Game Reviewed: Anthem
Publisher: EA Games
Reviewer: Samuel Gronseth II
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
Category: Cooperative Online Shooter
ESRB Rating: T
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Since the release of Destiny, a few other major companies have tried their hand at the strange genre hybrid of cooperative multiplayer online shooters. Even so, it was surprising when Bioware, creators of narrative-heavy single-player epics like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, announced that they would be throwing their hat into this particular ring. The optimistic outlook was that if anyone could bring compelling storytelling to the genre, it would be Bioware; the pessimistic one was that this was so far outside Bioware’s wheelhouse it would end up a mishmash of incongruent elements that never rose to greatness in any one area.
Unfortunately, it seems to have turned out the latter.
In Anthem, players take the role of one of the few remaining freelancers. In this science fiction world, machines left over from the world’s creation are behaving erratically and causing great hardship for the people of the planet. The freelancers were a force for peace, but a few bad situations and catastrophic failures made humanity lose faith in these defenders. The player is one of the few who stuck around, and will undertake a number of operations with hopes of protecting people and restoring faith in the freelancers.
The game mostly takes place in two different contexts; missions are played online, with friends or strangers, and put the players in combat situations against humans, machines, and monsters. Players use mech suits with various weaponry to fight these enemies alongside their allies. When not on missions, players can learn more about the world and speak to a number of characters in one of the last remaining strongholds, learning about their lives and helping them to keep hope alive.
So before talking about how this all comes together, let’s talk about whether your kids should be playing it in the first place.
What Parents Need to Know
Anthem is a third-person shooter, meaning the player views their character from behind and uses guns (along with other weaponry like knives, grenades, and lasers) to attack their enemies. When bullets hit enemies, there is sometimes a mild accompanying blood splatter effect. There is no gore or graphic violence.
The words “sh*t,” and lesser profanities show up in the dialogue on occasion.
The story digs into this fantasy world enough to understand that this world was created by some force called the Anthem of Creation, and that it used giant machines to do it. There are also ancient technological wonders that appear, as sufficiently advanced technology often does, to be magical. There’s an order of people called the Arcanists that study such artifacts and seek to understand them.
There are mentions of alcohol and drunkenness, and the player can visit a bar.
The player is given multiple opportunities to better the lives of various people throughout the game. This ranges from saving the lives of endangered scientists to convincing a drunkard to sober up and help a scientist solve a food shortage. This coincides well with the overall plot, which is about being a defender of the helpless and beacon of hope.
Anthem is… kind of a mess.
The game’s tortured development process has been well-documented, and it’s clear that Bioware was pushing themselves to do something ambitious and out of their expertise, without the resources or management to pull it off. And it shows. While the game is functional, and has some very good elements, it also doesn’t feel like it comes together all that well.
The star of the show is movement. Players can take a running leap and fly into the air, soaring over the game world with grace and ease, then drop straight down into conflict without missing a beat. The simple act of moving around in Anthem feels great, which also helps make the lackluster combat far more interesting. The world seems to have potential as well, and with Bioware’s signature world-building there are always interesting things to find out and explore. Some of the characters are fun to talk to, and at times I felt genuinely invested in the struggles of these characters.
But the entire experience still manages to feel kind of hollow. The game isn’t very fun to play by yourself, but playing with others seems to add little to the experience. There’s a lot of space to explore, but the act of exploring it doesn’t feel particularly rewarding, and since you can fly all over the place you never get the chance to form a connection to the game world or an intimate understanding of its layout. And while the characters can be fun to talk to, it feels like a pale imitation of the far more extensive character interaction in Bioware’s single-player RPGs. Especially when so much of the dialogue feels like it was written to encourage romantic relationships despite Anthem, unlike nearly every other Bioware game, not giving the player that option.
I enjoyed Anthem at times, but I was hoping for Destiny with better storytelling. What I got was little more than a lackluster Destiny clone, with gameplay that never rises above functionality and storytelling that simply wasn’t well-served by Bioware’s history of engrossing single-player experiences.
There’s not much in Anthem to concern you about your children, but unless they really want it or you find a good sale, there’s not much reason to bother with it either.
Samuel Gronseth II
Samuel Gronseth II is an avid video game enthusiast who manages Video Game Reviews at TheSource4Parents.com. He has experience teaching about video games, and is passionate about their storytelling potential. Sam's favorite movie is The Empire Strikes Back, and his favorite video game is Persona 4. Sam lives in Knoxville, TN with his wife, Jimi. To see more of Samuel, check out his Youtube series Games as Lit. 101, where he examines the stories of beloved video games to see what we can learn from them: https://www.youtube.com/gamesasliterature.