Anthem Reviews in Progress

BioWare's latest role-playing installment won't be making it into the hands of the masses until later this week, but several outlets have already started to publish their initial impressions of the action-heavy RPG. Unfortunately, there are a lot more gripes than EA likely wants to see.

PC Gamer starts us off with a review-in-progress and the game's 8 biggest problems:
That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my frustrations with Anthem's loading screens, which are so painfully long and numerous that it's baffling. Different parts of Bastion are tucked behind loading screens, and missions will frequently send you to these places for just a minute, before turning you around and having you sit through another loading screen as you exit them. When finishing a mission, I have to sit through an overly long after action report and then a loading screen to enter the Forge just to see and equip new gear. Then there's another loading screen just to enter Fort Tarsis where, more often than not, I'm going to immediately turn around and queue up a new mission which triggers yet another fucking loading screen. It's maddening.

If you can't tell, I'm not enjoying my time with Anthem. The combo system is a clever innovation that rewards teamwork and aggressive but smart use of my javelin's abilities, but that's about the only worthwhile thing I like about Anthem aside from it being gorgeous. I prefer my BioWare games to be ugly on the outside and beautiful on the inside. Hopefully the story takes a sudden turn that sparks my interest and makes all these characters and bits of lore matter, because there are better RPG shooters I could be playing instead.

Anthem's mech-powered flying keeps missions from being completely one-note. It's my favorite part of the game so far; you have to keep your suit from overheating while you fly, which means you can get creative (or at least add flourishes as you go). The main cooling methods are water and literally cooling your jets by descending. It's exciting to nosedive only to pull up at the last second, and there's something serene about flying under a waterfall and into a strange cave. The most exciting thing to happen to me in Anthem so far is finding an upgrade for my suit that increased its heat resistance, letting me fly longer. I'm hoping I find more reason to explore than I currently have, if only to have more reason to be in the air.

I'm currently treating Anthem's disparate missions as an excuse to try a new weapon or special attack, which, combined with flight, gives me incentive to keep going. I'm hoping that I get more out of the story as I go on, but so far it's too generic to get its hooks in me. I'll keep playing on PC--I've luckily only been kicked due to server issues twice--so look out for the full review in the next few days.

If you get killed in action, your allies can also revive you to bring you back into the fight. Once you are knocked down, there’s no way to signal your allies to tell them you’re down, however – you just have to hope they revive you. If not, you’ll spend the rest of the mission staring at your downed character. You can’t even reach the pause menu in this state. Even without the bugs where the volume cuts out entirely, the game freezes up, or the netcode makes you teleport through the sky and into a wall, Anthem’s biggest issues can’t be fixed with a patch.

I went into Anthem with an open mind. It’s a game I wanted to succeed from a studio I’ve always been fond of. Unfortunately, it’s everything everyone feared at reveal. It’s a hollow experience that’s been designed to appeal to the widest market possible while squeezing more money out of those who are hooked in by its doggy treat design.

It's so frustrating because there are occasional glimpses of what could make Anthem great. A story thread involving grain farming and two minor NPC characters you find in Fort Tarsis actually lets you decide the fate of their relationship through the game's limited dialogue tree. Plus there are intriguing layers to your interactions with Tassyn, the head of the slightly evil sounding Corvus, that give you a glimpse of the BioWare famed for creating Dragon Age and Mass Effect.

But there's nowhere near enough of the stuff that makes BioWare games distinctly BioWare. That's the content that Anthem needs sooner rather than later because, at the moment, it's existing solely in the shadow of Destiny. Not Destiny 2, which has steadily grown and evolved with the community, mind – but the Destiny of five years ago. Anthem is designed to grow and evolve over time, but unless that happens sooner rather than later it'll be dead on arrival.

Of course, the real challenge for a game like Anthem is whether it can still feel almost as exhilarating after 100 hours as it does after six. Even now I have concerns the breadth and diversity of enemy encounters and mission types. Almost to a one they’ve consisted of some version of a spherical arena space that requires slow, methodical circling. When I end up in a tight spot, I fly out of range and then begin a new sweep. The mission objectives have so far been simple, consisting of either holding down a point or collecting orbs to activate an artifact. Enemy AI doesn’t help either. On more than one occasion I’ve seen enemies standing completely still, or turning around and showing their backs, exposing their weak points to me, for no particular reason. Given all of the powers and mobility at the player’s disposal, Anthem seems to try and make up for these slip-ups by giving enemies a good chunk of health and throwing tons of them at you. In the end it can all feel a bit chaotic, more like a free-for-all than a tightly wound shootout than forces you to actually consider strategy and tactics.

