Anthem didn’t deserve that

When BioWare’s Anthem launched in 2019, the sci-fi looter shooter came out with a shaky landing. Like many games in similar spots when they launched, BioWare later announced plans to redesign the game to something more substantial than the base game. Today, the studio announced that EA chose to cancel development on said overhaul — dubbed Anthem NEXT — due to productivity being affected by the COVID pandemic and subsequent work-from-home orders. As it stands, the original game will be kept running for…however long, with the staff who conceptualized NEXT now transferred to help work on the next Dragon Age.

Depending on who you ask, there’s a number of reasons why the original Anthem didn’t fully catch on. Beyond its messy and troubled development, the game itself suffered from hitting grind way too quickly, even by looter shooter standards. The game’s biggest sin is that it was clear it wasn’t given the time it needed to really soar like its initial E3 demo in 2017 would’ve liked you to believe.

Still, there was something exciting about flying around in that world and seeing its vistas. There was a fun, pulpy sense of adventure flying in those various Javelin mechs and dispensing either elemental damage as the mage-like Storm or slicing enemies to death as the Interceptor. The four Javelin mechs each carry a different weight to them whether you’re running or bursting into the air, and it felt so incredibly fun to do barrel rolls or make a deep descent so your jets could cool down. And it’s got a pretty good soundtrack from Sarah Schachner, with a catchy theme that gets you pumped to fly around and go on a journey either on your own or with friends.

Problem was that beyond the soundtrack and flying, the game’s other high points weren’t as consistent as they should’ve been, and the studio knew this. According to a pair of BioWare Blogs, the goal for Anthem NEXT was to improve the core gameplay loop with a reworking of the loot system, along with making the Javelins deeper in terms of a gameplay experience, complete with skill trees. Hell, they wanted to include sky pirates who operated out of a skull fortress in the mountains, and it’s hard to argue against wanting that in a game.

Both blogs were pretty upfront about how in progress everything was, and it seemed like those working on NEXT really wanted to make that game the best it could be. And that determination was catching on; once folks learned that EA was making a decision on the game’s fate earlier this month, communities from games like Red Dead Redemption II, Destiny 2, and even the short-lived Paragon gave their support for Anthem to endure.

The outpouring of support was nice to see, especially for those who worked on the game. But in some ways, that retroactive support rings hollow given how much of a punching bag vanilla Anthem became. The energy around it whenever it became a topic of discussion was Weirdly vicious in a way similar to how Gearbox’s Battleborn or No Man’s Sky were treated when both released in 2016. It’s even more likely to continue now that the game isn’t getting a second lease on life. But as much as there was wrong with it at launch, Anthem’s ultimate crime was that it was a 7/10 game (at best) that released when everyone was getting exhausted by live service games.

Who knows if anything can change EA’s mind and we’ll see a surprise return to Anthem in a couple of years under a different name. BioWare’s current focus is on bringing Mass Effect and Dragon Age back to 100%. Either way, it was a fun experience while it lasted, barrel rolls and all.