I bought Anthem for twenty dollars. Back when developer BioWare was hyping it up as the new prestige multiplayer game, a sci-fi action experience to rival Bungie’s Destiny, that would have seemed impossible. But eight months out from launch, after a release plagued with issues and a failure to sustain ongoing interest, it doesn’t seem so strange. The game was already on sale back in March. And since I bought it, you can now find it for even less than I paid — in some places, it’s down to $10.
Going in this far out from the hype, I didn’t expect much from Anthem. I’ve played a ton of BioWare games — some of which are all-time favorites of mine — but given that the critical response was mixed at best, the bar was low. And it turns out that my first impression was pretty much in line with that of launch day critics.
The loading screens are annoyingly long, even after patches specifically intended to cut them down. The game relentlessly pushes you towards playing publically, which I hate doing. Freeplay is boring and not worth the time, but the Tombs of the Legionnaires challenges force you into it. Glitches are still relatively common, as I found myself booted out to the start menu more than once. By the time I had advanced far enough in the game to feel ready for the Echoes of Reality Cataclysm event, I learned that it had already come to a close.
And yet somehow, I found myself still playing — and actually enjoying myself.
Once I finished grinding through the tombs, I found more and more of the game to like. The core combat loop feels excellent. Flying, javelin abilities, and animations all mesh together for a satisfying experience. The four classes –– especially the Storm and the Interceptor –– are unique and fun to learn. Sarah Schachner’s soundtrack absolutely slaps. Most quest-givers, with the notable exception of fake Russian cop Yarrow, are at least tolerable to listen to. Some are even downright entertaining. The core dynamic between the protagonist, and characters Faye, Haluk, and Owen is compelling and opens up a lot of good character-driven dialogue.
Basically, it felt like whenever I wasn’t forced into a multiplayer grindfest, whenever I was allowed to pretend I was playing a single player game, I had fun. And that’s it, isn’t it? That’s what BioWare, a company that made its name on single player RPGs, should always have made. The studio just wasn’t built to make and maintain games like Anthem, as evidenced by the heinous amounts of crunch they’ve been made to endure. And yet EA keeps forcing them to make their games bigger, longer, and with a greater revenue tail.
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Making events like Cataclysms and Elysian caches only available for short times is a perplexingly bad decision, as Anthem is a game in sore need of more to do. It feels like a rookie mistake in a game full of them, a game that should have been a hit considering how good it feels to play.
BioWare has always had clear strengths and weaknesses, and they’re all on display here. But even with the much-bemoaned flaws, it’s a no-brainer to pick up Anthem now. I certainly don’t regret spending twenty bucks on it. If you go in thinking of Anthem as a solid action game campaign with great visuals and some memorable characters, then it’s certainly worth the discounted price. It’s not going to be your new Destiny or Monster Hunter World, but maybe that’s okay. And the way things are going, EA might shut the servers down next year. Give Anthem a shot before then.