Anthem Review: A Solid Shooter Struggling to Take Off

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BioWare’s Anthem is an online cooperative 4-player shooter set on a luscious jungle world filled with monsters, exo-suits, and a ton of loot. But despite the promising premise (and thrilling flight controls), a few too many technical issues means that it stumbles out of the gate rather than soars.

As a sci-fi mercenary known as a Freelancer, you’ll pilot a Javelin, a powerful exo-suit that’s capable of flight and immense firepower. It looks pretty boss, too.

Through the course of the game, you’ll unlock four different Javelin types: the all-around Ranger, the powerhouse Colossus, the quick and deadly Interceptor and the Storm, a suit that can cast elemental attacks. Each suit brings something special to the fight and their attacks work in concert with your teammates.

A Lore Snore

Fort Tarsis is the main hub-city where you’ll spend most of time speaking to non-player characters, picking up missions and getting a sense of the larger happenings in the world of Bastion. For fans of deep lore, BioWare’s world-building chops shine Anthem’s in-game encyclopedia called the Cortex. But despite being rich with lore, Anthem’s campaign is a bit of a snore.

An evil empire called the Dominion is looking to get their hands on the Anthem of Creation, a reality bending relic, that would give them unlimited power. What will keep you coming back to Anthem will be the prospect of flying into combat firing a barrage of missiles or zapping fools with electricity instead of keeping track of the Dominion’s hijinks.

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It’s strange, considering BioWare’s history of delivering unforgettable characters and emotional peaks and valleys. Anthem focuses more on the larger world and keeps you from getting too invested in any of the characters, including your own.

Take Flight

Piloting your Javelin is hands-down the best part of playing Anthem. You start every mission by leaping head first off a platform only to have your jet boosters kick into free-flight.

Flying around and hovering are done with a touch of a bottom. Flight is regulated by managing your suit’s heat. If you overheat, you come crashing down.

Piloting your Javelin is hands-down the best part of playing Anthem.

Overheating? Simply fly through a waterfall or take a nosedive and pull up at the last second to cool off. Flying into combat feels even better since you can easily take advantage of your range of movement, especially against enemies who are stuck on the ground.

Each of the four suits feel distinct. The order at which you unlock them is up to you, but it have been nice to have had a way to try them out beforehand since it does take a while to unlock them all.

Each Javelin is design for a certain playstyle. Colossus are hulking brutes with large shields designed to soak up and draw damage. The Storm launches devastating elemental attacks that can easily set up combos for your team. The Interceptor is a lighting-quick melee fighter design for hit-and-run attacks. Finally, the Ranger is an all-rounder with a decent arsenal of missiles and grenades. I found myself partial to the Colossus because I painted him green and smashed through enemy lines like a certain Marvel hero who is also a big green hulking menace.

Whenever you’re out of combat is when things feel like they come to a screeching halt. Moving around Fort Tarsis feels too slow and I often found myself skipping conversations with people because I want to head to my next mission instead backtracking to the other side of town. What is most frustrating is the time is takes in between missions tends to break or at the least slow the momentum.

Whenever you’re out of combat is when things come to a screeching halt.

What I find most confusing is that in a game where loot is king, loot is never treated as a big deal and is presented with minimal fanfare. As you come across uncommon and rare loot, you’ll hear an nondescript chime. This leads into Anthem bigger issue of how it handles gear. The only way for you to customize and gear up your Javelin is by the Forge between missions. I would have loved to be able to change my loadout during missions to accommodate different combat scenarios.

Buried in Menus

Anthem’s big problem is that it never really explains most of its gameplay elements. The combo system, for example, relies on players ‘priming’ and ‘detonating’ abilities against enemies.

Many of Anthem’s more complicated game mechanics like crafting and even how to level are tucked away in the far reaches of the unappealing menus.

Basically, some skills can leave status effects on enemies such as being frozen. Once the bad guy is ‘primed’ (in this case, frozen), you or your allies can hit them with a complimentary skill like a Railgun or Grenade to combo for bonus damage. I only learned this because another player broke it down for me and linked me to some helpful YouTube tutorial videos.

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For some reason, many of Anthem’s more complicated game mechanics like crafting and even how to level are tucked away in the far reaches of the unappealing menus. I can easily see players falling off this game after a few hours simply because you have no clue how things are done. Navigating the menus is a practice in patience since you can’t really find what you’re looking unless you dig through endless blades of text.

Bottom Line

Anthem has the makings of something really special but never quite comes together. It’s gorgeous and flying around in your ultra-powered Javelin makes you feel like a comic book hero. The real issue is that the intense high-flying action is broken up by busy work and a plot that never really pulls you in, which is a huge let-down considering Bioware’s reputation for delivering engaging storytelling. With this being an online game, Anthem will hopefully evolve in ways to improve some quality of life changes in the coming months. For now, you may want to wait until that happens.

Credit: Electronic Arts

Jorge Jiminez is a reporter, game critic, and writer from New Jersey with more than 10 years of experience. He writes primarily for PCGamer, although his work has appeared on other sites, including Tom's Guide, DualShockers, WCCFTech, and more. He specializes in reviewing games and gaming hardware, and greatly enjoys Pop-Tarts.