Today we’re taking a look at the much anticipated Anthem from EA and developer Bioware. We pulled back from a lot of the pre-release amble and dived in with fresh eyes once the game became available using the Origin Access trial. The trial netted 8 hours of pre-release gameplay offering a feel of things on PC. We started over once the game launched proper.
To add some context, we’re gaming on a top end PC using an RTX 2080 Ti, i9 9900K CPU and mainly game at Ultra settings at 2160p on a 49″ 4K HDR Samsung KS7000/8000 TV. Most often we use an Xbox One controller for playing PC games rather than mouse and keyboard considering our console playing background and the need to feel comfortable when playing.
So, Anthem at 4K max settings during the pre-launch trial period offered a mixed reaction based on a number of well-documented factors. We’ll start with the negatives. The loading is a massive stumbling block and interferes with jumping into the game quickly. To the game’s credit, once in the wilds the loading reduces to a minimum with only specific dungeon type areas requiring another segment of loading. Initially it was painfully slow and with dull loading screens a real dampener. Since the launch though a patch has improve things considerably so it’s not as intrusive. However, some design choices such as loading the Forge (a place to equip weapons and armor parts, customization etc.) still requires its own loading albeit rather quick at around 20 seconds or less. After so many hours playing and with the improvements you can ignore the loading but wish for a more seamless experience between missions.
Bioware suggests playing the story missions with others in online matchmaking offers the best way of experiencing Anthem. After a few moments we realized this was not for us. Moving between the hub area Tarsis and the open world offers quite a number of nuances easily bypassed when playing with randoms. The experience will obviously provide some differences playing with like-minded friends.
The first annoyance when joining a game is not being able to create a mission from the start and be the boss of your own server. What happens often is diving into a mission already in progress resulting in missing a chunk of the story related context. Aside from some missions not working properly and requiring quitting out, on some occasions it’s possible to join a mission right at the end and net the rewards for doing sweet FA.
Another issue is certain players rather than stick around and take it all in, rush to the objective without concern for any other players (this also happened in Destiny). Along the way Anthem offers collectibles and other sights to marvel at, even enemies to take out. However, due to the open design if players fall too far behind the leading player forcibly snap join them within a short time limit (via a loading screen). A lack of in-built voice chat means telling the impatient to “hold-up” isn’t an option. That’s another negative right there. In the many hours played, we only heard a handful of voices from the other players. Go figure.
Playing SOLO is actually pretty decent and allows players the chance to take events at their own pace. Not missing anything and easily taking on the opposition which tailors its difficulty to the number of players. So, most of our story campaign played solo and felt good.
Now other players and reviewers alike mentioned the mission variety being a problem. The lack of diversity and repeating the same mission objectives over and over. More so once players reach the end-game content with only a handful of mission types available. We didn’t find this a problem at all considering the lore surrounding our “freelancer” character. It’s a shooting game, you shoot things and in fact the variety on offer doesn’t bother us in the slightest for a shooting game especially compared to many other shooters. Our job during the story was to bring glory back to the freelancers with our odd-job efforts. Patrolling the lands made sense, rescuing NPCs, fighting large beasts, collecting artifacts, aiding other freelancers, investigating anomalies etc. This is the way our character behaves in this world and the missions reflect that.
Again, some players and reviewers weren’t so keen on the NPC characters considering this is Bioware who have a rich history of creating memorable NPCs. The problem here is a lot of conversations are drawn-out and easily skipped. Players might want to ignore the RPG elements and just head out into the field to shoot stuff and get the loot. That said, in the hub Tarsis if players take the time to listen and check what people have to say there is actually some really cool dialogue – we used the female character. Players will find an abundance of humor and some wacky moments, even with the two responses players can choose at times during conversations. A lot of well-acted dialogue presents itself making for a welcome break from the shooting action. Admittedly, this is subjective and not all players want to engage in talking to the citizens every time they return to base. Luckily most of it is optional or skippable. For the most part, the animations whilst overly expressive at times are pretty good making for some entertaining moments outside of combat. We shall say no more on the subject.
