So then. After spending another few days with BioWare’s Anthem we’re finally ready to give our conclusion. Below you’ll find our original impressions article, along with the score.
You have to wonder what the hell happened during Anthem’s development cycle. With reports of the game ‘going gold’ and being ready in early November, only for the demos to appear and be broken beyond belief, the ‘complete’ Anthem feels rushed, botched and rushed out of the door for seemingly no other reason than to keep EA bigwigs’ bonuses safe and secure. There’s so little of Anthem that feels fixed, that feels like there is a cohesive video game that actually works hiding under the surface. It’s fascinating when word of mouth and reputation of a game can be less damaging than releasing it before it’s finished.
The almighty BioWare – responsible for some of the most engaging and terrific video game narratives in recent memory – feel like a team at odds with its publishers. Anthem is the result of a developer that – you would think – knows better than to rush a game to release in order to appease executives. We could argue for hours about the state of Mass Effect Andromeda, and how it signified a lack of polish would transfer over to Anthem, but for a developer of such stature as BioWare, you would hope and wish that they would learn from the mistakes. You would think that EA would step up and go – ‘huh, we’ve had a rough year of Andromeda and Star Wars Battlefront II, let’s take it easy with Anthem and ensure it’s a solid product’. Nope. Anthem is as much of an inconceivably disappointing product as Andromeda was. As Star Wars Battlefront II was. BioWare and Dice deserve better than this and we all know it. Anthem should have been a slam dunk.
And yet here I am, having played several more hours of Anthem and trying to work out what the hell happened. Every so often I’d be playing through Anthem and I’d just sigh. Whether it be not being able to connect, being kicked, having to slog through Fort Tarsis and not rage quit because nothing about Anthem’s navigation is simple. Tearing it around Bastion and not being able to set up waypoints(!). It’s about as user-friendly as battery acid.
Throughout the week and before my impressions article went live I hadn’t played Anthem with a friend. I had hit all missions with randoms and whilst that’s surprisingly not as intrusive or infuriating as it might have originally thought it would be, games like this are by design made to be played with friends. I finally jumped into co-op with Sean last night it was fine. We were flying around, shooting outlaws and it was fine. We then found ourselves lost in the corner of the map. We had to get to a tomb to open it up. Sean had to finish off a couple of World Events in order for the tomb to open. Goodo. Because there are no waypoints and because you can’t just head straight to them (like in Destiny), we were flying around in an attempt to find one we could complete. We just had to find one. The game gives you tasks to complete, gives you a list of things to complete but gives you exactly zero indication of where on this godforsaken map you can actually get it done. When you’re just flying around in the hope that you may stumble upon your task, Anthem becomes so incessantly tedious. We finally stumbled upon a world event, got it completed and then we had to make our way back to the tomb. We can see it on the map but of course, we can’t set a waypoint so we’re left to just guess where we have to go. In an open world game. It’s a design choice that can only be described as a clusterfuck.
We realised we were on the wrong side of a rock in order to find this particular tomb. No worries, we’re in Javelins. We’ll just fly over. Oh no. We can’t do that, the game doesn’t let you fly too high otherwise you’ll overheat. You have to stay close to the ground if you want to fly for a prolonged period of time and it was at this point and I wanted to throw my controller through the screen. The most simple, the most basic navigational mechanics are simply not available. I don’t yet know my way around Bastion, not in the same way I know my way around Destiny’s worlds or even bloody Hyrule. I find waypoints useful not just because they can give me a nudge on where to go, but if allows me to get to know the map. This is how I learn my way around. I can get to the point in certain open worlds (like Red Dead) where eventually, I don’t need waypoints and I can just tear it over to certain locations myself. Naturally, Anthem doesn’t give you this option.
Is it because the map is kind of pointless anyway? When you’re encouraged to just bloody fly everywhere the design and layout of Bastion feels inconsequential. It feels like I shouldn’t worry about how things are laid out because what’s the point when I’m not moving on foot all that much anyway? As beautiful as Bastion is (and it really is gorgeous), its layout is not something I’ll ever learn. It’s not memorable. It’s an open world where you’re encouraged to fly but not too high, but its not designed with boots on the ground in mind because why would it be? It’s at complete odds with itself.
