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Anthem review

Anthem shows a glimmer of brilliance that's quickly dampened by its grind

Anthem
MSRP $59.99
“Anthem’s world is charming, but forced repetition spoils the fun.”
Pros
  • A beautiful world to explore
  • Interesting lore
  • Spectacular, eye-catching combat
  • Flying is the best
Cons
  • Critical content filled with poor rewards
  • Forced character interactions don’t feel authentic
  • Repetitive events

Silence the Heart of Rage.

Don’t know what that means? Neither did I — but it’s the first mission you’re tasked with in Anthem. You’ll meet Haluk, Faye and a band of other Freelancers who’ll be joining you on this apparently dangerous task. They’ll speak of Shaper Relics, Cataclysms, and Javelins, all while chanting the motto “Strong Alone, Stronger Together” before climbing into their exosuits and taking off.

Anthem wastes no time dropping you into one of the most pivotal moments of its story. It’s jarring and despite having nary a clue of where you are, who you’re with, or why it matters — beautiful cutscenes and solid voice acting give hints of potential. Even if it’s sunk into a plot that barely makes sense.

That first mission sets the tone for the rest of the game. While there are glimmers of brilliance in Anthem, they’re often ruined by situations that ask for more emotion (and at times, energy) than the game can evoke.

It’s all about the journey grind

After the introductory mission you’ll find yourself at Fort Tarsis, a small enclosed city bustling with shops and people from all over Bastion. It’s your home and main hub. As a Freelancer (a trained warrior in a mech suit) you’ll frequently return there to make upgrades at the Forge, talk to NPCs, and pick up new contracts.

Initially, you’ll be eager to talk to all the charming characters at Fort Tarsis. The desire to power through levels, get some loot, equip said loot, and uncover more about the story is a great motivator. But as leveling begins to slow to a painful grind, Anthem’s repetitious rhythm becomes tedious.

Anthem’s repetitious rhythm becomes tedious.

Talk to an NPC, pick up a contract, go on a mission, return to Fort Tarsis, and repeat. That’s the game in a nutshell. Anthem would benefit from a more natural story progression that didn’t rely on trips back to the dull city, especially in the later levels, where upgrades to your Javelin become less frequent and jumping straight into the next mission makes the most sense.

Fort Tarsis

Anthem’s campaign also throws a wrench into playing with friends. If your pals happen to be in different parts of the story, they won’t make any progress by embarking with you on your missions. Worse, waiting for them to finish talking to NPCs every time they return to Fort Tarsis dampens the excitement. You might be itching to jump straight back into the action, but it’s better to go get snacks while someone finishes their monologue.

You’ll quickly find yourself hate-playing the campaign. Somewhere around the middle of the story, Anthem becomes bogged down by the rapid pace at which it introduces new characters, imposes relationships with them, and tasks you with becoming their hero.

Owen Corley, your Cypher and partner, is a friendship that unfolds through many casual and heartfelt conversations. I began to look forward to our banter and found myself feeling betrayed whenever we weren’t on good terms. Most other characters, however, aren’t given the same treatment.

Characters struggle to keep you engaged with some of the game’s many forced interactions.

In one mission, I rescued an NPC reported missing for nearly a decade and reunited them with another character in the story. The reunion at the end of the mission was awkward, and the rescued NPCs reaction lackluster. The two emmbraced and the NPC unenthusiastically thanked us. No tears. No jumps of excitement. Not even a voice inflection. It’s a moment that should leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Instead, I felt bored, even alienated.

Owen Corley and Faye Navine are among the few characters that Anthem allows you to build somewhat authentic connections. But even those characters struggle to keep you engaged with some of the game’s forced interactions.

Forced interactions aren’t even the worst of it. That is easily overshadowed by a mandatory expedition that takes any and all momentum from Anthem’s campaign. This expedition is called Tombs of the Legionnaires.

Tombs of Legionnaires tasks you with visiting and “exploring” four different tombs in the overworld. But to enter each tomb, you need to complete a list of boring tasks; find 20 treasure chests, grab 10 collectibles, beat 50 enemies in melee, and so on.

After the blowback, BioWare changed the mission so your actions in Freeplay contribute to these lists if you’re at least level three. But if you don’t spend a lot of time in Freeplay, it’s still just about as tedious as it sounds, and contributes absolutely nothing of value to the story.

Silence my heart of rage

Still, it’s not all bad. In fact, Anthem is spectacular. Much of its fun comes from its awe-inspiring visuals and smooth, Ironman-like combat.

