Anthem...

Games like Anthem are strange, marmite-like experiences, which can go either way or leave very little in terms of middle-ground for gamer opinions. If you look at the Anthem community, the regular players who've invested 120+ hours into the game already and amassed a staggering amount of power and loot, they love it.

As a reviewer though, I am not allowed to love it apparently. Well, the trick with Games Xtreme is that we don't have a corporate master to please except ourselves - so if we like something, we tell you, and if we hate it, we tell you.

So where do we stand on Anthem, where do I stand on Anthem?

Well, for a start, we got a code from PR so we'll do our usual thanks to them. I'd already bought the Legion of Dawn edition of the game though, plus EA Access so I passed the code onto someone else so we could co-op and enjoy the game together.

I'm also running on an Xbox One X.

The Best Iron Man Game (We never got)

Right from the start, I warn you now, I like Anthem and if you're a fan of looter/shooters you may well enjoy this one. Anthem is basically: a co-op driven experience which can mostly be played solo, with a solid gameplay loop and some pretty decent shooting mechanics.

I've played both demos and I've been enjoying the core game so far, with a mix of solo activities, public random play in missions, and a lot of freeplay with random players where I've teamed up with complete strangers and kicked ass across a variety of World Events.

When Anthem works, it works really well, when the servers are being smooth and not grumpy, it's a great experience - yes - even with randoms.

What really shines with Anthem though, are not the weapons, which you might think are the core of a looter/shooter - not in this game - it's the exo-suits which allow you to explore the dangerous world of Bastion and those are the Javelins.

If you ever wanted to feel like War Machine or Tony Stark's Iron Man in a game without it being a Marvel property, Anthem has that NAILED.

After the brief and fun tutorial, where you get to choose who you are from a female/male voice to the look of the character built from a template you're into the game proper and things progress in a steady fashion from there.

Play me an Anthem

From the first hour in the default Ranger Javelin, to the 10th, 30th, 50th, or 100th hour you feel like a badass in that armour. The sense of power in the Ranger is palpable, you're a total killing machine which can unleash various devastating powers and a single Ultimate Ability every so often (The power bar refill rate for that power is also pretty spot on in terms of the time it takes to recharge) to devastate hordes of enemies.

Once you get the hang of it you'll be soaring into danger, dropping into a Super Hero landing style power-punch to smash enemies, before you hit them with your right bumper or left bumper attacks and pepper them with gunfire from two possible weapon combinations you can carry at any given time.

If the Ranger isn't your thing, and it should be, since it's a good all-round Javelin for someone to start the game with, then you have three others you can unlock as you level up your Pilot (Freelancer) by doing all sorts of missions, side missions, contracts, freeplay, and other activities.

A quick rundown of the Javelins then...

Ranger: A solid all-rounder, good offence, good defence, and quite mobile. Doesn't have much in the way of hover time but packs a punch and can get you out of sticky situations. The Ranger shoots a volley of rockets Iron Man style for its Ultimate Ability.

Storm: An elemental glass-cannon Javelin, not as strong, but has a shield which activates when in hover mode. Very powerful elemental based attacks though, and fairly good in a pinch to get you out of a tricky situation - has the best hover time and flight time of the Javelins. The Storm drops a serious payload of combo inducing elemental bombardment on a target area as part of its Ultimate.

Interceptor: If the Storm is the glass-cannon, then the Interceptor is the most like a Warframe and could be called a glass-dagger. Hellishly fast, brutal in melee, and agile with enough speed to whip from enemy to enemy in quick succession. The Interceptor is the Javelin for melee combat and the Ultimate unleashes devastating high-speed whirlwind melee against the enemy.

Colossus: The heaviest, the strongest, and the tankiest of all the Javelins. The Colossus is the armour you need when you want to make a statement, something like: You Shall Not Pass! It comes with a physical shield and can smack enemies with force. It has the most health of all the Javelins and the most physical power. The Colossus has the biggest guns and can drop a powerful Ultimate Ability to smash enemies with the Siege Cannon.

A squad of 4 disparate Javelins is a powerful team in the game, and success can often be guaranteed by having a proper 4-Javelin setup.

I unlocked the Storm though, because POWER. Though to be honest, I've hardly touched it since I've been having so much fun with the Ranger.

Core Gameplay

A typical mission of Anthem might seem a little rinse-repeat, but we live in an age where we're constantly expecting new mission types every three seconds and forget that the games we often rave about such as Forza, CoD, and Battlefield are the same old same old we've been doing for years. Racing the same tracks over and over, shooting the same enemies, over and over.

Diablo 3 is a game built on that repetition with procedural elements, and I have sunk 900+ hours into it.

Essentially you deploy into the world, follow a marker, shoot some stuff, find some stuff, fly to a new marker and discover elements of the story and world along the way. You might get a random encounter with some emergent element of the game or wildlife might come along and take a pot-shot at your speeding Javelin.

It's up to you to engage or fly past...

What sets Anthem apart though, is the flight, the flight is superlative. Launching from Fort Tarsis into the air, kicking in the boosters, then dropping like a rock only to trigger your flight thrusters is something which to me never gets old.

I've having just as much fun doing that as I have when I played both demos.