You may have already scrolled down the page to find out what we gave the game after a solid ten days of trying to find something to get excited about. As mentioned about, Anthem is a beautiful game. BioWare have done a sterling job with how everything looks about as perfect as you would expect a live service game in 2019 to look. Is there potential here? Of course there is, but at this present moment that’s all Anthem is – potential. BioWare have said as much with their godawful ‘roadmap’. Anthem wasn’t ready to launch and it’s becoming more and more apparent. With rumours of the game bricking systems and persistent crashing (something myself and Paul have experienced), it’ll all be taken care of one day. One day. Not now.
Right now? Anthem is not worth the money they’re asking. It just isn’t. It might be someday, the ‘quality of life’ has to be improved significantly because once you’re in the game, you can see what BioWare want Anthem to be, you know where it’s heading and the story ending leaves it open enough to ensure that it’ll continue in the same way that Destiny just keeps on going. It’s not dreadful, there just needs to be a serious overhaul of the navigation, the bloody menus and the ‘looter shooter’ aspect which at this present moment is ensuring you’re getting very little back for your momentous efforts.
I’m not ready to write Anthem off as a complete failure, but I won’t be going back until they bother to make it easy to navigate, easy to live in.
The question has to be asked. Will they?
ORIGINAL IMPRESSIONS ARTICLE;
Here’s the thing. Anthem has had a rough ride of it since the launch of the games VIP Demo a couple of weeks back. It was riddled with bugs, crashing and loading times taking an age, causing the internet to explode in a fury about how this game is simply not ready for public consumption. The following week a second demo launched which, well, wasn’t much better. The game was fun enough, sadly the troubling technical issues let it down to such an extent plenty of internet commenters decided to either cancel pre-orders or just simply lambast the game online for all its worth, ensuring that a rough launch a near certainty.
Come launch day and once again, the bugs and the issues that we all experienced during the betas were there, seemingly nothing had been done between now and then, despite the shockingly huge day one patch, a patch that arrived three days after the initial EA/Origin Access launch. Good lord, as I typed that I realised how utterly ridiculous Anthem’s launch has been.
We got our hands on the full game on launch day and I was hoping, thanks to the day one patch that some of those issues had been ironed out. To an extent, they had been. I had little issue getting online and got going rather seamlessly once everything had loaded (oh, those loading times). I finally got into Anthem, Bioware’s great white hope to steal a portion of the live service genre. So how does it fare?
Look, Anthem is just dull. I don’t want to be a huge downer on it but there’s no getting around the fact that there’s just so little about the game that’s exciting it’s difficult to get excited about all that I’m still yet to see. I’ve dropped fifteen hours into it so far, assumedly I’m near the end of the campaign and I feel like I’ve done the same mission around thirty times. Between the atrocious loading screens – not just how long they are, but the sheer volume – the flying mechanics that, astonishingly, get really old really quickly and the copy/paste enemies that have about as much personality as a brick wall painted black, the world that BioWare have built just, isn’t interesting.
It’s not like the game really helps itself. From the very beginning we have a brief look at the history of your characters, the Freelancers and suddenly why the world seems to have turned against them – in an Avengers Sokovia Accords kind of way – which frankly doesn’t make a lick of sense. The Freelancers messed up on one mission and now the world thinks they’re useless when they were once heroes. What? Because of one botched mission? The Heart of Rage which saw heroes fall, one would imagine the world would rally around them and build them back up but nope, they’re gone. With that, goes the games atmosphere and its soul. Your goal is to keep the name of the Freelancers alive in a world that’s left them behind, but who are we fighting for? The opening few hours is seemingly just clearing up the mess that you left behind before the game even started. There’s very little here to inspire you to actually want to fight for the Freelancers. The narrative plays the human race out like the villains, the enemies who turned their back on the Freelancers, so it’s up to you to change their mind but first, you have to go out and fly about to find stuff for people back at Fort Tarsis (think Destiny’s Tower). Great. Why again? It’s such a bizarre, jarring opening to a story that, at least so far, hasn’t done anything to flesh it out.
Something I can get excited about is the visuals. Fair play to Bioware, this game is beautiful to look at. Tearing it through a dark underground cave to be greeted with a stunning sunshine cascading across the natural beauty of the Bastion is wonderous. You will waste a huge amount of time just flying around to look at just what Bioware have created and it is genuinely something to behold. The facial animations are terrific and there’s plenty to get excited about in that regard. The day one patch must have done some real magic in this arena because I don’t remember it being this good in the VIP Demo. The problem is, as wonderful as the map is to look at, it becomes very boring to explore because there’s so little to see. It’s populated only with your alien enemies, whether it be giant scorpions, giant crabs(?!) or the Scars, who I’m already sick of shooting. My initial thoughts while playing was primarily ‘yeah this is very pretty, but where the hell is everyone? Why is this vast landscape so devoid of life?’. The argument could be made that these creatures have quite simply taken out all human life that you might discover, the only life you come across are either Freelancers that are trapped (or dead) or these cute little creatures called Grabbits that have the courtesy to run away when you’re nearby. You’ll only ever find people to talk to when you’re in Fort Tarsis, and even then the majority of them are quite happy to ignore you.
