Anthem Impressions – In Progress

I’ve been playing through Anthem slowly for about a month now. I picked it up upon release, but with my limited free evenings, have only been able to dedicate a few hours at a time.

My Xbox App tells me I’ve been playing in this new world for about 25 hours so far. So, I guess roughly averaging an hour a night. I’m coming close to the finishing the story, so this is just a work-in-progress update, as I may have some more to add once the campaign concludes and the end-game opens up. On that note, I’ve only played with the Ranger Javelin (armored exosuit), so I want to try the other suits too, before my final impressions.

EA/Bioware has done something fairly unique with Anthem, where it almost feels like 2 games. It’s an Action shooter with RPG elements and story, where we play a Freelancer who wears a Javelin exosuit. Inside the city hub of Fort Tarsis is the safe zone, and then outside the city walls is where the bad guys reside. Our job as a Freelancer is to take out contracts, to help kill the monsters, bugs, and bad guys outside.

Inside the city hub is where all the RPG stuff happens. You can change up your Javelin type, look and load-out in the Forge. You can wander around the city talking to people and vendors, building the story and world, and get mission contracts. Then, when our ears are sore, we walk over to the exosuit and launch into the Mission environment where the fun happens. I say “launch” but that’s is putting it nicely, as you have to wait for the loading screens to provide the menu options of either entering the free play open world, loading up a contract, campaign mission, or stronghold (dungeon). All of these are separate instances and you can’t slip from one to the other without first traveling back to the City environment.

When the mission or free-play adventure is done, and we get our credits and perks, and weapon unlocks, and XP, we are then provided a choice of re-entering the city again, or going to the Forge to update the suit (you then have to exit the Forge before you can launch the next expedition, see: more loading screens). The game does not just let you enter free-play again, or to jump into the next mission. You always have to go back to the single-player hub before you can decide what to do next. This divide in the game’s world is cumbersome. I really wish we could just fly back to the city, land and seamlessly transition into the city hub. Or just queue up the next mission or contract we have waiting.

From a gameplay perspective, the game is fun. The Javelin I’m playing now is the Ranger, which is the “all-around” most normal of the bunch. The suit allows you to fly around, hover and attack the enemies as an armored version of the human inside. Think the Iron Man suit – if he was also toting a few types of machine guns strapped to his back instead of embedded in his suit. The Ranger is light, allows standard movement and flying/hovering. The other types of Javelins are the Interceptor, Storm, and Colossus. The Colossus’ name basically says it all. It’s the Hulk Buster version of the exosuit. Slow, and heavy. Storm is the like the Ranger, but with a cape. It allows more flying and maneuverability, and elemental attacks. And Interceptor is the quick ninja type suit. (As I said at the top, I haven’t tried the other suits yet.) The 4 suits will unlock as we naturally reach the max level 30, and then we can modify each class build the way we want.

The missions do feel a little repetitive. They always start on the big wall that resides outside city limits, and protects Fort Tarsis. We then fly to the noted location on the map, and then attack enemies, or defend a position, or gather a few scatters objects to return to a key location, and then maybe do that a few more times before the end of the mission. Some of the important key campaign missions do feel a bit more important and mix up the formula a bit.

But repetitive structure is not always bad. Each mission is in its own way unique. 22 story missions and about the same again in side-mission / contracts. And by default, the game will want you to play in multiplayer, with 3 other squad mates, so it is a different experience every time. You can play how you want. Be the attacker, or the defender, or the person that wants to do all the objectives, or you can sit back and watch. Sometimes it kind of feels like playing on auto pilot (at least on normal difficulty) as your real-world companions will do the majority of the leg work if you’re not quick enough. Everyone is just eager to burn through the mission to move onto the next.

