The first Anthem reviews have begun to surface on the webosphere. The SF-inspired third person shooter-cum-RPG launches this week, courtesy of the developer BioWare and publisher EA. Set against the backdrop of a mysterious world that’s been seemingly abandoned by its creator gods, the player takes control of a humanoid ‘freelancer’ in a custom exoskeleton, in a desperate bid to save mankind from extinction.
That is, if you can make it past the loading screens. Okay, okay, it’s a tiny detail, but one of the biggest criticisms from the early Anthem reviews is its reliance on longer-than-comfortable load times (somewhere in the 70 to 90 second range, on a good day) and these are somewhat frequent and – understandably – immersion-breaking. They also bring with them a slew of graphical errors that mean things don’t always load as they should. One reviewer noted that (in the critical final cut scene) the key characters didn’t actually materialise, meaning that the player was basically watching a conversation with thin air. Moreover, loading screens appear when players attempt to enter and leave their inventories (something which happens quite a lot in a game of this nature) and this has added to many reviewers’ frustrations.
That being said, the environments – when they do load – are very pleasing, with the game reportedly running at a native 4K on the Xbox One. As such, Anthem is arguably a very beautiful game, and doesn’t seem to disappoint in terms of its graphical prowess.
Gameplay-wise, it’s the title’s Javelin suits that drive most of the action, and these come in a number of forms and become increasingly more powerful as the player progresses through the story. The Javelin’s jetpack is perhaps one of the most important features, with TechRadar describing this as the “standout” point of the game, allowing the fighter to fly or hover as the situation dictates. But the suits are also able to unleash magical forms of combat by way of lightning bolts and ice freezes, adding a suitable amount of variety to the proceedings.
According to Ars Technica, it’s the area of magical combat that has the most appeal in Anthem. “Notice how many words I’ve dedicated to magical powers, as opposed to guns? That’s because the guns suck,” the reviewer writes. “Shooting a gun in Anthem is never as powerful or accurate as using one of the equippable magic or rocket / grenade abilities, and I find myself only shooting my guns when I’m waiting on my abilities to recharge. Worse, for most of the game, you wind up getting identical models of generic guns, only with slightly boosted stats.” So it’s fair to say that a penchant for the supernatural will come in handy when you sit down with Anthem.
Moreover, you will probably want to do this with friends. Well – you might not, but that’s the direction the game nudges you towards; Ars Technica refers to it as a title that “inherently encourages you to party up with friends,” with XP bonuses being offered for multiplayer play. But the subsequent lag that can emerge from this apparently causes issues, with players spawning at different times and missing key mission details, or indeed, fun pieces of combat action.
So it would be fair to say, I think, that the earliest Anthem reviews are lukewarm. At the time of writing, the game has a combined score of 65 on OpenCritic, which is unlikely to set your Javelin alight.
TechRadar‘s summary is particularly humbling. “Anthem is a game of oxymorons and inconsistencies,” the reviewer writes. “The story is designed to be single-player but the game is clearly not. The gameplay is an absolute joy but is stifled by the repetitive nature of the end-game… It is a fun game, and a stunningly pretty one, but with flaws in nearly every other aspect of its design… This is less an anthem, and more an annoying earworm…” Ouch.
USgamer echoes these feelings in its review. “It’s a beautiful game where the movement is unique and freeing,” the reviewer explains. “It feels like the first Destiny: it’s an intriguing start, but there are several problems that need to be ironed out. What’s frustrating is that many of these problems have already been solved by other MMOs. It’s baffling to me that Anthem seems to be starting from scratch, even if I’m sure BioWare is going to do whatever it takes to improve post-launch.”
So I guess we’ll have to see what the future has in store for Anthem. Will you be playing this game when it releases on Friday 22nd February? Or will you wait until it has been patched a few times before jumping into your Javelin suit? Let me know in the comments below.