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Biggest Disappointment of 2019: Anthem

Biggest Disappointment of 2019: Anthem

I think I’m a fairly reasonable person when it comes to giving games a chance. I can forgive a lot of things. Whatever product Anthem was supposed to be and its original conception is not what we received in the final product.

Anthem isn’t even an awful game at its core. For a looter shooter game it seems BioWare has no idea how to create a looter shooter even though they could have taken hints from major players in the genre itself like Destiny, Diablo 3, Destiny 2, Warframe, or even Borderlands.

Anyone in Twitter or Polygon (dead forums) that have been following me or know the comments that I have made about Anthem knows that I’ve enjoyed myself with the game. It doesn’t mean that I get to throw a towel at it at all. It’s inexcusable that for a $60 USD game it’s shipped in an horrible buggy state and that all the alpha and betas that we played were basically them literally using us for quality assurance purposes rather than stress testing the game server capabilities.

I feel like BioWare promised things that they couldn’t quite deliver and now they are just downplaying it with “things changes in game development”. In which I’m inclined to agree, but you don’t keep quiet about it until the very last moment that everyone pre-ordered. Now they have the money… and their shiny poor excuse of a roadmap.

This is the opening of my ongoing review of Anthem. Over the year I hope to keep referencing this very same post and at the end of the year make a final comparison of how it has evolved since launch, if they survive for that long.

As a person who played the alpha, closed beta, and open beta I’ve found myself enjoying Anthem a lot. The combat felt fresh and the flying mechanism was just great. The flying mechanism went through several minor modifications from Alpha to full product. It was much faster to overheat and a bit harder to move around.

Playing on Xbox One X

At times, the work BioWare did on Anthem felt like an honest attempt on the genre and the product. I’d like to believe Anthem is one of a kind and unique in its own way of delivering a new shooter looter. You can fly or hover over the beautiful land where you can catch the small glimpses of history scarred within the terrain and building structures.

In Anthem you start as a freelancer on a mission to enter the Heart of Rage and silence the Cenotaph. Of course, things don’t go as planned and only a lucky few survive the events that went down in the Heart of Rage.

BioWare’s approach to the story is very telling in the sense that they don’t want to impose a real villain, a true antagonist. The freelancer is in a rough world where food is scarce and the lands aren’t safe to travel as they are plagued with monsters, Scars, the Dominion, and Titans. It’s a beautiful multi-layered world with an amazing potential to execute amazing stories and I’m glad that BioWare set it up this way because in an online game you can only do so much on pushing on the story with its current cast of characters.

At some point the “main” story has to end. We as players in a persistent online world will grow weary of having the same antagonists, same characters with little to no change.

I don’t think gamers should get into Anthem with the expectation that it will be a fully-fledged story. That’s not what Anthem feels like it’s devised to do at all when it comes to storytelling. You begin a chapter with the current cast, set the base story, the characters, and end the chapter with whatever outcome that happens. Anthem doesn’t have a main storyline, it has chapters where you interact with the people in Fort Tarsis, experience their joy, pain, and struggles.

Kneel before me, Freelancer.

One of the sins is that there is no sense of progression.

I think we have to sit and think for a second about what actually is progression in an online shooter looter. What does it entails to progress in a game like Anthem?

BioWare couldn’t answer this in Anthem. There is no sense of progression within the game. There is only gear progression in the game right now and to be grinding the same Stronghold over and over isn’t my definition of being entertained.

BioWare has structured a mission system (or a quest system) for Anthem that is very underwhelming and repetitive. You spend the time flying around more than doing actual content in the game. I’d like to mention that the word repetitive may sound highly amusing in a shooter looter because most of them really have to recycle areas for this to work out.

BioWare’s definition of repetitiveness is worse than in any shooter looter game. As I’ve mentioned before there’s no progression, thus it doesn’t make sense to repeat the missions or content as there’s nothing to gain. Why would I as a freelancer bother doing a set of waves in Anthem is there nothing to progress towards?

This has been one of my biggest problems where Anthem has an identified flaw. Once you finish the Heart of Rage chapter there’s little reason to stick around as the only thing remaining is gear progression. There are no items to work on. There’s just nothing there that justifies the player’s time.

When you take gear progression out of Anthem. All I hope is that you can see why Anthem is in such a bad state.

