BioWare's Anthem is one of the biggest releases of 2019 so far. That might seem like a strange statement given that we're only two months into the calendar year, but we've already seen games like Kingdom Hearts 3 and Metro Exodus release to strong showings. Contextually, Anthem is competing with a lot even though it's so early, and there are more contenders on the horizon - namely The Division 2, which occupies roughly the same space as EA's newest sci-fi shooter.
While Anthem is an undoubtedly deep game that will take some time to fully explore, it's pretty easy to tell that it's a BioWare game through and through. We've played through the first four hours or so, and given that many people are still on the fence about whether or not Anthem is worth a look, we've decided to review those early moments before Screen Rant publishes a more comprehensive review that includes Anthem's end-game play and the like.
Anthem starts out very much like a single-player BioWare title. That's a good thing, too - it helps establish its world, some of the characters that occupy it, and the roles that people have eked out for themselves on a dangerous world. The first mission is a tutorial that allows players to get a feel for using a Javelin, restricting many of the more difficult abilities while still establishing the control scheme and general movement patterns one can expect. Immediately, Anthem feels very different now than it did during its demo phase. Javelins feel like they move a little smoother, and the gunplay is much more refined. Things feel like they flow in a way that a game sold the way Anthem has been needs to.
Progressing through the tutorial mission introduces the stakes Freelancers will face in Anthem. The world is constantly changing due to technology its inhabitants don't fully understand, and, without spoiling too much, that first mission is something of a failure. People will die, and the land itself will change. After the initial shock of its early mission, Anthem then picks back up two years later, allowing players to finally jump into a bit of character customization.
There's a lot to like about Anthem's early game. It establishes a rhythm of gameplay that has seen success in titles like it, blending fetch quests, protect the queen missions, and free roam within the first four hours. At level 2, players get to choose their first Javelin, which they're locked into until they progress to level 8, then two more specific levels afterward. Luckily, even if the first Javelin you choose isn't a great fit for your playstyle, the progression moves at a decent clip before the second Javelin unlock, at which point players will know far better what they're looking for in their suits.
We chose the Interceptor as our first Javelin, and it did not disappoint. This class is described as being fast, capable of closing in on enemies and finishing them with melee strikes and then dashing away. If all the Javelins play as well as the Interceptor in the early game, then Anthem won't struggle to hook players during its first few hours. The Interceptor handles like a dream, and the fluidity of its melee strikes, which flash across the screen like a ninja wielding glowing blades, don't get old. Once players get the hang of jetpack and rolling defensive maneuvers, the Interceptor plays in a way that other titles like Destiny can only dream of.
Speaking of Bungie's erstwhile FPS and MMO hybrid, it's worth getting this out of the way - yes, Anthem borrows heavily from Destiny. Mission structure is extraordinarily similar. Players need to defend a piece of equipment as the voice in their ear scans it, and waves of enemies begin to attack. Respawns are even restricted in the same fashion as Destiny's Darkness areas. Likewise, Anthem is also guilty of instilling its characters with a chipper attitude in the face of oblivion, complete with cheesy jokes, strangely-timed quips, and other light-hearted fare.
Where Anthem separates itself, at least in its early hours, is in the fact that its story feels just a little tighter, without so many vague references to future DLC enemies. Instead, the narrative is just compelling enough to be interesting, while the characters that litter the world of Anthem actually manage to show off personality traits other than witty or grim. It's a welcome change, and it makes Anthem a bit more inviting. That's also helped by the fact that BioWare clearly worked hard on character models after the Mass Effect: Andromeda scandal - all the players on this stage actually manage to look human, and they look good as well.
The biggest difference between Anthem and the games that serve as its inspiration is certainly in the combat, however. Enemies aren't quite the bullet sponges players tend to dread early on, but the "normal" gunplay still feels rote even though it handles extremely smoothly. That's made up for by the speed of the game, the freedom of movement, and the abilities of Javelins. The latter feels great, with ultimates that make a huge difference in skirmishes and other abilities that can help turn the tide whenever it's needed. Even if the story wasn't good - which, at least early, it is - Anthem would be worth coming back to just to experience its fighting some more.
If there's one issue, it's that Anthem doesn't feel like it's meant to be played on your own. Even during the early game, it feels like there's something missing if you're not grouping up with other players. Part of that is just how functionally different the Javelins are, as it feels like you're being asked to cover a lot of different tactical ground with a specialist character. Hopefully, as players level up and become more powerful individually, that changes. For now, though, there's definitely a growing sense that Anthem is unfriendly to solo players.
Of course, all of that can change as the game progresses. There's a lot left to cover, and we'll be publishing a comprehensive review of Anthem's content once we're able to fully explore it. At the very least, though, Anthem starts off incredibly strong, and any doubts raised by a somewhat lacklustre demo should dissipate within the first few hours of handling your very own Javelin - although a few more doubts, particularly about solo content, will likely rise up to take their place.