC to come in the game already, who knows. It’s not that the content they have in place is bad, not at all, it’s still great fun. But I can see people wanting more than what’s available.
Overall then, there’s a bit of a split. You have this amazing gameplay full of unique and fantastic features that keeps the game flowing well, full of interesting characters, great combat, decent customisation and upgrading of your Javelins, and a good story plot. But on the other hand, you have too many NPC conversations, enemy grunts which lack personality and flare than their stronger counter-parts, and nearly not enough end game content. The good points outweigh the bad, but those finer drawbacks could make a huge difference in the current gameplay.
Audio and visuals
Anthem is a really good-looking game, inside of Fort Tarsis and out in Bastion. Fort Tarsis upgrades it’s looks as you progress throughout the story from this dire, drab looking relic to a vibrant, bustling citadel. The detail and amount of time that’s gone into the general look, shadows, lighting and textures create this stunning atmosphere; even when the Fort was at its worst with plain colours, it still shined with textures and artistic design. The work continues when gone into character models and cutscenes. They have out done themselves on how great characters look when in conversation. Granted that they could have a little more movement to them, but their lip sync in conversations is nigh on perfect. It’s probably why they added so many NPC conversations in the first place…
We’ve already stressed how fantastic javelin customisation looks as well, whether that’s at the Forge or on a mission, it’s really stands out well. Bastion itself is a minefield of colour and textures too. From Scar dens to Skorpion lairs, Shaper relic constructs to lush forest, every section that is different has been worked through with a fine-tooth comb and a burst of graphic design. I mean the Freemode map alone is so much bigger than I first anticipated; to discover as much secrets as you can not only do you search across the plains and in the dungeons and caves, but also high upon cliffs and below the depths of the lakes.
The audio is your standard, super hero orchestra; trumpets and symphonies combining with touches of electronic sounds really capture the setting of Anthem. As well as the music the sonic booms and explosions from every ordnance and weapon make a really powerful impact, and give them more substance than they really deserve. The same can’t be said for the radio around Fort Tarsis, but I guess you can add more tunes with patches.
That being said, and back to being honest, the game has had a rocky start. The demo I first played had severe connection issues to the servers, as well as loading screen problems. At the time of this review, I can thankfully say that connections are a lot better, although can have the occasional cut off at times, but they are far and few between.
One of the bigger technical issues I had was with the audio and the cutscenes; audio throughout gameplay would cut out completely, forcing me to restart the game – very frustrating. Also, on a few occasions, characters disappeared on screen from cutscenes, ruining the immersion. Loading screens are present throughout the game, even in places where it wouldn’t be deemed necessary, like dungeons around Freeroam. But they aren’t as bad as they were before; relatively quick and a lot less glitchy too. Whether they are simple fixes or not, bugs are not good for a game at all, especially those that shouldn’t be in a game after launch. Luckily, BioWare are fully committed to sorting the game out to their true intentions, which I fully believe they are trying to achieve constantly, and work incredibly hard to deliver that to us players.
Anthem is a really great game, full of energy, commitment, artistic value and fun. Whether you want to feel like 4 types of Ironman or take on an original sci-fi narrative, this is the game for you. If issues such as the bugs, short storyline and end-game content were ironed out, it could be a whole lot better. It didn’t meet my expectations exactly, but I won’t deny that it came damn close though.
- Fantastic Combat and Gameplay
- Brilliant Graphics and Scenery
- Maximum Effort from BioWare
- Too many NPC conversations
- Audio bugs and few connection drops
- Needs more story and end-game content