Anthem: Just dull

So Anthem came out to people that didn't subscribe to EA's "premier" origin sub service and well it's just dull.

First up the network and connection issues in the demo and beta are mostly cleared up now which is one thing I had a couple of disconnects or weird network problems but no more than you just get anyway it was mostly solid.

I finished the story this weekend it's not very long I was playing solo which makes it a bit more time consuming (enemies are often bullet sponges so it's a case of slowly wearing down their massive health bar) it's also quite so so it concludes but feels lacking it's no mass effect it's not even a mass effect andromeda.

Gameplay wise it's the same three things over and over shoot a bunch of enemies in waves, collect a bunch of things with a hot cold direction indicator while being shot at, fight a big bullet sponge enemy (one of three types titan, monster, or walker robot) that's about it.

I've unlocked three of the four Javelin suits (the mech suits) I started with the Colossus the big stompy heavy mech instead of a recharging shield in has a deployable metal shield you can hold in front then run through ramming things it also has some unique weapons no other javelin can use (grenade launcher and auto cannon). Next I got the Storm javelin which is sort of a mage type it has more elemental attacks and can hover for longer than the other types and gets a boosted shield in the hover state I played most of the story in this suit it made the final fight fairly easy I could just hover out of range of the big bad's ground area attacks and just whittle down their health. Finally I got the Interceptor which is a melee type agile and quick slashing and dodging but with weaker shields and armour. The final type which I've not unlocked is the ranger which is the vanila of javelin suits middle ground of all the suits.

Each of the types plays differently Colossus goes charging in blasting away with massive autocannons it's abilities are mostly artillery or explosive type things, Storm stays at range in the air raining down elemental attacks from range, interceptor darts in and out it can slice through normal enemies easily and more powerful ones with careful use of it's abilities.

They each have three abilities and an ultimate which are on progressively longer cooldowns. You equip the type of abilities (two offensive one support) and there are a range of different types usually with different elemental effects and stats. You also have two weapon slots which are the standard pistols shotguns rifles, the colossus gets two unique weapons the auto cannon and grenade launcher. There are then passive boosts you can equip that add extra damage or armour or shields or ammo and so on.

I felt like the weapons are a bit generic for a space future mech suit game it's all fairly normal, I also felt like they could have done more with unique weapons for specific classes. The weapons are ok they feel a little light lacking in punch.

The abilities are fairly fun and can be fairly varied depending on what you equip you can set things up so your powers trigger combos (ie a freeze power that immobilises enemies then a detonator power like a fireball sets off a chain reaction of ice to any enemies around them).

The flight and movement is still fun and jetting around the map is great. The game world is pretty but not very varied you spend the game in basically two environments the jungle outside or in caves. In terms of enemies there are two main types the scars who are sort of insect people (hard to tell the game never really explains them) or the dominion human opponents with the occasional monster type. There is also theoretically a third set of enemies called the Outcasts but they just use dominion models.

XP is earned in a slightly odd way you don't get xp for killing things instead you gain these badges for the way you kill things. So kill a lot of enemies by shooting their weak points (that make yellow numbers fall out) then you get the weak point striker badge. Hit a lot with your abilities you get the gear master badge, melee then melee master, guns then weapon master, ultimate then ultimate master badge. Each of these badges has three levels with progressively more xp you also get badges for things like collecting lore or materials or reviving team mates. So the more different things you do the more xp you get. I found myself going for weak points with the guns then switching to melee when that was gold then gear when that was gold and so on to max my xp per mission. There is also some sort of alliance system where you get xp by playing with others but I'm not sure how it works.

There is a lack of any feeling of progression the javelins all do play differently but they don't significantly change over time after you've tried out the different options you settle into a set of weapons and powers that work well then stick with those. You get versions with better stats but they don't feel really more powerful it's all sort of incremental stat increases.

The story is all played out in the fort tarsis which looks quite pretty but feels a bit empty and artificial. Story elements that were promised where the world would alter based on your choices is totally absent, they talked about being able to find items out in the world and then bring back to the fort then choose who to give them to and promote some relationship over another, that's not in the game at all.

The main story is basically linear there are some dialogue choices where you get two choices but these don't really have any sort consequence. There are a set of secondary characters you can find wandering the streets these typically ask your advice or something and you can nudge them one way or another but again this never leads to anything unlike other games where you would engage with characters explore their stories and then get missions based off their story arc here there are no missions there is no pay off it all feels like it goes nowhere.

