Reviewed by @spitfire_spud
Have you ever wanted to feel like Iron-Man? Fly about in an advanced fighting suit and be a hero? Well thanks to BioWare you now can, well sort of.
Anthem takes place in strange and fascinating world named Bastion in which its covered in ancient technologies of an ancient race that once harnessed an unknown energy source simply known as The Anthem of Creation. It was this energy that caused massive cataclysms that shaped Bastion into the world it is today as you see it. So where do you fit into all of this? What would be your role? You are a Freelancer which means you are one of the chosen few to get to control and maintain a Javelin, think of it as an Iron-Man suit but with less of that Tony Stark flare.
These Javelins give you the ability to fly and fight on command so that you can protect what remains of humankind, which are all safely tucked up in a settlement or fort which is called Fort Tarsis oddly enough. It’s from here where you have a base of operations and its your own hub where you get to meet the inhabitants and to see how the story unfolds as you progress through your story as a Freelancer. While it’s all a bit mundane at times, the story does tell of a conflict that you will face and go by the name as The Dominion. It’s this group that will be your main enemy that you fight as they search throughout Bastion to find an ancient relic named the Cenopath. The Dominion believe that it will help them bend the Anthem to their will and use it for their own purposes.
Like most of the games that BioWare has created, the story in Anthem is deep in terms of the lore and back story that surrounds the main story arc. The cast of characters that you will meet are both interesting and annoying in what they have to say. Each character you meet has their own story to tell and even have some missions or expeditions for you to undertake for them. With every character you meet progressing the main story, there are different paths that you are led down depending on your choices you make. While it sounds like an amazing tale, its poorly done in the way you don’t feel any genuine emotion between each of the characters that you get to meet, even the main characters feel detached from everything.
It’s a shame when you have such detailed character models and amazing animated cut-scenes in some of the more cinematic moments that it’s let down by how the narrative of the story is presented to you. It’s not what I was expecting from BioWare, especially from how well their previous games have handled story-telling, like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. The Conversations that you have with your fellow Freelancers while you are out on expeditions also seem to be a bit forced and sometimes can happen right in the middle of a fight. It’s a bit off putting at times, as you are looking to focus on fighting, helping your squad and keeping them alive too which is a real shame.
Most of the gameplay is in third person as you fly about in your Javelin when out on your expeditions or just taking it easy in Freeplay and doing your own thing. It’s only when you touch back down at Fort Tarsis that the camera switches to first-person and you are walking about interacting with the NPCs and the other main characters in the game. As a Freelancer you get to jump into four Javelins that will suit all conditions when you are out on expeditions throughout Bastion. Each of these Javelins have their one advantages and dis-advantages in certain situations that you will come across and its always best to have all four (Ranger, Storm, Colossus & Interceptor) at your disposal when heading out with your squad for maximum effect!
With the Javelins it’s down to what game style you want and how you want to play the game. I favour the Ranger everytime since it’s more of a soldier Javelin and a mixture of everything in relation to good agility and armour. Javelins like the Interceptor is extremely agile and quick and can zip in and out of fights causing high damage. The only drawback to this however is its armour, which is light compared to the other Javelins that are on offer. The Colossus is the tank and your beefcake of the four and comes with a lot of physical strength but with all this power, it is the slowest and heaviest Javelin. The Storm is a Javelin for those of you who like to stay in flight and attack from long range with its elemental attacks and powerful abilities. This was a good choice from BioWare as it makes working as a team all more important and I hope as we move forward with more Javelins coming that there will always be that balance.
Regardless which you choose to start with (you unlock all four as you play) jumping into your Javelin is a brilliant experience and it must be played to believe how well it feels and handles as you fly around Bastion. The controls are very intuitive and work well regardless of the situation you’re in and each Javelins moves, and abilities are easy to get to grips with.
The RPG element in Anthem is based on your Javelin rather than you as a Freelancer. As you progress in Anthem you are rewarded new weapons, support gear and more. Each weapon works well on their own, but when you get them to work together, the real power of your Javelin is more apparent. You can also change the appearance of your Javelin too. There is a lot of customisation in Anthem that it encourages you to be creative when it comes to personalising your Javelin. As you explore Bastion while out on Freeplay or a mission, you will be rewarded resources and components for you to forge new accessories and items. While it takes time to build up enough resources and components to get what you want, it’s a lot of fun flying about and jumping into the random missions that pop up.
If you tire of exploring Bastion looking for resources (to be honest, how could you?), you can save time by dropping into Fort Tarsis and use your coins that you earned to buy what you need if you want. There is also the game store and use real world cash to buy everything you need. A word of warning however, the prices are high and there is not much on offer that would make you part with you cash.
Anthem has a variety of expeditions on offer to you from the start. The main expeditions on offer are your main story missions that provide you with what has happened throughout Bastion both past and present. You learn more about the main characters as they send you out on expeditions to find ancient relics before The Dominion do and as you reach the end of your journey and find out what is really going on.
Freeplay is where you get to explore Bastion at your own pace and do whatever comes natural to you. Whether you want to gather every single mineral and organic resource you can or kill every living thing you find, its up to you. You also get to team up with friends or random Freelancers that you get to run into as you explore and even help one another out. In Freeplay you are probably more likely to find out more about the history of what happened before you arrived. It can become a little dull at times, especially if you are flying about and doing some of the activities by yourself. While you can take the time to admire the beautiful world around it, there is nothing like playing with a squad.
