Hello. This is Rock Paper Shotgun and that is my very own Javelin. But what do you see when you look at this armour? Maybe it’s the garish colour scheme, more interested in looking fabulous than blending in with a harsh jungle world. Maybe your eyes are drawn to the padding inside and worrying that it might be unhygienic – a few pints of sweat into that fabric and this thing will put the BO in BioWare. Or could the suit be a metaphor for the game itself: a shiny piece of technology, but one that is fundamentally an empty shell? Anthem is a risky departure for these RPG masters.In focusing on multiplayer action over single player storytelling, have BioWare lost the plot – both literally and figuratively? Having spent the last five days exploring Anthem – and its generous selection of loading screens – I hope to answer this question in the following video. And if you enjoy this analysis, maybe subscribe to Rock Paper Shotgun and give the video a like – think of it like helping one of Anthem’s factions. Only pressing that thumb doesn’t trigger a three minute loading screen. Yes, that is going to be a theme to this video. So, let’s get into it…. Your enjoyment of Anthem hinges on whether you buy into the fantasy of owning your own power armour. So it’s lucky that the Javelin experience is the one thing the game really does get right. You don’t feel like a fleshy third person action hero wrapped in tin foil, but a serious piece of military kit that can charge you into battle and put you at the centre of firefights that would melt a puny human.The movement of the thing is a delight. The rocket-powered sprint thundering you forwards like a locomotive crossed with a running back. If dumb obstacles do get in the way a snappy double or triple jump, or elongated glide throws you up and over. The game may be an endless series of repeated arena fights – more on that later – but the ability to throw yourself around those arenas at speed means it doesn’t become just another cover shooter.. Javelins really come alive up in the air. The ignition of thrusters that turns a jump into outright flight is probably the best quarter of a second of gaming you’ll see this year. It’s a perfect combination of visual effects and roaring sound design, and the closest thing we’ve played to a simulation of how a firework must feel.Well, without exploding at the end. In fact, the art of avoiding a sticky end – where your engines overheat and stall – is almost a game unto itself. Heat is regulated by flying through or near cooling bodies of water, or by descending at speed. I like to try to sustain flight with a series of repeated nosedives, even if it does make me look like a dumb metal dolphin bouncing in and out of the waves. Managing engine heat turns even the simplest trip into a game, as you plot routes between pools of water and commit to cooling plunges before pulling up at the last possible moment. It tickles the same part of the brain that enjoys bounding from rooftop to rooftop in Crackdown or squeezing an extra few meters of rail grinding in a Tony Hawks combo.As a physical plaything, I’ve got a huge amount of time for it. But how does it hold up in combat? Let’s find out in the next segment… Having built these marvelous flying machines, it’s odd how small a role flight plays in combat. You can switch from flight into an aerial hover which lets you snipe over shields and observe the action from a more cinematic angle. But there’s not many aerial enemies to pull you into the sky. That exciting sky wrestling you watched in the intro cutscenes? I guess someone in the cinematic department got a little over excited. Fights aren’t really about strategic placement, you see – settling instead for spectacle full of flame, lightning and other painful particle effects. Certain attacks prime enemies for combos that, if detonated with the right move, can amplify or spread the damage in cool ways.I’m a big fan of the sound a successful combo makes. Iit’s like BioWare asked scientists to capture the essence of a pat on the head in audio form. I will never get bored of that. If, like me, you get addicted to that sound, maybe equip yourself with gear that lets you combo without the input of another player. A little poison dart followed up with a cheeky grenade will do the trick. As much as I enjoy move chaining, it’s hard coordinating with others. Even with friends on mics, combat is such a flurry of pyrotechnics it can be hard to read the action. Luckily there’s nothing on normal or hard difficulty that demands combo mastery in the story campaign, but Grandmaster difficulties that unlock at level 30 promise to force collaboration.We’ll do some proper endgame follow-up next week. Where combat most disappoints is the guns themselves. It’s a shame they’re real worldy guns, especially as Anthem is not set on Earth, it’d be much more exciting if there were… lasers. I think that’s why Storm is my favourite Javelin, it’s otherworldly, and a proper sci-fi creation. The guns have snap and speed, but they don’t have weight – I don’t feel any connection between the squeeze of the trigger and the damage numbers that spray out of enemies. And in the early game at least, the weapon drops are such stingy upgrades: the exact same gun but with a point or two more of hit damage. In a loot-driven shooter, the loot has to be desirable or the game has no drive. “Hey good to see you. You’re a freelancer right?” “I think you knew that.” The visual polish and satisfying feel of Anthem is kind of a surprise after what we saw in Mass Effect Andromeda, a game that had more glitches and bugs than there are stars in the universe.But for all the mistakes it corrects, it somehow manages to dump everything BioWare do usually get right. Mainly the stories. The decision to shift all the storytelling into a single player hub city – think Destiny’s Citadel or The Division’s base of operations – was always a risky one. And it’s a risk that doesn’t pay off. The entire world has to be born out of casual chatter – snippets of NPC dialogue, or a radio show.When you do properly engage characters in conversation you’re limited to just two dialogue responses, and neither option has much