Anthem early impressions

Developed by Bioware

Reviewed on PC

Two years on from its announcement and following a graphical downgrade that EA swore would never happen, Anthem has launched on PC and Xbox One for EA Access Premier members.

If you enjoyed the tight gun-play and nuanced dungeon design of Destiny but always wished Bungie had invested a bit more time in movement and control, Anthem should scratch that itch.

The world of Anthem is mostly valleys and caverns. It looks beautiful, and cutting about in a Javelin, Bioware’s take on an Iron Man suit, feels as close as we’ll get to fulfilling a mech suit fantasy. At launch, Anthem’s Javelins come in four flavours: Ranger, Colossus, Storm and Interceptor. All share a base set of movements, double jump, dodge, air dodge and flying, but feel unique unto themselves. The Colossus stomps around menacingly, the Interceptor’s hops feel feather-lite, and other attributes, such as suit cool-down time or how long it takes for you to hurtle off into the sky, vary across the classes.

Once you’ve selected a suit, Anthem’s core loop involves boosting about and admiring the pretty scenery until something ugly piques your interest. Here, you have two options: head in on foot, or hover, strafe, and rain death from above. There’s no wrong way to go, and Anthem’s inclusion of elemental powers alongside ballistics gives combat an unexpected depth. If someone’s giving you grief, pump a few rounds into them, freeze them and shatter their body with fire. Near some water? Lead your enemies to drink then electrocute and paralyze them. Encounters seldom feel samey and more a testing ground for your gear. Slick movement and crunchy combat, Anthem’s base mechanics feel excellent, and seconds after vapourizing the stragglers of a scrap, you’ll be itching for another.

Story isn’t one of the game’s strengths. This is particularly disappointing coming from the developers who brought into being some of the best narrative-led experiences of the past decade. Anthem poses a handful of interesting questions but undercuts any intrigue with a host of forgettable characters and dialogue options, all of which seem to have little to no impact on the world. With no details as to when we’ll get more, Anthem’s story serves as little more than a cheap adhesive holding together a bunch of good-looking set pieces.

The game’s world is one of the best looking to date, but its shine comes at a cost. Load times on PC are frequent and lengthy, and the frame rate takes a solid dive during larger scale battles. There is a day one patch but, as it stands, Anthem isn’t anywhere near polished to the level you’d expect from a triple-A effort.

Anthem holds a lot of promise and it should find a decent audience after it sorts itself out and powers through the inevitable EA branding vitriol. The world is gorgeous and the movement is well-oiled, but a host of technical issues do well to weigh it all down. Given a few months, Anthem could certainly look to dethrone Bungie’s juggernaut. At this stage however, it needs a bit more time in the shop before it will have a good chance at taking flight.