Though at first glance BioWare's Anthem looks to be something totally different, its latest adventure does a phenomenal job at blending a new experience together while still retaining that familiar BioWare flavor when it comes to character depth and narrative design. Unfortunately, though it's enjoyable, that doesn’t mean it’s without flaw.
What makes Anthem something special is it blends high-tech sci-fi with fantasy without stumbling too much. Two of BioWare's biggest franchises are Mass Effect and Dragon Age, and Anthem really does an incredible job at combining the two, making it a satisfying hodgepodge of both styles while maintaining a unique feel of its own.
Despite the controversy surrounding its release, one thing that Mass Effect: Andromeda was eventually lauded for was its incredibly smooth combat mechanics. Anthem takes those mechanics and makes them even better, seemingly with total player freedom in mind. You want to spend most of your time flying around like Iron Man? Do it. Want to be firmly boots on the ground? Weird, but OK! Do it! You're not really forced into anything, which is something I can't stress enough, but the flying is so incredibly fun that it would be a shame to miss out.
And here's the thing: I suck at driving games. Absolutely terrible. Grand Theft Auto? No thank you. Gran Turismo? Nu-uh. Not because they aren't well-made, but I just have some weird mental block that makes me drive like a madman - and not in the cool walks-away-from-explosions kind of way. That being said, it was a concern for me going in with flight. Will I be terrible at this and be forever doomed with a character that will apparently have permanent concussions?
Though it took me a little bit with underwater travel, the Javelin operation both above and below ground is stupidly addictive. It feels so free, so light, that it makes me feel like a bad-ass that's totally in control. (It also helped that my squad and I kept making suits that look like Iron Man; it's the Marvel game we all wanted without being tied to Marvel in any way shape or form.)
The combat mechanics are also stunning. The Incerceptor, Storm, and Ranger Javelins -- I didn't really have an affinity for the Colossus, sorry tanks -- and each one felt wildly different. They have their own unique set of skills and weaponry, but the Incerceptor is definitely my favourite.
Whenever I play a role-playing game, I usually go for a dual-wielding rogue, and that's pretty much what the Interceptor is. Their Ultimate Ability is a sweet set of energy daggers, and their dexterity is through the roof. I was virtually untouchable, which is what every good rogue should be.
That being said, the Ranger is fun too because of its high impact. Though not as agile, the Ranger has some massive firepower and perfect explosive integration. The Storm is awesome as well, thought it's more akin to that of a mage class, and the elemental powers offer players the freedom to choose between five styles such as Lightning or Fire.
There's essentially a class for every style of play despite there only being four classes. With each of those four classes, however, players can really customize their Javelin to be whatever they want. Though not really recommended, I outfitted my Interceptor with a sick sniper rifle, and I basically was my dream character that kicked ass and didn't have time to take names.
Thanks in part to the wildly different methods of playing, the combos that BioWare previously revealed are awesome, surprisingly easy to trigger, and really add to the whole "I feel like a total beast" feeling. They are also a big reason why squad play is heavily encouraged, though there are still some lovely moves that can be dealt out solo as well.
The matchmaking is pretty simple as well, and it was easy to maneuver in and out of solo play when looking to group up. I alternated between grouping up with a few friends and just flying by myself to get some of the alliance quests done, and it was relatively painless to switch between the two.
Taking to Freeplay automatically groups a set of players looking to match up, though in no way are you shackled down to stay with them. It’s really easy to go off and do your own thing, which is something that’s very important to players that are particularly loyal to the type of game BioWare usually produces.
Once an expedition is completed, players are given a few options: continue on if in Freeplay, go back to the Forge to work on one’s Javelin, head back to Fort Tarsis, or go to the social hub known as the Launch Bay. This makes it easy to tackle important objectives and suit upgrades between flying around.
Anyone that's familiar with BioWare knows that the studio is keenly aware of how to reach into your soul and make you weep for characters that don’t really exist -- looking at you, Mass Effect’s Mordin -- and that's definitely included in Anthem on an admittedly smaller scale. Immediately upon meeting Owen, I knew he was going to be my in-game BFF. Faye? Love her. Bryn? Cinnamon roll. Lucky Jax? Yeah, we’re bros.
After every single mission, I genuinely wanted to go back and hear more about what they had to say about really anything. Daily Fort Tarsis life, what’s new, existential crises, anything! That’s a good thing too, because just like any other BioWare game, you’re not going to get much out of them if you don’t do the legwork. It’s very important to talk to each key member every time you head back to Fort Tarsis. If you do, you’ll unlock cut scenes, conversation options, and get new quests that will help level up those alliances to improve that reputation's standing. Talk to them, listen to their stories, and you’ll be amazed at how attached you get.
But as amazing as the game is in some ways, it’s still very broken in others. Though there are several major patches coming on day one -- which we've since learned is deploying early, which isn’t that uncommon for online games in recent years, and I did encounter a ton of bugs during my time with Anthem.
These ranged from extremely long loading screens to the inability to interact with an objective to parts of Fort Tarsis suddenly missing until the game decided to catch up. All of these issues can, and certainly will, be patched, but it’s hard to go into a game with so many technical issues and not feel more than a little fed up.
Anthem really seems to honor its promise of feeling entirely new, but with BioWare fans in mind. At first, my impression was that it didn't particularly feel like a BioWare game, but as time went on, I realized that wasn't quite true. It both feels similar to a BioWare game in terms of interaction, but mechanically, it feels very new. As a hardcore BioWare franchise fan myself, that isn’t a bad thing. It’s new, and a little buggy, but it works.0comments
Rating: 4 out of 5
Anthem officially releases on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on February 22nd. A PC code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.