We’ve all wanted something we were hyped about to be great. I have been talking about Anthem for a long time now. Followed all the news, videos, and live streams for over a year. I even lowered my expectations from the E3 reveal video. Tech demos from AAA publishers are always better than the released game; a justification just so the game would be even better than I expected. Fantastic tech demos are slimy slim ball AAA publishers slim-tastic ways that we all know and deal with. But, flying around in mech-suits, blastin’ fools for loot a la Diablo style, with an actual story to go along with the co-op shootin’ … I was still stoked. I even got one month of Origin Premier so that I could play the full game a week before launch. Boy, was I ever wrong. I’m going to try to breakdown the dumpster fire that is Anthem’s story and Bioware, another dying titan of the industry like Blizzard, that is to blame.
A lot of people like to call it a Destiny or Warframe clone. It definitely doesn’t feel like Destiny to me. Although it does share the same good qualities of Destiny. Both Anthem and Destiny have great graphics and music. The creative teams on both of these games are the real heroes. Anthem’s art and music are better than Destiny’s, but that doesn’t surprise me. It is a newer game, and the graphics are amazing. Not like the E3 reveal video. But, still amazing. As far as Warframe, that game is just too damn grindy, and the story isn’t my taste. Anthem and Warframe are games you grind loot on while in mechsuits so that’s similar. The graphics don’t even come close to Anthem’s, but Warframe is free and from a small studio. One other small thing Anthem did ok was the main story cut scenes. The mocap and facial animations on these scenes are great. You don’t get very many of them in the game though.
Ok, now it’s time to get dirty. The story, it’s weak and juvenile. The mass majority of the time you spend doing side quests that delay you from moving forward in the main campaign. This is most likely to make a short campaign feel longer, but as weak as the main story is, the side quests are just boring. The side quests basically break down to what World of WarCraft does with Faction Quests. It’s a vile practice. Forcing you to replay the same tired quests over and over and over to build up reputation with said faction. A grind in an already grindy game. More than half of the side quests you get, that don’t enhance or move the story forward in any way, come from characters that aren’t part of the main story. I might have been fine with this if the main story had an equal number of quests. It’s not thought. The main story is maybe like 20% of the quests in the game(at launch). Some of the quests come from the main characters, but mostly you will be going to the same 3 NPCs to have a small insignificant chat and handed a new boring quest. Urrggg, I’ve focused on the story; because, it’s what let me down the most. Bioware has enjoyed a god-like status in the roleplaying gaming market. I mean, look at some of these reviews: Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, and their magnum opus Mass Effect 2. Sure, some of their games weren’t the best like Dragon Age 2 or the ending in Mass Effect 3 which was just basically different colored explosions depending on you last choice in the entire game series(not all the choices you’ve made over the 100+ hours trilogy). They both at least had a main quest and characters you could invest in. You know … the core fundamentals of a roleplaying game. Don’t jerk around with you fans. They will respond.
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I can deal with a less than stellar ending to the Mass Effect trilogy; because, all three games together make a great journey. It’s all about the journey not the destination. Right? I actually agree with this when it comes to RPG games as long as the ending isn’t completely stupid. That being said, Anthem’s rather short main story is just boring, and the player agency is poorly executed. I’ll give and example of both player agency on a side quest and a main quest huge plot twist with both Anthem and Mass Effect just so you can see the difference in story driven quality. Let’s start with totally optional dialogue options and where they lead. In Mass Effect, one of your main companions Urdnot Wrex, the most laid back badass dude in the Milky Way Galaxy, has an interesting backstory that you can pursue if you choose. He is basically your main source of information on the Krogan race. You hear about the Genophage. A biological weapon that infected all Krogans to stem the tide of Krogan reproduction rate during the Krogan Rebellions almost 2000 years ago. Over 95% of Krogans die in stillbirth because of the Genophage. Dark shit. Also, you can get backstory on Wrex himself and end up helping him recover his family heirloom armor. Now cut to a part in the game where you are about to infiltrate and destroy a facility run by Saren, we’ll get to him in a minute. Saren and his group have managed to cure the Genophage so that they can rapidly grow brainwashed Krogan warriors to fight for them. Bad news. Krogans are awesome warriors. Well—before you even start you operation, Wrex is understandable upset. Destroying the facility most likely destroying the Krogan’s one chance for a cure. There is more than one way to approach this situation, but let’s say you don’t have persuasion of any kind on your character stats. If you didn’t dive into Wrex’s backstory and help him out, you are forced to kill Wrex; because, he attacks you. I mean you two don’t really know eachother, right? You didn’t invest any time into Wrex. However, Wrex trusts your judgement if you helped him out earlier. He concedes that the facility needs to be destroyed, and he even appears in the later Mass Effect games because of this. Awesome.
