Anthem

Anthem was released on Friday 22nd February 2019 after a long and relatively drawn out release schedule of demos plus Early Access through various EA subscription services.

What is Anthem?

Anthem is an online multiplayer action RPG from BioWare – the creators of Mass Effect. It’s the latest in a line of looter-shooter games where you take control of your Freelancer explore the vast landscape of an alien world, shoot enemies and level up through weapons and armour.

Gameplay

Anthem is a third person shooter with RPG elements. You take control of your Freelancer in an fully customisable exosuit called a Javelin. Each suit can be personalised to have unique weapons and super human abilities.

There are 4 Javelin classes:

  • Ranger – A solid all round Javelin.
  • Storm – This is the mage style, elemental Javelin with fire and ice abilities.
  • Interceptor – Ninja style Javelin, fast movement.
  • Colossus – Heavy hitting tank of the group.

Flying is one of the unique selling points of Anthem and it feels fantastic. You take to the skies flying through ravines, waterfalls and under water. It gives the game a sense of scale and freedom. There’s a sense of verticality to the game which isn’t felt in other games in the genre. The world around you is a lush living jungle full of creatures and enemies to shoot.

Weapons in Anthem range from pistols, scout rifles, automatic weapons, shotguns and snipers. Combined with the weapons each Javelin has a number of abilities including rockets, grenades, shields and elemental attacks. Javelin’s have Ultimate abilities also allowing them to attack and destroy groups of enemies and deal major damage to bosses.

The central hub for players in the game is Fort Tarsis. This is where you meet other NPCs, customise your javelin through the Forge and pick up quests. There’s daily, weekly and monthly contracts to pick up as a freelancer.

There’s a large amount of customisation options in Anthem allowing you to change armour pieces including your helmet, arms, body and legs. Colours, materials and different customisation features are available. As you move up through the ranks these become more specialised as you develop a unique build for your Javelin.

Story

Anthem is set on a unnamed planet that contains advanced technological relics which can harness an energy source called The Anthem of Creation. These relics can terraform the environment, mutate wildlife & climate, teleport characters and summon creatures. Unstable articfacts can breakdown and create destructive and dangerous areas called Cataclysms.

The people of this unnamed world have limited knowledge of the relics but believe they were created by a god-like race called The Shapers. They abandoned the planet thousands of years ago for an unknown reason. The Anthem and The Shapers are worshipped by humanity. Centuries before the start of the game the people of the planet were enslaved by ogre-like creatures called The Urgoth. A human named Tarsis used Shaper technology to create powerful exosuits that allowed them to fight back. These became known as the Javelins. Over the following centuries, General Tarsis and her Legion of Dawn became heroes by fighting back against the Urgoth.

The game takes place in Bastion where most of the humans live inside a city called Fort Tarsis protected by Sentinels and Javelin pilots. Outside the city, Bastion is filled with dangerous creatures, outlaws and random disasters caused by unstable artefacts. Cities rely on Freelancers, a faction of Javelin mercenaries, to deal with the threats beyond the wall. Freelancers work with Cyphers, people who are tuned to the Anthem, who work with you on missions as a voice in your ear.

10 years before the start of the main campaign, a faction of humans called The Dominion stormed Bastion to attack the city of Freemark to steal a Shaper relic called The Cenotaph. The dominion believed The Cenotaph could give them total control over the Anthem. In their attempts to use The Cenotaph it resulted in an explosion that destroyed Freemark, leaving a cataclysm in it’s place known as The Heart of Rage.

First impressions

So far with Anthem there’s definitely good points and not so good points.

First of all the good points. I’m enjoying the story, characters and world building BioWare have created in Anthem. The graphics and the audio are fantastic. Flying is great fun and the scale of the world around you sometimes leave you just looking around at the gorgeous scenes. The feeling of running ahead, jumping up and flying around the world feels great. As we mentioned before the verticality of the game gives you a sense of freedom.

If you want to feel like Ironman in a game then this really scratches that itch. The game reminds me of Pandora from Avatar – the rich, lush jungle that needs to be explored, teeming with animals and life. The sounds as you explore the world really draws you into the world. The combo elements of the game feel great. Teaming up with your buds and nailing combos and damage on enemies feels fantastic.

Now for the not so good points. Gameplay at the moment feels a little bit repetitive – fly in, defeat a few waves of enemies and then fly out again. You could say this is the foundation of looter shooter games however the enemies don’t feel varied enough just yet. Also, the world in free play feels quite empty at the moment with minimal enemy encounters.

I’ve been booted from the game more than a few times and unable to get back in for a few minutes. I’m playing after the day one patch however the infrastructure still feels flimsy. I haven’t encountered long load times yet which is a good thing which was a major complaint during the first week.

Audience reaction

Initial reaction to Anthem has been mixed with the games launch schedule having a negative impact on reactions from players. The private demo was plagued with connection issues, however most of these were addressed in the open demo.

Anthem was available to the general public on 15th February but the game had some bugs including long loading screens, a brick wall in terms of gameplay with the Tombs leading to less favourable initial impressions by reviewers. BioWare did react well and fast to these issues in a huge day one patch albeit 6 days after the game was made available to the public. However this has led to some questioning whether the game was ready and released too early before it was really ready.

This is a familiar story amongst the narrative of live service games with other companies falling foul of the initial release. Destiny had a similar release in 2014 which was accused on a thin story and undercooked game due to a complete rewrite in 2013.

Next steps

Overall I am enjoying Anthem so far. There are some improvements that could be made but the foundations for a great gaming experience are here. I’m approx 8 hours into the game so far and there’s enough here to keep me coming back. I’ve not yet reached the end game and I’m looking forward to developing builds.

As with all these service games getting through the main campaign is just the start. Developing relationships with the characters, the environments and developing your own build and unique play style is all important. Playing with friends is also key too. More often than not playing with friends improves your experience and it’ll be interesting to see the tools and support BioWare bring to help this shared experience.

These games need time to get into the end game. Therefore we’ll give the game a few weeks for a full review.

BioWare detail Anthem’s first 3 months roadmap in a blog post. This details upcoming free play events, legendary missions and the first Cataclysm.

Anthem is out now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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