effect on overall relationship status or story. The only people I felt I really helped through chatting is eventually sorting out Lienn and Mora’s problems. In total I feel like I talked to the entire cast of Anthem for less time than I spent with any one member of Normandy’s crew.It’s a shame, as the voice acting is great, delivered by actors from some of my favourite shows – Brooklyn 99, Flight of the Conchords and Chuck. And BioWare can still deliver the feels – one story with Marelda, about telling a very difficult lie for a good reason, came out of nowhere and really hit me in the heart. But this is the exception. It mostly feels shallow, and I think that’s why I struggle to form any attachment to any of the characters in Anthem. It bugs me when you see non-talking NPCs deep in conversation with one another with no noise coming from their mouths. I walked past these boring lip-flappers so many times I begin to imagine words in their mouths… “Oh no, no, no – these aren’t loot boxes.These are loot pots. Entirely different.” “So I said to him, if you think that’s long, wait until you see the loading screens” “What do you think this plinth is going to be for?” “It’ll be a later content drop probably” It doesn’t help that Fort Tarsis is so drab compared to the outside world. When the game was revealed it was shown as this grand, exotic bazaar, but in reality it’s just a few stalls selling pots. This is how people must have felt attending that Fortnite event in Norwich. Behold: the Fortnite caving experience. One thing I do like is the way Fort Tarsis changes over the story. Look my pond is clean and has fish now – if that’s not worth the 60 pound admission fee, I don’t know what is. Elsewhere shops begin to open, the bar gets busier, you’re able to unlock Javelins for your enclave, and Fort Tarsis slowly opens up as you watch as the city falls in love with Freelancers again.You get a glimmer of what BioWare were trying to achieve here, but it still feels like extra fuss – it’s telling that I often prefer to dip into the launch bay, the social hub area, which offers much the same functionality, just with fewer steps between the things I want to reach. Of course, your relationship with Fort Tarsis – and the game more generally – will be tarnished by the loading screens you sit through to get to it. This may sound like a petty nitpick, but you’ve never seen a game do loading screens like Anthem does loading screens.It’s not specifically the length of them – although, without an SSD or, even better, an NVMe, you are going to have a terribly long time to wait. No, it’s the sheer number of them. There’s a loading screen from Fort Tarsis to the Forge where you equip your Javelin. There’s a loading screen back to the Fort. There’s a loading screen when you load the mission. There are loading screens as you move to inside areas of the map – despite BioWare promising one seamless world in an interview last year. Looks like someone came down with a case of the Molyneuxs. The one I really like is the loading screen that kicks in when you are too far from your party – something that tends to happen because you were slowed down by – yep – a loading screen! Yes, this a game that holds you back with loading and then punishes you with more loading.I’d like to offer a more sophisticated analysis, but: What. The. Actual. Fuck. And once you beat the mission, you get to do it all in reverse, loading back from the open world to Fort Tarsis or the Forge. I have spent so long looking at this image I’m amazed it isn’t burned into my screen, forcing a scary looking robot man to loom over every other game I play. Don’t worry good people of Foundation, this isn’t some twisted god come to rule over you, it’s work of horrible optimisation elsewhere. It’s such a user unfriendly experience, shattering any immersion you manage to claw together and driving constant wedges between your co-op party.And why can’t we change our loadouts on the fly out in the open world? Every bit of loot you get means a trip back to the Forge, and Fort Tarsis with it, to make a minor adjustment. It’s so counterintuitive in a game built around endlessly retooling yourself. Day one patch notes say loading will be sped up, but until they can cut out half of this faff, Anthem is always going to feel like a juddering experience, like putting you behind the wheel of the world’s shiniest sports car and then hitting you with a row of red lights. As a side note: it’s very hard to talk about glitches and bugs with a massive day one patch promised. One thing I would say: if you are going to knowingly release a game in a sorry technical state, you should not be charging people to play it before release day. EA’s early access programme – Access, or the even more expensive Premier version – asks you to pay for an inferior version of the game and help iron out the kinks for the final release.In my few days with the game I’ve seen all kinds of weird shit. My javelin spawns on the Forge twice, and sound bugs out and refuses to play. I’ve not been able to launch missions from the launch bay, and missions I have played sometimes have objectives that bug out, making them impossible to complete. I’m also mystified why my character makes really tiny footstep noises as she “runs” around Fort Tarsis. Is this a bug or feature? It’s sometimes hard to tell in Anthem. Joining quickplay and loading into the Princess Zhim cutscene means you can’t skip it even though it says you can and you’ve seen it already.Another problem you might run into through quickplay is getting stuck behind a door that won’t open as you hear the dialogue of the mission playout and your teams icons on screen. Great fun that one. Or even loading into a game right at the end of a mission and seeing your sorry state of xp at the end compared to everyone else’s. Yes, a huge list of day one tweaks promises to clean up Anthem’s act, but it has a whole lotta stuff to clean up.You have been warned. And what about the quests that happen between the loading screens? Every quest boils down to go to place and shoot things, but with variations on the theme: hunting down enemies, destroying hives, silencing relics by collecting