In terms of gameplay there is the main story campaign, on top of that there are contracts for the three main factions (freelancers, sentinels, and arcanists) which are smaller missions with some small story elements, strongholds which are sort of raid type things (there are only three of these only one is available at start), and then the freeplay open world which has world events.

The main campaign has a set of missions where the progress stops and get this mission to open four tombs in the open world which requires you have to grind out a bunch of stuff in the disappointing freeplay to continue. This was not well received especially since at the end of this grind you got nothing. They somewhat fixed this in the "day one" patch such that it starts counting the elements from level 3 instead of from the point you pick up the quest such that when I got to it I have already completed 90% of the requirements. It seems ridiculous to put this sort of a grind gate into the game to hide the fact that the campaign isn't very long especially since their solution effectively bypasses that gate completely making it totally pointless and a waste of everyone's time.

Later in the game there is another stop point where you need a certain type of resource to continue which theoretically you could grind for in freeplay but the solution there is to play the contract missions which kill that specific enemy type and get you the three unobtainium or whatever it is while allowing you to play some slightly more engaging content.

The open world is very empty it has various crafting resources and a smattering of monsters and enemies you can kill. It does have these "world events" that pop up have some goal (typically kill everything) that then give you some loot and such on completion but there is no way to find these events they don't show up on the map so if you want to do them then you just fly around at random and hope you stumble across one. The freeplay open world area is public so shared with other players but not very many players and the area is so vast you probably won't even encounter them and since there is no way to know if there is a world event or where it is you end up soloing most things. If you get killed other players can revive you but since in the openworld chances are there are no players near you if you go down you have to respawn and that takes you back to one of a couple of spawn points and then most of the time you have no idea where you were to go back and continue whatever it was you were doing. It all looks very similar lots of waterfalls and trees and huge decaying monoliths it makes navigating guess work. So you just abandon whatever event you were working on and just randomly fly about hoping for another to spawn. Beyond world events and collecting resources for crafting there isn't really anything else to do in the freeplay I think the occasional huge ash titan shows up but again since there is noway to know this or find it then you end up fighting them alone which takes forever and isn't very rewarding.

The stronghold are somewhat entertaining multistage missions with other players typically with some boss battle at the end but there are very few of them. One unlocks at start then you have to complete the story to unlock the other two and one of those is just the final story mission again.

Once you complete the story it unlocks the endgame which is ... more grinding. You get these tasks set by the legion of dawn but it is of the form of, complete 25 stronghold, complete 100 contract missions, do more freeplay world events and so on. The endgame is just recycling the same content again but maybe on a harder difficulty.

One of its major issues is the load screens they are long boring and frequent. Want to change your javelin load out - load screen, want to go back to fort tarsis to get the next mission - load screen, get too far behind on a mission/stronghold with others - load screen, transition to an inside area - load screen, come back from a mission - load screen then shows your xp then another load screen to go to the fort or loadout screen or launch bay (sort of shared lobby thing they hacked into the game as a shared environment that wasn't freeplay). The game is full of these load screens they can take minutes to complete and they just pop up all over the place it's terrible design. The load out one is especially egregious since if you want to check your loadout before heading of into a mission that means two load screens one to enter the loadout system then another to get back to fort tarsis where you can launch the mission (and get another load screen) you can't launch direct from the loadout screen.

The loot is uninspiring none of it is really that great you don't get armour pieces or customization it's just guns and ability modifiers all of which are just slight incremental improvements on the same exact thing you already have. It becomes a numbers game every time you get new stuff you swap the one you have with any slightly better version with bigger numbers but other than that it's the same thing.

