Not So Massively: Five things I love about Anthem

    
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House of skulls.

It is by now clear that Anthem had a fairly tortured road to launch. I don’t wish to condone the clearly appalling conditions BioWare employees had to endure while developing the game, but it would also be wrong to pretend this is a problem that’s unique to Anthem. This is an issue endemic to the industry.

There’s a good conversation to be had around crunch culture and the harm it does, but I leave that to those wiser than I. Today, I want to acknowledge that whatever behind the scenes troubles it may have had, Anthem turned out to be a pretty fine game. I haven’t seen enough people celebrating all the things it does well, and I want to change that.

You can literally fly

I do not see nearly enough people appreciating the fact that Anthem lets you literally fly. This is still a relatively uncommon feature in an online game, and I’ve never seen another game that integrates flight this well.

I’m impressed by how much the game doesn’t restrict flight. There are some bounds to the map beyond which you cannot fly, but true no-fly zones are remarkable rare. Want to fly indoors? Go ahead. Want to fly in-combat? The game is built with that in mind.

Flight itself has just enough mechanical depth to be an interesting game mechanic without greatly taxing one’s abilities. There’s a bit of an art to managing your heat by diving or flying through waterfalls, and maneuvering has a small learning curve, but it doesn’t take long to become an expert. The end result is a flight system that feels skillful but not stressful, and it just never stops being an utter joy.

The combat is amazing

Considering that I’ve mostly talked about shooters so far in my Massively Overpowered career, this may come as a surprise, but I’ve never been a big fan of shooter games. I’ll play them, and enjoy them; in fact, some of my favorite games of all time are shooters. But it’s usually the story that grabs me with such games, rather than the shooting. All things being equal, I’ll always prefer a good RPG or RTS to a shooter.

But Anthem is different.

Anthem is perhaps the first shooter I’ve played where the gameplay doesn’t feel overly thin or simplistic. Powerful abilities with short cooldowns, coupled with a simple but effective combo system, make this much more than a game about shooting things. It’s just so satisfying to lay waste to an entire crowd of enemies with a well-timed combo.

The mobility granted by the aforementioned flight — alongside with gliding, sprinting, and double or triple jumps — also opens up a whole new realm of tactical possibilities that simply wouldn’t exist in any other game. There’s so much you can do when you can literally fly circles around all of your enemies.

Honestly, Anthem does a better job of making you feel like a superhero than most actual superhero games.

A fascinating setting

One of the biggest reasons I hope to see Anthem weather its current troubles is how rich and beautiful the game’s setting is. The current game doesn’t explore it in quite the depth I’d like, but there’s so much potential here.

Anthem is such a fascinating blending of sci-fi and fantasy ideas. The technology is pure sci-fi, but in many other ways this feels like a classic fantasy tale, from its secondary world setting, to its long forgotten gods and their mystical legacies, to its ancient orders of virtuous warriors.

I think BioWare did a very poor job of selling what Anthem actually is prior to launch. I saw its gritty robot suits and talk of the player being a “Freelancer” and assumed this was going to be a story about a generic, gravel-voiced bounty hunter. What I didn’t understand was that a lancer is any elite warrior piloting a Javelin and that a “free lancer” is one who ventures forth from civilization to vanquish evil in its lair.

I think they’d have had more success if they’d made clear that this is less a “space marine” game and more a “knight-errant in an alien sci-fi fairy tale” game.

And there’s so many questions I still want answered! What happened to the Shapers? Why did the Legion of Dawn dissolve? Are the Paladins the origin of the Dominion, and if so, how did that come about? Is my crackpot theory that Anthem is actually set in the Mass Effect universe true? (Probably not.)

Memorable NPCs

Anthem‘s characters might be a little on the thin side compared to what you normally see in a BioWare game, but they’re still much better than you’d see from most any other company. Fort Tarsis is packed full of characters who range from funny to fascinating to tragic.

My personal favorite has to be Sentinel Brin. Her quirkiness can be a bit cartoonish at times, but I can still see myself in her so much, and I love that for all of her awkwardness she’s clearly a very good and noble person. Also, the way she fangirls over Crimson Lancer is adorable.

But there are other standouts. Matthias and his… complicated identity issues. Owen and his delightful dorkiness. “Prism Tacit.” And finishing the story was worth it just to learn what a terrible dancer Yarrow is.

It’s a feel-good game

These days, so much of our media is focused on showing people at their worst. And don’t get me wrong; I love a good grimdark story as much as anyone. I quickly lose interest in stories that are too sugar-coated. But with the news the way it is, I think we could all use a bit more optimism right now.

