Every now and then comes a game that does something surprising, different and memorable. Anthem is not one of those games.
Much of this game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC feels incomplete, while other parts are borrowed from games that did it better. The things that make Anthem special, such as flying through magnificent, sun-drenched jungles in customizable suits, are ultimately overwhelmed by the drudgery of a prey meal that is now too familiar, whose sharp edges and confusing corners involuntarily protrude into what would otherwise have been possible an admirable glimpse into the live game genre, as the developers of BioWare have imagined.
Anthem's core idea of "Jetpacks plus weapons" works great on its own, but nothing else in the game does it justice. The missions are boring, much of the loot is useless and character development is poorly organized. If all of these anchors are dropped, the game rarely gets going. If this happens occasionally, the experience can be smooth, heart-pounding fun. But sooner or later, like the exo suits themselves, everything starts to overheat. Endless repetitions, which are interrupted by technical problems, let the machinery hit the ground again without anything to do. However, let things cool down while waiting for the next content update, the next hotfix, the next test after the start, before you restart the systems and try again.
BioWare entered the pantheon of popular game studios by pioneering Baldur & # 39; s Gate for an RPG formula that emerged from Dungeons and Dragons, but eventually a new identity with the dual development of the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games developed. BioWare games in this series have ambitious narrative sheets that are supplemented by consistent player decisions, but also intimate and heartbreaking side stories that revolve around unplayable allies, whose own goals, motivations, fears and hopes take on equally convincing drama and urgency.
When BioWare released Mass Effect: Andromeda, it was a rare mistake for the studio. It had the best gunplay in the series and a fascinating simulation of life in a burgeoning space colony, but with an overwhelming plot, botched character animations, and almost no memorable player selection. At the same time, BioWare developed another game, codenamed Dylan, as it was supposed to be the Bob Dylan of video games that would become part of the game lexicon in the coming years. Months after Andromeda's release, BioWare revealed what Dylan would be: Anthem, a multiplayer shooter in the form of Ubisoft's The Division and Bungies Destiny. Since then, I've been wondering how BioWare, known for gripping single-player stories, would apply this to a genre that involves repeating the same missions over and over, just to see the numbers go up.
The answer: it wouldn't.
Anthem exhumes the bodies of other developers' looters, mixes and combines them and gives the body of Frankensteined a bit of BioWare flair. You can choose to say something good or something mean when you accept someone's quest. Firefights in large arenas are primarily supplemented by complex calculations that result from the complicated way in which different pieces of top-level equipment interact with each other.
These additions are nice in and of themselves, but they don't go far enough or make up for the technical and quality of life issues that plague the game at launch. This is BioWare's first new franchise in almost a decade, and the result is less like a revolutionary new idea than a continuation of Mass Effect: Andromeda. It's breathtaking to look at and the jetpack bodysuits feel good to control, but at best, it feels less like a game trying to make a lasting impression than more like a platform for something that one day will come in the future – maybe.
The anthem takes place in a harsh world full of artifacts from an earlier civilization that are constantly reshaping the site, causing natural disasters and cataclysms. Different factions are fighting to control these artifacts and hope to use their poorly understood power for their own purposes. At the same time, roaming mercenaries called freelancers invade powerful, flying exosuits called Javelins and try to disarm the artifacts while fighting the monsters that spawn them. It's a good recipe for endless chaos, but not much else.
The story is about the search for an old spear that is needed to end an extremely dangerous catastrophe called Heart of Rage. With the exception of some beats driven by the cutscene, most of it feels like filler material while waiting for the actual game to begin. Then, before I knew it, the credits began to roll and complete what felt more like a first act than a full sheet. Along the way, there were run-ins with a militaristic organization that wanted to use artifacts to conquer them, forbidden groups and a breed of humanoid insects called scars that had created a complicated life in the wild. Since this is a BioWare game, you might think you could talk to them and get involved in a complex battle between the species. But like the game's other hostile mobs, they're used for target practice and little more.
In Anthem there is a kernel of the old BioWare called Fort Tarsis, the single player hub where you can meet characters, collect missions, advance the story and get to know the world. Still, it's just a shell of the bases in Mass Effect and Dragon Age players who have learned to call home. It is interesting to explore from the first person perspective and slowly walk through the narrow streets to examine the pockets of humanity that have managed to survive the brutal dangers outside the walls. A particularly heartbreaking episode was about an older refugee who thought I was her daughter, who was resurrected and brought back to her by the power of extraterrestrial artifacts. I often spoke to her between missions, trying to decide how to comfort her, how to help her, and whether I should tell her the truth. The side story, confined to our one-off conversations rather than the larger world, felt like an unfortunate compromise, as if connecting our specific relationship with a series of missions or other discoveries made outside the fort became the anthem above theirs Multiplayer loot further complicates chase. While some people in Fort Tarsis are interesting to meet and wonderfully voiced, their ability to excite and shock feels stifled by the game's desire to keep players in a common timeline.
