Bioware’s action MMO was often compared to Bungy’s “Destiny.” Both games have a playful philosophy in common, but apart from fights from a third person perspective and a completely different game world. There is much more that distinguishes the two titles from each other.
In “Anthem,” the freelancer is a kind of synonym for mercenaries – and that’s exactly the role you fill in the game. Of course, your ultimately nameless freelancer has an exploitative role here, on which the fate of humanity depends. But in the end, you do what such a mercenary does – accept and fulfill orders without asking too many questions.
We fought our way through the story of “Anthem” for you, upgrading our mech-like Javelin armor and mowing down thousands of enemies on our own, but mostly in co-op with other players.
You’ll find out in our review why the fights are great fun, but “Anthem” doesn’t quite meet the highest demands for the fun yet.
Beautiful New World
The game world of “Anthem” takes you to a science fantasy scenario in which humans fight for their existence. God-like creators designed your world, but not to the end.
That’s why you research the relics of those creators to get answers to your questions, to ensure the survival of your species in the long run. You take on the role of a so-called freelancer, a kind of mercenary who takes on dangerous missions that seldom do without weapons.
But fortunately for you, weapons are not everything you have to counter the machine creatures called Skar or the faction of the Dominion, who want to gain power over the world and the anthem at any price.
Nobody knows what the anthem is (yet). This legacy of the designers, however, is to grant omnipotence over life and death.
Does that sound trivial to you? Well, in the end, it is. Because although the SF scenario invented by the “Mass Effect” creator, among others, has quite complex traits, the story at best captivates to a limited extent.
It is because the action is in the foreground, and that storytelling within the missions has never really come into its own in any MMO. But it’s also because your nameless freelancer (either male or female) plays a central role and has a regular chance to speak. But in the end, remains a vicarious agent who has no real influence on the progress of the story.
The Combat System
The most significant advantage of “Anthem” is the combat system. Unlike in “Destiny,” you’re only in the third person perspective – at least when it comes to missions.
You always explore your base Fort Taris in the ego view, chat with NPCs or visit merchants. After a long and only solo prologue mission, you may decide for the first of four Javelins, the mechnical armor with which you go into battle.
Ranger, Storm, Colossus, and Interceptor are the names of these Javelins, which translates to spear. Each of them has different characteristics and equipment options.
If the Ranger is more like a universal Javelin who can do everything a bit, the Colossus is more like the tank of the squad. The Interceptor is lighter armored, but much faster.
Its Ultima rechargeable attack consists of a time-limited melee wave, for example, which is particularly damage-intensive. The Storm, on the other hand, can float longer and uses more elemental attacks in combat, while the Interceptor is especially useful for players who prefer it a bit faster or even more hectic.
Individualize each of these Javelins as you wish. The weapons, from the pistol to the sniper rifle, are the same for everyone. Each Javelin ignites various special attacks, some of which can be equipped, including lightning attacks and the like.
Each opponent is also susceptible to certain elemental attacks, which can make fire, lightning or ice attacks (such as hand grenades) particularly useful and valuable.
Also, equip your Javelin with reinforcing energy bells on the battlefield. The latter can, of course, also be used by your potential co-op fellow players, regardless of whether they are randomly selected other players or invited friends.
It may even sound like a standard, but in “Anthem” it achieves a variety that rarely exists in this form. Such tactical possibilities always play an essential role in the fight against enemies. The Skars are of course more receptive to corrosion grenades as machine creatures.
Other enemies are kept in check by frost grenades to make it easier for them to fall on their backs and target their potential weak points.
Story, Fortresses and More
In “Anthem” you are so far exclusively traveling in the world region Bastion, where you always spend your time outside the missions in your hub level.
Fort Bastion is the name of the game, where, unlike other MMOs, you don’t meet other players directly. Instead, you add information to your global glossary of game worlds and characters, take on new missions, or (partly) conduct optional dialogues with NPCs.
You’ll also be able to make smaller dialog decisions that will affect your progress. In addition to the freelancers you belong to, there are other allied groups like the Sentinel and the research-oriented Arcanists.