I’ve only completed about a dozen missions so far including one stronghold—a longer dungeon that’s made for a party of four players and features a boss at the end. As I unlock more abilities and equipment, I’m hoping the game’s encounters will change things up as well, beyond just offering me higher difficulties to complete all the same old missions on. I haven’t yet found one I would love to run again just for the hell of it. For now, there’s plenty of other things to keep me coming back.

Digital Trends:
Anthem is an evolution, not a revolution. But it’s the details that make the difference. What I saw of the game was exquisitely detailed, from the foliage in forests, to the flying animations, to the bundles of awesome loot. It’s all polished to a mirror finish. Even Destiny 2, an incredibly slick and refined shooter, feels clunky and slow next to this.

Still, for a game like Anthem to make a lasting impression, there needs to be more experiences lined up after launch. The level cap will be just 30 and it’s unclear how the post-launch content will shape up. I’m skeptical that will keep players satiated, even with four mighty Javelins to customize. But if BioWare can back up Anthem with new features, story missions, and customization, the game could become a true gem.

Trusted Reviews:
So far, Anthem is a strange flawed adventure with glimpses of greatness buried behind an abundance of obtuse design decisions. What so many players love about Bioware is here, but fragmented in such a way that it becomes unrecognisable.

The core of Anthem – being its fearsome gunplay and angelic flight mechanics – are stellar, yet they’re held back by the mission structure that dictates them. Things could certainly improve with the introduction of deeper dungeons and endgame content, but right now Anthem is sadly underwhelming; a victim to the template it’s trying so hard to emulate.

Unlike the demos the online seems pretty stable so far, with the artificial intelligence glitches being the most notable technical issue. So in that sense the launch is a success, but given how good the flying is it’s still hard not to wish that BioWare had just made an official Iron Man game instead. We’ll have a full review of Anthem in due time but at the moment it seems to be an internal struggle between its gameplay, its mission design and structure, and its corporate mission to become an ongoing service. We can only hope that at the end of the day it’s gamers (and BioWare) that win out.

Anthem's loot system doesn't really pull you in. I just equip whatever is the strongest version of the Relentless light machine gun I have available. Shotgun #6 is only slightly better than the first five shotguns. The difference between a Common and Uncommon version is a perk that I might not feel in gameplay like "Assault Rifle +1% Damage". It's not interesting and unique, like an assault rifle that shoots fire or ice, it's just a little better. Maybe that will change in the future, but right now, the aesthetics of the loot system are a disservice to Anthem.

So that's day one of my time with Anthem. It's a beautiful game where the movement is unique and freeing. The story is throwing a lot at the players and some of the characters feel like living mannequins, but there are standouts as well. And the overall mission loop feels like it has too many operations and too much downtime. It feels like the first Destiny: it's an intriguing start, but there are several problems that need to be ironed out. What's frustrating is that many of these problems have already been solved by other MMOs. It's baffling to me that Anthem seems to be starting from scratch, even if I'm sure BioWare is going to do whatever it takes to improve post-launch.

God is a Geek:
So far I have a few issues with the reward screen, too. It’s nice to see the Alliance score going up, but the game does a poor job of explaining what that means, and it gives me a bunch of shiny medals every mission with zero context and no way to track them, so I fail to understand the purpose of it all. Likewise, I’ve reached higher loyalty levels with two of the factions but either didn’t receive rewards or I’m looking in the wrong place. This stuff should be explained in laymen’s terms; right now it’s as if the whole game was designed by committee, and there’s a bunch of stuff included just to appease an imaginary demographic.

I’ve a ways to go yet in Anthem’s campaign and then there’s the whole endgame to tackle, so there’s room for things to change. If the mission variety improves and the loot economy picks up in the elder game, I’ll be much happier. What I can say without blinking is that I’m enjoying Anthem. It’s a likeable game with an interesting world and a few things I’ve never, ever seen before, but it’s also a frustrating experience at times. It feels finished, to me, so I’m not going to excuse BioWare of a lack of demonstrable effort in any area, but there are some weird design choices throughout that make me wonder how they passed the testing stage.

And Destructoid:
So far my concerns are the standard looter shooter lows that are still popping up. Mission variety fatigue, potential loot problems (some of the items seem pretty expensive/grindy), endgame protection, that sort of thing. But I haven't gotten to that point to fully judge it yet. For now I'm enjoying the ride and can almost recommend Anthem as a solo RPG experience.

As I said during my time with the demo, Anthem ticks all of the right boxes...initially. The true test is how I feel in a week, or even a month. Stay tuned as I work my way through the core campaign and continue to cover Anthem as it evolves.