Anthem Xbox One X Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Looter Shooter
 
Rating: M
 
Release Date: 22/02/2019
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
2/5


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

Positives


- Flying is fun
- Javelins look super cool

Negatives


- The most crashes I've ever experienced in a game
- Myriads of other bugs and frame rate issues
- Art direction is incredibly generic
- Story is vague and characters are largely annoying
- Combat encounters lack diversity
- Loot is uninspiring and doesn't feel worth the grind
- Load screens for days


Posted March 11, 2019 by

 
Full Article
 
 

When I wrote about my early feelings on Anthem, I spoke of a game that lacked the variety and magic of so many other fantastic experiences. Bioware is known for being a developer that is able to create deep and engaging Worlds, with narratives that pull you in and keep you interested no matter how many hours you play. I spoke of a hope that after further time with Anthem, the verve that was apparent even in weaker Bioware outings like Mass Effect Andromeda would come to the fore. Instead, after completing Anthem’s story, I was left with the impression of a middle-of-the-road Sci-Fi experience that lacked any of the spark both the developer and genre are known for.

Anthem is a wholly different experience compared to Bioware’s traditional fare, with a focus on online co-operative play and a cycle of grinding to get better and better gear. While it’s not what you’d have expected from Bioware coming off the single player focused games, the promise of Bioware’s signature world building and narrative style made the game an interesting prospect. Games like Destiny and The Division have shown how story can be woven into multiplayer missions, so it’s astounding to see just how badly executed Anthem’s story is. Unlike those other games, Anthem’s ongoing story is largely contained within 1-2 minute cutscenes of conversations within Fort Tarsis, the game’s hub. You’re thrown into a World you’ve never heard of or seen, with little to no background on it or its inhabitants and expected to get straight to work. The story’s concepts, antoganistic factions and characters (beyond a few key characters) are largely poorly explained and glossed over, unless you take the time to read through the in-game library. I’m not averse to doing some deeper reading to truly flesh out my understanding of a game’s lore, but I shouldn’t need to do so to gain an understanding of the game’s titular Anthem of Creation or anything beyond the scarcest fragment about the World I’m in. Anthem’s story deals in the vaguest of concepts, seemingly trying to tell a personal, contained story instead of going on a Universe saving bender like in Mass Effect¸ instead creating a narrative that quickly left me bored and disinterested.

A big reason for this is just how poorly the story in Anthem is presented. Taking place entirely in first-person, Anthem relies on its NPCs to truly sell you on its story. First person viewpoints can be incredibly effective in presenting a narrative, but the horribly overacted sequences in Anthem are often cringeworthy. It feels like Fort Tarsis held a competition to find its most eccentric, quirky and unusual people, and then decided that they should be the ones to save it. You should never end up with the deadpan and boring character being your favourite, but when everybody else is constantly slinging quips or going off on completely unrelated or unnecessary tangents, that’s exactly where I fell. The other big issue with Anthem’s story is its utter lack of action or meaningful set pieces. Other than a couple of 20-30 second snippets, Anthem’s cutscenes are utterly devoid of action sequences starring yourself. It seems like Bioware wanted all of the game’s action to be performed by myself, but it just felt like they wanted to avoid showing your character doing cool things that can’t be replicated in-game. Given the monotony of Anthem’s combat (more on that soon), it could have done with some action sequences to actually make me feel like I was a powerful bad-arse. Add in one of the most anti-climactic and disengaging ends to a game I’ve ever seen, and Anthem’s story has actively pushed me away from the game.

We’ve seen all of this before with Destiny, a game with a lack of meaningful story content that was held aloft by amazing gunplay and a fresh take on the genre. Neither of these are pillars Anthem can rest on. As far as genre and content are concerned, Anthem feels almost as anaemic as Destiny did at launch. Until you complete its campaign there is only a single Stronghold available (the game’s equivalent to Destiny’s Strikes) and afterwards this increases to three. You’re expected to endlessly repeat these three strikes and smaller scale Contracts in an effort to grind towards higher level gear. This would be fine if the gear in Anthem felt in any way satisfying. Higher tier weapons in Anthem are simply better versions of the same guns you use at Level 1. Your grinding won’t be in the hopes of finding Anthem’s equivalent of a Gjallarhorn, but instead of finding a fancier version of the guns you’ve spent the last 30 hours using. Does that sound interesting to you? Because it certainly wasn’t interesting to me and had me dropping the grind in Anthem pretty quickly.

The one point of differentiation Anthem has compared to other games is its flight mechanics. I’ve wanted a well-made Iron Man game for years and the promise of being able to fly around in Anthem was one of my strongest reasons for wanting to play it. What I found, however, was a flight system that was constrained by aggressive overheating and completely disappeared during combat. Flying around Anthem’s open areas is an effort in frustration, as you constantly search for sources of water to cool your suit down as you fly, lest you be grounded after 10-15 seconds of flight. This wasn’t exactly what I hoped for from the game’s flight, and it certainly wasn’t what was pitched in initial trailers.

