3 Months Later, Should You Play Anthem?

Initially pitched as the next major science fiction franchise from storied developer Bioware and a challenger to Bungie’s loot shooter Destiny, Anthem’s initial release saw it fall far short of that potential.

My own review-in-progress found that “As good as the jetpacks are, Anthem can’t help but feel like yet another take on an increasingly-tired formula.”

“You've probably played a game like this one before and, given the current direction of the games industry, you'll probably play plenty more like it in the future. There are moments where Anthem soars but the weight of its shortcomings always sends it plummeting before long.”

Five years ago, that’d be it for Anthem. However, these days, it’s not uncommon for many games - especially live-service titles like Anthem - to come out the gate a little rough and then improve over time as they respond to user feedback and find their audience.

So we wanted to check back in, 90 days later, and see whether Bioware’s latest adventure has gotten any better.

Let’s Recap

Before we get to that, it’s worth looking back and clarifying and flagging the issues that Anthem had at launch - so that we’re in a better position to evaluate whether and how it has (or hasn’t) remedied them.

Discounting the lackluster story, here are the broad problems we (and many other reviewers) identified with Anthem at launch:

  • Loading screens are too long

  • There are too many loading screens

  • The ‘Tomb of the Legionnaires’ sequence feels like a waste of time

  • There’s not enough endgame content

  • Leveling feels too slow

  • There aren’t enough interesting ways to flesh out your character

  • The Alliance System isn’t a compelling enough hook to keep players coming back

  • All the loot and guns in the game feel the same

  • Combo system feels buggy and inconsistent

  • Fort Tarsis is slow to navigate and subject to sudden performance problems

  • Enemy variety is severely lacking and they all feel like bullet-sponges

  • Connectivity problems

What Has Bioware Promised?

Credit: Bioware | EA

At launch, Bioware laid out a post-release roadmap for Anthem that broke down the additional features, content and changes that’d be coming to the looter service over time into discrete eras known as ‘Acts’.

The first of these Acts - Echoes of Reality - was broken out into three major updates and set to keep Anthem’s playerbase busy until the end of May.

Bioware initially said that Echoes of Reality would include the following

  • New events

  • New missions

  • New rewards

  • A new Stronghold encounter

  • An expanded Progression System

  • Social features like guilds and leaderboards

  • A new endgame event called Cataclysms

What Have They Delivered?

Credit: Bioware | EA

Anthem’s first major post-launch patch went live in late-March. Discounting things like bug fixes and balance changes, it added the following:

  • The ability to replay critical path missions on Legendary Difficulty for a chance at better-quality loot

  • New Elysian Keys (which can be earned by completing daily challenges) and Elysian Caches (which can be found at the end of Stronghold missions). When unlocked Caches reward players with new vanity unlocks and crafting materials. [UPDATE: As of the 8th of May 2019, Elysian Caches and Elysian Keys have been removed from the game]

  • Support for Nvidia’s DLSS graphics tech

Anthem’s second major post-release update went live yesterday. It added the following:

  • A new Stronghold called “The Sunken Cell”

  • The ability to access to the Forge anywhere in the world

  • The ability to launch a new expedition from the end of expedition menu without loading into Fort Tarsis

  • The ability to access and pickup contracts without having to pick them up in person (Anecdotally, I’ve not been able to get this to work at all)

What have they fixed?

Honestly, it’s hard to look at the disparity between what EA and Bioware promised and what they’ve actually delivered and not despair.

Of the dozen or so additions promised, they’ve delivered a single stronghold. New missions  freeplay events, guilds, leaderboards and an expanded progression system are still MIA. As for cataclysms, it’s still very unclear when these endgame experiences will arrive - or even what they are.

In a recent community update to the game’s Reddit community, Bioware reps insisted “the Cataclysm is an important addition to the game and it’s currently a big focus for the team. The Cataclysm will bring new challenges and rewards and pushes the story of Anthem forward. As our work continues, we will share more with you in May.”

If we’re counting the Elysian Caches as a new reward, the only thing that’s been added to Anthem since launch has been a single Stronghold - the game’s equivalent of Destiny’s Strike missions.

However, in fairness, it’s clear that a lot of the post-launch focus for Bioware has been on fixing Anthem rather than adding to it. So, with that in mind, it’s worth looking at each of the areas where Anthem initially fell short and how they’ve been addressed.