Customisation is ok you can get different armor pieces either with ingame cash or real money they have a rotating store with a few items. They don't seem to have a way to get anything that was in the store that's gone after the 3 day period. I assume this is to try and get people that want that armor to stump up the cash rather than grind out the currency in game. So far getting ingame credits isn't hideous I was getting a few grand per mission and had enough to buy one of the sets of armour in the shop and have nearly earned enough for the other although to be honest I'm not sure I'll bother it's not that amazing and it seems to be for the class I don't have yet. Armor is about 60k ingame and 800 of the premium currency (8 dollars ish) which is not too bad I guess this is a full price game tho so microtransactions for cosmetics in a game you've already paid for is always bad. They also offer vinyls, materials, and emote poses you can buy for less cash. The armour customisation system is pretty good you can mix and match the armor pieces you own and then set the material used and paint colour or type. These vary from painted metal bare metal various types of fabric or plastic. You can then apply a wear level on top of that make it clean or dirty and then a vinyl pattern on top of that. Each of the suits has about 8 different areas you can individually set materials for and the colours making it fairly deep and easy to customize the paint scheme to you tastes.

All in all anthem feels like it had some good ideas but needed more time to refine things like the combat the story the open world basically everything. It has a thin veneer of content is spreads across the various modes and a fairly disappointing main campaign. It's lacking in basic quality of life tools things like being able to find the world quests or launch directly form the loadout screen if you have a mission. It has huge amounts of lore but none of it is explained in the game proper it's all delegated to encyclopedia entries. It doesn't explain a lot of it's systems very well the combo system (which seems to have been lifted wholesale from mass effect andromeda but with the parts separated across javelin classes now) is never really explained. It works with combining different abilities where some of them add a setup effect that others then trigger or detonate but it's never explicitly detailed.

There is just not a lot to keep you playing, I think the only reason I kept at it was to see how the story turned out and to unlock the various javelins to give the different classes a go. Now that I've gotten to the end and the final javelin I've not unlocked is the vanila one which doesn't really have a different role I'm not sure I can be arsed with playing any more of it.

So it's a lemon, maybe they will fix it maybe they will add more content or modes or javelins or something but as it stands I can't really recommend it. Probably better with friends but like fallout 76 it feels rushed ill thought out and lacking.


Thanks for the wall of whinge!

I'm pissed off that Anthem has turned out to be a bit shit and, as far as I can tell, really soulless and generic. You could be playing any sci-fi-shooter as the lore and styling doesn't differ particularly from Destiny, Halo or a multitude of other shooters. Utterly disappointed.

I hope, like I have hope for F76, that it improves a lot with age and we can pick it up in the future.

brainwipe's picture

I think the cost of games development has reached the point where there are no studios out there willing to take the risk of doing something non-generic. Add in that there are a small number of games bringing in a HUGE profit (lest we not forget, Fortnite was a #metoo addition to a failed game to copy PUBG/KOTK), so publishers are keen to jump on the grind/microtransaction bandwagon. It's worked for Fortnite, PUBG, GTAV, FIFA etc, and you now have a generation of gamers indoctrinated into paying for content and progression beyond the initial purchase, it's become a core game design mechanic.

I'm waiting to see how they fully monetise Apex Legends, though when you see stories about people spending $500 for an in-game item you sort of realise that they already have. Apex is genuinely has a real Tribes/Unreal feel to it, but it is also savagely hard. I'd love there to be a single-player option for it, as the game mechanics are really good and fun to play...but there is no money in it, so it will never happen.

babychaos's picture

Maybe they'll have a chance to fix it it rather depends on if EA cut their losses, the sales figures suggest that it's selling around half as well as Mass Effect Andromeda which was a deeply flawed game which caused EA to shutter Bioware Montreal as a result even though that game did make money in the end.

So if anthem is doing worse than that and the sales targets of 6 million units in the first week seem highly unlikely it may just get killed. Ea are notorious for that sort of thing and especially since the dark horse Apex Legends is doing so well they don't really need another live service game.

It seems like the industry is all about bandwagons they see something do well they try and milk that cow to death. Back in the day when WOW kicked off everyone and their uncle was shipping an MMO how many crashed and burned 90%. Then they saw GTA & Destiny making stacks of money so they tried to make versions of that Anthem is the result. In more recent times it's PUBG and Fortnite that everyone is imitating thinking they're getting the next billion dollar title and any title that doesn't make all the money is a failure. Just look at black ops 4 a game they sold to the battle royal market removing any single player, it sold 500million in the first three days and was considered a failure because the previous game also sold 500mil. They want all the money and infinite growth it's just not sustainable. They seem to forget players resources are finite when you are playing pubg or fortnite or Apex you are not playing any of the other many many imitators and so are not going to be spending cash even if you were so inclined.