mystical doodads, and a bit of very light puzzle solving using obvious clues scattered around the room. There are often awkward silences between radio chatter while you wait for a new objective marker to pop onto the screen, but I generally enjoyed blasting through the story missions. There is one exception to this. You may have already heard of the Challenges of the Legionnaires quest line – it kicks in a large grinding task around level ten, where you have to open a series of tombs by fulfilling a series of challenges.For example, completing 5 world events, 15 weak point defeats, 3 missions, 3 multi kills, 15 combo triggers, 50 melee defeats, 3 legendary defeats, repairing 3 javelins, and opening 15 chests, just to name a few. Thankfully most are filled retroactively, and I had spent some time in Freeplay mode, so had ticked off many tasks by the time it arrived. But having to open 15 chests became a huge sticking point, especially as I was then competing with my teammates to find them. It’s getting nerfed by the day one patch – your team’s finds will count towards your own – but it still speaks to a lack of care and thought that defines lots of Anthem. That BioWare sees the need to insert a grinding roadblock in the middle of the story shows them trying to artificially inflate the runtime – even with my chest infection, I polished off the main quest in just 22 hours.On a side note, the Challenges or the Legionnaires also hammered home what a mess Anthem’s menu system is. It forces you to dig through multiple layers of sub menus to find out what your objectives actually are. In fact, the Cortex – which is your all in one info centre – is a convoluted muddle of information in general. It takes the Actually Quite Interesting lore of the world and packages it in the least readable way possible.BioWare need to get Marie Kondo in to throw out the mess and cut to the heart of what sparks joy. BioWare say you can play solo. But you can’t, not really. When you want to go into a mission on your own, if you have public selected, it happily tells you Anthem is best experienced with a squad and essentially pats you on the back saying “good decision”. When you choose private, it passive aggressively tells you the same thing, suggesting you have done the wrong thing, and nudging you to select public. Hey, at least the matchmaking is good – on PC at least, it finds me a party for every activity I want to try, and that’s with reduced early access numbers. And none of the horrible freezing we saw in the beta. Being unable to enter free play in a private session is more frustrating, considering you are unlikely to actually see the other people in your session, and you are most likely going to end up fighting hordes on your own.If you’re in a squad of friends this is fine, but you’re not able to send distress signals, ping other characters, or even chat in a text chat when you’re in freeplay or so you can thank your teammates when they revive you. These things are obviously missing and the game feels very old fashioned with these things not there. Couldn’t BioWare have popped over to Respawn to get the inside skinny on Apex Legend’s wonderful ping location system? The more pressing question is where does it go next? When you peak at level 30 you get Grandmaster difficulties, which increases the challenge and the chance of Masterwork loot, which is the really tasty stuff you’ll be grinding to get your power level up. And you’re given the Challenges of the Legionnaires: Valor, which gives me flashbacks to that dreadful mid-story grind and sets you up for doing a lot more of the same. Then there are the three Strongholds, which are the toughest combat challenges and play like Destiny’s Strikes. It is, all told, quite a skinny offering. Grind has to be expected in a game of this type – the loot shooter is an endless loop of self improvement towards beating slightly harder difficulties.But it does require fresh challenges to test that loot and it’s not obvious where those challenges are going to come from. Of course, the same could be said of many of these shared online shooters – both Destiny and The Division were skinny at launch. The difference is, Anthem arrives in a world where the competition has got its act together – The Division 2 arrives with a really generous spread of endgame content, and Destiny 2, through its expansion packs, had a much a clearer pitch of where it was going. Anthem does not have the same vision, beyond a few wide-eyed promises from BioWare developer Twitter accounts. And I can’t recommend paying 60 pounds based on a tweet. That isn’t how this is meant to work. On the flipside to this, the team does appear to be listening – as shoddy as the day one patch situation is, the improvements it promises sound much welcomed.More importantly, I do like the world and story and want to see how it grows over time – much more than I thought I would from early hands-on. It’s obvious that a lot of love, effort, and time has gone into Anthem, just not in the areas I was hoping. It’s gorgeous, the combat feels great, but if you’re here for a story, don’t expect as much, as it doesn’t quite fully deliver the full BioWare experience. The main story arc is interesting, the Grabbits are really bloody cute, and I’m hoping the continuous content drops will make it feel a bit more alive. As it is, it’s all looks and feels, and not much else. Less like an Anthem and more like an out of tune hum. We’ll be doing more on the game as it grows over coming weeks, but I hope you enjoyed these impressions from the campaign. If you have any questions about what I’ve said, pop them in the comments and I’ll try to get to them – there may be a short loading screen as I have lots of work on at the moment.If you’ve been playing the game, do share your impressions below – I’d love to hear what you make of the game. And if you enjoyed this video, I’d love it if you subscribed to Rock Paper Shotgun – we cover all things PC gaming related and have loads more great stuff to check out. Why not try our recent Metro Exodus review or Reviews Roulette, where we try weird and wonderful Steam games. Hope to see you again soon. Bye for now! .