Strongholds are a different kettle of fish altogether and they remind you of dungeons from other RPG games that you may have played. These strongholds let you explore them and have their own missions but on a harder difficulty that reward you with some juicy loot if you beat them. You will want to squad up with some well-equipped Javelins to take them on. They are the most challenging missions you will undertake but you will get the best loot by completing them. You will probably spend most of your time here as they are the most enjoyable to play, especially when you meet some amazing squaddies.
Quickplay lets you jump into with fellow Freelancers and help them on their current mission that they are working on. This is a quick and fun way to play Anthem once you have completed the main story arc and you also get to help your fellow Freelancers and earn some extra XP and loot for yourself in the process!
Everytime you jump into your Javelin from Fort Tarsis and launch an expedition, you are greeted with a menu that lets you jump into FreePlay, Quickplay, Mission and Strongholds. Here is were you can also invite your friends to join you as you complete your missions. If you don’t have any friends about at that time, you will be paired up with other players to help you out, or each other out. It kind of brings home the message that the game is supposed to be a cooperative game. However, if you want to play solo you can make your party/squad private so its just you by yourself. It’s a much better experience to play in a squad and plus it really hits home when you try to take on a Stronghold by yourself that this is a team game more than a solo one.
The only other location that you meet up with other Freelancers, other than free roaming around Bastion, is the Launch Bay. This is where you get to meet and greet other players and get to see their Javelins and even join their party or add them to your favourites list. It does feel very basic and not THAT much engaging when you compare how interactive you are when out on expeditions. I feel that this was left to the side when you compare it to other areas of the game.
When it comes to Anthems visuals and how the world of Bastion looks, it’s nothing short of jaw dropping. The world that BioWare has created is huge and there are quite a few moments of beauty that will make you stop and just admire the world you are in. The level designs in each area are well fleshed out and with the creatures that inhabit the land as you fly over are nothing short of amazing, especially when you happen upon your first Titan that makes you stop dead in your tracks! There are mountains that almost reach to the sky, lakes that can run deep that you can plunge straight into and explore some of its hidden secrets and see even more fascinating creatures lurking within. There are also forest areas that are scattered about that look almost Earth like as you run through them taking down Scarabs and Dominion forces. Going from that to your hub at Fort Tarsis, it seems a bit night and day which is a bit of a shame.
The area in which you can explore inside the fort is limited and while some of the areas are well designed in terms of market area, the rest feels like it was just tacked on for the sake of it. It feels empty at times that you could probably hear your own voice echo if you were to speak up loud enough. It doesn’t really make you feel like a home or a place where you would want to interact with any of the characters that you meet. Everything also seems to move at a snail’s pace when you are inside the fort, with your movements being limited to something that resembles a walk to a slow jog. When I first seen this area at the reveal of Anthem at E3, it was a vibrant and rich world to walk about in and really get a sense of the place being alive with everyone walking around and doing their day to day tasks.
The characters that you interact with throughout your gameplay are extremely well designed and you can tell that a lot of time went in to getting them right. It’s just a shame that when it came down to the area that they live and work in, it was given a more of a brush over.
The sound in Anthem is also a bit of a hit and miss at times. The sound effects from your Javelin taking off and landing and the motors from the thrusters as you manoeuvre through the skies are amazing and work well in sync with what your Javelin is doing on screen. There is also a sense of urgency when in combat as bullets whiz past you and plasma projectiles being fired at you with explosions blowing up all around you. The elemental attacks like lightning from the Storm Javelins crackle and spark as they hit their targets. Hearing the Colossus thunder past you as it pounds the ground makes you feel every bass rumbling tremor, especially if you have your headset on while playing. With the sound effects being so detailed and working so well with everything else as they happen, it sad to say that the music doesn’t quite feel up to the job that its supposed to be doing.
While the music does rear its head in cutscenes and at vital points in the story, for me its as though it can’t be bothered to tag along with you to see what the outcome is and seems to just wander about doing its own thing in terms of how the music should accompany the gameplay. Music is supposed to feel part of the experience as you play, it’s supposed to pull at your emotions that a story is trying to convey, yet with Anthem, this is not the case.
With the music being a negative point for me that I experienced during my playthrough, there was one huge issue I had with Anthem, the loading screens! While Anthem has so much going for it in terms of gameplay mechanics, visuals and to a lesser extent the soundtrack. It’s the long loading times that make you feel ejected from the game, especially at pivotal points in the story. While Anthem has received a patch to try and alleviate this issue, its still too long to be waiting around to get back into the action as some of them still take longer than a minute to pass. They also happen to frequent as well for a game that is supposed to be a seemingly open world experience.
There are also a few graphical glitches that pop up every now and then throughout my playthrough and some clipping from close ups during breaks in combat, but fortunately nothing to the extent that others have come across. I was playing on the Xbox One X which seemed to work fine in most cases. At the start prior to the latest patch, I did encounter some crashes that caused me to lose out on some vital loot at the end of missions or Strongholds. However, since the patch has been released, these are few and far between.
Anthem has all the hallmarks of being an amazing title and despite its short comings, I feel that given a chance and the time to prove itself, could work out wonders for BioWare and gamers. If you can get past the tedious loading screens that pop up too frequently, you will find a game that is a lot of fun to play and hard to put down. However, only time will tell if this can be the game that the developers have promised us. It’s just depends on how long gamers are willing to wait to get that true experience they have been waiting for since Anthem was first announced.
GoG Rating: 8/10