The long-awaited open-world RPG from Mass Effect developers BioWare is finally here, but it hasn’t been an easy road for the game. Now that Anthem is out in the wild, the day one patch is here, and we’ve completed the end-game content. Now it’s time for an official review of Anthem.
+Extremely beautiful set designs
+Some of the best graphics in the current generation
+Sound effects are top-notch and really help push immersion forward
+Post-game content is fun, rewarding, and quite challenging
-Quickplay doesn’t consistently work at this time
Editor’s Note: As many of you might have noted, our content for Anthem remains constantly arriving in different shapes and types. Lately, it has been in the shape of guides, several of them to help get you started in your endeavors throughout Bastion. For the past couple of weeks, our team has been asked when our review would be live. We said mid to late March due to how the game launched and when it did. Now that several much-needed patches are on their way and the first set of bug fixes have been launched, we now feel it’s the best time to review the game for any of the 90 day roadmap content launches.
Due to how the game’s launch initially was handled, we opted out of getting our review out soon as the title released, and felt that it would be of poor decision to release a “review in progress” as we (Blast Away the Game Review) see those as previews more than a settled in review. Due to the content patches that were made on Feb. 22nd, we felt it would be best to wait it out, see if the game experienced enhanced from the reviews we had already seen. Now that we feel comfortable with the state of the game, it’s time for our review of Anthem.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve cringed as the press headlines rolled out, each one claiming things are getting worse and worse for Anthem. Over that time, my experience has been quite different than what the headlines from other outlets have said. I’ve had quite a bit of fun diving in and out of the world of Bastion, exploring the depths of the caves, lakes, and even cliff faces that it has to offer. I’ve taken on unimaginable foes with increasing difficulty.
I’ve had to learn how to enjoy what I could, even knowing there were bugs out there, some rendering the game unplayable for some while others haven’t had as much as a hiccup since the game had launched. Myself being a part of the latter few. I’ve had a ton of fun working my way through Grandmaster Level I, cranking the difficulty up another point once my Storm Javelin hit Masterwork Storm Javelin status only to head onto Grandmaster Level II and truly put my skills to the test.
Much like games in BioWare’s past, Anthem is a rich, expansive epic, one still brimming with endless possibilities just over the metaphorical lip of its cup. The more and more I play, the more and more I want to dive into the worlds BioWare created in the years before. I want to once more dive into the beautiful and dark fantasy worlds of Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and to once more bask in the beauty that is the very world of Mass Effect that drew me into the space epic series Mass Effect.
It’s unique how BioWare has taken their experience from multiple genres, designing a singular title with all their past titles into a single one, injecting them into an always-online world where BioWare has done back-end fixes on the servers; allowing them to drastically change how the game handles by a simple injection of code to fix a few server-side bugs and improve the end-user experience.
Much like games such as Destiny, Destiny 2, Diablo III, or even Tom Clancy’s The Division: Anthem can be subject to change further down the road. We already know a 90-day roadmap is preparing to get well underway when our first MAJOR patch drops on Tuesday, a patch I was tempted to hold off for before typing this very review, but that would be defeating the purpose of reviewing a game in what’s considered its “initial state at launch”.
BioWare’s experiences in the past can make Anthem one of their strongest titles yet
One of the biggest questions I had about Anthem out of the gate was what it had to offer that BioWare hadn’t already given us in the past. They aren’t known for games that have a sustained life post-launch nor at they known for games as a service by any shape or form – minus that MMO we don’t talk about. Ever.
Because of this, Anthem is built upon the very foundations we know BioWare for and it’s a culmination of the experiences we know, we had, and we love to this very day. It’s a touch of Mass Effect that dabbles in the essences of Dragon Age and Neverwinter Nights while throwing itself into thematic approaches to end-game play like the famed Diablo series has done for years on end.
To put it bluntly, it shows. Anthem‘s story is a traditional story for the team themselves, combining the use of interactive and cinematic moments while allowing the player to interact with those in the world around them. However, that’s not the only way your story evolves, nor does it grow by just its interactive or cinematic moments, but rather, it also evolves through the use of a Cortex (codex), something we’ve seen through every BioWare game time and time again.
