Update: We finally assigned a score to the game after checking out the game post-Day One patch. 

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: Loot-And-Shoot Action RPG Work-In-Progress

With my Iron Man-esque Javelin armour all fitted and ready to roll, my random party members and I fly off to complete a Stronghold fight filled with humanoid cockroaches called the Scars and random spider scorpion thingies coupled with wolf-like creatures that dish out frost attacks.

Wave after wave, I darted in and out of the fight dealing damage like a ninja with my Interceptor Javelin, out of shield and almost dead. Luckily I had a Colossus buddy activating his Ultimate just in time, mopping up the rest of the high-levelled enemies with a barrage of explosive mortar fire.

A lot of dead mobs and one giant dead spider boss later, we relished in our spoils of the blue and green variety. No yellow-graded legendary loot; I’m still less than 10 hours in EA and Bioware’s latest action RPG loot-hunting game: Anthem.

And if this experience is indicative of Bioware’s future, then may God have mercy on these devs who have to keep this game continuously running. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Taking Flight

That’s pretty much the experience so far: co-op shooting at its adequate-ness and familiar-est. You enter the Bastion, where all of the action of Javelin-flying and enemy-hunting happens. To its credit, the expanse itself is lush, and it’s filled with a ton of open areas, dungeons, and waterfalls to cool off your flight engines (for prolonged flight), all ripe for exploration. This virtual playground is perfect for free-flying and firefights.

The game’s freeplay mode and the combat is serviceable with some bits of joy here and there. Most notable: the chaining system when you’re fighting enemies. When you afflict an enemy with an elemental status effect, another player can use the correct attack to trigger massive damage on that same enemy.

Seeing those numbers turn yellow and shoot up to a thousand is pretty fun to see while also seeing that prompt that you’ve pulled the trigger combo off; it’s like a pavlovian effect of sorts that warms the cockles of your action RPGing heart.

And then there are the four Javelins, each of them different and being given the gift of flight. The loadouts, the feel, and the look of each Javelin also help differentiate each of them. I picked the two extremes: the Interceptor and the Colossus. One’s super-fast and is as close as I can get to a Warframe space ninja but with flight. The other is a hulking brute with a shield and a bunch of mortars to dish out damage while taking it.

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I felt that achievement when mastering one of these hulking war machines, especially when pulling off a combo for that sweet, sweet critical damage against that heavily-armoured Scar elite. I also enjoyed customizing each and every one of my loadouts with augments, the best support and offensive abilities, and the light/heavy weapons they’re able to use. My Interceptor can now chuck hard-hitting ninja stars and throw out explosive shadow clones like a cyber-Hokage.

I also recently unlocked the Storm Javelin; think of this class as the DPS wizard. It can succumb to damage easily, but you’ll have to be aggressive with your lightning bolts, your ice spells, and hovering every single time you’re in combat. Not only can you hover longer than the other Javelins, you have an amplified shield to preserve your life longer. All in all; a fun class to wreak havoc with if you cannot deal with the Interceptor’s mobility.

It’s a good thing the game itself is serviceable, because somehow Bioware forgot to put in an involving story to make all this spreadsheet-style fighting worth it.

Preaching To The Jaded

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Let’s be fair: it’s hard to tell a cohesive story in an online game. Try as they might -WoW, Destiny, FFXIV- it’s tough to convey a narrative to a chosen one when in reality there are dozens or 100s of other players claiming that accolade. Bioware tried its darndest, but I’m not biting.

All the choices you make when you talk to the denizens of Fort Tarsis, the game’s hub, is meaningless save for a few laughs and some insight about Anthem’s world. Every character from Owen to your previous freelancer buddies Haluk and Faye are all voiced and acted competently, but we’ve seen Bioware flesh out better characters in past games. The only guy I remember is an old guy named Yarrow, one of your mission givers, and only because of his accent. Accents are not characters.

