Anthem review: Video game feels like Iron Man combined with Star Wars
Ask any person which superhero they’d most like to be and there’s a good chance they’ll say Iron Man, because he’s an awesome character.
Having your own cool suit of flying armour full of weapons like Tony Stark is pretty neat, so being able to play a science-fiction adventurer with flying power armour is a pretty big drawcard for a game — and one of the main attractions of Anthem.
Developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Anthem feels in many respects like a cross between Iron Man and Star Wars, in which you climb into your flying power armour and cruise around a planet having adventures that involve shooting a lot of stuff.
From a game-play perspective, the game is quite similar to Bungie’s Destiny games, in that it’s a co-op loot-shooter where the aim is to shoot enemies and acquire better stuff so you can shoot higher-level enemies to get better weapons.
You explore the world of Bastion in a suit of power armour called a Javelin — they’re available in different configurations (mainly scout, ranger, tank and interceptor) and return to your base at Fort Tarsis between expeditions, where you can interact with the locals and pick up new missions.
The plot is quite interesting, in that you are a Freelancer (mercenary) on the planet Bastion, which — as all good sci-fi planets do — has rather a lot of dangerous and unstable Alien Artifacts lying around from the mysterious aliens who previously lived there.
Sadly, it’s been shoe-horned into a strange multi-player game and the end result is something of a clunky mess.
Anthem looks amazing — there is a lot of detail in the suits and the effects are very good too. The game also supports ray tracing, so if you’ve got one of the latest generation Nvidia 20x series graphics cards in your PC, you’ll be able to experience the impressive lighting and effects additions they offer too.
The jungles of Bastion look amazing and the world is generally rich and vibrant in colour and detail, but you can’t really interact with them much.
The game can be played solo, but is designed to have friends in your squad as well. Teaming up with people — friends or randoms from online — certainly adds to the experience, but if you’re teamed up with hardcore players who know the levels, you’re likely to find yourself feeling a bit like a tourist on someone else’s adventure as they power through enemies.
The flight controls were very good too — I was concerned I’d constantly be pranging into the ground or rocketing into cliffs like a futuristic Wile E Coyote, but I was able to get around effectively, dodge incoming attacks, and switch easily from flight to hover mode.
I couldn’t quite shake the feeling something was missing from Anthem, though. While the game gets you introduced fairly easily, the weapons all seem a bit generic (assault rifle/machinegun/shotgun/handgun/laser blaster) and as cool as the idea of javelins are, I never really felt like an armoured badass, and the bugs and glitches didn’t help either.
I defeated several powerful enemies because they just stood there doing nothing like they were having a mid-fight smoko break while I pounded them with rockets and bullets, I had the sound cut out, I had server disconnects, and there are a lot of loading screens too.
For a game that felt like a co-op loot shooter, there wasn’t a lot of loot to be had either. It’s doled out at the end of the mission and never once did I find myself saying “Coooool!”
Switching gear is a pain requiring a return to Fort Tarsis (and some loading screens), so if it turns out that assault rifle you picked up is about as effective as a gel blaster, you can’t just replace it in the field.
At higher levels (ie near the end of the game), there’s better stuff available, but getting to it requires more grind than a month’s worth of my morning coffee beans and my interest was beginning to wane long before I got there.
Adding to the issues, the campaign comes to a screeching halt about halfway through when you have to undertake the Trials of the Legionnaires in order to access some old tombs to find the parts for a legendary javelin. These trials involving completing a number of grindy tasks (some of which you might have already done) such as hitting a certain number of weak spots on enemies or killing a certain number using a particular type of weapon.
Some of them essentially involve being in the right place at the right time (reviving a certain number of downed Freelancers), while others are pointless “find treasure chests in the world” hunts. It’s not fun and it reeks of padding.
This isn’t helped that missions are generally “go here, shoot baddies, go to a different place, shoot more baddies, go to a third place, do it again against different baddies, maybe rescue someone or deactivate an artefact”. It looks nice but gets old quickly.
The characters in Fort Tarsis are well realised and well acted — I particularly liked Owen, my offsider — but nothing you do there has any bearing on the missions you’re undertaking out in the world and it’s painfully slow to trudge around.
Another issue important for gamers with children or partners requiring attention: There’s no pause option, which really isn’t helpful in an era where the average gamer is in their 30s and can’t spend hours and hours and hours every day playing a game without interruption.
I can’t help but feel BioWare should have been left to make a solid single-player experience, without forcing it to be badly welded into a strange open-world hybrid online game.
There’s the foundation for a solid game here, but ultimately Anthem just isn’t different enough from any other loot-shooter I’ve played to make it stand out, and the grind, bugs and glitches drag down what should be an otherwise decent experience for fans of the genre.
Originally published as Vital detail missing from new game