By MooseyMcMan 8 Comments
So, I played Anthem. Finished both the main story, and as of this writing, all the content in the game that isn't generic/infinitely repeating. Despite that, I have not hit the level cap. Though, I guess I didn't get all the collectibles, but I finished all the side mission lines (all three of them), did all the Strongholds, and I'm pretty sure I did about all the talking to NPCs that you can do in town.
I have some thoughts about the game. Which, honestly even just wording it that way makes it sound more passive aggressive and negative than I intend, because I enjoyed it. Overall. Despite its many issues.
Before I get into the game itself, I just want to quickly mention that on the day of release, I fully intended not to buy Anthem. It was only through being peer pressured the day before by a friend while we were playing Apex Legends (a great game), and sheer luck the day of that I bought it. Sometimes these things just happen and I can't really explain it.
But the game itself is, at its best, a lot of fun. The flying feels great, even with the overheating. That's one of the first things I see people complain about (and I have as well), but I feel like I've come around on it. Or, at least I understand why it isn't just infinite flight. Because if it was, everyone would be flying directly in a straight line from objective to objective, instead of doing anything at all in the world. Now, is skimming the tops of waterfalls and puddles the best solution to making people interact more with the environment when traveling from objective to objective? Probably not, but the more I played the more I understood why the overheating is the way it is, even if it probably could use a little tweaking. That, and those must be some extremely cold puddles if just skimming over them cools you down.
The world itself is at once beautiful and forgettable. It's interesting and generic. I mean, if you stop and look at it, it can be gorgeous, but so much of it just looks like jungles with some old stone structures that it blurs together. There's something to be said about cohesion in world design, but when that comes at the expense of it being memorable, I don't think that's a great trade off.
It doesn't help that the only times the game ever gives you an opportunity to stop and smell the roses are when it takes longer than it should to show the waypoint to the next objective. Whether at the start of the mission, or midway through after clearing a bunch of enemies, sometimes you just have to wait for the game to make those markers appear, or wait for a line of dialog to play. Is there supposed to be a thirty second pause between these characters responding? Almost certainly not. But aside from these (buggy) moments, it's always moving from spot to spot, killing enemies, or occasionally bringing things to other things and holding down a button to use a thing on a thing. Sometimes everyone needs to stand in a circle (which is clearly marked, at least) while a meter fills, which is a bit of a bummer when you're me and you prefer to play the mobile melee focused class that's all about zooming around the battlefield.
Or at least that's how I play it, with the abilities I have equipped. Swapping abilities is nothing new, it's certainly a mainstay of Destiny, though tying it to loot and locking it in before missions is certainly a choice. Was it a choice dictated by design, or by technical limitations? Who can say! But, again, as someone who went out of their way to play as much of the game using only melee abilities as I could (at least while playing the Interceptor), having moments like that where all I could do was shoot (unless the enemies got close enough) was not my favorite part of the game.
But I do generally love playing as the Interceptor. My biggest fear (outside of technical issues) about the game from what I played in the Alpha/Beta was that it was just going to play like a generic third person shooter where you used a jet pack to travel from one fight to the next. And it certainly can be played that way, but that feels like you'd be completely missing the point of the game. Unless you're using the Ranger Javelin, which is both the one I've spent the least time with in the game, and the one I think I like the least. That said, I don't think I really ever figured out how to properly play Colossus (the bigh one), so I dunno, I might be better with Ranger than that.
Anyway, the Interceptor is the closest thing to an all melee Javelin in the game. It's not quite there, because you still equip guns instead of swords (I wish I could equip swords or nunchucks), but it's very possible to get through most fights without firing guns once. With both the R1 and L1 abilities set to melee attacks (as opposed to stuff like throwing shuriken or grenades), no cool down on the melee ability, and a built in chain dash, it's possible to dart around cutting enemies into figurative pieces (it's a T rated game), and it's a ton of fun.
One of the abilities is a Mass Effect (2 onward) style warp to an enemy and smash into them move, and it's both great for covering large distances, and a lot of fun. My biggest complaint with this style of play is that melee and dodge are mapped to Triangle and Circle, which means my thumb is jumping back and forth between the face buttons and the right stick. Not a huge deal, but as this is a shooter with little in the way of auto-camera movement, it can lead to a lot of situations where I can't quite tell what's going on as well as I would like. If this game had, for example, equippable swords that put the melee attack on R2, and dashing on L2, I could keep my thumb on the stick much more often, and really feel like a ninja on the battlefield.
Or put another way, it's like Warframe but good. Which is rude, I don't actually mean that. But I have tried multiple times to get into Warframe, and it just feels too floaty and weightless for me to enjoy the combat. Anthem, on the other hand, has a fantastic sense of weight and momentum for all the Javelins, and it varies quite a lot. The nimble Interceptor feels so different from the hulking Colossus. And playing Storm (my second favorite) by hovering above, raining down ice, lightning, and bullets feels just as different. Aside from the guns themselves, it all feels really good too, at least when the framerate holds up and the lag holds down.
