We've played some bad video games in our time. We paid full retail price for Brink, wasted hours in the hide and seek simulator that is Evolve and spent a birthday disappointedly flying through hoops in Superman 64. We know a bad video game when we play it.
Enter Anthem, BioWare's massively multiplayer third-person mech loot shooter video game published by Electronic Arts. Recently, Anthem has been receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews, garnering an average score of around 60 percent, with some reviews going significantly lower.
Honestly, we just don't get it. Sure, reviews are all subjective, and Anthem is by no means a masterpiece, but a failing grade? We played both of Anthem's limited weekend demos and the full game itself over the past weekend on Xbox One, having a pretty dope time overall. To resolve this dissonance, we'll be giving our objective impressions of the game, addressing some common criticisms along the way. Keep in mind that we played Anthem solely on hard difficulty, because we're fully-grown adults.
In Anthem you play as a Freelancer, an underdog mercenary hero piloting nine-foot-tall sets of power armor called Javelins to defend the last bastion of humanity (called, uh, Bastion) held within a walled city against the conquering empire of The Dominion and monstrous creatures on an alien planet with no name.
So, yeah, Anthem is basically Attack on Titan but with Iron Man suits. Seriously, the tutorial mission ends with the arrival of a giant known as a Titan. We're aware that making an Iron Man comparison is pretty basic, but the default entry animation is literally the "superhero landing" Iron Man pose.
Let's start with the good. Piloting your Javelin feels incredibly satisfying. Javelins seamlessly move through land, air and sea with just the click of a stick. Though your jetpack frequently overheats, you can utilize a parabolic flight plan straight out of the Batman Arkham games for long range traversal over the lush, colorful landscape.
Each of the four classes of Javelin armor feel wholly different to control, yet remain satisfying. Piloting the Hulkbuster-inspired Colossus armor, for instance, makes you feel like the Juggernaut as you ram into enemy squads. Even the little touches like thrusters kicking in when a Javelin enters a sprinting animation make traversing the unknown an absolute thrill.
This freedom of movement also changes up Anthem's gameplay. Unlike most shooters, Anthem cannot devolve into typical cover-based combat. Instead, your omnidirectional gear enables you to constantly reassess positions and boost in to revive your teammates under heavy fire. Pinned down by an enemy wielding a flamethrower and riot shield? Just hover above to strike at its fuel tanks.
To strike at your foes, your Javelin armor is outfitted with class-specific gear and standard issue guns. There's a variety of guns to satisfy your specific playstyle, though the game is really about falling back on your armor's abilities. Additionally, performing the right special moves together with teammates will result in bonus combo damage accompanied by a satisfying sound effect. Anthem is at its best when you're circling the drain in a boss battle, only to turn the tables by performing an ultimate move, like raining down destruction with a missile barrage ripped right out of Robotech.
NEXT PAGE: Anthem's Gameplay Loop is Pretty Rewarding
We're placing such emphasis on traversal because its the backbone of Anthem's gameplay loop: Fly somewhere, fight some enemies, find some items, return or destroy said items, repeat. Some may consider this repetitive, but this is a misnomer. Literally every video game is by nature repetitive. It's just a question of finding a gameplay loop satisfying enough to cycle through ad nauseam, like Tetris. Try to pad out this loop, however, and you're left with tacked on fluff, like the science puzzles from Spider-Man on the PlayStation 4.
Padding out Anthem's gameplay loop is Fort Tarsis, Anthem's version of a hub city. You return to Tarsis after every mission to change your loadout and receive quests, all of which are done while walking at a glacier's pace. Sure, you can sprint, but why wasn't sprinting speed the default pace?
The upside of Fort Tarsis is that it allows BioWare's storytelling chops to shine through excellent facial animations and stellar voice acting, featuring Kristen Schaal as a quirky crafting vendor. Though some of the optional dialogue can be long-winded and your choices don't matter, it still enables the player to choose how much story they delve into.
Of course, Anthem is by no means a masterpiece. Despite our love of traversal, we still had to frequently open up the map because you can't drop waypoint markers. While we're on the subject of looking at the same screen for long periods of time, Anthem is plagued by loading screens. Although the loading times have improved significantly via patching, whittling down what once took minutes into about 20 to 30 seconds on average, they still occur frequently enough to break up Anthem's momentum. Ironically, there's a small cutscene that occurs every time you suit up, which could've helped mask loading time.
Keep in mind, most of Anthem's reviews were based on an early access build, the "full game" that was available to some users a week before Anthem's release. While not as rough as the demos, this early access build was updated with patches that solved many of Anthem's initial problems.
Take "The Challenges of The Legionnaires," an early mission that has appeared on nearly every Anthem review. This mission takes place in the freeplay mode, requiring you to unlock four tombs. Each of these tombs has their own sublist of requirements, like defeating 50 enemies with melee attacks or opening 15 treasure chests. Many considered this Anthem's breaking point, a roadblock designed to pad out the game's length as you grind out minor achievements. After grinding for hours to unlock the tomb, you discover it's just a room hidden behind another loading screen, yielding paltry rewards.
After a patch, however, "The Challenges of the Legionnaires" was changed. Now, your activities in other missions count towards its progress. Additionally, the mission is substantially easier. Missing the ten collectibles needed to open one tomb? The cave leading to the tomb is now littered with collectibles. What once took hours to complete is now over in about 45 minutes. It's a small step, but it shows that BioWare is listening to feedback.
Of course, the problem with every massively multiplayer game is that they remain a work in progress until the servers shut down. From its open beta to the various patches released over this past weekend, Anthem has already improved substantially. Furthermore, Electronic Arts has released a timeline outlining Anthem's upcoming content throughout May 2019, with promises of more to follow.
If we had played Anthem only during the early release week, we may think of it now in a negative light. But we didn't, so we don't. As a matter of fact, it hasn't felt like a grind for us at all, which is astonishing for a massively multiplayer game. Now if you'll excuse us, we have to return some Echoes or whatever to a giant sci-fi nonsense machine for experience points.