Anthem: video game Marmite

Ok, cards on the table… Here it comes… Confession time: I like Anthem. I get the criticism, I really do. The lore is opaque, the loot is dull, the systems for tracking quests and equipping gear are clunky at best and the loading screens… oh god, the loading screens are awful.

I also agree that underneath all the rubbish is, potentially, a real gem. A diamond in the rough. Why? Because the actual gameplay is superb. Flying your Javelin (think Iron Man armour) through the world is a thrill, the combat is excellent and the game looks gorgeous. Hovering about the battlefield in my Storm Javelin (Mage), I get a glorious view of the Colossus (Tank) and Interceptor (Rogue) working their way around at ground level, as the Ranger adds support at close quarters or range. Once you get your head around the combat it’s a treat. Each mission lasts around ten or twenty minutes and it’s done. Alternatively you can explore the world at your leisure.

Then it’s back to Fort Tarsis where you switch to first person mode to speak to characters and accept quests. Here it’s a completely different pace. Hectic combat replaced by slow exploration and in depth reading of the lore. It’s the complete opposite of what’s gone before.

And that, for me, is why it works.

I have limited time to game and so I need something that will work with both my time and what I want to play. Some days I’m in the mood for a few short missions, other days I might want to zone out and fly around to explore. There are also days when I want to immerse myself in the world and its characters. Anthem allows me to do it all and as a result we really suit each other.

Despite all that, I’m not going to recommend people jump in and buy it. I just can’t. Yes, it works for me but taking a step back I know it’s not a good game overall. There are so many things that need work, and if you want a mission-upgrade-mission-repeat scenario you’re going to lose your mind over the loading screens and inaccessibility of it all. It’s a game that the majority will lose patience with very quickly unless BioWare and EA address it.

It’s something I take no pleasure in saying either. It feels so much like it wants to be The Division or Destiny and yet hasn’t learned from any of their mistakes.

So, Anthem. Do you love it or hate it?

Thank you, BioWare

It took me two years to finish Mass Effect 2. Not because there’s two years worth of content, although by the time you factor in multiple play-throughs, character options and mission selections there might be; but because my daughter was born.

Yes, my gaming was interrupted by our second child – selfish, eh? Still, as a result Mass Effect 2 will always have a special place in my heart (Batman: Arkham City will too but that’s a story for another day).

I made slow progress but the design of the game was such that I could always pick up where I left off and know exactly what I was supposed to be doing, even if I hadn’t touched it in months. Part of this is the underlying theme of family in Mass Effect 2 and I think it’s the primary reason I kept going back to it, stealing thirty minutes here and there whenever I could. The way Shepard’s family was growing was, in some way, similar to my own. Each member of the Normandy’s crew was having to adjust to new arrivals into the fold just as my son and dog were having to adjust to the tiny scream-factory invading their own status quo.

The Normandy’s expanding crew each had their own personal backstory to uncover, which lead to a character specific mission that would, on completion, earn Shepard their trust. These personal adventures kept up the family theme too with some being more subtle than others. Garrus was betrayed by a team-member he trusted; Grunt (a clone of his species) wanted to go through his coming-of-age trial; Morlin had to track down a former protégé; and many of the others had direct family members in some kind of trouble.

Shepard too was like a child in a tug of war between two parents: Cerberus for saving his-or-her life and giving him-or-her a ship and a crew with which to take on the Reapers, and Earth’s Military who had provided training and position. BioWare’s skill was in making the small, personal stories have such a huge impact on the narrative, with the player knowing throughout the entire game they were heading for a one-way suicide mission to the heart of enemy territory. Without the trust and loyalty of the crew there was no way all of them (including Shepard) would survive and, crucially, if they died then they wouldn’t make an appearance in Mass Effect 3.

The final mission itself forced the player to make certain choices about who to take with them, who to stay and guard an area or escort prisoners back to the ship. The only way to know who was best suited to the job was to have completed the missions so you could understand their strengths and weaknesses. Just like you know the individual quirks of your family.

Mass Effect 2 is a brilliant game, it plays well, it’s scripted brilliantly and delivers on all fronts. That it was released at a time when my own family was growing adds an extra personal level for me but I’m sure there were themes, ideas and moments in the game that resonated with everyone who played it; more so if you made it to the end and began that final, heroic mission from the Omega-4 Relay.

That’s just one small snippet from my experiences with BioWare. From Baldur’s Gate to the Old Republic, from Two Rivers to Kirkwall, this is a company that has consistently delivered games of the highest calibre. So thank you and happy birthday – here’s to another twenty years.