Fort Tarsis has three main factions: Sentinels, the city guards, Arcanists, city researchers, and freelancers, the group you belong to, represented by a retired mercenary whose enthusiasm for trading matches the parent he is called to be Assistant coach for your child's sports team. Regardless of whether you have completed a quest for one of these groups or the contract submitted by another resident, all missions have the same structure: go to the Bastion, the region around Fort Tarsis, fly from one target to the next and kill then all the parts that appear there until the person on your intercom congratulates you on a job well done.
Sometimes missions take you deep into a fortress to lead a big fight in a closed arena. In other cases, you fight mobs in a large open plane. In either case, you must a] defend a point of interest, b] collect pieces of a broken artifact to repair it, or c] kill a boss. Sometimes the broken artifact pieces look like glowing chunks of metal and have to be carried on foot. In other cases, they are bullets that you can retrieve by flying. Sometimes hymn can be exciting. But the missions can quickly feel like busy work, tasks that stand between you and Anthem's endgame and consist of completing the same tasks, but on much more difficult difficulties to get better loot.
You are basically an Iron Man in the Garden of Eden.
The bastion's natural wonders can be sparkling. It's breathtaking to fly through a tunnel to get out on the other side and be greeted by a sunset plummeting against the ash-gray cliffs of the nearby ridges. On more than one occasion, I danced around in a shallow pond to see the light reflecting off the water as it tore along a pebble bank. The foliage of the game is on a different level, not in detail, but in the compelling variety that is constantly bombarding your retina. The shadows cast by all of the vegetation are impressive, as is the shadow my spear casts as it descends into a lush valley.
You are basically an Iron Man in the Garden of Eden. Other than the same old tedious tasks, there is simply not much to do there.
There are four spear suits in the game. The storm is the equivalent of a magician class with large elemental attacks. The colossus is heavily armored and well suited for refueling. It can draw the enemy's attention. The Interceptor is light and fast and focuses on melee attacks. And the Ranger is a kind of all-rounder that offers a balanced relationship between mobility and defense and at the same time is able to inflict high damage on individual targets. In addition to each different and satisfactory handling, their strengths and weaknesses offer a number of options for putting together a four-person team.
A Colossus player could use his armor and shield to focus on patrolling the battlefield for dejected allies that need to be revived, while a Storm player could use their pseudo-magic to clear out groups of weaker enemies. Then the remaining ranger and interceptor could focus on coordinating combos to quickly deal a lot of damage to hard-hitting enemies. Or four friends could all go into battle as the same class, but the hell. Teaming up is more fun as there is room for people to take on roles that go beyond "shoot well and don't die".
The spears each have a defensive ability, two attack skills, two weapons and slots for up to eight components that grant different status bonuses, such as longer flight times or higher combination damage. Each of these parts plays a role in the game's loot cycle. Eventually, the more a particular part is used to kill enemies such as a hammerburst rifle or the ranger's inferno grenade, the better versions of which you can make with resources that fall from enemies or destroy older pieces of equipment.
The fun in Anthem is to get a new device like an ice grenade early on and then use it to turn a scorpion nest into popsicles on the next mission. The core of the fight is about combos. First, prepare an enemy with a status or elementary effect, e.g. B. frozen, and then use a detonator like a rocket shot from a shoulder-mounted launcher to cause additional damage. The flow of detonators and detonators, each controlled by a cooldown timer, works well with traditional running and splashing, creating the feeling that there's always something cool to do instead of just taking cover between reloads. Add a quick-shot ability, double jumps, and the spear's ability to both fly and hover to this mix, and the results can be downright fascinating.
Ultimately, the lack of variety in the life of a freelancer takes its toll, as does the litany of minor obstacles, the inclusion of which in a game in 2019 is really confusing. The current level cap in Anthem is 30, which in terms of loot shooters means that almost nothing you do or acquire until then matters. Only after reaching this point, after about 20 hours of play, does the more interesting endgame begin. This is the time when it becomes possible to find masterpieces and their legendary variations, the rarest level of equipment, each with a special name and spear bonus.
For example, the Balm of Gavinicus autocannon returns 25 percent of your spear's armor each time you hit two enemies with it. Others are much more involved. Tome of Precision is a storm-specific Cupid component that increases electrical damage by 60 percent for five seconds after an enemy is precisely killed with a sniper rifle. I have acquired a handful of the Masterwork weapons and what they lack in really great gun feel they make up for by offering the numerical complexity that I crave from a more open RPG shooter.
Unfortunately, the structure of the game means that none of it will be accessible until much later, and even then, collecting the masterpieces you want is mostly a matter of luck. Instead of slowly creating a custom loadout throughout the game, the best and most interesting version of Anthem's Battle is reserved for Grand Master missions. These are versions of the same material that you have already done a hundred times on a drastically higher level of difficulty. At this level, you need to communicate with teammates and know how to take full advantage of the efficiency of your custom Javelin build. But getting there requires an investment that isn't currently paying off, at least not a world full of so many other evolving team-based shooters.
