Anthem Early Impressions

Early on I was pretty skeptical of Anthem. Bioware making another MMO, and it’s a “me too” Destiny clone? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. But a lot of good buzz coming out of the alpha and my general Bioware fandom won out, and I wound up pre-ordering (the deluxe edition, because pretty outfits).

My Storm Javelin cuts a pose in AnthemI didn’t touch any of the innumerable demos or early access periods, but I did jump in on launch day (which was remarkably free of technical issues). I’m still pretty early in the game — level seven at the time of this writing — but here’s my thoughts so far.

Overall, Anthem is mostly living up to my expectations, for better and for worse. It’s probably not going to down as one of my favourite games of all time, and I’m not sure I’ll stick with it much once I’ve finished the story, but for now, I’m having a lot of fun.

The one thing I want to say out of the gate, and the one real surprise, is that this is not a clone of Destiny or Warframe. There are similarities because it’s the same genre, but Anthem has a very distinct flavour and character all its own. Do not write it off as derivative; it’s not.

What sets Anthem apart more than anything is its mobility. Players can fly, sprint, hover, double jump, and glide. Aside from being ridiculously fun, it adds a whole new dimension to combat — quite literally — that most games lack.

It’s funny because in many ways combat in Anthem feels just like Mass Effect. You’ve got your third person perspective and your mix of powers and guns. But in Mass Effect, you spend most of your time hunkered down in cover. Moving tends to be a risky proposition.

My Storm's ultimate ability in AnthemIn Anthem, the opposite is true: If you stop moving, you die.

I’m just beginning to fully grasp the tactical options that Anthem’s mobility options open up. There’s so much you can do when you can literally fly circles around all of your opponents. It makes me so much more aware of the terrain around me and the opportunities it presents. It’s something that’s very hard to get across in text, but it’s an experience unlike anything I’ve had in a video game before.

I’m also impressed by how powerful the Javelins feel, especially when it comes to ultimate abilities. The game design critic in me is aware that the ultimates are theoretically bland since they’re all pretty much just a massive burst of AoE damage, but the rest of me is having too much fun cleansing the earth in fire to care.

Especially as a Storm, using your ultimate really does feel like calling down the wrath of some vengeful god to obliterate anyone foolish enough to stand against you.

Normally shooters feel a bit bland or hollow to me, but so far I haven’t felt that way about Anthem. The mobility, the use of terrain, the powerful abilities and the way they combo off each other all combine to create a very rich and engaging experience.

Story-wise, Anthem has thus proven adequate, but nothing more. The setting is pretty interesting — a lot of thought went into the world-building — but the meta-plot so far is kind of basic. It’s fun in a pulpy kind of way, I guess.

A bar in AnthemThe NPCs definitely don’t have the depth you normally see from Bioware, but that being said they’re still above average as far as video game characters go. Owen is such a ridiculous dork, and I love it.

I also really like the actress who plays the female Freelancer. Her voice is very soothing, and she’s very good at sounding like a cool, confident badass without going over the top about it.

I do have a number of complaints about Anthem, but most of them are just minor nitpicks. The open world feels a bit empty, item tooltips are less informative than they should be, and I hope a FOV slider gets added at some point because I find the default camera a bit claustrophobic.

I will say I’m really over this “your character is a faceless robot” trend. I mean, it is realistic that we stay in our Javelins most of the time, but there’s no reason we couldn’t have more story cutscenes featuring our character, or helmets with clear faceplates, or something to give your character some sense of identity. Spending all your time as a robot who looks pretty much just like everyone else’s robot sucks a lot of the soul out of the game.

It doesn’t help that all of the Javelins are, well, kind of ugly. They’re not half as hideous as Warfame’s titular robo-ninjas, but they’re not really appealing, either. The Legion of Dawn skins from my pre-order are the only thing making them bearable, if you ask me.

A scenic vista in AnthemIt also doesn’t help that they abandoned the idea of varying Javelin appearance by gender halfway through development. Now, I don’t have a problem with that as an idea — there isn’t really a good reason for massive sci-fi combat suits to look different depending on the sex of the pilot — but the problem is some of the suits are still visibly gendered. The Storm is clearly masculine, while the Interceptor is obviously female. That’s a bit jarring if you’re piloting one of those as the opposite gender.

Not everyone’s going to care about that, though. I’m just a bit of a virtual fashionista.

It’s early days, and my opinion may change, but for now I’d say I do recommend Anthem. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s fun and worth the price of admission. I do think it’s probably the best of the MMO shooters I’ve played to date.

3 thoughts on “Anthem Early Impressions

  1. I just wrote a piece about how the NPCs are better fleshed out if you read the codex, emails, etc. And the more you visit (and talk with them) them more fleshed out they become. THe lack of choices to interact with them is a let down, but otherwise, I’m starting to get the comfortable vibe with most of the regular NPCs I interact with (and like other Bioware titles, have my favorites already)

    • I hope I’m not seeming too critical of the NPCs. I like them a lot, just in a different way than I’m used to for a BioWare title. There’s less realism, but they’re a lot of fun. They’re such oddballs. My headcanon is Fort Tarsis is the backwater where all the weirdos who don’t fit in elsewhere end up. Brin is probably my favourite right now.

      It’s funny. With its pulpy story, colourful NPCs, and addictive gameplay, Anthem feels much more like a Blizzard game than a BioWare game to me.

  2. I’m admittedly a Bioware fangirl, and had A LOT of reservations going into Anthem because I don’t usually play multiplayer games, but so far I’m having a ridiculously good time playing this game. I think the characters are slower to develop than I’m used to from Bioware and that’s been weird because I just want to talk to everyone, but they don’t always want to talk to me, haha. I’m looking forward to more content in the coming months, for sure. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the game!

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