ANTHEM released on February 22nd amidst bubbling anticipation following a stunning reveal at E3. Gamer’s couldn’t wait for the spiritual successor to the acclaimed Mass Effect trilogy to deliver the magic we experienced with the trilogy and right the wrong of the spin-off, Andromeda. Let’s just say that it didn’t live up to the hype. The reveal trailer, below, promised an enormous world where friends could team-up and explore to their hearts’ content. And, gamers’ mouths watered at the possibility. Even the most sociopathic First-Person-Shooter enthusiasts looked forward to the potential of Anthem; however, all was not what it seemed.
That trailer is not at all what we get.
Gameplay and Experience
Anthem plays well and is stunning to look at. You play a Freelancer, a pilot of a Javelin—a one-man army packaged in a really cool, customizable power armor battlesuit—who defends the dwindling human race inside a Jericho-like city-state from the myriad threats of the outside world. Sounds great, huh? The vistas and scale are unreal, and the details and terrain are thrilling. The world, though beautiful, is pretty empty and lacking depth to match the game’s breadth. For example, the flying mechanic is marvelous and super responsive as you transition from running to flight mode. But, as you marvel at the scenery while diving from a waterfall, you come to the realization that you’ve only seen two whole animals in twenty minutes. One animal was some unremarkable rabbit-looking varment, and the other was a crab-like rhinoceros that didn’t do anything but spit a projectile…because all environmental threats have to have a projectile weapon??? Sure, why not. The world looks lush, but it’s just an illusion—a disappointingly empty one.
Probably my biggest gripe about the game is the load times. They are grueling and torturous time-devouring chores that disconnect you from the social aspect of the game. You’ll find yourself in the middle of a sentence with your team when—BOOM—loading begins, and you spend fifteen minutes unable to talk, feeling suddenly isolated. For some reason, Bioware decided to forego a plan to deal with teamspeak interruptions, making the development seem lazy and rushed and deflating the experience of the game. And, perhaps teamspeak-eliminating load-times are standard practice in all games, but I never noticed before…probably because the load times didn’t take seventeen years.
Storytelling and Lore
The ideas behind Anthem are big, really big. And, since this is a Bioware game, you can see the inspiration of Mass Effect which, too, was conceived from equally big ideas. My suspicions tell me that Anthem was originally built to serve as a sequel to Mass Effect: Andromeda. But when Andromeda failed to yield acclaim, I think Bioware shifted gears. Even though I was disappointed by the unremarkable Andromeda and the shifting away from Mass Effect, I greatly looked forward to something new and different.
There’s a metric ton of story in Anthem. While it follows the same general premise as Mass Effect–factions fighting over ancient artifacts possessed of godlike power—Anthem is much smaller in scale but has the same potential richness. The operative word is potential. The problem is it’s a huge endeavor crammed into the tiniest multiple-player online model. What should have been deep storytelling, came off as gimmicky, seeming as though the writers and designers resorted to grade-school-level fairytale methodology to get the game finished and onto the shelves. Everything in Anthem is characterized by one word preceded by the word the. I know, trivial…unless, of course, you played Mass Effect and you know what Bioware is capable of. So, you encounter the freelancers, the ciphers, the scars, the dominion (who have apparently returned???), the sentinels, the striders, etc. To bring my point home, replace those names with standard children’s fairytale tropes: the witch, the hero, the monster…you get the point. Don’t get me wrong, there were some things in the story that definitely had pathos, like The Heart of Rage and The Anthem of Creation. Those names alone evoke something deep…but when you dive in, you realize that it’s not deep at all.
Finally, the missions are repetitive and flat: spend fifteen minutes loading, fly to this waypoint, fight that mob of spawning enemies, listen to routine voiceover, watch for random landmines, fly to an objective, hold button, fly to next objective, fight new mob of spawning baddies, listen to more routine voiceover, collect Zelda-style loot chest, spend fifteen minutes loading, see something cool for a fleeting moment, fly to that waypoint. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Anthem is as numbingly enjoyable as spinning in a circle when I was ten to dizzy myself. The game isn’t bad; it just fell flat. You’ll dig the visuals and the experience of flying in your Javelin, but that will only carry it for about thirty or forty hours of gameplay since the game ultimately lacks the pathos and payoff of Mass Effect. For all of the buzz around the game’s release, it’s definitely—unfortunately—a disappointment. Since Bioware didn’t learn its lesson with Andromeda, perhaps this game will make them go back and rethink their process. Let’s keep hope alive.