Without a doubt my favourite type of games are those that involve grinding for loot, and I’ve played them all from Warframe and Diablo to The Division and Destiny, so when I first heard about Anthem and watched the reveal trailer at E3 I was hyped. It looked like a cross between Destiny and The Division, which are two of my favourite games even with their flaws. I was always a bit dubious about the game as I knew it was being published by EA but I held out faith, however, that faith was misplaced and what we ended up with was a loot shooter with uninspiring loot, a weak story, and a plethora of other issues that make this game far from the ‘Destiny Killer’ it was dubbed to be. If anything, it made me realise just how good Destiny actually is.
It’s hard not to compare Anthem with Destiny or even The Division to an extent because they have so much in common, and when reviewing games you have to have something to base it on, and to Anthems credit there are actually some things that it does better than those other games, so let’s start with what Anthem does well, partly because it’s always nice to start on a positive, but mostly because it will only take a paragraph or two.
The movement mechanics in Anthem are great, not just on the ground but the flying has been implemented almost flawlessly too. It’s so satisfying to be soaring through the air and then hearing the crunch of the impact as you land, and what makes this even more satisfying are the jaw-dropping graphics, the beautiful landscapes, and the overall map design. The designers for this game deserve a round of applause.
The Javelins have also been well thought out. There are four Javelins to choose from, namely Storm, Colossus, Intercepter and Ranger, and each Javelin has their own unique set of abilities and perks. For example, the Interceptor—which was the Javelin I used for most of my play time—is designed to be nimble so is therefore the fastest Javelin in the game, Storm is designed to sit back and kill enemies from a distance using various abilities, Colossus is a tank with a really cool shield that’s designed to soak up damage, and Ranger is a balanced Javelin which is a bit of a “jack of all trades, master of none”. I spent time with all of these Javelins but the Interceptor was my favourite as I prefer to get up close and personal with my enemies. Each Javelin seemed balanced while playing and they all look awesome, but the one gripe I do have with the Javelins is the lack of customisation options. You can change the Javelins colours but as of yet there aren’t many Javelin skins, so everyone basically looks the same.
The combat is great too; the gunplay feels very similar to the gunplay in Gears of War, but there’s also the addition of Combo’s which add a new layer of depth to the gear-building process. Combo’s work like this: You’ll have one ability which is the ‘Primer’ that you must first hit an enemy with, then you hit them with a second ability known as a ‘Detonator’ which grants you a Combo, doing extra damage and awarding a Combo bonus such as an extra area of effect explosion. There are various Primers and Detonators you can use and when you manage to pull off a Combo the sound effects that let you know you pulled it off correctly are hugely satisfying, and this mechanic—as far as I’m aware—hasn’t been seen in a loot shooter before. The problem is, none of this is explained to you at any point during the game, which is completely baffling as it’s easily one of the best and most integral parts of the combat; there’s actually a mission that requires you to pull off 20 of these Combo’s and I’m not ashamed to say that I had to Google what a Combo in Anthem was. The only other problem with the combat is the lack of weapon variety, this is a fatal problem that actually makes the combat grow somewhat stale, though still enjoyable.
Unfortunately, that’s all that really stands out in Anthem, everything else is either poor or average at best.
if you make the mistake of speaking to a random NPC you’ll be stuck talking to them for way too long while they open up about their life
I do like the fact that they’ve tried to incorporate a good story into a loot shooter and the story is better than the likes of Destiny and The Division, but that’s not saying much, and really the story in Anthem is pretty weak. I do enjoy the voice acting though and BioWare seem to have learned from their mistakes in Mass Effect Andromeda, as the facial animations are good – not spectacular, but good. In some ways, however, BioWare has gone a little overboard on the story and NPC interactions, as if you make the mistake of speaking to a random NPC you’ll be stuck talking to them for way too long while they open up about their life and essentially talk utter nonsense to you which has no bearing on the story.