I dunno that holds down is really a phrase that makes any sense, but you know what I mean. Anthem is a game with many a technical issue. Sometimes it just a choppy framerate. Sometimes it's the game crashing as I try to load into a mission with a friend. I've even heard, numerous times from Giant Bomb at least, that sometimes those crashes can turn your console completely off, and potentially brick it? I haven't run into either of those, but if it's true it does make me a little leery to keep playing until they do some more fixes.
But if I was to really get into the things I dislike about Anthem, it goes a lot deeper than technical issues. Things like the restricted respawns. In Destiny, even in Dark Zones, self reviving is on a timer. I forget what it is off hand, but assuming your teammates survive, eventually you can revive on your own (unless you're in a super hard mission with an extra modifier, but that's not normally the case).
In Anthem, it's either wait five seconds to respawn (which if you're in the overworld can also mean respawning where the mission starts, which is a hassle), or you can't respawn until someone revives you. All you can do is just sit there and wait. You can't even open the menus and exit the mission if you've been waiting for five minutes watching the silhouettes of other players ostensibly fighting enemies in the distance, distinctly not coming to revive you. At least Destiny lets you move the camera to your teammates and watch them while you wait, never mind that it does a better job of letting you know when people are down with things like your ghost yelling "Guardian down!"
This wouldn't be as much of an issue if the game's difficulty was more consistent, and if certain bugs weren't prevalent. But first, the difficulty. The game has six difficulty settings, three of which are locked until you hit Level 30 (which I have not yet). Normal is, for the most part, a bit too easy for my taste. Hard, on the other hand, feels better. Still not perfect, but more challenging (thus more fun), and I believe it gives extra XP (maybe loot??).
Trouble is, there's a shocking number of enemies in this game that can just one hit kill you, even if you're at max health and shields. Or at least they could with the Interceptor, which I know, is the least armored Javelin. Still, no game should have enemies that are capable of attacks that come out of nowhere and kill instantly when you are at maximal health and shields. If these were massive, ultra attacks that were only used rarely, clearly telegraphed, and easy to dodge, I wouldn't mind. That sort of enemy/boss design is fun.
The titans in Anthem, are not. Oh, dear reader, if you have not played Anthem, allow me to share with you the bane of my existence in this game. The titan. Big boring looking rock men that have a variety of attacks that do way too much damage, and are way too hard to dodge. Never mind that titans are impervious to damage when their weak points are closed (even though I'm pretty sure I can cut at their ankles to do damage when the weak points on their arms and chests open).
Let me describe their attacks. Some like drawing up a big pillar of fire are okay in theory, but again I think I've been instantly killed by that before. Some, like it shooting out balls of fire (fire boylts) that home in on you, do a ton of damage, and then light you on fire (which does a ton of damage over time but won't actually kill you), are not. Even better, it'll just created an exploding fire ball right next to you, if you happen to be out of its line of sight and in cover as you're trying to, let's say revive someone. Or as someone is trying to revive me, and then my several minutes of waiting to be revived are met with an explosion that instantly kills both me and my reviver.
Then there's the rings of fire, which alternate between two heights, and travel outward, again, even through things like giant boulders that should provide cover. I imagine the idea is that you're supposed to jump over the lower rings and fall down before the higher ones get to you, but you don't fall down fast enough to actually do that. The rings themselves, along with the lasting fire damage kill you so fast that it's just so frustrating.
And on top of all that, this game has a bizarre bug where sometimes the amount of health you have just arbitrarily changes when you start a mission. Sometimes I'd play as a Storm and have ten blocks of health, sometimes only one. No, this was not just a glitch in the HUD. When I only had one, I was dying almost instantly. When I didn't, I was lasting a lot longer. What causes this issue? I have no idea. When will it be fixed? Also no idea.
I think this brings me to perhaps the most frustrating part of Anthem. I think Anthem, at its best, is a really fun game, and a game that I want to be able to keep playing for a long time. I'm a sucker for Destiny, but it's nice to have a similar sort of game that, in the midst of combat, feels really different. A nice change of pace. The problem is that while Destiny games will always have some odd quirks to complain about, at least (in my experience), they work.
Anthem does not always work right, and I don't know how long it'll be, if ever, until it does. As steep as the mountain Bungie needed to climb to fix Destiny (and then Destiny 2) was, this one feels even steeper. On top of all the technical issues, and the design issues, maybe the biggest hurdle in terms of Anthem as a Shlooter is the Shlooting is held back by boring loot.
Outside of terribly designed titans, the guns are the weakest part of the combat in Anthem. They're all just generic gun archetypes, and even as they tier up over the course of the game, they're literally the same exact gun but with better stats, and potentially more bonuses. Eventually Masterwork guns start appearing, and those have unique bonuses that sound cool, but apparently they're just the same guns in terms of the act of aiming and shooting.
I say apparently, because I never found any. I have a couple friends who have, and I think there's even Masterwork versions of abilities too. Which is neat. I guess.
I never found any.