The story itself is rich, it is deep, and in many ways, it puts titles like Destiny and Diablo III to shame in one single title. The world of Bastion has been so carefully created that it doesn’t just reflect in the story you will experience, but the world you will explore. Every inch of it has a purpose, has meaning, and feels as though those very designs that you could go to where they are and explore them. Something that you can actually do thanks to the way Anthem has been designed.
But let me make it clear. While the narrative, the world building through the codex, and the character growth is there – I’m not fond of how drastically changed the player choices are made at the time of conversation with an NPC. They feel hollow, pointless, and ultimately serving little or no purpose outside of shaping how a select few NPCs will relate with you as your story progresses in the games current state. Unfortunately, they don’t drastically change anything and ultimately, they felt like they were put there just for a bit of added fluff and the illusion of giving the player a sense of choice.
If there’s anything that should be added down the road, it’s better narrative choices that add meaning, that add impact, and ultimately make players truly decide whether or not they want to react the way they would in a real-life situation knowing that there are consequences for their choices.
On the other hand, the characters are an absolute delight, the cast itself is rich, diverse, and some even show the uniqueness of people with different stories to offer as well as their cultural differences. You’ll see characters from Antium, Fort Tarsis, and even areas such as Freemark. They all are different, each of them coming with their own unique story and stories about the world around you. It’s truly inspiring and something that can easily be expanded upon further down the Anthem roadmap.
The world of Anthem is one of the most beautifully designed ones on the market
One of the things BioWare has always been known for is their ability to create beautiful set pieces, ones that will stick with us for years to come, and their ability to make us want to explore them to their fullest. The same can be said for Anthem as it has one of the most unique worlds I’ve experienced yet from this studio.
Never have I actually explored a world the way I have been the past two weeks, moving from zone to zone, diving into their mini-dungeon type delves, finding what spoils they might have, and facing down against what enemies that might be waiting for my arrival. Let alone have I headed into these delves, I’ve even taken my time to weave in and out of every watery area I can, taking in the beautifully designed underwater areas, taking in a moment to find what secrets they hide within their depths.
Let’s talk about that for a very second. One of the few places I’ve not seen discussed just happens to be the underwater areas in Anthem and there’s a decent reason why. While they don’t hold many secrets or treasures to be had, they evidently play a role and it’s not just for atmospheric purposes. There’s a lot going on in these watery depths ranging from beautifully designed bioluminescent flora and fauna to Shaper technology.
It truly feels as if something had been in the works in these areas and it only feels like something will come of them at a later date. Unfortunately, all we can really do is keep diving below the watery floor and take a moment to appreciate the beautiful and artistic nature of these areas, areas I’ve discussed on Twitter a time or six. Areas I do hope get expanded into their very own zones with their own combat scenarios, unique enemy designs, and story elements that will emphasize their importance to the world around us.
But that also helps emphasizes the fact that EVERY zone is uniquely designed and each comes with its own unique biome. Whether it’s Scars running amuck, scorpions, or even creatures created by Shaper Relics such as Ash Titans or a rampaging Ursix holding your relic part you need to complete a World Event. There’s always something going on, there’s always something to be seen or something waiting to be explored at every turn and it’s a beautifully designed aspect that keeps drawing me back into Anthem time after time.
The Strongholds only add to the overall experience and with increased difficulty comes great rewards
One of the admirable things about Anthem is the fact I haven’t put it down since I completed the main campaign and all the quests that follow. I’ve gone through every story mission, every side-quest it had to offer, and now I’m finishing up the final piece of the greater puzzle by grinding out World Events, Strongholds, and Quickplay matches. But I want to touch something more important: Strongholds.
Much like Strikes in Destiny or Duties in Final Fantasy XIV; Strongholds are Anthem‘s end-game bread and butter. These three dungeons (more to come post-launch), are where you’re going to find yourself spending a lot of time as you work your way up to some of the best gear the game has to offer. You’ll find yourself facing down against the Swarm Tyrant, Scelos, and a really, really bad dude in the Heart of Rage (in the voice of River Song: “Spoilers darlings!”).
Because of this, you’ll find that every Javelin, no matter which one you select, will drastically change how you approach every combat scenario and how you’ll want to focus your stats as the game goes on. You’ll find that, if you like LMG’s, you might want to lean more towards LMG damage, LMG ammo, and even use consumables that will buff your LMG for a single mission.