The sense of vertigo which is suddenly arrested as the Javelin shoots forward and climbs into the sky, only to have you dip and blast at full speed through a waterfall is really something else.

Now I know how Tony Stark must feel, or would, if he wasn't a comic/media character.

Flying is amazing, shooting is fun, and the powers are solid with a feel of badass to them.

Loot'N'Shoot

Loot drops in the world, and at the moment, one of the issues I'd say with the game is that it's rather akin to Destiny and Division 1 in that respect ... or even early Diablo 3 - it just isn't all that meaningful yet. You get the odd awesome bit of loot later on, but early game is full of drips and drabs which don't quite get you hooked.

Now, hold up, I hear you say: that's how they designed it.

Yes, but we're in 2019 and we've been spoilt by other looter/shooter updates which give us a much better loot table.

I am confident that Bioware will sort it though, and make the loot experience much more fun/rewarding.

Things to Do?

So, there are core story missions, side missions, contracts, and other activities to take part of in the World of Bastion. You progress the story via the missions, and can gain access to new activities as the game opens up. Strongholds are 4 player multi-objective missions akin to Destiny Strikes, they're not really End Game per-se though - Bioware have more planned in the evolving Live Service game.

You can explore Fort Tarsis (left stick click lets you sprint), speak to NPCs, and discover more about the world and lore via interactions and codex entries.

You can even make dialogue choices via a simple LT/RT system which branches the conversation off into different territory. NPCs will evolve along with the Fort as you play, simply, but the seeds of something bigger are already there.

The Fort itself feels a bit bland if I'm being honest, yet there are some interesting human stories to be found as you interact with the NPCs.

There's also Freeplay, which lets you explore the map as you want and interact with other players in the world (no PvP at all thankfully, it's all PvE content).

You can set missions to play Solo and/or with friends, or you can open things to random players. Freeplay is always public though, so there's no escaping other Freelancers.

So far I've had no bad experiences with Anthem players, and a lot of good experiences teaming up with folks to take down dangerous critters.

Playing co-op with a group of 4 friends is a great experience and one I feel will continue to evolve.

There's also the Forge where you can craft better gear, try out Javelin load-outs and equip new weapons. It's not a deep system, but there's potential there as you raise your Javelin's Power and rarity by installing higher power stuff.

It's very Destiny/Division and that's how it works.

There's also a very deep customisation system which allows you to design a really kick-ass Javelin, or default to red/gold and become Iron Man.

Servers and Issues

OK, before I go much further, I want to address some of the issues I've had in my time with the game so far. I was playing at launch, and I was able to play for quite a while with little or no problem. I've had 3x crashes to the Xbox One's home screen and three kicks from the server in the hours I've played since the game came out.

This is actually pretty good. I couldn't get into Destiny one for about 3 days, Division was a nightmare, and Destiny 2 didn't fare much better.

Anthem's been smooth compared to this.

I've had some slowdown prior to the last patch, some graphical pop-in (very minor) again prior to the last patch.

The load times are an issue for me and a lot of folks, but I've seen worse load times in a lot of games. I think the issue boils down to the need to go back to the Forge in Fort Tarsis to swap gear and change my Javelin's equipment for new drops. I'm not sure if adding a Forge into the open world could fix this, but I'll be curious to see how Bioware handle this going forward.

It is a bit of a pain at the moment to get a new gun, and then have to load into the Forge, to change it and then go back to Freeplay to test it out only to find out its rubbish and go back again to change back.

The microtransactions are all cosmetic, and honestly, there's nothing I really want from the store I can't get from my current Javelin look since I've never been into the whole: flaunt it to make a statement idea.

Despite these things, Anthem is still a lot of fun, and I really enjoy it.

Aesthetical Beauty

Anthem is a good looking game, especially when you stop to appreciate the detail of the world. Sure, it might feel a bit empty and lifeless to some, but that can change due to the very nature of the World of Bastion. This isn't meant to be a place where random NPCs can just wander on by, doff their caps, flash a smile and talk about the weather.

Not when an angry Scar group can rip them apart with gunfire or sell them to the highest bidder.

There's a lot of cool design here in Anthem if you stop and look at it. Take time to appreciate the level of detail on the characters, and especially the Javelins themselves.

There's a beautiful sound design to it, the music is gorgeous and uplifting with tones which could be drawn from the Avengers movie. The voice work is solid, and I'm really digging the voice of the female Freelancer who is in my mind called Carol Danvers.

Animations are good and solid, and the Javelin transition from ground to flight is superb.

Bastion of Hope

In many ways Anthem represents what Bioware have become, they're beleaguered on all sides by Youtube videos and websites bashing the game in the current media hellscape of clicks-hits/bait culture. It's a clarion call to the fans of the studio, and the community which loves a game like Anthem.

Stand with us and believe in what we can do.

They're hampered a lot by EA, who are not the best liked publisher in the industry right now - many people are sceptical of Anthem and refuse to give it a chance to grow and evolve. This is a Live Service game and just look at how the Division evolved over time from launch.

Reviews, even mine, are someone's opinion and the only true judge of a game is: YOU.

I'm willing to fly along for the ride in my Legion of Dawn Javelin though and see where the skies take me.

Perhaps you'll join us, and remember, Strong Alone - Stronger Together!

See you out there, Freelancers!