When you complete their missions, you can unlock extras. It’s not so much about better blueprints for weapons, equipment or the like. Much more you change within the Fort Bastion itself by such important things as the cleaning of a fishpond. To what extent progress affects better weapons and abilities is difficult to say. Anthem” remains opaque until the end.
In addition to the story missions themselves, which would take a maximum of 15 hours to complete, you can also choose other missions to improve your relationship with the Arcanists or Sentinels.
However, they hardly differ in design. Defending points, collecting and using objects in the environment, and that’s almost it. Otherwise, there’s only shooting around – which is undoubtedly fun. But you could also accept missions for certain arcanists or sentinels. They don’t bring more variety, but additional experience points for the level up.
You can accelerate the latter the most by attacking fortresses. You could also describe them as Raid, although most other missions work the same way. But in any case, apart from the chosen difficulty level, there are also slightly trickier and longer missions (story and other missions seldom last longer than 15-20 minutes, without cutscenes), which bring particularly valuable loot in between and in the end lead against special enemies like a giant spider in the field.
There are currently only three of these fortress missions, and you only unlock two of them after the story. There has to be a lot more to make the endgame worthwhile.
What’s announced are special events, in the course of which the game world, which is not small, but also not very gigantic, will change and in one of the upcoming events. For example, Titans will be all over the place. Will this make the game better? Hardly! But it won’t get any worse.
A Mistake Rarely Comes Alone
In addition to excessive loading times, we also had to cope with the lack of experience point credits from completed missions. Also, there are missions (even within the story) which could not be continued due to an error.
For example, a specific radio message was not triggered correctly in a mission. The consequence of this was that two portals, through which enemies invariably storm onto the battlefield, just don’t close.
We endured this situation for more than 15 minutes until we voluntarily left the game. The restart of the same mission proved the fact that it didn’t take that long to continue.
No less annoying was another story mission, which suddenly broke off for no apparent reason in a particular phase and switched to a loading phase. It lasted almost eight minutes each, with three approaches at the same time.
The result in each case was that our “live data” could not be read correctly by the server. The entire playing time, each kill or the theoretically acquired experience points were for the cat.
On top of that, we landed in Fort Tarsis without an input option and could only save ourselves by manually closing the game using the task manager. We could now give umpteen more examples or complain about the sometimes annoying online tags.
It’s clear that “Anthem” without decisive patches is worth half at best. In a long list of announced bugfixes Electronic Arts and Bioware promise improvement. It remains to be seen whether this will happen soon.
There are several reasons why you should not miss Anthem. The most important of these is the enormously versatile combat system, which shines with its four very different Javelin-Mechs and the comprehensive special abilities and individualization possibilities.
Because if “Anthem” is outstanding in one point, it is definitely in the fights, which are repetitive to a certain degree, but at the same time allow tactically demanding fights within the scope of the abilities and the very different possibilities of the Javelins. Especially in the co-op mode, these moves come into their own, not only with friends but also with strangers.
Despite some twists and subtleties, the story and the characters involved aren’t as profound as they could be. However, this doesn’t do much of a harm to the fun of the game, primarily as “Anthem” is in no way inferior to other action MMOs like “Destiny” or “The Division.” The setting is also unique enough so that “Anthem” is far from being a copy of even one of these role models.
What “Anthem” didn’t have at the time of the review is above all the fine-tuning. The scaling of the opponent’s strength doesn’t always seem to be right, especially in “Free Play.”
The biggest drawback is the remaining bugs, because uncredited experience points from normal missions or raid-like fortress attacks are not acceptable, especially for a full price game.
Since Publisher Electronic Arts and developer Bioware promise to eliminate these and some other bugs soon, we won’t give a final rating yet. Even if EA and Bioware fix the biggest bugs, you can’t expect a masterpiece.
But it’s an action MMO that can compete with the quality of a “Destiny.” As soon as we give a final score, we will update this review article accordingly and inform you about the reasons for the final score.