Additionally, the increased difficulty doesn’t just make better gear drop. It also increases the resistances your enemies have and ultimately changes how you’ll approach each situation, making the game eventually have a steeper learning curve than you might have intended it to have. Which is a nice added change of pace for Anthem as the main story experience is a breeze and can easily be completed in a matter of a few days at best, and then the real fun truly begins.
But these Strongholds aren’t easier in the higher difficulties by any means. On several occasions, I went through dozens of teammates before getting a solid group who was read, geared, and had an idea of what was going on. Not to say the other players didn’t, but they may not have been prepared for the occasion which really goes to show the amount of depth the overall gameplay design actually has.
It’s a high risk, high reward system and it works in Anthem‘s favor at the end of the day. After all, who doesn’t want to deck their Javelin out in Legendary and Masterwork gear like you would in Diablo III or even Destiny 2?
Each of the four Javelin’s plays completely different from one another
As with any game like Anthem, there are classes, and for Anthem, there are four of them in total. Each of these Javelins plays completely different due to their gear (abilities), ultimates, and what they excel at. Right now, we have four, the Storm (Mage/Biotic), Ranger (Warrior/Soldier), Colossus (Warrior Tank/Vanguard), and the Interceptor (Rogue/Infiltrator).
Because of how each of these classes plays, don’t find it surprising that they will play completely different from one another. Much like the Adept from Mass Effect or Mage from Dragon Age, you’ll find that the Storm is best used when mobile, fighting from afar and using its ability to almost hovering infinitely against its foes while unleashing elemental damage down from above.
On the other hand, you have a Ranger, the versatile Jack-of-all-Trades. It’s a brutish class that fights best in almost all situations, allowing it to unleash elemental havoc, aim for impact and standard damage, or even helping set up powerful combos using its melee attacks. Then there’s its bigger brother, the Colossus, my second favorite of the four as this walking hulk is a tank that works well when played side-by-side with an interceptor.
The Colossus is beefy, it can take a hit, and it isn’t scared to be in the front lines when facing down a horde of enemies. It performs best when it is surrounded, using its mighty shield to knock enemies around before using its gear piece ‘Shock Coil’ to drank their shields or prime them for a combo and knocking its foes about with its cannons or its flamethrowers.
While these are mild examples of what they can do, each class also has a versatile array of gear that allows them to excel in almost any situation. But that’s the case with all the Javelins. They all excel at something and none of them aren’t good at a single thing. It’s just a matter of the skillset’s they have and learning to truly optimize your play style for the one you like the best.
The best part of this entire system is that I’ve not found a reason not to like a specific Javelin in the game. They all change up the pacing, each of them requiring their own unique components, support items, and approach to combat. Along with that comes the ability for BioWare to later add new Javelins for fans to enjoy. It’s a system that’s beautiful and it works rather well thanks to how the entire game has been designed.
Even weapons and gear play a significant role with each of the classes due to their bonuses
When it comes to creativity and ensuring that everything has a purpose; BioWare doesn’t drop the ball with Anthem by any means. Every weapon, especially the Legendary and Masterwork weapons have a purpose and each of them works best with one class over the other. Weapons such as ‘Rolling Carnage’ and ‘Radiant Fortress’ feel right at home on the Interceptor due to their focus on close quarters combat.
But how? Their Mastercraft abilities. For example, ‘Radiant Fortress’ allows for a player to regenerate 35% of their Javelin’s shields after 8 consecutive shots (an entire set of shells before they reload) while the ‘Rolling Carnage’ benefits from an Interceptor’s dash, allowing them to dash to an enemy and do 50% more damage for 20 seconds (stacks three times), and even switch to melee attacks.
For example, ‘Ralner’s Blaze’ is a great weapon for any of the Javelin’s thanks to its ability to set an enemy on fire, allowing you or one of your squadmates to trigger a combo chain off that very element. On the other hand, weapons like ‘Avenging Herald’ and ‘Elemental Rage’ are great tools of the trade for a Storm. These two excel at hovering damage and they both make it so a Storm Javelin has both increased damage while hovering, but also increased elemental damage, allowing them to further deal more damage with their elemental gear.
