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Anthem Review - Everything it Does Right and Wrong

VO: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: CE
Bioware's dive into live service games begins with Anthem, an ambitious online shooter with a heavy emphasis on storytelling. The game does a lot of things right but at the same time, Anthem has flaws. Get the scoop right here on MojoPlays.
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In 2017, Mass Effect Andromeda almost killed BioWare. A much anticipated sequel to one of the best sci-fi stories ever told yet it all but bombed. It was a terrifying moment for all BioWare fans, because for a second we truly thought this would be the end. Why wouldn’t we? BioWare Montreal, the team behind Andromeda, was “scaled down,” with the franchise being put on hiatus. And oh god those faces, please make it stop!

Then came E3 2017 and BioWare announced Anthem, which would be a *live game,* like Destiny or The Division. While there’s nothing wrong with live games per se, BioWare moving into this particular genre was concerning. Fans come to BioWare for extensive single-player narratives – we want that power fantasy, we want to be the protagonist of an amazing story. We want to be the only person who can stand against the Reaper threat or close the Rift in the sky or stop Darth Malak.

Could Anthem, an exclusively multiplayer game, which forces you to share your glory with others, provide the same experience? The closest we’ve had to what Anthem could be is Destiny, but compared to BioWare’s masterpieces, its story is kinda dull. Would that be Anthem’s fate too?

After spending an entire weekend in the world of Anthem, I have amazing news for you. Anthem is 100% a BioWare game, thorough and thorough. Those story beats, those crowning moments of glory, those fun and quirky characters – they’re all there.

So let’s take a look at what the game is all about. You are a Freelancer, one of many that belong to an ancient faction of brave fighters, responsible for protecting humanity against the many threats of a harsh and unforgiving world.

The fact that you’re not the only one does not necessarily take away from that classic BioWare power fantasy. You are still very strong and the narrative is still centred around you. The NPCs you get to meet around Fort Tarsis are your friends and the big baddies are your enemies. The epic set pieces – they are all meant for you. It just so happens that every now and then 3 other freelancers join you in your adventures – which to be honest, is kinda weird.

You see, in Anthem you get to choose if you want to enable matchmaking or not. If you enable it, the game puts you in a squad of three other people. But this doesn’t necessarily create a “social” environment. Yes, there is voice chat in the game, but most of the time people are just silent. There isn’t even an in-game chat! (Which is something most multiplayer PC games have).

There is no narrative reason for you to enable matchmaking. But if you do, and start doing one of the story missions and a cutscene kicks in, none of your comrades in arms are anywhere to be seen! Where did they go? Did they just hide when I was having that conversation with the Monitor in that cave? We were just fighting together a second ago. On top of that, if you end up with a bunch of speedrunners, you may end up missing some crucial story moments.

But the fact remains that the game really really wants you to enable matchmaking (and, to be fair, the game feels fuller when you got others around). It feels like Bioware wants to replace our beloved companions from their other games with real people. In theory, that sounds amazing. The reveal trailer from E3 2017 was showcasing precisely that. However, it’s debatable whether real people could ever replace the cool banter provided by the likes of, say, Mr. Garrus “Calibrations” Vakarian.

That being said, we are in the “pre-launch” week of a live game, meaning that there is a lot of upcoming content. The endgame content that currently exists is fun and can be as challenging or as easy as you want, since you get to choose difficulty levels à la Diablo III. Furthermore, BioWare has announced that there will be “longer missions,” and if they’re anything like the raids in Destiny 2, we might be in for a treat.

Speaking of Destiny 2, Anthem isn’t Destiny 3. Sure, it’s a loot shooter, but that’s where the similarities end. First of all, the storytelling is much better. You can spend as many hours in Fort Tarsis talking to NPCs as you can in freeplay shooting things. (Buuuut, it seems like there are no romance options in Anthem, so what even is the point?) Furthermore, you can get a good understanding of the lore and just what the heck is going on, without having to watch hour-long breakdowns on YouTube.

Second, Anthem doesn’t lock you into a single class and therefore doesn’t force you to level up multiple different characters. Instead, you can unlock all four javelins in the game as you progress through the game’s story. Plus, the combat is a blast! Say what you will about Andromeda, but the gunplay in that game was pretty darn fun. Anthem has inherited all that good stuff and used it as a great foundation to build something so much more.

Each of the four javelins are a delight to fly and fight in and you straight up feel like a superhero – raining thunder from the heavens upon your enemies, or slicing and dicing them up close with your glaives! In fact, your javelins’ own abilities are so fun, you might even forget that you have guns!

If you’ve played Destiny 2 (or are still playing it), then you might actually enjoy the freshness Anthem brings to the table. But just trust us when we say Anthem isn’t a replacement for that game, but rather a complement. It’s another live game to add to your rotation – it definitely deserves that chance.

All this praise is not to say that the game isn’t without its issues. Sure, we’ve come a long way since the beta, but the early launch weekend was filled with connection issues. There are a significant number of bugs too. For instance, sometimes the ammo for the Light of the Legion (the pre-release gift weapon) drops to negative numbers – it also just disappeared from my inventory at least once.

Other times, you load into a mission, but the mission markers never show up, so you get stuck. They’re more annoying than anything else, and my dismissive attitude towards launch bugs and glitches says more about the gaming industry standards than about Anthem itself. And besides, BioWare is already collecting these bug reports on Reddit and elsewhere, and there is going to be a day-one patch.

But also, the game does feel a bit empty right now. The freeplay gets a bit repetitive after a few hours. You feel like you’ve done all variations of World Events and have seen all there is to see. It also seems like there aren’t whole lotta people going around either, but that probably has to do with the fact that the game isn’t “properly” out yet.

So yeah. After waiting so long for another good BioWare game, Anthem is finally out and most of our fears about the future of BioWare seems to have been misplaced. By itself, Anthem looks like it’s going to be a great addition to any live gamer’s library. Maybe you don’t want to do yet another forge ignition in Destiny – you can always head on over to Anthem and pretend to be Iron Man.
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