Games

Anthem – Review

One of the most anticipated PC game releases of the year is finally out.

Out, that is, if you’ve paid for Origin Access Premier or Origin Access Basic. If not, then you still need to wait a week because this is 2019 and if you’re not willing to pay all the money then games companies are happy to make you wait. And in this instance? That’s not a bad thing.

Little has changed following a fairly disastrous public test weekend a few weeks ago where the game was riddled with server issues. On go-live at 3pm UK time on Friday, 15 February, the servers immediately either crashed or were taken down, resulting in it being a full hour before people could actually login and start playing.

Having amassed 10 hours in the game – which is all that Origin Access Basic players will get before the game’s full release – it feels like that is enough time logged to be able to put down some impressions, comment on the environments, gameplay and technical issues.

Anthem is EA/BioWare’s challenger to Warframe and Destiny. A third-person squad-based game where you play a “Freelancer” piloting an armoured suit called a “Javelin”. They come in the usual array of flavours – the light but speedy one, the tanky but slow one, the all-rounder, and the glass cannon magic user – each with very distinct visual styles that makes them easy to tell apart in the heat of combat.

First, the positives: The game is very pretty, though it suffers from a blatant and detrimental graphical downgrade compared to the original trailer. The interior of the fort, rather than being the bustling, lively, atmospheric place from the trailer, is now an empty, sterile and nearly silent open room with a handful of NPCs to interact with and not much else. This sense of emptiness is emphasised by there being hardly any noise. No music, no background chatter; just a distant murmur of conversation that does nothing to dispel the impression that you are entirely alone. The NPCs also suffer from a hint of uncanny valley. They are, in some cases, a little too real but at the same time entirely dead-eyed. Owen, especially, suffers from this. His performance is quite exuberant, but he doesn’t blink enough and there’s just something not right about his face that triggers that lizard part of your brain to scream “ALIEN!”.

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The music is as good as you’d expect from a BioWare game, but vast parts of the game have none at all. Within the fort, for example, there is a bar. It is the single quietest bar you will ever set foot inside; no chatter, no music, not even the sound of clinking glasses. Nothing but your footsteps and the same single conversation between the drunk and the bartender on repeat. You will also rapidly become very bored of listening to the intro theme once you have to listen to it again and again, and again, as the game’s interminable loading times drag on and on.

One thing that can be praised without caveats is the combat. The combat is satisfyingly destructive even if some of the enemy reactions to being hit are somewhat lacking. The only real indication you have that you are doing damage is the dwindling health bar over their heads. The enemy AI is also painfully brain dead in places, especially with the Scars, who run around helplessly and will even stand right next to you without shooting back until a switch flips in their head and reminds them that they really should be trying to kill you. Oh. Well, it seems there really is nothing that can be talked about without there being a caveat to accompany it. So much for the pro column, let’s look at the cons.

The game is, technically speaking, janky as hell. The loading times are near criminal and suck almost all the enjoyment from the game. Timing with my own PC they averaged 2m 45s. That is literally enough time to go make myself a coffee and a sandwich. And that is when you log into the game, and when you load in to EVERY mission. It is so slow that inevitably when you finally do load in, you will be so far behind your team that, regardless of what might be going on, the game will load again to catch you up to them, usually losing another minute or so and cutting off any dialogue that might be going on, ensuring that you will miss out on combat and story before you even have a chance to make a single movement or mouseclick. Oh, and when the mission ends you have more loading screens before the results screen, and then even more loading screens if you choose to go back into the fort. On average every single mission will include around five minutes of sitting and staring at the same astoundingly dull loading screen.

There are graphical glitches, horribly bad pop-in of textures, subtitles getting stuck on the screen, missions taking nearly a minute to end even after the objectives are completed, cut scenes resulting in hard crashes, NPCs taking a long time to load in after the textures, enemies randomly appearing and disappearing… the list goes on and on and on.

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To say nothing of the bugs.  Oh the bugs!  The “Rampaging Beast” quest is one of the more notorious ones, with it literally being the luck of the draw as to whether or not it will complete properly, forcing you to run the entire mission again if it fails.  The other is what is rapidly becoming known as “The Wall” in the player community, the Tombs quest.  This requires you to do insane amounts of busywork within the game, little of which is explained properly, but more than that there are literally hundreds of posts on the EA support site from customers who cannot complete this at all due to the previous quest crashing the game and when that happens the next quest does not trigger properly.  Without being able to complete the Tombs mission that’s it. You’re done. You cannot progress the game past this point.  The only apparent remedy appears to be to delete your progress to this point and try to play the entire game from scratch and hope that this time it doesn’t crash.  Hardly an ideal solution, to say the least.

It is also strangely resource hungry.  When tested on a machine with an i7-6700K with 32Gb of RAM and a GTX1070 it consumed 70% of the CPU, 9Gb of RAM and 96% of the GPU regardless of what might be happening in the game.  That seems needlessly greedy and ensures that playing Anthem is pretty much the only thing you can do as nothing else can load while it’s running.

This is simply not a game that should have been released in this state, and that is a real shame. BioWare were once one of the most respected developers in the business but their name was badly tarnished after the disaster that was Mass Effect Andromeda. They need a win, and a big one and right now Anthem just isn’t it. Like Andromeda before it, this stinks of publisher interference, of being pushed out the door to meet a deadline when it’s simply not technically ready for it. There’s potential here, and fun gameplay, lost beneath a pile of technical issues.  Oh, and it has microtransactions in it, because of course it does.

According to BioWare’s Lead Producer there is a Day 1 patch in the works to resolve some of the issues such as the load time problems, but that is of little comfort to those of us who paid to gain access to the game on 15 February rather than the 22nd when it goes on release for those who didn’t stump up the extra cash for Origin Access. It seems that in the 2019 land of Triple-A Gaming the only reward for enthusiasm is frustration.

Our recommendation is going to have to be to wait. Do not buy this game at launch, wait until the technical issues have been fixed, maybe even wait for a price drop, and this is reflected in the rating we are giving it.  As this game stands now, right now, this should not be purchased.  EA does not deserve your money, and definitely not the amounts of money they are charging at the moment. It is simply not worth it.  Hopefully down the line it will be, but only time will tell if they can fix the many problems that plague it.

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