And then there’s the goddamn fort itself. It’s not a fun place to be in despite all these stories and codex stuff waiting to be uncovered within its walls. This hub is not as bustling and as lively as the E3 trailers would have you believe. Instead, it’s hollow, it’s exposition city, and it’s a pain to go from one location to another because your character moves really slow.

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And guess what? You have to do this again and again after every goddamn mission. Never mind the fact that most story missions have you defending a point until time is up, or have you searching for echoes to unlock a gateway, or collect artifacts that temporarily halt your flight; they can get a bit repetitive. You have to also contend with the long loading times for each segment.

Go to the Forge from Fort Tarsis to customize your Javelins? That’s one load screen. Starting an expedition? That’s a long load screen. Couldn’t catch up with your Javelin online buddies because your loading took longer than expected? Teleport to your pals and, you guessed it, get another load screen for your troubles.

Going deeper into the dungeons and then getting out? That’s two loading screens. Done with your expedition? Go back to either the Forge, the Launch Bay, or goddamn Fort Tarsis, each of them with load screens of their own.

In terms of flow and user experience, Anthem is a technical nightmare. In retrospect, Mass Effect’s elevators aren’t so bad. Bioware, you cannot cram in a first-person equivalent of Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s Skyhold in an online game and then make your players crawl to their objective-givers.

Simply put, I just want to get the hell away from Fort Tarsis so that I can get back to flying around the Bastion and teaming up with random players to kick ass and collect loot and crafting materials. And even when I’m doing that, it’ll be nice if I could at least have some semblance of communication with my new teammates.

When you’re down for the count, you can’t slow crawl your way to your teammates or even ping for help. Heck, there’s no way to open up a text box to talk to anyone.

You’d think with Apex Legends’ communication system, Bioware and EA would have cribbed that for their game. Please improve your co-op options in your next update, Anthem.

Singing The Blues

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I have a lot more to add: the technical glitches and sudden audio mutings of my gameplay sessions when doing the Archivists missions. And then there’s the repetitive quest structure early on that’s commonplace with most loot-and-shoot games. But I’ll keep on trucking and save it for the final review, when I’m able to play the game with way more people post-22 Feb and when the first major content update is primed and ready.

Truth be told, I really want to like Anthem and its fresh new game world. I really want this game to at least keep Bioware alive while under the rule of EA. But so far during my 10+ hour-or-so playthrough, I am not impressed.

This is the same developer who created the Mass Effect trilogy and Dragon Age: Origins, the same guys who do not follow trends but make their own, right? I do expect a particularly high level of polish from these folks.

So until something drastic happens, I may as well put my faith in other action loot-and-shoot games that are either upcoming or are already well-established. You may want to watch this space in the next few days to see this feature morph into a proper review, score and all.

After playing through the game post-Day One patch during the weekend, I have this to say: maybe there’s a diamond in this rough somewhere. I partially enjoyed the Strongholds but they’re not as creative as one would think. I like the feeling of reaching Level 30 and getting purples and masterworks items to outfit my guy (it’s nice to wield more than one masterwork weapon FYI).

However, the same addiction can be attributed to the loot-and-shoot stigma. It’s part of the process of enjoying these games, and no matter how much loot there is that’s unique, you can’t help but feel that you’ve done this before but in a fancier suit and shinier coat of paint.

Plus those loading screens; it’s not as bad now, but it’s still there and they stunt the flow of the game.

It’s just that this one doesn’t seem to do anything else interesting and noteworthy than the rest of the games out there like Destiny and Warframe. It’s fine at being adequate, but people like me want more than just “adequate”. So what if you can fly in a giant map? If the rest of the game is as rote and uninspiring, your mechanic shouldn’t be the main feature of your magnum opus.

Pros

-Flight and freeplay exploration can be fun.
-Game looks pretty.
-Combo system is fun to play around with.
-Javelins offer varied playstyles.

Cons

-Cookie-cutter narrative with copy-paste Bioware characters.
-Shooting and looting mechanics doesn’t stand out from other similar games.
-A lot of technical gripes and load screens.
-Soulless hub and generic world that’s hard to be invested in.

FINAL(?) RATING: 50/100

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