By Melody Klink
Anthem is a song that’s been hummed for a long time.
BioWare (and home company/publisher/overlord EA) spent years working on the title, taking leads from their stellar storytelling games, and learning to pour them into a caldron full of Online Third Person Shooter Open World games. The result has some big shoes to fill.
Anthem, often considered the spawn between games like Mass Effect and Destiny, is not fully either of those things. It’s more story-driven and nuanced than the original Destiny title, but the outerworld multiplayer adventures feel different. It’s not as deep as some BioWare titles, but it stays true to its roots, with twists and turns in the primary storyline.
In Anthem, you play as a Freelancer- warriors for hire, usually against the otherworldly forces that the Anthem brings to life; the titular Anthem is the Anthem of Creation, a primordial song that is seen as the creator of all things. The anthem’s influences have been manipulated by Shapers, those who attempted to control the creation and destruction that shape the world as the players see it. Their instruments are often the reason for Cataclysms, a violent, physical reaction to the anthem being controlled. The Dominion, longtime enemies of the Freelancers, caused the worst cataclysm known to man, the Heart of Rage, by attempting to control a Shaper relic. The Heart of Rage is where you story begins...
Your Freelancer teams up with a Cypher, a human capable of machine-like calculations and memory, who helps direct you on your path. You’re often silencing Shaper relics, saving people from various terrorist and imperialist groups, and researching the anthem itself as you fly through the open-world map. Fort Tarsis, your home base of fallen glory and the main walls standing between humanity and the wild, is where the the majority of the story bits happen, as it houses nearly every NPC you’ll encounter. There are Contracts, Strongholds, secondary and primary missions in the game, so there’s a bit of variety in objective. You’re able to choose your own squad or go public, as well as control the number of players in your world (solo, or up to four.)
That was what we call an “info dump.” I’m sorry and also you’re welcome.
Something else I want to toss in here: hearing the harnessed Anthem come through the Shaper relics is the most awe-inspiring and disturbing sound- you’ll see what looks like a large subwoofer in the environment, and it is RATTLING. BioWare really knows how to use sound to their advantage, just like the “Reaper” sound from Mass Effect. This makes the anthem much more… realistic and concrete, rather than just another universal force we can’t see.
The game looks amazing. I know I say that often in my reviews, and that’s a good thing; it means the technology (and the companies utilizing it) is hitting its strides, getting maxed out and fully realized!
Anyone who fondly (or not so fondly) remembers “duck face” from the Mass Effect trilogy, or Sarah Ryder’s overly optimistic faces in ME: Andromeda, can breathe a happy sigh: the face rendering in Anthem is ON POINT. I’d wager to say, some of the best in the market right now! The movements are solid, no beady eyes or wonky lips to be found. Characters are fully fleshed, and this really helps in the immersion. The Fort is bustling with people who look like people- shoppers, fellow freelancers, cyphers and more. Honestly, the game itself is a beauty- the lighting is cool, the 3D objects in the space have the textures they need, and movements are fluid. You might occasionally encounter an NPC “hurrying into place” as it were, but that’s not something we haven’t seen before, and hasn’t been a gamebreaker.
Battles, especially the high-tier ones, make party-based actions fun in Anthem. While I normally play as the Interceptor, I often took to dual-tanking with the Colossus (thanks, husband, for being our other Meat Wall) while my squishier Storm and Ranger friends pummeled our target. That is, when we could keep connected…
Unfortunately, the servers are a mess. While I didn’t experience as many crashes, those in my squad did, up to the point of the game not even loading. Some were stranded mid-way through missions, leaving them incomplete. Some broke at cutscenes, and never ended up making it back; this personally happened to me twice, same mission, in a row.
It was a VERY important, game-changing cutscene, that I had to watch on YouTube. That was utterly disappointing.
Another attempt to see this exact same cutscene caused me (and me only) to be shelved at a “Cutscene in progress. Please wait.” loading screen until everyone else was done with it! I was in the mission from the start- why was I not given the cutscene along with them? Connectivity is a huge problem in the world of Anthem, and it’s one that I hope EA can resolve quickly.
Anthem is a pretty game, with pretty bells and whistles. It’s smart, savvy, and not afraid to betray you- I won’t name the perpetrator, but… TRAITOR! As a BioWare fan, the story mostly lives up to my expectations, though sometimes the mix between “single player I need to watch a lengthy, story-based cutscene” doesn’t jive well with “multiplayer EVERYONE IN THE PARTY CHAT SHUT UP.”
Your mileage may vary.
But they have absolutely got to get their servers in order. I’ve tried to do this review over a span of Pre-Launch > Launch > Post Launch Updates, just so I can make it accurately, and unfortunately some issues have persisted through each phase. In fact, as of this writing (2/28), there’s another patch inbound that indicates tethering for players should improve (as in, there’s a timer from the first person reaching a mission marker to the last- people in last will be forced forward, often via a loading screen, which gave massive breaking potential), among other things. Some of us have crashed less, some the same amount. We haven’t been left out of missions as a team as much in the last few days. Things are improving, it seems.
There have been patches and hotfixes every single day since Anthem launched.
That’s twofold: there are lots of issues to fix, but also that means BioWare & EA are serious about supporting the title. Many folks remember EA dropping Mass Effect: Andromeda after encountering issues and lamentations, to the point that they cancelled ALL development and future DLC for the title. With this being BioWare’s first true foray into this type of game, there’s a lot to focus on, and it’s got to be done quickly and efficiently to avoid the EA chopping block.
Overall, Anthem is a fun, shooty-blasty (technical term) title with room for customization, a fun and diverse cast, and a story that is mostly satisfying, though the ending left some to be desired and had a few missed emotional beats that took some of the brevity out of the situation. But! The bonus: doing it all with friends. It remains to be seen if it’ll hit that “10-year” mark that EA’s executive VP Patrick Soderlund hinted at, but if they can fix stability, I can see it sticking around and fleshing out even more.
Let’s hope Anthem keeps the good coming.