I blame Mass Effect 2.
Anthem is a husk of a game. It's a BioWare title utterly devoid of everything that once made BioWare noteworthy. Like Destiny before it, Anthem is what you get when you smooth out the rough edges that are secretly the best parts of video games, then continue to smooth away the remaining formless blob until all that's left is one third of ACTION PRODUCT WITH LEVELING.
Destiny? Oh, that game with a big circle. We have a triangle. Completely different games."But you can fly around like Iron Man," some people say, a remix of the popular Destiny refrain "But the gunplay feels good." Sure, and that's novel for five or ten minutes. Maybe an hour if you're dumb as fuck (no offense, I happen to be dumb as fuck myself). At that point you have seen everything the flying/shooting has to offer, and you should ask yourself, "Now what does the game do with this?"
A good game isn't just a handful of good mechanics. It's a messy web of ideas and design choices that support those mechanics and give them meaning.
Plenty of people seem fine without all that messy substance. If Super Mario Bros. were released today it could literally be world 1-1 repeated 32 times and forums would be full of posts like, "I don't get all the nitpicking, the jump physics in this runner jumper are great and it's a solid foundation."
Am I expecting too much? Nope. Anthem and Destiny are hybrids of shooters, Diablo-like loot games, RPGs, and MMOs. Instead of combining all those genres and forging ahead with something new they sloppily copy the basics and remove the best bits.
If Anthem was a shooter you'd expect a campaign with actual mission design and setpieces. What you get is a thing on a map to interact with, then fight bad guys. Oh, sometimes you fight the bad guys first as well. What a memorable journey! A lot of annoying people say things on your radio while the shooting happens. Does that count as mission design?
If Anthem was a Diablo-like game you'd expect meaningful loot and an expanding toolkit of skills that open up builds in dramatically different ways. What you get are a handful of samey items repeated ad nauseum with varying power levels, nudging stats forward.
If Anthem was an RPG you'd expect halfway decent writing. What you get is Full Whedon, with a touch of the Far Cry "look directly at the camera and perform a checklist of character traits with occasional awkward pauses for emphasis" routine.
If Anthem was an MMO you'd expect a world brimming with personality and detailed nooks and crannies to explore. What you get is SHOOTING AREA and a lifeless hub populated by one-note mission dispensers.
So why do I blame Mass Effect 2?
Mass Effect was clunky. It was also the most interesting game of the series, a contemplative space cop adventure with lots of world building and some surprisingly effective tonal work.
Mass Effect 2 took a scalpel to the formula. It removed some of the clunkier bits and improved others. The result was a game with an undeniable sense of momentum and far better shooting. It was different but great. It was also where things started going wrong.
The act of trimming seemed to become more important than the act of creating an interesting mess to trim from. Just look at the action-focused anemic experience that was Dragon Age 2. Even the larger games that followed like Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect Andromeda continued the pattern, focusing on simple and shallow formulas that seemed enormous on paper while scaling back the meatier RPG elements.
And now we're here. But hey, at least you can fly around like Iron Man.
If you absolutely must play a current online BioWare title set in space, then sure, go ahead. Log on to Star Wars: The Old Republic and be pleasantly surprised by the fun, substantial campaign stories.
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