When news broke that Anthem would ship with just three Strongholds – dungeons akin to Destiny's Strikes that make up much of the repeatable endgame content – it seemed as though we were witnessing another such example in the making. But with a roadmap that lays out the first content drop for March and several more already planned for the near future, EA might be hoping to outpace its peers and keep a steady flow of new stuff coming to stop players from letting their javelins go rusty, not unlike how Fortnite changes things up on an almost monthly basis to keep things fresh.
Anthem's setup is pretty neat, with players assuming the role of peace-keeping Freelancers in a gods-forsaken sci-fi world. Said deities made a mess of things then noped out of existence out of embarrassment, leaving behind all manner of relics that can alter the very nature of existence, as well as scores of unholy beasts and lethal phenomena. Various factions vie for power in this broken world, with teams of Freelancers facing off against tenacious bandits, power-hungry freaks, mutated wildlife, unimaginable monstrosities and who-knows-what else.
Each of the four available javelin mech suits has its own role and play style. Ranger is the all-rounder, Storm trades physical prowess for elemental abilities, Interceptor deals in pure speed, while the hulking Colossus is the tank of the group. As well as their own unique weapons and skills, each has thrusters of varying capabilities, used to soar across long distances and to make combat a much more three-dimensional affair than in most shooters – learning to zip around the battlefield is the only way to stay alive on tougher missions, not to mention that it helps the game stand out from its peers and feel immensely satisfying once you get the movement tech down.
Mobility, gunplay and ability use all feel great, and missions tend to be of the short-but-sweet variety, although that does make the frankly ridiculous loading times even more frustrating. Same for the game's curious decision to withhold all items and experience found in the field until you get back to camp – whenever you get something new and shiny, the first thing you want to do is try it out right away, and that process is going to take a minimum of five minutes, and that's if you're in a position to drop everything and return to the fort, not stuck in a mission or event. Not ideal for a loot game, especially when most others offer ways to get your new toys in your hands pretty much right away.
So far, the core gameplay loop is entertaining and engaging, but the structure really gets in the way of keeping the fun flowing. Having to traipse around a pointless hub area between every single mission gets old super-fast – aside from the odd optional conversation, there's not a lot to do in the first-person hub of Fort Tarsis, and the hurriedly added social space hub area is literally just a big empty warehouse. Given that a lot of missions are pretty short, you could realistically end up staring at loading screens (which are so long that you should be able to understand the one tip they deign to show for their duration by the end even if you don't speak that language) and wasting time walking between client and muster point for longer than you're in the field getting the job done.
Downtime aside, there's no denying that Anthem looks the part. You could almost cut your eyes on the razor-sharp 4K visuals of the One X and PC versions, and the others hold up similarly well even at lower resolutions, helping the vibrant world and killer suit designs really pop. Performance isn't quite so hot, it must be said, and the game does seem to slow down and stutter a fair bit, plus the world isn't as varied as it could be right now, though we expect that to change when the huge Cataclysm events begin. Customisation seems mostly limited to gear and weapons at launch too, with cosmetic armour variations thin on the ground, even if the option to alter their colours and materials can make for some unique and impressive suits.
Even just flying around pinging missiles and lasers at things feels good, letting you play at being Iron Man in a more empowering way than any actual Marvel game has ever managed. Anthem is protracted. Walking around Fort Tarsis is just dull, and we've no idea why the option to launch a mission with a button press from anywhere isn't present during solo play when it's there during multiplayer. There are some particularly obnoxious mission choke points as well where you just have to complete a shopping list of arbitrary tasks to progress, which just feels like padding, and the endgame one of these has some particularly eyebrow-raising requirements. Anthem is engaging. Its gameplay loop, while long-winded, is enjoyable and watching your Gear Score creep up as you grab and equip new equipment is its own thrill, not to mention the fact that it has tangible effects on gameplay as the challenging Grandmaster modes go from being completely out of your league to genuinely manageable. Normal presents only the vaguest challenge so Hard is our recommended setting until you're ready to take on the Grandmaster modes. GM1 is fine for solo play once you're geared up, but GM2 and GM3 require a lot more teamwork and are best experienced with a pre-formed party – four silent randoms are never getting through a Stronghold on GM3.
Anthem is buggy. We encountered all manner of issues during our time with the game, from enemies glitching into the environment so they couldn't be killed to the entire map being unpopulated when loading into Freeplay, effectively meaning there's nothing to do there until you load out and back in again, which takes a minimum of four separate loading screens. Lag can also be a real issue, with enemies sometimes taking a while to register damage and occasionally even just miraculously getting all their health back as if you never even touched them – especially annoying on higher difficulties, where major enemies have absurd health pools as it is.
Anthem is promising. While some of the deep-seated issues might be difficult to fix, most of the game's issues right now are teething troubles the likes of which we see with almost every new live service release at launch. The core gameplay is great and as BioWare continues to layer on new content and shore up what's already there with patches and fixes, Anthem is only going to keep getting better. Smooth off those rough edges and load the endgame up with more to do and it'll go from being good to perhaps being great, so we'll be keeping an eye on how this evolves over the coming months.
- Beautiful visuals
- Some amazing suit powers
- Flying feels great
Iron Man 2
- World is quite small
- Myriad technical issues
- Endgame is pure repetition
Anthem Review (Xbox One)
We're confident that it'll grow into something really good over the coming months as new content and events arrive to mix things up for powerful players, but right now, you can reach Masterwork tier inside a week and in getting there, you'll have already seen everything the game has to offer. It's a strong foundation on which to build – or rather, it will be once some of its more egregious issues are sorted – but there's just not a lot to it at this moment in time. Anthem's potential is enormous, so we genuinely hope BioWare is able to tidy up what's there and flesh out the game's lacking areas as it evolves over the course of the year.
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