BioWare seems to have missed any opportunity to work on different content modes like waves, defense, assault, target elimination, etc. for Anthem. Some of the missions do implement target elimination in its own way as well as fighting waves.

The problem is that there’s no incremental challenge in waves of enemies. The word challenge seems to disappear because you are in a hardcoded difficulty thus you never feel challenged in any way.

It’s all about the loot

The loot discussion that Anthem subreddit has been having for many weeks now is that the drop rates are bad. It’s also one of the most discussed subjects to the point that the amount of posts created is absurd.

I don’t think the loot drop rate is the problem at all. You have to start breaking down the problem into tiny pieces and analyzing the problems for what they are.

Increasing the drop rate doesn’t make sense because it would kill the game faster. What exactly will you do with the shiniest of loot when you receive it? The satisfaction of it for the first minutes will dissipate when it dawns on you that there’s absolutely no challenging content to use it against. Not only does it not make sense to increase the loot, there isn’t really a huge variety of weapons. All the weapons in Anthem are based on a standard model and repainted. For a shooter looter this is absurd, there’s little to no incentive to work towards loots because all you get is the same weapon with random rolls on the attributes. The dynamic of the weapon remains the same without ever introducing anything.

You could argue that it makes sense not introducing new traits and behavior on a weapon because a gun will always shoot bullets. Yet, in a game where loot matters and fantasy/sci-fi reigns I don’t see what’s holding BioWare back in introducing a fresh slew of ideas in its arsenal.

Hnnngh, that sound.

The little things that BioWare did well was the sound design. The shooting, the afterburners, the jumping, the loot drops, the melee, the reloading… these are the little things that are so good because it has that satisfying feedback.

Many times I was just amazed at how well made the sound feedback was well-executed within Anthem.

Story, Lore, and the growth opportunity of each character

We could establish that a lot of the things that I love about Anthem are based on the characters and their quirks. BioWare has done an insanely amazing job with the cast. I’d dare say that Anthem right now has one of the best voice actors in a shooter looter. The work they put to make each character feel alive and “themselves” is felt throughout the series especially with Owen, Haluk, Yarrow, Brin, and Faye just to name a few.

The cues of anger, happiness, pride, indignation, and a quite a modest range of emotions are presented in each character. They bring to life the story that is being told with their outstanding performance. If I have to name one of the things I love about Anthem on a Top 5 it would be the voice actors and their characters. It’s hands down one of the best casts.

You can feel the discontent, the awkward moments, the moments of suppressed annoyance in characters all accompanied with a really good animation that complements the voice actor/actress work. These are the things I appreciate so much in a game like this because there’s so much work put into this that each character representation is executed at its best.

As we are introduced to these characters you can get a feel of who they are and what their purpose is in the current chapter of the story. Each of them are dynamic and interesting, they don’t behave in absolutes and you can see them evolving in the game especially with Haluk.

One of the biggest problems I have was how they handled Owen’s direction. I feel like Owen should have been given more time to develop… not re-introduce him halfway like they did because it just kills the moment. They blew out a great opportunity to say the least. They could have executed such a great story with his character.

Of course. As the chapter closes with Anthem’s opening story a series of events happen and it ends in a really good way. It sets the mood that there’s just more to come along with more characters and stories to be told.

Again, I’m avoiding as many spoilers as I can.

BioWare has a really good golden egg in their hands right now. I feel like Anthem should have been given more time in the oven because right now what we bought isn’t a full product at all. It feels more like an early access release, a beta build in the makings. As a consumer who paid $60, I expected more content, and I’m afraid there isn’t much to go on with Anthem aside from the current story.

I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. As much as I have enjoyed Anthem, a great part of me wouldn’t recommend this to anyone for the reason that they’ll be throwing $60 out. In 2019, where the industry seems to be obsessed with games as a service, DLC, and roadmaps it feels like we are lowering the bar in terms of content. The more we support this the more common it’ll become. If this money reached to the developers pockets directly I’d be happy to continue my support. But given how the industry is we have a bunch of executives giving themselves an absurd amount of bonuses on the backs of overworked/burned out developers.

I do look towards the future of Anthem. Despite of all the current issues that are plaguing the game I feel like Anthem has one of the brightest futures in the shooter looter genre. I know the anger the community is going through right now. The heat BioWare is getting for releasing an incomplete product isn’t unwarranted for.