Anthem review: Hands-on
It’s been a long wait since Anthem was first teased by EA at E3 2017, and now a year later we finally have a release date and, more importantly, the first gameplay.
We got the chance to play 20 minutes of the game at E3, running on a (presumably very high-spec) PC courtesy of Nvidia, trying out an extended version of what EA showed off at its EA Play conference. 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, 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 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 at E3 2018 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, the Javelin suit we got to try - and if you build up enough energy you can fire off an ultimate attack - a rocket salvo in this case.
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.
Across the demo, we fought against a few enemy types. Armed scavengers included a variety of regular ground troops, including heavy units and snipers, along with heavy armoured turrets placed at key positions. Later in the demo we raided a spider lair, working our way through a variety of angry arachnids before meeting a colossal boss.
It feels telling that across a single demo 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.
SHOULD I BUY ANTHEM?
We’ve barely seen any of Anthem’s story, characters, or 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.