Flying is the standout feature, the one part of Anthem that never failed to put a smile on my face. It makes travel a breeze and offers a sense of power and freedom that the story never manages. Each suit has beautiful, detailed animations, and slightly different flight characteristics, and these combine to give flying the sense of weight you’d expect. Lifting off to reposition yourself in battle never gets old.

Flying is the standout feature in Anthem

You’ll also fall in love with the game’s vast architecture, flowing blue streams and waterfalls, and tall stony landscapes crawling with ferns, vines, and lush greens. Flocks of brightly colored birds fly by and small, curious creatures skitter about. The world feels as though it’s pulsing with life. It certainly stands in contrast to the apocalyptic, mostly empty worlds found in games like Destiny 2 and Warframe. Anthem is full of danger, but it’s not a dreary hellscape.

It’s beautiful world and combat is where Anthem truly shines.

While Anthem’s setting will reel you in, it’s the combat that keeps you hooked. Shooting feels satisfying if you have proper guns equipped (the starting assault rifle is awful), and with three gear slots, a melee attack, and an ultimate attack, you can make each firefight fun and flashy.

You’ll play one of four Javelin classes. You start out as a Ranger, the most balanced Javelin of the bunch, and as you level up additional suits unlock (at levels 8, 16 & 26). Each has its own unique abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. The Colossus is a slow, powerful, and sturdy tank. The Interceptor is fast and agile with powerful melee, and the Storm is a warlock with explosive elemental and aerial capabilities. Four classes might sound unimpressive, but each offers its own unique slice of gameplay. The Colossus feels like playing a mech-lite game, such as Hawken, while the Storm feels like a wizard from an action-RPG.

The ability to unlock and customize them all means you’re never tied down to any one Javelin, although I personally found myself dedicated to my Interceptor.

All weapons and gear have a rarity type and power level, both of which correlate with its strength. The average of your loadout will determine your gear level, and your gear level will determine the rarity of your Javelin. With the addition of components (items that add bonus’ to your loadout) and inscriptions (perks attached to weapons and gear), it can become enjoyable customizing and upgrading your Javelin.

Loot variety leaves a lot to be desired, though. My build remained mostly consistent throughout my time with the game. I only opted to swap out my weapons and gear if they didn’t work well against a major enemy I was facing, or if I acquired or crafted the rarer versions. None of the upgrades forced me to drastically change my tactics.

As for the end game, I completed the campaign and all agent contracts at level 23 in about 25 hours. After returning to Fort Tarsis, I was rewarded with more Tomb of Legionnaires style expeditions, one called Challenge of Valor and the other Challenge of Might, both marked as critical to my progress. With about seven levels left to 30, I’m sure you can imagine my enthusiasm.

Jumping into Freeplay to finish up these expeditions with the limited amount of live events Anthem currently has does not invoke that much excitement. There’s also an option of three Strongholds, two of which you play during the campaign and the other that unlocks after you finish the campaign. All of these can be tackled on the three new Grandmaster difficulties but frankly, it all adds to the feeling of content filler that is meant to keep players busy until post launch content arrives in March.

Microtransactions

The visual customization, like cosmetics and emotes, are going to cost you. Unlike the demo, the customization options for your Javelin in Anthem are slim pickings.

You’ll have to purchase armor and armor material with currency you collect in-game called Coins, or through microtransactions using Shards. Stacking up Coins in Anthem isn’t impossible, but it’s also not easy.

I spent almost the entire 40,000 coins I began with purchasing the Mass Effect N7 decals, and earned it back in about 10 hours of gameplay. If grinding for Coins isn’t your cup of tea though, you can purchase Legendary armor for about $9.00, and most other cosmetics for around $3-5 in the store.

Our Take

There’s no doubt that Anthem is beautiful, and its core of flying, shooting, looting, and upgrading your mech is fun. The campaign’s pacing is off, however, speeding through pivotal moments in the story and doling out filler content to keep players busy. Despite its cast of charismatic characters, many relationships and interactions feel forced and lifeless. Anthem’s biggest setback is how it too frequently turns fun into work.

Is there a better alternative?

When compared to its closest competitor, Destiny 2, Anthem is the better alternative — but frankly, not by much in its current state. Warframe is another option that’s free to play, but not as polished. The Division 2, coming in March, looks like a promising competitor.

How long will it last?

I completed the campaign in about 25 hours but there is more content there for players, albeit not the most exciting. Anthem’s life span is greatly dependent on the DLC it launches. If it can bring fresh content and fix some of its current shortcomings, then I see it lasting for years to come. If it continues down the same path, though, it might end up in a similar position as Destiny 2 — surviving on a niche but dedicated player base.

Should you buy it?

No. Anthem is a blast at times, but its best moments are separated by too much grind and an inconsistent story.

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