Game review: Anthem's single-player and multiplayer parts are not Stronger Together

On paper, Anthem is supposed to be a multiplayer loot shooter.But BioWare opted to make Fort Tarsis, the home base which you return to after every mission, a strictly single-player environment.
On paper, Anthem is supposed to be a multiplayer loot shooter.But BioWare opted to make Fort Tarsis, the home base which you return to after every mission, a strictly single-player environment.PHOTO: ELECTRONIC ARTS

About an hour into Anthem's story, I struck up a conversation with the non-player character (NPC) Lucky Jak, which neatly summed up this incredibly divisive game that seems to struggle for an identity.

We are both Freelancers, a group of for-hire pilots of high-tech combat suits known as Javelins.

He tells me about his last mission that went south but with his legendary luck and nifty teamwork, he and his team escape unscathed.

He concludes that the Freelancer motto has never been more true: "Stronger Together, right?"

I am given two dialogue choices - agree that I love working together with other people, or be contrary and insist flying solo's not bad too.

It's a binary choice which ironically runs counter to what Anthem tries (unsuccessfully) to do - marry single-player with multiplayer gameplay.

In trying to juggle both, the game buckles under the strain.

On paper, Anthem is supposed to be a multiplayer loot shooter along the lines of Bungie's Destiny. That is borne out by player missions where the game matchmakes you with up to three other human players.

But BioWare - which made its name as the developer of hit single-player role-playing games such as the Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises - opted to make Fort Tarsis, the home base which you return to after every mission, a strictly single-player environment.

This is a strange decision, to say the least.

BioWare, understandably, wants to please its traditional fanbase with quality storytelling but its remit from parent company Electronic Arts also means they have to cater to the hobby gamers who just want to shoot up bad guys for shiny loot.

The result pleases neither camp: the conversations players have with the NPCs are largely devoid of important choices and have little impact on the storyline.

Unlike Bioware's previous RPGs, the ones here never do anything other than wait around for you to talk to them.

Loot hunters are also confronted with the annoying loop of having to return to Fort Tarsis to equip new loot - you cannot equip that rare weapon the moment it drops.

Granted branching storylines were always a tall order for a multiplayer game, but even the linear story suffers from Anthem's multiplayer design.

In my first few hours of playing, I often got lines of dialogue without any context because savvier, higher-level, loot-hunting team-mates would race through mission objectives and trigger the dialogue while I was lagging behind.

Nothing says Stronger Without You like arriving at an objective to find all the enemy already killed and have the NPC voice-over congratulate me for a job well done that I didn't even do.

The delivery of a strong story, which I am assuming is BioWare's goal, should not be contingent on match-making and play styles.

Anthem becomes hard to love and this is a pity because the core gameplay is a blast.

BioWare nailed flying around as one of four Javelin classes - the Ranger, Storm, Colossus and Interceptor. I really did feel like Iron Man, especially after I decked out my Colossus in red and yellow to resemble the Hulkbuster Iron Man suit.

I also had a lot more fun when playing with friends who will wait for each other to catch up after someone flies into a cliff or stops to collect crafting materials.

And then there are the bugs, which have ranged from mildly annoying to console-breaking and have been amply documented by legions of suffering Anthem players on web forums and YouTube.

Playing on the PC, I was safe from the dreaded Playstation 4-crashing bug, which turned both consoles and users off completely. A patch has since been released to fix the issue.

  • FOR

    - Wearing a super-powered suit and shooting up bad guys like Iron Man is great fun

    - Pretty graphics

    AGAINST

    - Game's single-player and multiplayer elements work against rather than together with each other

    - Bugs can make the game even more frustrating to play

    RATING: 7/10

    SPECS

    PRICE: $69,90 (PC), $79,90 (PS4, Xbox One)

    GENRE: Multiplayer action role-playing game

Anthem crashed twice for me over about 20 hours of play time, which was no fun but bearable.

Issues of balance and the drop rate of loot have also plagued the game with BioWare releasing a series of hot-fixes and updates in the month since launch. These further reinforce the impression that BioWare is in unfamiliar territory.

BioWare general manager Casey Hudson admitted in a statement last Wednesday (March 20) that "it's been a rougher launch than expected".

And in seeming acknowledgement of Anthem's identity crisis, he added that "our upcoming games will be different from Anthem", which hopefully means a return to the single-player RPGs that the company does best.

I would like to see that. As I told Lucky Jak, flying solo's not too bad either.