The worst part though, is the mechanic is completely ignored in combat situations beyond hovering and flying across the map to get to enemies. Instead, you simply hover in the air or stay grounded, as enemies who are largely similarly ground run at you or don’t move at all and simply shoot in your direction. There seems to be little tactics built into the enemy AI and so it’s often perfectly viable to simply hover in a single spot and shoot without much movement. The gunplay itself is also lacklustre, with bullet-sponge enemies that barely react to your shots and simply keep shooting or lumbering through them. Explosives and the Storm’s elemental attacks fare a bit better, and feel a little more satisfying to use, but even they aren’t able to make the game’s repetitive combat encounters interesting. Encounters basically fit into three situations- Kill all enemies and scan an item/pick up items, activate a scan zone and defeat waves of enemies while staying in the zone, and kill the marked enemies. This is a game that is sorely in need of some more mission and combat variety.

The one area where Anthem really pushes the envelope is in its graphics, at least the technical side of them. The lighting is amazing, the areas are densely populated with clutter and the Javelins are incredibly detailed and great to look at. The art direction, however, is some of the most uninspired generic Sci-Fi/Fantasy content I’ve seen in a long time. Here are the plants that look a little different to things on Earth, there are the cuddly rabbit-like animals that mean you no harm, wandering around are some weird insectoids that wouldn’t look out of place in any Sci-Fi film out there and I can even see some sharp red rocks and bulbous plants to harvest. Anthem’s world design looks so generically Sci-Fi/Fantasy that it feels like I’ve seen it before, and in reality, I likely have seen them before. The worst part though, is just how bad so many of the game’s NPCs look, with smooth shiny skinned faces that make them look like they’re made out of plasticine. Their clothing is simple, their hair looks unnatural and their eyes look dull and devoid of life. After all the criticism Mass Effect Andromeda rightfully received for its utterly terrible faces, I would have expected Bioware to have put more time into avoiding it happening again.

Speaking of Mass Effect Andromeda, I hadn’t played a game as crash happy and riddled with bugs until I played through the mess that is Anthem. Early on in my time with Anthem, I was lucky and only faced a few frame rate hiccups, but the further I got into the game, the worse my experience got. This was punctuated by a run of crashes I had while playing through story missions, with the game crashing to my Xbox’s home menu six times in four missions. The worst of these happened on the game’s second to last story mission, where it crashed coming into the last firefight and then crashed again during the loading screen as I attempted to reconnect. I ended up having to play the entire mission again, including the unskippable cutscene which now inexplicably had a member of my squad spawn in hallway through. The most fun bug I had was in a late-game cutscene when a character’s model didn’t spawn in, leaving the other characters to seemingly shout at thin air as a disembodied voice replied back. I had multiple issues with the game freezing for 5-10 seconds before continuing, the sound completely dropping out or blasting instances of static/feedback through my speaker, framerate drops and hitches, and issues with enemies disappearing, respawning or respawning due to lag issues. By the end of my time with Anthem, I entered each mission praying that the game wouldn’t crash again, a sentiment which is most unconducive to fun.

These technical issues were compounded by terrible design decisions that made it all the more frustrating when the game crashed. Whoever decided that you couldn’t have an accessible inventory in-mission, forcing you to go through an out-of-mission load screen to make any changes to your javelin is out of their mind. Having to go through a load screen to get to the mission selector at any point, plus a further load to start the mission, and more loads if you enter/exit any cave or building or begin a cutscene in what was originally described as a ‘seamless world’ is incredibly frustrating. Having an early game mission teaching you to collect in-game materials, which basically acts as a front to introduce you to the game’s real-money store is embarrassing, even if you can spend in-game currency on the contents as well. Aggressive tethering that forcefully warps your entire squad to a firefight (regardless of size or impact) if a single person decides to mainline the mission and not explore, complete with another loading screen, is annoying and actively discouraged exploration in-mission. Especially considering these loads would happen even if the teammate who went ahead is literally meters ahead of you, but the game doesn’t consider your position to be within the bounds of the firefight.

Given this is the third AAA IP to take on this form of the Loot Shooter genre, behind Destiny 1+2 and The Division, Anthem really needed to set itself apart from the rest. Which is effectively what it’s done, except it set itself apart as a decidedly inferior option. A slew of technical issues, poor design choices, generic art direction, uninspired combat encounters and a vague unengaging story pull what was otherwise an average-at-best experience down even further. While there is the promise of more content to come, unless Anthem’s underlying problems are fixed, I’d highly suggest ignoring the game and picking up Destiny 2 or The Division instead.


Andrew Cathie

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