Posted February 22, 2019 by Andrew Cathie in Feature

Anthem Review-in-Progress

Anthem is a massive departure from the type of game we’re used to seeing from Bioware. While previous games from the company have included multiplayer modes, they have always been squarely focused on campaigns meant to be completed by yourself. Queue Anthem, the literal opposite, a game focused on completing missions with others, that can also happen to be played solo if you so choose. So far I’ve played through the first five or so hours of Anthem’s campaign on PC, and while there’s promise, so far I’ve been underwhelmed by what I’ve experienced.

I’ve long felt that Bioware’s signature has been creating games to tell a story, with the combat sections being secondary to the experience. On the other hand, Anthem feels like a game focused on the combat, with the story being secondary in the experience. This would be fine if the combat was a great experience, but so far in my time with the game I’ve found it to be lacking the magic of other similar games. A large reason for this is the focus on weaponry that feels grounded in reality, as opposed to wild Sci-Fi concoctions. Assault rifles, auto cannons, marksman rifles and explosives abound, and the wild possibilities of an Iron Man fantasy filled with energy beams and the like are missing unless you play as the Storm Javelin. There has also been a distinct lack of emphasis on air combat, with most enemies grounded and largely stationary. Hopefully there is some more variety as the game continues, but I’ve begun to worry that this may be all there is to see.

While there is so much potential to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy flavour of Anthem’s story, it really hasn’t come close to fulfilling that promise early on. Beyond the beginnings of missions in Fort Tarsis and the very occasional mid-mission cutscene, the story feels largely secondary during the moment-to-moment gameplay in Anthem. There are some small conversations during missions, but these are mostly just to push you towards the next objective and don’t add to the story or World at all. The story did seem to be picking up towards the end of current time with Anthem, however it has definitely been a slow start. Combined with writing that I would consider average and characters that seem to be overacted, my impressions haven’t been great so far.

Playing on PC with an overclocked Ryzen 1600X and a GTX 1070, I’ve been surprised at just how poorly the game performs from a technical standpoint. Even with most settings set to low the game still struggles to maintain 50fps at 1440p, and the main issue seems to be the game’s lighting systems. A great example of this is in Fort Tarsis, where there is no combat or rapid movement. At night-time I hit 90fps, but in the same area during the day the framerate drops to an average of about 50fps, with further drops to 40fps and below. Load times have been an issue as well, with missions taking over a minute to load, despite the game running off an SSD. These are things that will hopefully be aided by further patches to the game, but right now it’s not great.

The other side of the performance issues I’ve had so far is that the game’s graphics settings have had to be formed down to maintain performance levels. Because of this, I don’t believe I’ve seen Anthem at its best, but it certainly still looks good. Environments are detailed, the lighting is spectacular (if resource intensive) and the Javelins look amazing, although some faces definitely look a little wonky. I just wish the game was more fun to traverse. The flight mechanic is great, but your Javelin overheats quickly enough to be prohibitive, forcing you to try and find circuitous routes that pass waterfalls to constantly cool it. The promised seamless world also hasn’t eventuated, with load screens popping up whenever you enter caves or dungeons, further breaking up the game.

The most lacklustre aspect of my time with Anthem so far, however, has come from the myriad of frustrating design choices. Missions so far have almost entirely followed a single pattern- Fly to place, scan it, fight waves of enemies, rinse and repeat up to three times. This is a criticism that was levied against at Destiny four years ago and it’s wild to see Anthem making the same mistake. The aggresive squad tethering is frustrating as well, with the game popping up a warning that covers up your flight heat meter and forcefully teleporting you (with a load screen) if so much as one member of the squad wants to force a fast pace in a mission. The process of equipping new equipment is utterly abysmal, filled with loading screens. You can’t adjust equipment in mission, instead having to face a load screen to finish the mission, a load screen to enter the Anvil to change your equipment and then another load screen to exit. Then there’s another load screen to start the next mission, and if you decide you don’t like the weapon you equipped, you’re faced with the same cycle to change again. Couple this with loot that has so far been totally underwhelming, with rarity tied to your level and no unique items. What this means, is that you can’t find rare equipment at a low level, and you’ll largely be finding the same 3 assault rifles/auto cannons/shotguns/etc. for a long time. It’s completely killed any enthusiasm I’ve had to chase loot in the game.

My hope is that by the time I’ve finished Anthem more variety will have been introduced to the missions and loot, and that the story will have picked up. Because my first five hours haven’t come close to meeting the sort of quality I would expect from a game out of Bioware.

Andrew Cathie

Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.