Anthem? There is no persuasion, and your two choices that you ever get are normally between cringy nice-guy to douchy douchebag. Your character does most of the talking automatically. You just get to interject here and there. This is not like their previous titles where you cloose everything your character says. The only side conversation I was interested enough in to try any amount of player agency had to do with a Dominion defector that ended in disaster. You don’t really learn any more about the Dominion from this dude, whose name I’ve already forgotten. I was sent by his wife, a spy for Corvus(your people that you’ve been doing faction quests for), to help him deal with the things he did in the Dominion which you don’t learn anything about what he did other than telepathically spy on the Dominion citizens. Turns out he’s been reprogrammed to have this defector persona, and saying his real name will have him switch between who he really is and the fake defector that’s been slipping the Dominion info, but the real him says he wants his fake life to be real. So, there is a moment when the defector, his wife, and our Corvus contact are all in one place. The Corvus agent mentions that some intel has been leaked to the other side, and asks if I know anything about it. You get two choices. Lie and say you vouch for the defector or say his real name. Why the hell would I lie? In this story, the natural environment is deadly enough. The Dominion having even the slightest info seems bad. They put that decision on your shoulders. So, I said his real name. Up to this point, your douchiness has mostly ended up a with positive results. Even Corvus, as a spy agency, seems to be mostly benevolent, and your contact seems to go with your character’s judgement on things. Nope, not this time. The only thing you can convince Corvus to do is keep the defector alive. They do, but they re-reprogram him to feed the Dominion false info, and they tell the wife to piss off to some other town. The defector remains a prisoner of his own mind. Wife basically spits in your face before she leaves. And, the very next conversation in Fort Tarsis you have with anyone is like, “You’re the nicest guy ever! The hero of Fort Tarsis!” That’s it. It’s jarring, and the end of side story. Stupid.
The main characters of the main story act pretty much like the faction NPCs. They send you on a fetch and kill quests all in the effort to race to the most boring MacGuffin in gaming history … the Anthem of Creation. The Dominion wants said MacGuffin for evil things. You want to stop them. That’s it. There is a lot of pointless lore, but most of it never shows it self in the main quest. Who cares about all the world building you do when the only places we can actually go are Fort Tarsis and right outside Fort Tarsis in the open world(not as big as it sounds). There are 3 dungeons you can directly load into, but they are basically the same-y looking stuff you can find in the open world caves. The one plot twist in the story basically amounts to a character, Owen, having a temper tantrum. I’m not lying.
Yep, sucks. Now, what was Mass Effect’s big plot twist? Early on you are chasing a Spectre, galactic special ops agent, named Saren whom you believe wants to harm the human race. You figure he’s going to revive an old evil a mysterious race that was wiped out 50,000 years ago dubbed The Reapers. Saren has been bombing around the galaxy in this huge super awesome repurposed Reaper ship that you assume he got with or from the Geth, a synthetic race he’s teamed up with. You chase Saren to one of his facilities to face him. He’s not there, but …
Holy shit balls! A godlike synthetic race leaves technology behind so that organic life will evolve to a specific technology, and when organic life hits the technological pinnacle that the reapers need, they come in from the dark space between galaxies, wipe all organic life out, and take the technology all life created to sustain themselves. Not only that, a Reaper is here in the Milky Way right now to let the Reaper legion know when to invade and to make sure the cycle continues. Now you know a tiny piece of Mass Effect’s story that it offers players and pretty much all Anthem has to offer.
I’m not going to get into all the technical issues that plague Anthem that you couldn’t find with a quick Google search. The gameplay is fun at first, but gets tiring after a few hours. Not because of the controls. The controls are smooth. Mainly, it’s because you are doing the same thing over and over. A shame. You can only be burnt by AAA publishers for so long before you hold fast to your money, and wait for all the reviews to come out. The best thing that came out of Anthem for me was my refund. That was the most joy it gave me. My money back. I think, like Activision has done to Blizzard, that EA’s influence has affected too much of what Bioware represented. The Old Guard in these game companies are gone. EA used Bioware’s good name to sell us on a game-as-a-live-service trying to get in on that infinite microtransactions that games like Destiny or any MMO today enjoys. It’s not like the signs weren’t there. Mass Effect: Andromeda was a huge departure from the previous Mass Effect trilogy as far as story quality. I, like many, just wanted to believe Bioware still had it.
That’s really all I want to say about Anthem. The game pissed me off, but I probably walked right into that disappointment expecting something resembling enjoyment. I really didn’t want my next post to be a rant, but I think it’s past time we take our faith in the old gods of the gaming industry out to pasture like Old Yeller.