But there are weapons such as ‘Cycle of Pain’ and ‘Renewed Courage’ that excel in combat and are best used on Javelins like the Ranger or the Colossus due to their emphasis on close quarters combat and high-powered weapons. That’s the delight in it all though, the weapons, equipment: They all have a purpose for every situation and help drive the class-based system deeper than ever before.
That’s even where the combat system comes into play. You’ll find gear that will increase your combo damage for the Colossus allowing your Combos to explode, causing wide range damage against all enemies in the immediate area. It’ll make Combos even more effective and it will show as you go through each and every difficulty that Anthem has to offer.
There’s a lot to do when you are done with the story
One of the things that has kept me from falling out of love within the world of Anthem is just how much there is to do when you beat the current bit of story. As I said earlier, Strongholds, they are a part of the end-game process, but they aren’t all that is there to enjoy once you begin to tire of them. There’s a massive open world that beckons you to come and explore it and it’s teeming with threats and secrets galore.
Whether you end up facing down against The Dominion, Scars, Shaper Technology, or Outlaws; there is always something for you to do from beginning to end. Everything, quite literally everything, but the story, can be done in each of the games varied difficulties, each one adding in a chance for you to get better and better loot as you progress.
World Events themselves are rather rewarding as are the contracts you can undertake while you are in Fort Tarsis. The only downside to the current process is that Quickplay is bugged and there’s a good chance that some of your missions may not work as intended, which makes the Challenge of Valor on its own a difficult task to complete. But let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about bugs or issues with the game in our review.
Bugs and Loading Screens. Yep, there’s a few.
Now, if you go across the internet, you’re going to hear about bugs. You’ll hear about a lot of bugs when it comes to Anthem – or so people say. The odd part is? We’ve experienced very few on our PlayStation 4 version of the game. I’ve spent a lot of time in the world of Anthem with my pal’s Elona and Jordan when we all get together. Even if I’m not with them, I’m still spending a modest amount of time in Bastion despite the few bugs I have encountered.
They’ve been bugs such as the Quickplay one where progress can’t be made or the mission objective does not show up. I’ve even had it pop up that a full server of Lancers would shut down while we had been roaming around in Freeplay for about an hour. But we’ve even had a few minor bugs such as the inability for Pilot Data to load or an inability to connect to a “server” appear, making it so we had to go through the loading screens that we were promised wouldn’t be there: A seamless experience that it was claimed.
While the audio is also an area I’ve complimented and we know fixes are on the way – hopefully – there are still bugs and the audio does cut in and out when it shouldn’t be doing so. It’s hard, at times, to enjoy because of that. But, with that said, so far, we encountered only a few minor bugs, ones that will undoubtedly be fixed in the upcoming patch in the next couple of days or so.
Unfortunately, these issues shouldn’t have existed even now. They should have been caught during the VIP Access and Beta weekends as well as the days leading up to the official launch. Let’s not forget the fact that you’ll spend quite a bit of time going from loading screen to loading screen, requiring you to complete the missions between each and every screen.
Die? That’s a load screen. Restarting a mission? That’s a loading screen. The team move too far ahead in a Stronghold without you? That’s a loading screen too. It’s unnecessary and it isn’t exactly the experience we were promised with Anthem as a “seamless” experience.
And… The Conclusion.
By now, you’ve probably scratched your head at how my review seems to be a bit of everywhere, or you have noticed that I have absolutely applauded the game itself. While our experience with minor bugs has been minimal at best, there are still a few bugs that need to be fixed, but BioWare hasn’t been putting these fixes on the back burner by any sort.
Rather, they’ve been adamant about ensuring that the Quality of Life of the game is one of the best on the market, which sets it apart from the rest. With another update already preparing for deployment, plenty of content on its way; we have a lot to look forward to, which makes Anthem’s few minor bugs pale in comparison to the long-term experience.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Available Now
Anthem, problems aside, is a solid game, it’s beautiful, it’s organic and it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with an open world title since Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as of recent and stays true to the values and traditions BioWare has been known for since their establishment.
Our review is based upon a retail version that we purchased ourselves and.
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About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.