There has been so much talk about what Anthem is in the weeks and months leading up to its release. This is a first impressions piece of what will be a many months long series that monitors and reports on Anthem‘s continued evolution. With that in mind, it’s important to lay out exactly what Anthem is, by first saying what it isn’t.
Anthem isn’t Destiny.
Anthem does not have the precision controls, the clean aesthetic, the in-depth PvP or the polish that five year old series currently enjoys. The good news is that Anthem doesn’t try to be. Anthem knows it is not going to compete with Destiny from a pure, visceral gun play perspective. Very few games can. Instead, Bioware took the bones of its previous games and tweaked them. The powers integrate in a natural way with the melee and gun combat, and the different classes work well together in a way that they never really could with AI controlled characters, and indeed better than Destiny integrates abilities. Indeed, this combo system is so simple it is a wonder why Destiny hasn’t done more to incentivize overlapping supers. The quick refresh rate on powers encourages cooperation in a way that hearkens back to Bioware’s D&D roots.
Destiny has spent years streamlining systems and integrating quality of life improvements that Anthem bafflingly ignores, including, most criminally, its loot system. Javelin’s can only change load outs and abilities in the Forge, a console that can be accessed from either Fort Tarsis or the Loading Bay. Loot that drops in the world is rarely presented as anything more than a routine action, with hardly any fanfare. This makes the upgrading of your javelin something of a chore as opposed to a motivating factor. There are no moments of elation at a rare drop when you’re playing since you can’t actually use it until you have completed the expedition. This is the greatest sin by far that Anthem commits. It is a looter shooter that actively denies you your loot. It’s not a good look.
Anthem isn’t Mass Effect.
The Mass Effect series holds a unique place in my heart. It has some of gaming’s greatest characters, memorable antagonists, and a sci-fi style that drips from every texture. After hours spent in Anthem, it is tough to see the legacy of that series in Anthem. The dialogue trees, a staple of Bioware projects in the past seem largely inconsequential to the experience of Anthem, as if they were a concession granted because of fan expectations, not something the developer really had their heart in. Anthem has a style of its own certainly, but it isn’t the sleek Star Trek of Mass Effect, it is something else entirely. It feels like a civilization that is being held together by duct tape and rust, and it works, what we can see of it. The hub areas of Mass Effect, the Citadel and Omega, were sprawling, full of life. In Anthem, there is a hallway. The hallway isn’t a social space, which I didn’t actually mind, since it allows for story beats to feel like actual moments since there aren’t forty other Freelancers huddled around each quest giver. Fort Tarsis feels totally functional. It isn’t a space I wanted to explore after the first couple times being there, but in the long run, I want it to be functional. These games are played for the looting, and minimizing what keeps me from the looting is a good thing in my book.
Anthem isn’t Mass Effect Andromeda.
I deliberately refrained from playing the game until the Day One patch hit, and I am pleased to say that the game has been nothing but stable for me on PC. Aside from a single loss of connection, the frame rate has been buttery smooth, and the texture pop-in has been non existent. Bioware’s engine development team deserves every accolade for their work on this game. Bethesda needs to license this tech immediately. The jump jet that was clearly the precursor to Anthem‘s javelins has been all but perfected in this game. Flying feels sooooo good. Whether you are navigating through the massive open world, or maneuvering inside of canyons , the clunky platforming of Mass Effect Andromeda is nothing more than a distant memory.
Expectations are all over the map with Anthem. It has been a long time since a new franchise had so many different sets of expectations weighing it down out the gate. As someone with hundreds of hours in Destiny, and a long history with Bioware, I certainly knew what I wanted the game to be. It’s something different though. Different isn’t bad. It just takes a little longer to evaluate on its own merits. We will see you here next week to explore those merits in our in-depth review.