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.


Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Yes, I know I’m way late to the party, even by my standards. I meant to see this movie a lot sooner, but life just keeps throwing me curveballs lately. Better late than never.

Miles Morales in Into the Spider-VerseI’m sure by now I don’t need to provide a synopsis. I think by now we all know the general idea behind Into the Spider-Verse, and honestly, even if you don’t, it’s probably better to watch things unfold in the theatres. All you need to know is there are a lot of Spider-People involved, and that this is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’m not kidding. I want in with high expectations after hearing a lot of positive buzz, and it still blew me away.

Pretty much everything about Into the Spider-Verse is perfect. The characters are lovable. The animation will blow your mind and then some. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s exciting, it’s fun.

In a movie that’s excellent from top to bottom, there are a few things that I would like to point out as being especially brilliant.

One is the amount of thought and detail that went into realizing every version of Spider-Man. Not just in terms of characterization, but even simple visual touches, like Gwen’s ballet shoes.

Something really cool they did that I didn’t notice in the trailers is that several of the more exotic Spiders are actually done in different animation styles. While Miles, Gwen, and the various Peters Parker are done in a uniform CGI style, Peter Porker is drawn like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, Spider-Man Noir is in black and white, and Peni Parker is an anime character.

Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman in Into the Spider-VerseThe other thing that Into the Spider-Verse does so well — and what more than anything puts it over the top from a fun blockbuster to a truly excellent piece of cinema — is how well this movie gets what makes Spider-Man compelling as a character.

There aren’t a lot of superheroes I really like. Spider-Man is one of the few I have genuine passion for. The reason for this is how relatable he is. He’s not an alien, or a god, or a billionaire, or someone with top secret government training. He might have some powers, but at the end of the day he’s just a nerdy kid who’s doing the best he can. He feels like a real person.

And Into the Spider-Verse nails that. All of the various incarnations of Spider-Man in this movie all capture that feeling of reality. (Well, okay, maybe not the pig, but still.) They’re all people with vulnerabilities, and real problems. They’re not perfect. They make mistakes. But they’re doing their best.

The thing about Spider-Man is that he’s not a hero because he can shoot webs. He’s a hero because he’s a normal (ish…) person who chose to use his abilities to make the world a better place, which is something anyone can do. That’s what makes him work as a character, and that’s what Into the Spider-Verse gets so right. Anyone can wear the mask. Anyone can be a hero.

Because I am a naturally critical person, and because I’m trying to at least pretend this a Serious Review by a Professional Writer, I will mention I do have one problem with this movie: It’s too focused on being an origin story for Miles Morales.

I’m tired of origin movies. It’s the same tropes over and over again. And especially in this case, we all know Spider-Man’s origin story. Yes, Miles is a different version of Spider-Man from the more iconic Peter Parker, but at the end of the day their stories just aren’t that different.

This bothers me especially in light of how colourful and interesting the other Spiders are. Miles is a good character, and I like him, but I wanted to see more attention put on Gwen, Peni, Noir, and hell even Ham. Gwen especially was played up a lot in the trailers but doesn’t actually get that big of a role in the movie.

But even then I have to say that as much as I’m sick of origin stories this is above average as origin stories go.

I can pick nits like that, but at the end of the day this is still an amazing movie. If you’re somehow even more of a slowpoke than I am and haven’t seen it yet, get your ass to a theatre and go see it ASAP. Into the Spider-Verse is not just another superhero movie. It’s something special.

Overall rating: 9.7/10