Progress is slowed down by the fact that there is no way to start missions one after the other. After completing one, you have to go back somewhere: either to Fort Tarsis, the forge where you can customize your loadout, or in the starting bay, a small social area where squads can check their inventory and swap equipment without being split to become and have to reform. Each of these areas is separated by a loading screen. That means you have to go through at least three loading screens to complete a mission, update your spear with your new loot, and come back into play.
As with any live game, signing up to Anthem at the beginning means chartering an untested ship for a difficult journey.
Once you are on a new mission, you will no longer be able to check what you have currently equipped, let alone replace newly acquired equipment. The strangest thing is that there is no easily accessible screen where you can check your character's overall stats against the existing workload. Even if you have been tinkering in the forge, none of the menus show all the data of all your devices at the same time. Given how much Anthem loves bombarding you with different numbers, percentages, and hyperspecific modifiers, the lack of an overarching character summary screen is a really disappointing oversight.
There are other things that seem to be missing. The only provider of the game is a handful of cosmetics that can be bought either with in-game coins or with real money shards. As I went through the main story, I made about 100,000 coins, enough to buy a set of spear armor and a couple of emotes. None of these things affect gameplay, but since it's the primary tool for changing the look of your spear, it's disappointing being able to access so few at such a high cost. BioWare has announced that the store will be updated every few days. This currently put me in the unfortunate position of holding on to my coin, fearing that I could only spend it on armor that I absolutely wanted to appear a few days later.
There is another in-game resource, Ember, that is used to make top-level equipment. The reason for this is to get a more optimal version of a masterwork element. Everyone has a preset buff, but also random buffs that encourage players to use the resources required to re-roll their masterwork item until they get the version that works best with the rest of their build. The embers required for this can be grown or bought with coins during the missions, although it costs so much money that you are much better at spending the currency you earned on cosmetics instead.
Free play, the mode of play where you only want to explore Bastion at your own pace while completing one or the other world event, can be just as annoying. There is currently no way to set markers on your map for places you want to go, although BioWare indicates that the feature will be added in an update. There is also no way for other players to know where a world event is taking place at any given time, which means that in many cases you are forced to complete it alone. If you die, you have to appear again. Unfortunately, Anthem's map is as big as it is and the respawn system is as it is. This usually means that it will be put back on the map up to a few minutes from where you were originally killed. If you get back the target you were working on, it may or may not still exist – along with any treasure chests that were shown when another player ended the activity.
Progress can also be hampered by lost connections and errors. Although stability has improved for EA Premier and Access subscribers since the game was first launched on February 15 on PC and Xbox One, problems still occasionally arise. Sometimes the game boots me with an error message about trying to update my player data. In other cases, new mission goals did not appear after the previous one was completed. Most of the time, there is simply a certain latency that makes it difficult to avoid enemy attacks. I seem to have successfully avoided just spontaneously dying three seconds later.
Anthem seems to be pushing the boundaries of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While I had no noteworthy problems with the game on both consoles during my time, the menu screens can only be filled and navigated slowly. While playing on the console, I noticed that cutscenes occasionally stutter. Within a few minutes after playing Anthem on my PS4, the fan starts the hyper drive.
If BioWare has its way, Anthem may still run on the next generation of consoles in a few years. BioWare says there is a "long term vision" for Anthem, and there is now a calendar on the EA website that shows what some of these next steps will look like. This includes new missions in free play, additional cosmetic and legendary missions to be added in March, as well as guilds, leaderboards and weekly stronghold challenges in April. This "first act" of new content is to be completed in May with a new disaster mission. As with any live game, signing up to Anthem at the beginning means chartering an untested ship for a difficult journey that may never reach its final destination or even lose sight of the port.
It is possible that the best days of Anthem are ahead of us. It's probably not a coincidence that the first screen you see after loading the game is a list of what's new in the game. But this truth, like all live games, cuts in both directions. There are a number of good reasons to believe that Anthem should not have been published in this state. Since it's a live game, BioWare offers numerous ways to make Anthem a better loot shooter. However, Anthem is unlikely to become a better BioWare game.
To maintain a live game, you need to keep an eye on a shared world that remains the same for all players. BioWare said it committed not to make paid upgrades in part because it didn't want to break the game's player base. This is not a vision that leaves a lot of room to tell unique character stories that are determined by each player's choices.
As much fun as playing Anthem can sometimes be, there is a point in every game like this where you can check your watch with a tick and for a moment see your whole future with the flash in front of your eyes. The weight of the hours you've already spent playing it is projected over the coming weeks and months, and the tiredness of a futile climb from rare prey to rare prey begins to occur.
In Anthem, it does not take long for this exhaustion to become fear as you stare into the soul of the game and all that looks back is the mind of someone who rolls the dice, hoping to get a better weapon.