It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Anthem was primed for a heroic comeback story. Much like Fallout 76, or No Man’s Sky, or Rainbow Six: Siege, BioWare’s mechanized action RPG took its lumps after immediate release for its unadventurous story, broken progression system, and unfurnished technical jank. But all was not lost. Perhaps someday Anthem would reform into a feel-good success story. A bounty of expansions and refinements would dot the horizon, as players around the world made their prodigal return to the servers. BioWare’s most ambitious project could still make good on its promise and take its rightful seat among the greatest sci-fi stories ever told.
At least, that’s what the Anthem faithful hoped would happen. Despite the soft reviews and the tepid sales, there remained a bastion of players who believed in this game. After all, Anthem worked at its core. The combat was fun and sparky, and flying across the alien biomes in an exosuit could be genuinely thrilling. The primary issue was the filler around the edges, which tended to be dysfunctional and frustrating. But with an honest effort, it was conceivable that BioWare could right the ship. That’s why so many fans were anticipating a release date for the so-called Anthem Next — a down-to-the-studs revamp of the game’s core loop — that could potentially alter its fate and drive up interest again, just like No Man’s Sky did after its similarly rocky launch. Unfortunately, EA announced yesterday that it would be pulling the plug on Anthem entirely, cutting bait on one of what was once its most anticipated new properties, and leaving thousands of fans twisting in the wind.
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“The word you’ll hear from all the fans is ‘potential,'” says an Anthem player named Glenn, who immediately took to the game’s subreddit to mourn, in an interview with IGN. “I really think if Bioware had the time and creative freedom,[it] could have made Anthem something iconic. I understand [moving on] was probably the better business decision, to invest their time into established IPs. But this game didn’t fail because it was a new IP. It failed because of poor management by BioWare and EA.”
Page through the forum, and you’ll see the full expanse of Anthem adherents, each contending with the death of the revamp in their own way. Some, like Glenn, feel angry and betrayed, promising to never purchase a game emblazoned with either the EA or BioWare logos ever again. Others are more sanguine; appreciating that it happened, instead of crying that it’s over. “My advice to everyone, turn off your HUD and go for one last ride in your Javelin,” writes a user called Szivak, attached to a video clip of an ethereal exosuit blasting off into a late-afternoon sunset. “I’m glad I was here to play Anthem! Farewell freelancers!”
That video is currently enshrined at the top of the subreddit. Despite the many indecencies suffered by the Anthem truthers, this game still has a hold on them.
Honestly, it’s not hard to see where that poster is coming from. The more I talked to people in this community, the more I realized that most of them believed that Anthem wasn’t that far away from greatness. Reddit user Musely moderates both the forum and its corresponding Discord channel, and he tells me that he wanted more intimacy with the game’s cast of characters, similar to the relationship system BioWare deftly crafted in Dragon Age and Mass Effect. “I felt a little disconnected playing Anthem,” he explains. “I’m in this big javelin and not getting to interact with characters on a personal level like I could in the other BioWare games. That was a major missing component for me.”
Glenn adopts a different approach entirely. The thing he enjoyed most about Anthem was how it provided a zippy, Iron Man power fantasy. He feared that BioWare’s retooling might make the game more like Destiny. (The updated UI the team showed off back in October certainly did have a distinctly Bungie flavor.) If Anthem Next was going to succeed, says Glenn, it would need to retain its identity. But he’s more inclined to believe that nothing could have saved it considering the barren state it shipped in.
“If it wasn’t for that, people would have been a lot more forgiving of sparse content and Bioware could have been in a better position to update the game more frequently,” continues Glenn. “Anthem really needed more gear items available from the start, it would have done so much to increase the depth and diversity of builds. For example, I play all four classes in Anthem and between them, I only use five different guns. There are so few viable options in the game because of the balancing.”
Glenn tells me that he’ll continue to play Anthem until EA turns the lights out. It doesn’t matter that there won’t be any new content in the future. After all, the latest update, Anthem: Cataclysm, hit the servers all the way back in 2019. Pigeons first purchased the game 10 months after release while it was on sale for $8, and managed to sink over 500 hours into its world. “I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts,” he says. “This is an unfortunate symptom of live service games. If studios rush them out, they leave players with a taste of something great, just to rip it away from them forever.
Musely, on the other hand, seems ready to put Anthem behind him. In fact, he was almost “relieved” when he heard the news that EA was burying the game, especially after such a long period of radio silence. “I’m not mad that BioWare tried something new and it didn’t work out,” says Musely. “Even if it didn’t succeed, they can still use what they learned.” He mentions that maybe, some of the fundamental positives about Anthem could seep into the DNA of the other BioWare projects on standby. “Can you imagine Mass Effect with the flying mechanics of Anthem? That’d be pretty cool.”
The truth is, no matter what the legacy of Anthem ends up being, video games don’t die until there’s nobody left on the servers. For now, these remaining freelancers will continue to pump life into BioWare’s lost cause; scouring the map for more crystals, wondering what could have been.
Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker in Brooklyn. He’s written for Vox, Vice, The New York Times, Gizmodo, PC Gamer, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, and wherever else good content can be found.