Review: Anthem (PS4)

Review: Anthem (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Anthem
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (37.83 GB)
Release Date: February 22, 2019
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), £59.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Jumping into Anthem with any expectations would have been ill-advised. The Beta, a few weeks prior to launch, was marred with bugs, and I was only able to play a few hours because I kept getting stuck on a load screen.

The second Beta was much better, but only gave a very small taste of the story and what the looting system would entail.

Then came the Early Access on PC and for some Xbox One owners, which caused the floodgates to open to negative early reviews.

So by the time we received our review copy, it took a lot of effort to come in with no expectations. I’m glad I was able to suppress that, because Anthem is a very enjoyable game with some issues that need to/and most likely will be worked out in time.

At its heart, Anthem is an action-adventure looter shooter, much like Destiny. What sets it apart is the use of robotic mech-like suits that enable Iron Man-type flight and combat abilities. Within the limitations of your rockets overheating, you are allowed to fly anywhere and use extreme maneuverability to engage enemies across a huge open world environment.

With this type of engagement, it’s absolutely crucial to maintain a tight control system, and Anthem excels at this. It didn’t take long for me to adjust to flying my Javelin suit, or even switching from flight to hover, to running, and back to flying, all while engaging an enemy. This mechanic could have rendered the game unplayable if serious attention hadn’t been placed on what each button executed, and how it all controlled.

Review: Anthem (PS4) Review: Anthem (PS4)

The open world of Anthem is so vast that this is part of a very small problem I had – initially anyway. If you select to Free Play mode, then finding stuff to do isn’t always apparent, so I’d often find myself flying around until a mission appeared on my radar.

With the addition of story and side missions, there’s always something to do. I also found some of the side missions to be pretty diverse, even if a few of them were no more than search and find objects in the environment. Even those fetch quests had something to contribute to the lore of Anthem.

What wins here is the combat that accompanies all missions. Piloting a Javelin is incredible, and the feeling of being a badass is almost always present – except for maybe some of the boss fights.

You are given the choice of one of four Javelins when you start the game. Choose wisely, because you won’t unlock another until Level Eight. The Javelins represent traditional archetypes in titles like this, with the Colossus serving as your tank, the Storm is your mage, the Ranger is your – well ranger – and the Interceptor is your ninja.

My Javelin of choice is the Interceptor since it’s really fast, allowing for multiple jumps and unlimited melee attacks. It’s the weakest of the four, but its movement speed more than make up for that.

Anthem isn’t grounded by the limitations of other shooters, even the science fiction type. You learn almost immediately that running and gunning won’t always work, and sometimes jumping and hovering to avoid a moving exploding mine is the difference between life and death.

As an Interceptor pilot, I often had to know when to retreat by blasting off into the sky and finding cover. But that’s part of what makes Anthem so unique – that extra dimension of engagement.

Review: Anthem (PS4) Review: Anthem (PS4)

But let’s not forget that Anthem is a looter shooter. You aren’t, after all, killing bad guys just to save the world. It’s those crystal drops that you’re after. The traditional white, green, blue, yellow and purple colors determine the rarity and power of the weapons, and abilities, that drop from enemies.

That’s another unique aspect of Anthem. Your loot doesn’t only pertain to weapons and armor only, no armor actually since you’re in a robotic suit. Abilities are also unlocked via loot drops, and they come packaged with enhancements, depending on the level of drop.

As an example, one of my favorite Javelin abilities is that of a throwing star. By looting a certain type, ice damage is added to my attack. Similarly, I might find a dash attack that sends my Javelin plowing into the enemy and discharging an electric attack.

But the actual elemental damage isn’t the best part of these abilities. Those same elements lend themselves to the combo system.

An example of this is once again my throwing star’s freezing ability. If I freeze an enemy with a throwing star and strike them with my acid-induced melee attack, a combo will be started. At this point, any enemy I attack with my melee will be frozen. This combo system works even better in co-op, where a frozen enemy can be ignited by your buddy’s fire attack.

This system makes boss fights fun because the bosses tend to exhibit that annoying bullet sponge attribute common in games like these. But if you can land a good combo with a friend, that health starts going down fast, and it looks incredible too.

The loot system itself might feel slow to some, but coming from the Diablo universe, I found it to get better with my own advancement. The audible sigh every time a white or green would drop was indicative of my disappointment with fighting a huge battle only to get a common item. But as I started leveling, I noticed that I’d receive more blues, to point where every other drop was a blue.

Review: Anthem (PS4) Review: Anthem (PS4)

Drops aren’t the only way to attain abilities and weapons. Anthem has a crafting system, and the loot you find through enemies and around the open world environment contributes to your crafting options. Blueprints allow for the development of new weapons and abilities. If you can’t find components in the world you can always buy some in town, which is great if you’re looking for instant gratification.

So how’s the story? This is a BioWare game after all.

The entire narrative is told in a first person mode. It’s a little daunting at first, but the character models and animations are excellent and make for interesting cinematics. Anthem is filled with lore that can be found in every nook and cranny of Fort Tarsis. That’s the area you visit between missions, where NPCs hang out and give missions and information, as well as provide shops for buying crafting components and skins for your Javelin.

Anthem doesn’t take place on Earth, so there’s a lot of new history that can be discovered by exploring the town and talking to NPCs, and these NPCs can talk. For those of you that were expecting BioWare to sell out to an action game, take heart in the fact that these NPCs have as much to say as your typical RPG. If you are inclined to explore, you’ll discover a rich world filled with history and mythology.

Overall, Anthem provides a thrilling action game with RPG-lite components and a loot system that, while not perfect, keeps the momentum going.

