Anthem looked like it might have had what it took to dethrone Destiny as the leading console MMORPG. Bioware – who, with a traditional focus on single player RPGS, are one of the more unlikely developers to take a crack at the crown – have turned in an effort that doesn’t always know what it wants to be, and suffers as a result.
We’re thrown into Anthem at the darkest moment of a campaign against a race of insect-looking bad guys known as Scars. As our heroes – a bunch of mercenaries known as Freelancers who pilot badass mechsuits called Javelins – try to deactivate an ancient alien relic that became somewhat of a black hole, we see countless of their numbers fall in an attempt to undo humanities previous mistakes.
When we’re brought back to base – a claustrophobic city hub where we get to chat to the denizens of the world, or what’s left of it – we find that everyone has kind of (understandably) lost faith in the Freelancers, and it’s up to us to change their mind and fix what was broken.
Anthem’s story is good – this is a Bioware joint after all – but it always feels at odds with the speed and the urgency of the gameplay proper. This is a multiplayer-focused game, and when characters are talking to you with lengthy scripts and earnest acting in the hub you can’t help but feel like this was all wasted on Anthem. People playing the game will always have their party in their ears, talking about upgrades, ushering everyone on to the new mission – and the dialogue and story has to become a casualty of that forward momentum. Unfortunately, it’s just one instance of a game that constantly struggles with its identity.
Gameplay & Multiplayer:
Your time spent in the actual missions of Anthem will have you flying around an alien planet in your Javelin, looking for bad guys to kill and inane objectives to complete. The flying portion of these missions is very cool, with the responsive, hyper-agile suits making this world feel like a bit of a playground to explore. They can overheat, so you’re encouraged to skim lakes and fly under waterfalls to keep your engines cooled – and this is a neat way of making the act of flight more interactive than the ‘point and go’ affair it could have been.
When you reach the mission area, some humanoid bugs will be scuttling around and doing a good impression of moving targets at a gun range. On the game’s normal difficulty, it’s often all too easy – shoot spongey health bars until they’re depleted and move onto the next health bar. Your suits have interesting powers that can work in tandem with each other, and the four of you can craft some epic-looking combos by combining the talents of each different Javelin class in smart ways -but the game never really demands you learn these or lean on such tactics.
Our party bumped up the difficulty one notch to see if we could force the game to be a little less dull, but it just resulted in enemies becoming spongier and our party becoming squishier. It was slightly more engaging, but at a heavy sacrifice to the time it took us to complete each mission.
Occasionally impressive boss creatures will show up to scupper your plans, but even these go down without too much of a fight. Most ‘difficult’ sections of Anthem are instead simply time consuming, and the rinse-and-repeat gameplay wore thin on me a little too quickly. The game is far more palatable when played with a full team, mostly because it takes a lot less time to take down some of the chunkier enemies with four players laying in to them.
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