The first real negative I’m going to touch on is something that you’ve most likely heard before and that’s the loading times. They’re so bad that I even contemplated writing a feature on BuffNerfRepeat detailing the top 10 things to do while Anthem loads. This tongue-in-cheek list would have included making a coffee and checking out the top videos on YouTube, and although it was going to be sarcastic, it is also completely feasible. It feels like it takes a good five minutes to load into a game (although it’s probably less – I haven’t timed). The reason it feels even longer than it is is because the loading screens are so damn boring – each loading screen will have one of around five different images and a game tip at the bottom of the screen, but that’s it. What makes this even worse is that neither the game tip or the image rotate, so it’s just the same boring screen for the duration of the loading time. I know that loading screens have never been excited, but these may be the most boring loading screens of all time.
Destiny received a lot of criticism for the space ship loading screen, as people didn’t like the fact that you got to customise a spaceship but never actually fly it, and I was one of the people upset about it, but after seeing the alternative that Anthem offers I now like the spaceship loading screen in Destiny, and that says it all.
The loading times themselves don’t actually annoy me too much, as when you’ve loaded into the map you rarely have to load again and if you do then the loading times are shorter, but the most frustrating thing for me is just how often you have to load when you’re not already in Freeplay or in a Mission. You have to load into each mission (which is normal), but once you’ve finished a mission you’re then presented with an ‘End of Mission’ screen where XP is distributed, from here you then have to load into ‘The Forge’ (which is basically your inventory, by the way) to equip any new items that you’ve found and then you have to load in to ‘Fort Tarsis’ so that you can hand in the quest and get another one. Then, you can load back into a mission or Freeplay and repeat the process all over again.
Something that would only take two loading screens at the most in Destiny takes at least four in Anthem
Something that would only take two loading screens at the most in Destiny takes at least four in Anthem, and this coupled with how long the loading screens actually take can become really, really, frustrating. In an ideal world and with any other loot shooter you’d be able to access your inventory on the fly, but this is the first game I know of that makes you go through a loading screen to get into your inventory.
The most unbelievable thing about the loading times is that they aren’t the worst part of the game, that title goes to the loot. The loot—which is of course the most critical element in any loot game—lacks substance in Anthem. For the first seven or so hours in the game until you reach end game (i.e. when you’ve finished the very short campaign) the loot is incredibly boring and you barely pay any attention to it. The guns all look the same and the modifiers on the guns don’t really get you excited, I generally just equipped the highest-rated items and was done with it.
The end game loot doesn’t really get any more exciting either. The Masterwork items look cooler, sure, but really they just look the same as the standard weapons but with different skins. For something as critical as loot in a loot grinding game, it pains me to see how much they’ve failed in this regard.
The loot is made even worse by the lack of content at the end game. You can spend hours grinding for gear, but there are no new areas to explore once you hit the end game other than two new Strongholds (which are essentially missions) and they’re not even very difficult, so the end game only really consists of three missions—one of which is essentially the last mission in the game replayed—and these get very boring very quickly. There’s nothing in the end game that makes me want to grind for loot. If we take Destiny as an example, there were Heroic Strikes that required you to have a certain Power Level and, of course, there was the raids which many will agree were great. None of this is present in Anthem, it’s just the same three missions with various difficulty levels. For a game with a campaign so short this is just not enough content to keep people entertained for long and you’ll soon find yourself looking for a new game to play.
What makes the end game even worse is that it sucks all of the fun out of the combat. I spent my time in Anthem playing as the Interceptor, which is a Javelin designed to ping in and out of combat sort of like a Rogue, and I was having great fun with this during the campaign. When you get to the end game, however, you’ll want to turn up the difficulty so you can get the best loot possible, but with increased difficulty comes more powerful enemies, and in some cases these enemies can down you with a single hit, which makes zipping in and out of battles almost impossible, so you’ll spend your time shooting from a distance hiding behind a rock, essentially ruling your Javelin’s playstyle redundant..