Unfortunately, the game is not without its flaws, and even after a few days of updates I would still experience the most frustrating bugs, such as the game rebooting without warning. Fortunately, the majority of the times it happened to me were during my time in Fort Tarsis, so nothing was lost. But I did experience a crash that caused me to lose my rare drops since it happened in Free Play mode.

The crashes only happened a few times, and while frustrating, it would not be the first time that a new game launched with issues like these. The real problem would be if people were still experiencing this, weeks later.

Other issues come in the form of minor annoyances. If you’re in Free Play mode, it’s recommended that you return after completing three missions. You experience points get capped after the third mission and you can only claim them by returning home.

Review: Anthem (PS4) Review: Anthem (PS4)

It’s an annoyance that could be easily fixed, but with long loading screens slowing down the action, returning home just to claim EXP is a little on the frustrating side. I also personally don’t like being reminded that I’m playing solo and should switch to multiplayer for story missions that I enjoy playing through alone.

Visuals:
There’s no denying the beauty of Anthem. Even the most cynical could see how lush this open world looks. I can understand an environment this vivid in a single-player experience, but considering all the math going on under the hood, Anthem shines beautifully in the visual department.

Not only are the environments breathtaking, but I experienced a few occasions where I thought I had reached the end of the world because, “how could that amazing vista be traversable?” Then I dove into the area and find that background unfolding into an actual gameplay area. Amazing stuff!

Fort Tarsis took a small visual hit from when we first saw it at E3. But that doesn’t detract from it still being a remarkable environment filled with stellar lighting and detailed living components. Bars are filled with patrons and NPCs hang out and have their own conversations. I wish you could see your character in these areas, but this doesn’t affect my feelings towards the overall town hub experience.

The Javelins themselves are highly detailed and contain some cool-looking moving parts. Shaders and color options are available, allowing you to customize the tone of your suit and set yourself apart from everyone else. You can go fully rusted and worn with some earth tones, or completely make yourself look shiny with a silver glow. All of this renders fantastically on the PS4 Pro.

Particle effects lend to the combo system that I mentioned earlier. I was fighting an enemy at close range when a giant lightning bolt vaporized him right before my eyes. This had come from a companion’s elemental effect and it looked and sounded brilliant.

Audio:
Another thing that lends to the world building is the excellent use of voice talent. I actually enjoyed traveling through town and hearing people’s stories, which is something that would have been less enjoyable had the voice talent not been stellar.

This voice work accompanies you on your missions and your character talks… a lot. This was also refreshing to hear, coming from games where your avatar is mute and doesn’t contribute to the conversation. You’re in constant contact with your Cypher, a class of telepaths that work in tandem with Freelancers. The not only do they communicate with your during your mission, but also provide you crucial information throughout.

Review: Anthem (PS4) Review: Anthem (PS4)

Your personal Cypher is named Owen and he’s a chatty fellow who makes things interesting both in and out of the suit. T.J. Ramini brings Owen to life alongside an amazing cast. A large part of the living universe of Anthem comes from the conversations.

Another component to the sound design is the stellar musical score. A combination of robotic vocals and haunting melodies combine with epic orchestral movements to enhance every moment in the game. The music often kicks it up to make every battle an intense one.

Online/Multiplayer:
Anthem is an action-adventure game that works well in multiplayer, save for one component – the story is pretty good, and if your friends are talking during crucial points of the narrative, you might miss some pretty awesome moments.

But make no mistake, this game was made for multiplayer. It constantly reminds you that you’re playing solo and encourages you to switch to public. This is something that I found pretty annoying, and I wish that you could default to solo and only change when you felt like playing with friends. But I chose to play story missions alone and then jumped in with friends to tackle some of the missions that were meant to be played co-op, like the Stronghold events.

In these missions, you and three companions take on enemies in epic battles and solve simple puzzles together, ending in a pretty epic boss fight that resembles more what you’d find in a single-player action game. Communicating and figuring out how to tackle the mission was engaging, and immensely enjoyable.

While you will only traverse Fort Tarsis alone, you unlock a launch bay early on in the game that serves as a social hub where you can see other Javelin pilots and shop for supplies and make modifications to your own Javelin.

Some of the best moments in co-op are the combos. This is when you truly work as a team to demolish the enemies. Knowing what element serves as a primer and which serves as combustion makes for some excellent co-op planning and engagement.

But again, cooperative play isn’t a lot of fun if you’re like me and you enjoy listening to the story. The game talks so much that you may have to mute your buddies during important dialogue events. But once the action starts, Anthem absolutely shines.

Review: Anthem (PS4) Review: Anthem (PS4)

Conclusion:
I came into this review with no expectations. I stayed away from other reviews but I wasn’t ignorant of the overall opinions floating around online. That said, I found Anthem to be a very enjoyable experience. It’s not without its flaws, and I could do with a few less crashes.

The most important thing for me is that the game played well, especially since the bulk of the enjoyment comes from how you control your machine and engage the enemy, and how great it makes you feel when you land a kill based on your own skill. If BioWare could nail that, then everything else could be polished around that fact. And yes, Anthem controls like a dream and plays very well.

The mission structure ranges from run-of-the-mill to exciting and fresh, with the main story taking on a pretty epic world-changing turn that engaged me enough to want to keep playing. So, not every moment is great, but when a narrative doesn’t excite you, you always have the battle to look forward to, regardless of why you’re fighting.

And then there’s the loot. I would like to receive better rewards for my hours of playing, and I hope that gets tweaked a little. But at the moment, I’m not really looking for a glitch cave that hands me loot because I’m frustrated with the current system.

Anthem isn’t free, so you can’t try it for yourself without spending $60. Thus, listening to reviews is either going to save you $60 or make you miss out on a game that you may have otherwise enjoyed. I’m on the side of the fence that truly enjoyed this, despite some of its repairable flaws.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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