Anthem is a hard sell for me. I’ve been wary of MMO shooters since Destiny hyped me up only to disappoint me. The game had an archaic mission structure, what little story it had was buried in menu text, the loot system was terrible, and there wasn’t a whole lot to actually do at all. I feared Anthem would suffer in the exact same way. BioWare promised its game wasn’t a carbon copy of Destiny, but even after I’ve actually played the game Anthem still looks like a third-person version of Bungie’s MMO FPS where you cosplay as Iron Man rather than Master Chief.
After a few hours with Anthem, my first impressions have been confirmed. BioWare’s title is always online and it reminds you of this unfortunate fact ceaselessly. You can never just play the game without expecting some rando to start awkwardly emoting at you while you’re busy bludgeoning an enemy or trying to advance within a story mission.
That might seem like unfair criticism. Anthem was built and is marketed as an always online game, not a story-first action RPG like BioWare’s most famous games. I shouldn’t criticize it for being itself rather than a different type of game I’d prefer to play. The problem is that Anthem brings this criticism on itself; it works so much better as a single-player game than a multiplayer experience. Cooperation with other players is forced via matchmaking and doesn’t feel natural; no one I met wanted to cooperate. Rarely did anyone communicate or actively try to set up combos where everyone uses their abilities to gang up on a poor unsuspecting enemy. Everyone I encountered just plays for themselves, making the game less of a co-op experience and more of a solo campaign that just so happens to include other players who constantly leave you high and dry.
Anthem’s online nature works at the expense of Anthem itself.
This is unfortunate because it is, beneath the randos and the loading screens, fun. The combat and maneuverability in your Javelin mech suits is thrilling in how seamlessly you’re able to transition between soaring in the air and sprinting on the ground. I thoroughly enjoyed hurtling across a map and fluidly stopping in mid-flight to hover and take down an enemy with my rifle or rocket pack, but I can’t deny that it would have played better if there was a solo mode where I could just accomplish objectives at my own pace rather than feel rushed by someone with elite skills who knows the ropes dragging me forward. By forcing you to be tethered to other players, Anthem depresses any fun I was having and made the game less enticing to return to.
The watered down RPG elements just exacerbate the problem. The loot and the way it’s acquired in game lacks the addictive just-one-more-item nature found in battle royale games and other RPGs. In Apex Legends, opening a container filled with loot and objects that enhance your abilities is thrilling, but Anthem’s goodies are generic so far. Hell, even the monetized cosmetic options are bland. (I can’t even purchase them if I wanted to because the game doesn’t explain when you can unlock access to microtransaction goods.)
The storyline and dialogue make a bad impression as well; they’re just as cookie cutter generic as the loot and character customization options. BioWare is renowned for its storytelling and world building, yet Anthem’s world is bereft of actual detail beyond basic factions, alliances, and MacGuffins. The plot is downright empty compared to a Mass Effect or Dragon Age, and that barrenness is made worse by atrocious dialogue. One particularly egregious cutscene shoehorned a joke about sandwiches while important exposition was being delivered. Not even a Jimmy John’s advertisement is that abrasive.
I’m concerned about Anthem’s longevity. With the aforementioned Destiny as an indicator, solid gameplay just isn’t enough. Even if the game was a terrific co-operative game that worked as intended, the poorly implemented RPG systems and bad storyline won’t keep people hooked. Especially me.
What a damn shame.