Anthem is a symptom of a flawed business model chasing trends never innovating pursuing a market that only has so much space and money to put into a product but assuming that money and time is infinite.The chickens are starting to come home to roost tho stock prices are crashing as it becomes clear permanent exponential growth is not possible activision ea and the like a slashing staff in a vain attempt to keep the gravy train rolling but it's headed for a cliff.

Evilmatt's picture

The sales figures are a tricky bunch...missing digital sales is a big problem. That said, it's reviewed badly, and the issues with the "beta" didn't help. I don't get these beta's and staggered releases, especially if you game isn't fun. All that happens is that your game gets slated before people even kick out monies for it. I've seen a lot of praise for Apex just being released without any phasing etc, and let people experience it for itself. It's got a lot of glitches (some real game breakers), but there is a lot less noise about them than if they had been discovered pre-release (for example, some of the characters have a hit-box twice the size of others...literally twice as easy to hit. You can fly infinitely, or telelport across the map). This is not getting nearly the same negative press as (for example) FO76 and the "movement is linked to frame rate, so looking down makes you run faster" bug.

But otherwise, yeah, its bandwagon and cash-cow territory right now. Epic were able to react quickly as they had (probably) the most flexible game engine out there in Unreal, and got their foot in the Battle Royale genre quickly with enough of a USP (the building) to differentiate from PUBG. I've tried Fortnite, and I have absolutely no ability to multi-task build and fight. PUBG has a barrier to entry in that you have to pay for it. I'm genuinely surprised Apex has gained I said, it's a really well thought out game, but it was up against some serious competition. It's very weird to see EA have such a success and, at the same time, miss the mark with Anthem so much. It's even more surprising given that both games are efectively an attempt to leverage genres. Anthem is so clearly a move on Destiny, and Apex is also a strong move on Fortnite (and I can't believe they expected it to be this successful). I agree that Anthem has a serious risk of being binned (or, as modern game economics will have it, re-launched as Free-To-WinPlay). It may even do it a favour, as it then differentiates it from Destiny, and would allow them to put more focus on the lootz, which is ultimately what games like that are all about. You'll get les pushback on Microtransactions if it's not a full-priced game (though I argue they can still be called Microtransactions when a character skin about £8. That is most definitely in territory where it's called a transaction).

babychaos's picture

Yes sales figures are a tricky issue these days the digital only sales do make up a good portion and those are almost universally unavailable. Steam offers some details I believe but this was via EA's own origin digital distribution and of course proprietary console platforms who don't provide figures. People have tried to estimate the drop off that digital sales account for in general which is tricky and quite different across the various platforms with people quoting numbers like 75% to 80% of pc games sales now digital where as numbers sony provided about PS4 sales for fiscal year 2018 running more like 32% with the previous year being 27% of sales being digital. For a variety of reasons digital sales on consoles are not yet as strong as with the PC where pretty soon I suspect there will be no physical sales currently a lot of them that have a physical release are actually code in a box types of setups. So using it as anything more than a yard stick of customer interest comparing is misleading.

We can get a better data based on revenue (for instance the 500m blackops 4 thing comes from Activisions own shareholder statements) but it's too early for EA to start releasing that information.

One of Anthems other problems is it's a looter shooter but it doesn't give you much in the way of loot especially the high level good stuff. You play on the harder difficulty and you still get mostly ordinary level garbage.

From the things I've seen floating around the intertubes EA were very hands off with Apex I suspect they were actually expecting it to completely bomb were giving respawn enough rope to hang themselves with but instead they got an unexpected hit.

Fortnites rise to prominence is interesting essentially a failed game that no one wanted to play stuck in early access development hell then they see what PUBG are doing with crappy asset store bought models and just copied it using their existing framework. Their more unique visual style and addition of the building mechanics and ability to fix bugs made the game suddenly popular than pubg and then a cash cow.

Evilmatt's picture

I decided to get in on the action and made my own Anthem in Godot in an afternoon

Just have to add Battle royal with cheese and then collect my billions of dollars

Evilmatt's picture

I think you have enough content right there. You should start working on hats and pets to sell in the store.

babychaos's picture

Indeed no need to fix bugs or add content gotta get the monetization going :D

Evilmatt's picture

Pay for some snazzy artwork that looks nothing like this and flood the net with it. Gotta get the hypetrain going.

brainwipe's picture