To its credit, I’ve always have something to do whilst playing Anthem. There’s always a contract or a scavenging mission to be getting on with, the problem is they just all feel the same. If you’re not going somewhere to shoot something, you’re playing Marco Polo with a sensor on a screen that does little to encourage exploration. The missions feel like they’ve been repeated over and over, I can’t remember one that really stood out, as they all fall into kind of a mesh of each other. Sometimes, missions will be a giant fight in a small indoor area (like Destiny) or you’ll be fighting hordes of enemies in an open location with enough ammo and armour being dropped that it shouldn’t really be an issue to get through them without much fuss (like Destiny). Here you’ll either be defending something, collecting something and killing a boss. Rinse and repeat. If you’re lucky you’ll get the chance to fly around and collect orbs that need to be collected to make a thing do a thing that’ll open a door. It’s a means to an end. At no point is it exciting, it just feels like work (like Destiny).
The Freeplay mode is also a headscratcher. You’re let loose in Bastion to do as you please and this is a good time to explore the world, collect any loot or ember/plants and stuff you’ll need to build weapons, components and more. Of course, this couldn’t be any less user friendly. There’s currently no way to set a waypoint to direct to where you want to go, if you know where some good loot is or if you want to get on with a World Event (a Destiny-like Public Event by any other name), for example. You just can’t set a course to get there, which is utterly baffling considering the size of the map. BioWare claim this will be added in a future update, one of the most standard, basic possible options for the user to utilise will be added in an update. Meaning, essentially you can crack on with a World Event should you happen to stumble across one and have to take it on by yourself, which is far more difficult than it sounds. Once you’re dead you’ll respawn but gleefully, nowhere near the World Event you were taking on. Yay, cheers Bioware.
I would normally try and justify all of this once I got to this part of an article. Clearly Bioware have been cherry picking ideas from a variety of ‘live service’ games and attempted to build something a little more unique, something that can be built upon in the years to come. The problem is, that’s the problem. It’s plainly obvious Anthem was not ready to be released, in an attempt to not delay it any further it’s been rushed out of the door with little areas being tinkered as we go. The ‘loading times’ drum has already been beaten to within an inch of its life but quite honestly, it’s embarrassing how long we have to wait just to play this game, and how every cutscene, every skip to your Forge to edit your Javelin has a loading screen, and back again. The loading between starting a mission and actually getting to bloody play it is beyond the pale and there’s little signs of it getting any better anytime soon.
There’s little about Anthem that’s user friendly. I hate the menus with a passion, designed so enigmatically poorly you have to imagine it has to be a last minute consideration. I hate that I have to walk to my Javelin every single time I want to leave Fort Tarsis. Why can’t I just launch a mission without wasting thirty seconds walking a starting point when I have to wait two minutes for the damn missions to load anyway? I hate that this games USP, the damn flying feels great for an hour then out of nowhere becomes a slog. I hate that my Javelin can overheat, so when I’m actually enjoying getting around the world I have to shoot down to water just to cool down my jets and keep going. Why encourage a new way to explore a gorgeous open world but then have it ripped away when you’ve been doing it for too long? I hate that it’s so damn convoluted to craft anything at all. I hate salvaging blueprints, go all the way back to the Forge to craft something new only to be told I don’t have the correct components on my person. I hate that I can’t edit my gear on the go. I really hate that I had to look online to find out which button to press to switch my weapon around.
It drives me mad that Anthem had so much promise and potential and it’s been thrown out of the door kicking and screaming, with the promise of a greater experience coming down the line yet encouraged to buy it now because reasons. I don’t understand how this is considered acceptable from Bioware of all companies, who we know are truly excellent developers.
How they’ve managed to make essentially an Iron Man simulator set in Pandora feel tedious is a mathematical mystery that I’ll never find the answer to.
Anthem is available now on PC, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro) and Xbox One
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review copy from the publishers. For our full review policy please go here.
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