Anthem full review

It’s been a long wait since Anthem was first teased by EA at E3 2017, but we've finally had a chance to play and see if it lives up to the hype. We got the chance to play around six hours of Anthem at a preview event in London, running on a (presumably very high-spec) PC courtesy of Nvidia. Here’s how the publisher’s Destiny-killer is shaping up.

Anthem release date and platforms

First up, Anthem is out on 22 February 2019, and will hit PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Anyone who pre-orders the game will get a few special goodies, including VIP demo access (which is live right now!), an in-game Founder banner, a legendary weapon, and the Legion of Dawn Ranger Javelin armour. If that’s up your alley, you can pre-order Anthem from Amazon (£54.99) and GAME (£54.99) in the UK, along with GameStop ($59.99) in the US.

Plump up for the Legion of Dawn edition of the game, and you’ll get even more: all of the above, plus a digital soundtrack, a full Legion of Dawn armour set for all Javelin types, and a Ranger Javelin gear attachment. It’s more expensive at £79.99/$79.99, but some fans will be able to justify it.

If that reads like a string of nonsense words, then read on and hopefully it will all soon make sense…

Anthem preview

Anthem is the first major online multiplayer game from studio BioWare, of Mass Effect and Dragon Age fame, a shooter that falls roughly in the vein of The Division and Destiny. Set in a sci-fi world overrun with alien monsters, you’ll play as a Freelancer, teaming up with other players and fighting to keep humanity safe in a Javelin armour suit.

BioWare is a studio best known for thoughtful, character-driven single-player RPGs, and its storytelling chops have rarely been in doubt (well, up until the poorly received Mass Effect: Andromeda at least), but the studio’s games have rarely been sold on the strength of their combat.

Up until now.

Everything EA has shown from Anthem has been about the combat, the powers, the movement: how the game feels to play, rather than the big structural stuff that BioWare might normally push.

And after sitting down with the game ourselves it’s easy to see why. At first, it feels like a pretty basic third-person shooter. You aim with left trigger, and fire with right. The shoulder bumpers fire off special abilities - a frost grenade and pulse blast in the Ranger - and if you build up enough energy you can fire off an ultimate attack - a rocket salvo in this case. There are four styles of Javelin to choose from - Ranger, Storm, Colossus and Interceptor - all with varying strengths, weaknesses and special abilities. 

So far, so standard. But it’s the moment you first move that Anthem comes thuddingly into its own. With every step, your Javelin suit has impact, weight, and there’s an immediate sense of your presence in this world.

That’s even more obvious when you get off the ground. Jump into the air and click the right stick and you’ll hover, while click the left stick and you’ll start flying. The controls are flawlessly fluid, and you can feel yourself buffeted by wind every time you jolt to a stop as you switch to a hover or spiral out to the side in a barrel roll.

It is, in a word, fun.

Flying fits fluidly, into combat too of course. Hovering lets you turn yourself into a mobile weapons platform, while triggering a melee attack in mid-air lets you ground slam into any foes foolish enough to stand below you.

We fought against a few enemy types during our time with Anthem. Armed scavengers included a variety of regular ground troops, including heavy units and snipers, along with heavy armoured turrets placed at key positions. We also raided a spider lair, working our way through a variety of angry arachnids before meeting a colossal boss.

It feels telling that Anthem fits in almost as much enemy variation as Destiny has managed in two games and six expansions, and it should reward the sort of tactical play the game is clearly going for.

Ahead of one big fight we got the chance to pause on a cliff top overlooking our opponents and plan out our encounter, looking for weak points and discussing a battle plan. Teamwork is also encouraged by the combo system: landing a pulse shot or melee attack on enemies hit by a frost grenade yields massive extra damage, so it pays to coordinate attacks.

It’s not clear yet how much depth there will be to the combo system, or whether different combinations will yield different effects - we’ll be disappointed if it turns out to just be a flat damage buff. On the plus side, you can trigger the combos on your own too, so solo players don’t have to miss out entirely - although the game is certainly designed to be played with others.

End-game content

While the campaign looks to be engaging and challenging, Anthem really comes into its own once you’ve worked your way through the story. That’s right – end game content is where it’s at with Anthem, and we had a chance to fight our way through a Stronghold, one of the two primary endgame mission types.

Legendary Contracts are intense, challenging missions that you’ll get from time to time from the various factions based in Fort Tarsis, your home base. These contracts provide something more story-based, like rescuing a downed Javelin pilot, unlike Strongholds, which are comparable to dungeons you find in most MMOs.

Our Stronghold attack saw us fight through seemingly endless waves of Scars, destroying hives and navigating intricately designed environments until we got to the most challenging part of the mission; the boss fight. Each boss has different characteristics, and it’s not always a case of simply dealing damage to the enemy; in our playthrough, we had to destroy generators powering shields before we could inflict any damage.

Nothing is highlighted to players, so it’s up to you to use your initiative and figure out the best way to bring down the boss.  

And believe us when we say that even with incredibly powerful abilities and weaponry equipped, the Strongholds – and particularly the boss fights – are very difficult.

It’s crucial that you and your team work together as one to take on the enemy forces, utilising the unique abilities of each Javelin in, arguably, a more meaningful way than during campaign missions, whether that’s directing all enemy attacks at the tanky Colossus Javelin while reviving a downed teammates or using Storm’s elemental abilities to inflict huge area damage on a group of enemies.

Once you succeed in taking down the boss and defeating the Stronghold, you’re rewarded with epic, masterwork and legendary gear. This is the rarest gear available in Anthem, offering the best properties to further enhance your Javelin.

That can be further improved by replaying each Stronghold and Legendary Contract in three higher difficulty modes that unlock when you hit level 30, the game’s current level cap. Dubbed Grandmaster 1, 2 and 3 respectively, these significantly up the difficulty, but also provide improved loot drops once completed.

We only had a taste of what Anthem’s end-game has to offer, and we can’t wait to see what else the developer has in store for players.

Early verdict

We’ve not had the chance to dive too deeply into Anthem’s story, progression and loot systems, so it’s way too early to judge the game’s long-term potential.

But that’s the stuff that BioWare is basically good at, whereas combat is what they’re typically not. So the fact that this time the gunplay and movement feels so phenomenal gives us hope that Anthem could be very special indeed.