YOU will want to like Anthem. On loading it up and playing the volcanic, bombastic, intro you’ll be looking forward to diving in and seeing more.
But then you’ll find little niggles. You’ll be confused about how combos and auras work, you’ll wonder why you can’t see what the cool new item you just picked up is, and you’ll be perplexed why you have HOURS of ponderous grinding to do to be allowed to unlock the next stage in the story when the apocalypse is on your doorstep.
Then you’ll want to forgive it that grinding because flying around the world feels so good, and you may even want to forgive the brainless waves of dull enemies because combining your abilities and detonating a crowd of them with one aerial slam-kick is so satisfying.
Let’s say you do look past those issues and now want to make your Javelin — the Iron Man style fighting suit at the heart of the game — look cool and unique? Well, sorry — there’s only one alternate set of parts at the moment, so you’re stuck to changing paint colours and material textures.
You might find yourself wanting to engage with the single-player story in the hub of Fort Tarsis, and have your ears pick up an interesting snippet of conversation between a concerned citizen and a shady loan shark.
Excited, you’ll wander over and… nothing. They’re just standing in a corridor, and there’s nothing you can do.
You can, however, chat to the laundry man who spends his life trapped in a vestibule talking to himself about stains for not readily apparent reason.
Equally puzzling is the game’s constant insistence that it is best played with friends, with four-player squads the order of the day for everything.
Technically this works fine — the matchmaking fills you into parties that seem to more often than not put you with people playing in other Javelins so you can see them in action.
But at no point does anyone seem to have told the people developing the game that this is going to be the case.
None of the game’s missions or story offer any hints or suggestion that there are other people around, or that certain missions might need help.
The reems of dialogue in missions only makes sense if you completely ignore the three other people in the game with you.The combat design also seems to ignore the multiplayer aspect, with waves of dumb enemies coming at you from predictable and discrete directions no matter the difficulty level.
This means there’s not no real need to actually work with others — and in fact they can prove to be annoying. If you’ve got a one-two punch set-up where you apply an effect with one skill then detonate it for a combo, someone else setting it off to less effect, often entirely accidentally, can get annoying quickly.
But at its heart, the core combat is fun when it works. Each of the four javelins feel different and interesting, and each of them has a range of skills you can combine in many interesting ways.
Those skills initially appear through drops — but as you use them more they effectively level up, as you can build better versions of them in the game’s crafting system.
You’d only know this if you happened to notice text hinting at this on one of the interminable menu screens, then drilled down in the challenges menu to find the blueprints in the rewards — even completing the challenge doesn’t tell you you’ve earned a blueprint unless you go looking.
The same is true for weapons. This means that if you find a set-up you like, you can ensure you never fall too far behind the power curve despite the randomness of the drops.
This is typical of how the game feels — there are nice touches that make it satisfying to play, but you have to really look for them.
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The game is not officially out for everyone until this Friday, and a ‘day one’ patch is promised, with promises to everything from loading times to the gear interface promised.
A lot changed from the ‘demo’ version of the game that fans got to play around with a couple of weeks ago to the final version, and we will update you on anything major that is changed in that launch-day patch.
For now the game is very hard to recommend — but the beauty of the world, the satisfying nature of the combat and the huge potential of the world all make it seem like that has to change at some point.
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