And to put a final nail in the loot chests coffin, even if you were to grind for all of the best loot in the game there’s no way to see your overall stats. You can’t see your damage modifiers or resistances or anything else that you generally want and need to see in a loot shooter, which is crazy considering that weapons can roll with extra crit chance and a mirage of resistance perks. This makes the whole process of building the best possible loadout next to impossible unless you have a Casio calculator to hand and you keep a running total in an Excel spreadsheet. This brings me onto yet another issue with the loot – the stats on the masterwork items. It takes a long time to grind one of these items, and when you’re rewarded for your time investment with a 5% increase to thruster speed and a 10% decrease in the burn out time (essentially meaning you can fly faster and further) you literally never want to play the game again.
The loot isn’t the only lackluster part of the game either, the missions are essentially all the same, having you running from area to area killing waves of enemies before moving on; they’ve tried to mix things up a little by adding in missions that see you collecting spirits and returning them to a specified area, and these are fun at first thanks to the great flying mechanics, but they quickly become a chore. If I’m being honest, repetitive missions is a common problem amongst most loot shooters and I don’t usually mind it because it’s just part of grinding for loot, but when the game doesn’t have any loot worth grinding for—or at least a reason to grind the loot in the first place—the repetitiveness of the missions really does start to grind on you, no pun intended.
So, the core mechanics of the game are broken and that alone is enough for me to not recommend the game, but there are more issues to be found here in the way of stupid decisions, one of which is the transition to the first-person camera when in Fort Tarsis, which is where you will spend a lot of time while progressing through the campaign, although that actually isn’t that much time in the grand scheme of things considering the campaign is so short. Now, being thrown into a first-person viewpoint may be slightly annoying considering you want to be able to see your character, but to make things worse you seemingly also have prison ball and chain tied to your ankles as, for some reason, you’re forced to walk at a snail’s pace around the lifeless Fort. You might be fooled into thinking your first-person view and slower, more considered pace is a design decision that has been made specifically because there’s so much to see and do in Fort Tarsis, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Fort is nothing more than an annoyance where all of the NPC’s try to tell you their life story every time you interact with them, it’s a far cry away from being the much-loved Tower in Destiny.
BioWare say that the Fort isn’t supposed to be the Tower in Destiny, which is correct as the Fort isn’t a co-op area (you’ll be the only player here). The Launch Bay is, in fact, supposed to be the Tower, and it’s probably the most depressing area in the game. The Launch Bay is nothing more than a single, empty room with the vendors placed around the outside, and that’s it. There’s nothing more to say about this area other than it’s an embarrassment.
The final annoyance I want to touch on is something that frustrates me in almost every mission, and it has actually led me to prefer playing solo than matchmaking with other players, and that’s the dreaded ‘Transport to mission area’ warnings that pop up if you spend too long looking at the scenery or, even more stupidly, if you’re flying higher than your teammates. When this warning pops up you’ll have a small amount of time to catch up with your team before you’re teleported to them and yes, if you’re teleported you will have to go through a loading screen, and yes, this loading screen is way too long – so long, in fact, that by the time you’ve loaded in your team will most likely be on the next part of the mission and you’ll be playing catch up all over again.
The hardest part of all this is that Anthem has the potential to be great
The hardest part of all this is that Anthem has the potential to be great, there are so many satisfying things in the game from the combat, the flying, and the beautifully-crafted landscapes and graphics, but all of this is let down by both stupid decisions such as the lack of a stat page to bigger game-breaking problems such as the long loading times, the amount of times you need to load, and the lack of interesting loot, which is a major issue for any game that has aspirations of being a must-have loot shooter. I feel like if Bioware didn’t present Anthem as a loot shooter and instead simply made it a story driven co-op shooter which had an ending then the game would have been much better. Anthem isn’t an open world experience as any feeling of that is destroyed by the amount of loading screens that you’re forced to endure, but if it were it could be great. You can get this feeling in Freeplay; sure, there’s nothing to really do in Freeplay other than kill the same enemies over and over again and take part in the few World Events that take place, but in Freeplay you get a sense of what the game could have been.
Annoyingly, I know that in six months to a years time the game will be much better than it is now. I believe we will see the same story that we did with No Man’s Sky, and this is one of the negatives of this new “games as a service” approach that developers and publishers are seemingly taking. Unfortunately, all this “games as a service” has done so far is give these developers and publishers an excuse to release games too soon and hold back content in order to release it at a later date.