Throughout the recent deluge of criticism of Anthem from every facet of the internet, one thing rings true; flying around in a mech suit is fun. It’s rare that a game gives you the freedom of movement that Anthem delivers, and I agree like many that it’s the one beacon of hope in an otherwise very large shitstorm. Yet, as I was shooting and looting my way through probably the most compromised campaign since Destiny 1 and into the endgame, I noticed that Anthem takes embarrassingly poor advantage of this.
There was a specific point after finishing the campaign where I sat back and thought, If you take any combat encounter in the game and put it into another third or first person shooter, would it still work? Sadly the answer is almost always yes. In a game with flying mechs, how is the combat so conventional?
The problem is Anthem doesn’t try to do anything unique with combat encounter design. Every fight in the game takes place on flat ground with waves of enemies magically spawning out of portals. The weirdest thing is there’s only a handful of enemies in the game who can even lift off the ground themselves, and all except one just hover slightly, barely changing the flow of combat. Even the handful of bosses in the game are just big dudes who largely just stand out, again not meaningfully changing combat. This is such a wasted opportunity because very few games get to take advantage of vertical space like Anthem can. If they leaned into enemies attacking from all directions, it would create a lot of interesting micro decisions during combat regarding positioning and coordinating attacks with teammates.
So, okay sure the enemies don’t fly, but at least it’s fun when you do, right? Yes, but the game really doesn’t want you do it very much. The main issue is the heat gauge fills up pretty quick, forcing you to land or hit a waterfall or lake to cool off. I can see why Bioware implemented this, because flying from objective to objective is pretty one dimensional and they wanted to add a layer of gameplay to it. Unfortunately heat management simply isn’t fun, because unless you happen to have a bunch of perfectly spaced water features between you and your objective, it only serves to stall gameplay without giving anything meaningful in return.
The heat gauge is also a non issue in combat because you can’t fight while flying, minus one Javelin’s ultimate ability. This means you only briefly fly to take cover or reposition, or hover to get a better angle. This is compounded by the many enemies that have the ability to shoot you out of the sky by instantly overheating you, and the fact all Javenlins except the Storm class just aren’t designed from a mechanical standpoint to fight while hovering.
This all leads me to the opinion they need to completely overhaul combat design with a focus on adding verticality to encounters, while also removing the heat gauge and adding different, rewarding layers to exploration throughout the world.
Now because of the extensive reporting by sites about the tumultuous development of Anthem we know flying wasn’t even a core feature of the game until very late in development, so of course it’s no mystery how they underused their best feature. But looking at how underutilised such a core feature is does paint a grim picture about the road to recovery for the game. Sure, they can fix the loot and add more content, which will give us more to do. But until they overhaul these core mechanics and really let us take to the skies in a satisfying way, it won’t be living up to its full potential.