There’s no doubt that Anthem is beautiful. Its thriving, lush world is one of the best I’ve ever seen and explored in a game. But the VIP demo and demo weekend left me and many others skeptical about what lies ahead, and our first 20 hours into the full game has only legitimized those concerns.
Anthem is incredibly fun when you’re enjoying the bits of well-written story and charismatic characters in between loot-filled explosive firefights. But like the Kool-Aid Man, it likes to abruptly interrupt those charming moments to remind you that it’s a ‘live service game,’ here to eat up all your time and ask for your money.
It’s all about the journey
In Anthem, you take on the role of a Freelancer, a trained warrior in an exosuit that fulfills dangerous contracts. Following a tragic cataclysm caused by an imperial enemy faction called the Dominion, the world is left in ruin. Freelancers are in shortage and a force known as the Anthem of Creation is causing giant cataclysms that unleash dangerous monsters and all sorts of mayhem into the world. The Monitor, the leader of the Dominion, is on a mission to gain control of the Anthem of Creation. Of course, it’s up to you and a group of fellow lancers to stop him.
It all feels very Star Wars, in a way. Even the Monitor will give you major Sith vibes. Like Star Wars (and unlike Mass Effect), Anthem doesn’t take itself too seriously. Nothing here is based on real science and it doesn’t give you in-depth explanations about how the Anthem of Creation or the cataclysms work. It does include lore for the people who want a little more substance, which can be found scattered throughout the world in the form of pages, books, and other artifacts. These items can be added to your Cortex and accessed again later in the menu. Reading through the Cortex is useful as it helps uncover interesting tidbits about characters like General Helena Tarsis (a badass lady that whipped a legendary javelin) and history-making events like the Battle of Freemark, something you’ll watch unfold during your first few hours of playing.
Like the Kool-Aid Man, it likes to abruptly interrupt its most charming moments.
When you’re not flying around like Iron Man and fighting off baddies, you’ll spend a lot of time at Fort Tarsis chatting up the locals and picking up contracts. There are three factions at Fort Tarsis that you can reliably pick up contracts from — Sentinels, Freelancers, and Arcanists — and each contract you complete raises your loyalty to them. Loyalty earns you bonuses such as weapon sigils or component blueprints. In this way, Anthem does a great job of blending story and online multiplayer. Each mission you embark on reveals a little bit more about the people and the world around you, forming bonds that are beneficial to your character.
You must be this committed to enjoy the loot
The story and characters are Anthem’s most enjoyable qualities. It becomes your driving force when the tiring quest of obtaining Legendary loot isn’t enough to keep you hooked. It makes sense — it’s developed by RPG-focused BioWare.
You must wait for them, though. The major story moments are few and far between. It took me about 10 hours to reach the major plot reveal after the introduction, and it was quickly overshadowed by a mandatory expedition following that took all momentum from the game’s tale.
This expedition is called Tombs of the Legionnaires. It tasks you with visiting and “exploring” four different tombs in the Anthem overworld. The problem is that in to enter each tomb, you need to complete a laundry list of items that include dull tasks. You must find 20 treasture chests, 10 collectibles, and beat 50 enemies in melee – among other things.
The story and characters are Anthem’s most enjoyable qualities.
Yea. Seriously. It’s as tedious as it sounds and contributes absolutely nothing to the story. Worse, there’s absolutely no explanation, either mechanically or in the story, to help you understand what you’re doing. You’re left unsure why it’s all necessary, and unsure what contributes to your goals.
Tombs of Legionnaires is more than likely a stale sample of what daily, weekly, and monthly challenges for players will look like. It’s also a harsh reminder that behind the colorful world and likeable characters, Anthem is yet another live service game, with more time-consuming and fruitless endeavors like this to offer in the future.
I get why the Tombs exist. BioWare wants to get players into Freeplay and adjusted to the kind of content they have planned for Anthem. But instead of force-feeding Anthem’s Freeplay mode down our throats with an excessive to-do list and repetitive live events, maybe Bioware could give us a Freeplay map that shows where live events are happening – and the interesting loot we’ll get for the trouble. Maybe give players a treasure hunt or a puzzle to solve that’s optional and doesn’t gate us from making progress.
Anything would be better than how Tombs of Legionnaires is currently set up. If that’s what I have to look forward to, I’ll pass on the free DLC, thank you.
There’s no question the world of Anthem is beautiful and entertaining, but it’s not much without its story, characters, and lore. When Anthem abandons what makes it enjoyable and unique, it becomes just another microtransaction loot shooter begging for your time. The first 10 hours of Anthem balanced its story and online multiplayer elements well, not feeding too much into one or the other. But as I approach the game’s final stretch, I’ll be looking to see if Anthem still treats its story as a key component, or decoration to distract from the grind.
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