Loading screens are too long

Jumping back into Anthem, I noticed that loading times aren’t quite as harsh as they used to be but they’re still far too long for my liking. There’s been some improvement made but the loading times still drag Anthem down from the heights it aims to reach.

There are too many loading screens

On this front, at least, some work has been done. You can now jump straight into missions from the victory screen and launch expeditions within Fort Tarsis at any time.

Credit: Bioware | EA

The Tomb of the Legionnaires sequence feels like a waste of time

One of the earliest post-launch patches for Anthem did make changes to the Tomb of the Legionnaires sequence in Anthem’s campaign.

As of that patch, progress towards these challenges of each tomb will start being counted as soon as you hit level 3 and treasure chests when opened will count for everyone in the party, rather than just the player who opened them. It still feels like the whole questline is an unnecessary bit of busywork and a roadblock to inflate the time it takes to get through the Anthem’s story campaign - but this is an improvement at least.

There’s not enough endgame content

On this front, there’s still what feels like an enormous shortfall when it comes to things to do in Anthem once you’ve completed the story. The game’s pool of Stronghold missions only goes four missions deep.

Aside from these encounters, there’s only one other avenue for Anthem’s endgame: Legendary missions. Enemies are already way too spongy in Anthem’s campaign missions, so cranking up the difficulty and replaying them on the new Legendary difficulty isn’t exactly a recipe for fun, even if does present more of a challenge.

Leveling feels too slow

Leveling up, especially going from level 20 to 30, is a massive time-sink. It still feels like you gain experience way too slowly. I wish Anthem would pull a leaf from Diablo 3’s rulebook and significantly ramp up your XP gain with the difficulty, allowing you to get to the part of the endgame you want to see in a more timely fashion and level up the other javelins in your arsenal without too much of a grind.

There aren’t enough interesting ways to flesh out your character

An earlier incarnation of Anthem offered players the ability to flesh out their character beyond the Forge by investing points in a skill tree. By the time the game launched, this aspect of character customisation had been stripped out of the game. However, I honestly wish Bioware would consider bringing this back because right now, it feels like there’s not enough ways to differentiate your javelin’s build.

The Alliance System isn’t a compelling enough hook to keep players coming back

As it stands, Anthem’s Alliance System still feels like a bad knock-off of Destiny’s clan system. What’s more, it’s let down by the fact that the primary rewards it yields are cosmetic.

There needs to be more meaningful rewards here and more meaningful interactions here. Asking your friends to log on and help you hit your Alliance System goals shouldn’t be like asking them to do the laundry.

All the loot and guns in the game feel the same

The loot system in Anthem remains a sore-point. It feels like you’re only ever getting slightly better versions of the same items and weapons you get in the first three hours of the game. There is some variation through the Masterwork Weapons added post-launch but, frankly, these seem like a poor reward for the investment of time necessary to get them.

In a recent community update to the game’s Reddit community, Bioware said that “We have heard your concerns around end game loot. We agree that our loot and progression systems need to be improved and we are working towards this. When we have more information to share, we will.”

Fort Tarsis is slow to navigate and subject to sudden performance problems

Although some amendments have been made in terms of letting you shortcut your way through Fort Tarsis, I still found the game’s central hub location often caused severe framerate drops for no discernible reason.

Enemy variety is severely lacking and they all feel very spongy

The enemy variety in Anthem doesn’t appear to have been meaningfully altered or improved. It feels like any one of the hostile factions in Destiny offers more variety and more dynamic opposition than the entirety of Anthem’s bestiary. Given the conclusion of the story campaign, I hope that Bioware take the chance to introduce new enemy types sooner rather than later.

Connectivity problems

Even now, I still encountered a bunch of connectivity issues while playing Anthem. Disconnects both within Fort Tarsis and within missions were still far more common than should be considered acceptable. The rubber-banding that teleports you back to the rest of your party if you fall more than a dozen meters behind? That’s still here too.

3 Months Later, Should You Play Anthem?

Credit: Bioware | EA

Based on the above, it’s still very difficult to recommend picking up Anthem.

Some gains have been made but many of the games core and foundational issues remain. Combined with the fact that so much of what EA and Bioware promised to deliver as post-launch content has already been delayed, the idea of investing your time and money here is a dubious sell.

It’s still very possible that, given more time, Anthem could course-correct and recover. But three months in? I'm hardly optimistic.

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Fergus Halliday
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