One of the smartest things that Destiny 2 did with its campaign is that there's a couple moments where it lets you pick an Exotic. It's great because it feels like a meaningful reward, and because it demonstrates that even if most of the guns and armor in the game are repeats with different stats, there are unique ones in there. Unique in their appearance, in their stats, in how they work, and in the rad bonuses they have. It lets you know that there's cool stuff in there, and gives a taste of what's to come in the later parts of the game once you're in that endless grind.
But even if those cool unique weapons and abilities exist in current Anthem (which I doubt), the game never made that known. I wouldn't have even known Masterworks exist if I hadn't been told they do by friends. Though, the game not clearly stating things is a whole other issue, because I ran into a similar thing with the oft criticized section where you need to complete a bunch of challenges to open tombs. Had I not seen everyone complaining, I wouldn't have known to even look for the tombs. At some point in the story they did mention opening tombs, but I kept expecting to see a mission marker pointing to where they were when I got to that point in the game. Instead I happened to be going through the Options button menus and discovered the game tracks what overarching missions you have, and then I realized I needed to go into Free Play and find the tombs myself.
At least I had already done the majority of the challenges.
Speaking of, you can open the Cortex to track the Legionnaire Challenges. Something the game felt the need to remind me of frequently.
Not to just keep comparing Anthem to Destiny, but another place where Anthem is lacking is in the Stronghold department. They're basically Anthem's version of strikes, and they're pretty fun. More varied than the story missions, and a lot more varied in terms of level structure. I hadn't really thought about it until a friend pointed it out, but for a game all about flying, there's not a lot of verticality to the majority of the story missions. There is in some of the Strongholds, which helps make those stand out and feel more memorable. Only problem is there's only three of them in the game, and one of those is just a repeat of the final mission.
Not that I have anything opposed to replaying the final mission of the game, but it doesn't really help make the game feel like there's enough content in it.
Then there's the other part of the game, where you walk around town and talk to people. It's fine. I enjoyed the characters more than I expected. At least most of them. Matthias is terrible, and possibly the most I have ever disliked a character in a BioWare game. But not even "good" unlikable in the way that someone like Micah in Red Dead Redemption II was. That was a character specifically designed to be loathed. Whereas I get the impression BioWare thinks of Matthias more as a, "Oh, that scamp" type of jerk character, that people will enjoy, but no??? He's just terrible, and then they manage to make him even worse by splitting him into three separate characters and having each just be a concentration of his worst traits.
Please, BioWare, if you're going to kill anyone off, kill all three Matthiases off and then act like he was never there.
And the soundtrack is really good. It's strange in a way that I think fits the world they've created, and arguably strange in ways that the game itself isn't but clearly wants to be. I'm just saying, a world left unfinished by the gods, but with weird things that can reshape reality, there is so much potential for bizarre stuff, but the game almost never does anything with it. The most it does on a regular basis is have relics you need to silence, because if you don't...they just spawn enemies forever. But like, not even bizarre logic defying enemies, they're just big wolves and scorpions. But not even wolf scorpions.
And stuff like the Scar aren't explored like they should be. If all you did was play the game, you'd just think the Scar are dudes in suits that sometimes use robots or big turrets. But if you read the lore, you know that every Scar is actually thousands of tiny bugs taking the form of the "dominant" species on the planet (in this case, humans). That's such a cool concept for a race in a setting! The game does nothing with it!
Imagine if the Scar were shape shifting enemies and you never knew what you'd have to deal with next? Imagine if you could talk to them, and get cool stories from them, like in past BioWare games? But no, the only Scar who ever talks is just an evil voice in a side quest who wants to kill humans or something.
There is so much potential for cool stuff in the world they've created, and the game does almost nothing with the majority of it. There's plenty of talk of grand sounding concepts like Shapers, The Heart of Rage, and The Anthem of Creation, but it never comes off as evoking a grand world in the context of the game. Instead of comes off as BioWare throwing together words in the hopes that it sounds important, but never really doing enough to convey why it's important. And the result of that is that devoid of context of the actual game, reading and learning about the world they've created sounds really cool!
But in the game itself? Just feels like filler to justify flying around and killing stuff.
Destiny 1 had a lot of problems around this too, but that was such a bright, colorful, and openly weird game that it was easier to give it a pass. Playing Destiny 1, in retrospect, felt like a strange dream. Like something that I only remember parts of because the rest faded away, but I want to remember the rest because this jarbled mess that I do remember is interesting.
Anthem feels like a story that was probably rushed, like a lot of the game feels.
I'm not sure what to feel about the game, now that I've written all this out. I like it. It's fun! But it's also a mess in just about every way that a game can be a mess. Even if I feel like I was peer pressured into buying it (Tom), I don't regret buying it, or playing it. I just hope they can make it better. The only question is, can they make it better enough, fast enough, to turn around the general feeling on the game?
In the case of both Destinies, it took a full year of updates, and a massive expansion to fix them. But Destiny had the advantage of feeling new and exciting, even if it wasn't actually the first Shlooter out there. Can Anthem hold on in the face of things like more Destiny 2 stuff?
All I can say is this: I bought Anthem about a week ago, and I'm looking forward to finally starting the Destiny 2 Annual Pass stuff this week.