Anthem does get some things right though and out of the gate the visuals are fantastic. On PC using ultra settings at 4K with HDR enabled the lush and varied locations with real-time day and night cycles, wandering beasts and swaying flora and fauna draws you in. The Frostbite Engine really shows its colours here making for a playground that constantly provides wow moments even after so many hours playing. For graphics junkies, this is as good as it gets although performance wise maintaining a solid 60 fps at this high level isn’t always possible. We found dialing it down to 1440p offered a smoother playing experience to suit the action. We could gush all day about how lovely Anthem looks but will calm it down a little.
The biggest draw gameplay wise aside from some pretty competent shooting mechanics are the Javelin suits players choose. With four distinct types to select, each one offers a very different gaming experience. What is really neat is allowing players the chance to experiment without much penalty. Other games might require a restart from the beginning, whereas here your player level remains constant. Want to try the melee focused fast paced Interceptor (our favourite) you can do so. A lot of players like the elemental Storm or artillery Ranger classes, then it’s easy to try those to see if they appeal or not. That’s some great design there giving players options. Each class compliments the others allowing for coordinated play when tackling mobs and bosses. However, whilst Bioware talked a lot about combos and tactical play, in practice a free-for-all also works.
The Javelins themselves and their mobility takes center stage here. With free-flight (constantly likened to Marvel’s Iron Man character), ground combat and numerous attacking options with skills and weapons provides a robust set of actions. The flight alone is fantastic, offering incredible verticality thanks to some awesome level design. It’s during the moments of taking high dives into water, rising out of a lake and up high onto cliffs which gives a better appreciation of the lack of loading whilst in the field. Flying low to cool the Javelin engines extending your flight time is really a neat touch. Yes, Bioware mastered the flight and combat combo which never gets old for us.
At its heart, Anthem offers a loot shooter experience likened to games such as Diablo, Borderlands and many others. Sadly, on route to the level cap of 30 players endure some low quality weapons with very few distinctive items. Players have to grind through their power levels until the rarer drops arrive but for some players some 20-30 hours passed to reach here. It’s not very enticing and could tease a little better earlier on. Only those persisting in increasing their pilot rarity rating beyond 300 will find better drops. Once Masterwork or Legendary items (the highest quality drops) adorn your banks does the game become enticing to keep running the same missions over and over for better loot. Some more pronounced visual differences between lower and higher spec loot would also add to the enticement factor. As a third person game and one of the ways to encourage other players is showing off cool loot. Providing a “I want that weapon” mentality isn’t present here which is a shame. The loot system features odd rolls of the dice to contend with offering set weapons and skill modifiers. Obviously designed to encourage players to swap out weapons and skill combinations to suit the mission. At times though it feels at odds with player progression.
Another issue is masses of junk acquired which presents a painfully slow process of going through each one to gather its resource. Whilst the goal to gather needed materials for crafting new items, it’s still rather cumbersome considering a 250 limit across all player Javelins. Anthem could employ better quality of life moments across its entire game for sure.
To conclude, we really like Anthem and with the 50 hours sunk into it so far still finding it very enjoyable. We recognize it’s not perfect where improvements would make it a better experience overall, but it’s still a solid game regardless. There is nothing glaringly awry here in our eyes looking at the whole picture even if we can disagree with some aspects. The game certainly feels better now than it did pre-launch (regarding the loading especially). It’s probably safe to suggest it’s not an instant gratification game once you remove the visual and flying elements, therefore it’s not going to appeal to all players. RPG fans will find little depth, and action gamers filled with too much fluff. It’s also light on post-game content which although Bioware promised more en-route, could have offered a little extra for dedicated players.
As it stands, the tougher difficulties, additional loot drops verses the repeated enemies tends to take some of its luster away. We can only recommend Anthem to those willing to endure its negative connotations at this stage and unusual design choices. However, those who like stunning visuals and want a sci-fi super-hero type experience should receive much enjoyment from what is offered here.
Disclaimer: Review code was NOT provided by the publisher or Bioware and was purchased with own funds. In addition, a numerical review score isn’t given for this game until it is more feature complete. We also want the words to do the talking not the numbers on this occasion due to how divisive this game is.