If you read my review of Anthem, you’ll know that I enjoyed BioWare’s latest about as much as I enjoy cleaning up my toddler’s breakfast after it has been thrown violently to the floor at 6:45 AM. You’ll also know that I mentioned one specific quest so badly designed that I had a legitimate tantrum of my own while playing. I didn’t go into details about said quest in the review, because to do so would have doubled the review’s length. Instead, I’m dedicating a whole article to it, because good grief and gravy it is a stinker.
The mission in question is known as Tombs of the Legionnaires, or alternatively the Challenges of the Legionnaires. It occurs early in Anthem’s story as you search for the tomb of an ancient Freelancer hero called General Tarsis. The story explains the location of Tarsis’ resting place can be found by tracking down four other tombs and deciphering the clues inside.
All simple enough, and off you pop into the world of Bastion to track them down. This is done in Anthem’s Freeplay mode, which is basically a simple open-world scenario with a few other players milling around, and random events that trigger as you explore. It’s the first time that you properly engage with Anthem’s wider world and aren’t simply following a series of waypoints to the next mission.
It turns out this is immediately problematic. Without BioWare guiding you from point to point, Bastion is extremely hard to navigate. The whole world is built like a giant craggy knot, a vertiginous maze of cliffs and overhangs, tiered mountainsides and mesa-like rock walls that separate individual areas. Hence, you can rarely fly directly to an objective and instead must weave around mountains and find narrow tunnels in the rock that act as shortcuts between areas.
Now, Anthem’s world is clearly designed to make exploration more interesting than simply flying point-to-point, which is absolutely fine. The problem is the game provides no navigational aides whatsoever. I’m not necessarily asking for a dynamic pathing system as seen in games like Just Cause, although that would certainly be helpful. But you can’t even set custom waypoints, while the actual objective markers for the tombs don’t appear until you’re very close to them. Worst of all, the map is completely useless when it comes to showing the routes through the game’s landscape. It’s a bit like having a satnav that only shows you where buildings are.
All of this makes simply getting to the tombs more of a chore than it should be. It doesn’t help that one of them is underground and can only be accessed by a tiny crack in the landscape, which I eventually found by Googling the location.
Fortunately, at least once you’re there, all you need to do is explore them, right? Delve inside, shoot a few enemies, and have a bit of an adventure.
When you get to the Tombs, you discover that, oh no, the doors are locked! What’s more, the only way to open them is, oh cripes, to complete a list of specific in-game challenges!
Let’s momentarily put aside how incredibly annoying it is to arrive at a quest location only to discover that you must go back and work through a pile of menial tasks before you continue, and ask the question: Who set these challenges? Was it the heroes interred in the tomb? If so, how? Did they do it after they were dead? Or did they specifically state in their last will and testament that, should anyone want to go into their tomb, that person would first have to prove their worth?
Now, in Anthem’s defence, it’s hardly the first game to do weird shit with tombs. We have a whole series of games dedicated to that. But there’s simply no effort whatsoever to make this even vaguely logical within the game’s own world-building. It’s not like to enter each tomb you must retrieve a specific key, say, or a ring that was once owned by the deceased. Rather, you must 'perform 50 melee kills' or 'kill 20 people with your Ultimate ability'. It’s the most menial early-2000s MMO-style busywork that was considered outdated not long after World of Warcraft came out.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, once you’ve had your adventuring balloon thoroughly popped, you must then travel to the three remaining tombs to discover what their challenges are. This amounts to about 12 different challenges that you need to complete before you can continue with the story.
It’s worth noting that, as of now, BioWare has altered the quest so you start filling in these challenges earlier in the game, regardless of whether you’ve got to the Tombs or not. But that doesn’t alter the fact that some of these challenges are ridiculously specific and situation-dependent. One example is 'repair 3 Javelins,' which means you need to be around when a fellow player gets knocked down, and then make sure you’re the first person on the scene to repair them. You can also repair some NPC Javelins. But this requires you to find a specific world event in Freeplay where there’s a chance some NPCs are in a fight.
The other doozy is 'open 15 chests.' This sounds straightforward enough until you realise that it has to be you specifically that opens the chest. If you’re on a mission with other players and somebody else opens a chest, that doesn’t count. Chests can also be found in Freeplay, but these are: A) randomly spawned, B) often very well hidden, and C) can also be opened by other players.
It took me about six hours of play to complete these challenges. Some of this was during side-missions, which is acceptable, but a lot of it was simply roaming around Freeplay looking for chests or hoping the right kind of world-event would pop up. It’s just awful, soul-destroying busywork.
But at least when you finally complete the challenges, there’s a worthwhile reward inside the tombs, right?
Once you’ve finally, finally completed all the meandering bullshit that Anthem demands of you, you return to a tomb and open the door to discover a dark square room. Here you get a snippet of dialogue and…that’s it. No loot, nothing to explore. Nothing at all, in fact. The same goes for all three other tombs. It’s like getting a Kinder Egg with a shell made of excrement and no surprise inside.
Perhaps Tomb of the Legionnaires might be forgivable if it was an isolated incident, a stumble in an otherwise decent game. But the mission encapsulates much of what is wrong with Anthem in general. The slapdash world-building. The thoughtless quest design. The lack of player aides. The absence of meaningful rewards. All these problems plague Anthem throughout. It just so happens that the Tombs of the Legionnaires provides the most concentrated dose. In a roundabout way this might actually be a good thing, as it occurs so early on that it might prevent people from wasting another 20 hours with what is fundamentally a bad game.
April 7 2020 | 14:00