Anthem delivers that. It’s not afraid to be serious when it needs to be, but it also has a lot of humor. It’s a fun romp.

And more importantly, in an era full of cynicism, Anthem stands out as a game that is by and large about good people doing good things. As I said above, the Freelancers are akin to knights of old — the kind that probably never existed outside of fairy tales. They’re champions who face down death and danger to keep the world safe for the average person, and from Yarrow’s stories to the stirring soundtrack, Anthem does everything it can to make you feel like a true hero.

So often these days our media seems calculated to make you feel hopeless, but Anthem is a pure feel-good experience.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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rafael12104

Ah, I’ve missed MOP. I’ve been too engrossed in work to look up much less check out one of my fave sights. But when I finally did have a few minutes, it was refreshing to see this article.

So, yes. I’m still playing Anthem. You’ve captured some of the reasons why, Tyler. The world outside the Tarsus is truly amazing fun. The flight, the combat, the environments, the changing weather, the exploration,…. If they expand that quasi-open world, it would be unlike anything out there in the looter genre.

Oh, I’m not ignoring the bad. There has been some progress on that front, but there is no question now that the game was incomplete, that the devs sacrificed a great deal in terms of features and at great personal cost. And they did it to cover the horribly ingrained ineffectiveness of a management team and executive leadership.

But as I’ve said before, I’m hopeful that the rank and file now gets the praise and rewards they deserve for delivering Anthem under horrible circumstances. And I do hope they continue to work on Anthem and realize the great game it can obviously be and take pride in that.

Kudos for the article. It was a gasp of fresh air.

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Rolan Storm

All true. Game is too short, though. I told my m8s: “when they will roll out more content I’ll resub”.

Personally my favorite point about the story. Actually I wish I bought it instead of just subbing – I’d read lore a bit when I am too tired to do other things. It is nice to just be in Anthem.

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rosieposie

Anthem is an awful game, and yet I am impressed in a horrified sort of way that they made something that could be released in such a short time.

Ririrawr
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Ririrawr

how dare you share things you like about a game?
huff….
i am all outraged and stuff! and stuff!!

anyway, the quality of mmos in whatever metric one judges on might be going down, doesn’t mean they have nothing worth appreciating at all.

on a side note, flying (non vehicular) usually gets my interest too

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Anton Mochalin

Warframe is better in all these aspects:
– You can fly with an archwing much higher in Orb Vallis and Plains staying in the air for as long as you wish. You can also double jump, latch to walls, etc.
– Combat is super fast paced and has so many options. You can eat your enemies as Inaros, throw them into dimentional rift as Limbo, burn and freeze and electrocute and push, make them fight for you, there are craziest weapons like explosive glue dispenser and motorized torture whip.
– The setting has “brain shelving” as a legitimate (actually, legal) term. There’s a giant living tower feeding people with its flesh, too.
– There can’t be more memorable NPC than “the space mom” Lotus (who’s at the same time Natah, a giant – on the scale of hundreds of meters – intelligent war machine from the race of intelligent machines threatening the humanity’s existence)
– You can preserve wildlife and breed space dogs and space cats. NPCs say things like “Ta ta lovelies” and “Alright chop chop”. There’s a special English dialect used by a faction which sounds extremely funny.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Space cats?

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Anton Mochalin

I’m not sure kavats are even mammals (taking into account they feed on nanomechanical Infestation lifeforms) but yes they resemble cats and everyone calls them cats. They’re “space” because they live in abandoned spaceships.

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Crowe

I enjoy the fight & flight. But the setting is very bland and the NPCs are more shallow than those in most games I play.

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3dom

It’ll be even better with all issues solved and with 90% discount a year later – just like the rest of EA/BioWare games during last 6 years. Or maybe even in F2P mode – considering in-game shop which didn’t reveal top-tier cosmetic armors and their prices yet.

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Bannex

Once you get out of tarsis, the game is significantly more fun than the division 2.

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Witches

Aren’t most of these, things the target demographic either doesn’t care for or even actively despises?

I don’t see anyone leaving another game in this genre to play Anthem because of these positive points.

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Ben Stone

The target demographic doesn’t want fun combat and flight in an interesting setting? OK.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Anthem is a very good game (good enough to dull but not forget the price it cost the MAss Effect franchise).. BUT it lacks content and unless they address that asap it is going to disappear into obscurity faster than a reality TV star lol.