On a world left unfinished by the gods, a shadowy faction threatens all of humankind. The only thing that stands between these villains and the ancient technology they covet are the Freelancers.
Join with up to three other players and assemble high-tech, hand-crafted, uniquely powerful exosuits. Explore vast ruins, battle deadly enemies, and claim otherworldly artifacts. With every mission, you and your Javelin exosuit grow in power. Fight the dangers of an ever-changing world. Rise united to defeat evil. Triumph as one.
In Anthem, players operate as a Freelancer who is a highly skilled pilot of a mech suit called a Javelin. They are tasked with completing missions around the game’s gorgeous world of Bastion for the various denizens of humanity’s last city, Fort Tarsis.
Bastion is a beautiful locale, full of waterfalls, tombs, underwater caverns and dangerous wildlife. It feels the closest to the Avatar movie in videogame form, and looks beautiful when flying through the skies, powering through water, or just when admiring the views from the walls of Fort Tarsis.
As the game’s key differentiator from other similar titles, the Javelin is at the heart of Anthem. Flying through the air as one of the four classes, dropping into battle and using a wide variety of mortars, missiles, grenades and melee attacks brings to mind watching Iron Man in full flow.
The Colossus is a hulking beast, capable of carrying heavier weapons and taking more damage, while the Storm wields elemental attacks while floating.
All four types of Javelin are fun to play, but most feel unique. Never is this more evident than in the excellent animation as the Interceptor backflips into its flight mode, or when the Ranger twists and turns to dodge incoming fire.
Each suit’s ability to fly plays into the world design in Anthem, with items hidden in caves and in hard to reach places – a benefit of allowing such vertical movement.
Within missions, Anthem relies on its fun combat loop to negate the monotony of the majority of its objective structure.
Most levels conform to the “go here, shoot something, hold off a wave, move on” we’ve been doing for years, and while Strongholds up the ante with more difficult encounters, most of Anthem’s missions blur into one homogenous mass.
While its story is formulaic (not to mention quite similar to Destiny’s) Anthem distinguishes itself with truly excellent voice work and impressive facial capture.
Between missions, you’ll converse with characters around Fort Tarsis, with conversations ranging from lore-building to setting up side missions.
Unfortunately, unlike Mass Effect’s Normandy, or Destiny’s tower, Fort Tarsis is a dull location – its labyrinthine corridors and reliance on a compass at the top of the screen to point out when conversations are available make it feel like a chore to return to after each excursion.
It’s also deathly quiet, save for any friends in party chat inadvertently interrupting a key plot point. It feels strange to party up for an evening’s play session only to tell friends to be quiet during cutscenes.
This is all exacerbated by the inability to alter weapon and gear configurations on-the-fly, meaning you’ll return to Fort Tarsis on a regular basis. For every travel there and back out into the open world, loading screens become a frustratingly common occurrence – some lasting much longer than others.
Assessing which gear best suits your needs is also a trial and error process.
At this early stage, there are plenty of item descriptions that are barely explained, including the “Combo” system that offers up incentives to “prime” and “detonate”, as well as some that have glitched descriptions which mean the benefits of each piece aren’t as clear as they should be.
Anthem’s loot feels disappointingly vanilla at this point in the game, each item being equipped to a Javelin’s slots as opposed to changing each piece of gear.
It means gear comes with statistical increases rather than facilitating a change in play style, and while there are plenty of viable builds, weapons feel disappointingly confirmative to genre archetypes.
Anthem feels like a game at war with itself. Between its beautiful world, fun combat, and excellent characterisation, there’s clearly a strong base for Bioware to build on from here.
However, uninteresting loot, a boring central hub and more bugs than one of its insect-filled caves mean there is much to do.
With some more polish, Anthem could be a great way to spend an evening playing with friends – just don’t expect the next Mass Effect or Destiny.