The flying in the game is smooth, and the transition from ground, to jumping, to flying to hovering is fairly seamless. You can even go underwater in some of the deeper ponds. I did note that besides traveling from point A to point B, flying is not really used. I was kind of hoping for more gameplay mechanics that involved flying, like objects that were on the move, but I found out to my dismay that you can’t really shoot and fly at the same time. Hovering is used for some collectibles and puzzles, but those are sparse. Also your suit will overheat if you fly over hover too long, and you need to fly, skimming across the water, or through a waterfall to cool it down. Or just drop to the ground for a few seconds before flying again. I understand that this mechanic is supposed to convey some authenticity to these suits, that you can’t just fly forever, but its more of an annoyance than anything.

Another restriction to the suits is your build. With the Ranger Javelin, you carry two weapons, a grenade type, and a launcher. You’re also equipped with a special weapon, a support mechanic like armor or shield buff, and you can melee attack. This build is locked when you start your mission. Grenade type or swapping your shotgun for an assault rifle is restricted until you return to Fort Tarsis. The game’s back-end has a lot of gear and weapon challenges to track, and it feels like we’re handcuffed to the specific load-out when we start the mission. Another reason we’re forced to return home after each mission to update our Javelin with the loot that was dropped during the mission.

Jumping into the game, knowing it was Story focused became a little overwhelming at first. BioWare does storytelling well when they’re given the time. But the game starts in the middle of an exciting mission, but already on the losing end of the battle, so all the character dialogue is frantic, and confused, and quick to throw a lot of terminology our way. We start off in bad shape and we have to repair our suit which is a good way to introduce the different gameplay mechanics involving the exosuit. The gameplay is simple enough, but from a story perspective, they throw a lot at you right away. Descriptions about the Anthem? and the Cataclysm? and Heart of Rage? and Javelins and Ciphers?

I let the many introductory character’s conversations and mission objectives just wash over me while I tried to just sort out the gun play. It wasn’t until a few hours into the game that things started to settle down and became less confusing. I started to make sense of the different characters and the original events that transpired. At that point I was invested in the story and was able to piece everything together. World building is tough to swallow when it’s all thrown at you in the first mission of a game you’re just learning to play. I’m focusing on the gameplay but the story flew right over my head.

Because this game is also inherently multiplayer-focused, I feel that the way the mission matchmaking works, some of the character’s interactions can be lost. If you want to hear every line of dialogue, you’ll want to launch each mission single player for the first time. It will be more of a grind because you won’t have any help, but with matchmaking, loading up a mission, you may be dropped into one where your companions are already flying to the first objective, or even loaded into a cave or dungeon. This only happened to me on a few occasions. I personally don’t feel I’ve missed anything crucial to the story by having to rush off to catch up to the group, as the dialogue still plays regarless.

But there have been a few instances where I’ve loaded a mission and the action is already taking place. Where I’ve had to fly towards the destination marker, to find the rest of my crew has already cleared the area and are advancing. I feel a little unwanted, knowing that the game started this mission without me. Like I was almost an afterthought to this group of strangers. What did I miss? I don’t know. Just personally, I feel since I’m initiating my own story mission from the campaign (not free play where I’m just loading a random mission with a group), that the mission should start, for me, at the beginning. Everyone else can join me along the way, I don’t care. But I’m selfish.

This may very well be just a server/balancing act with EA/BioWare. I mean the matchmaking works extremely well, all things considered. 90% of the missions I’ve launched, all the crew load at the same point and off we go. Only one mission I’ve played had only 1 partner instead of the full crew. And matchmaking loading is quick compared to Destiny. But in this one respect, Destiny handles the matching making better. We all queue up in space and fly to the mission. In Anthem everyone is just dropped on the wall and off we go. But some are slower to load and get left behind.

These be me thoughts so far. When I wrap the story and try out the other Javelins, I’ll have more to say. Right now I’ve only tried one Stronghold (I’m assuming there are more) and my gear is still low tier. I’m excited to see what the rest of the story has for me. And what happens when the end-game open up.

-iRogan

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