I should hope no one is surprised by the announcement. I’ve written a lot on Anthem, and there are few examples of perfect failure.
Anthem is a failure of BioWare management, full stop. The devs built some spectacular systems, and as a proof of concept, Anthem just knocks it out of the park. When taken as a whole, that’s where the game fails, and that is entirely at the feet of the directors. Jason Schreier’s report does a good job of explaining this.
Anthem NEXT had a team of 30 people to incubate a new idea, which wasn’t so much a ray of hope for Anthem specifically, but a way to salvage as much from the game as possible to transplant elsewhere. The prime market window for something like Anthem is in the past. Dozens of companies have tried to enter the team-based shooter realm and have failed. You’re fighting against years of momentum with Destiny and The Division. You need to be practically perfect.
BioWare has never, ever been close to perfect. Go back and play their games to check it out. They are great at capturing the essence of an idea, and have had success in being the only option in their field. We geeks are notoriously forgiving of other geeks attempts, and once BioWare started a more corporate view (e.g. DLC in Mass Effect), our patience waned.
The lack of patience has created a lack of success for BioWare for pretty much the last 10 years. Mass Effect Legendary is out in May, and should be an olive branch to their player base. It’s one of those “don’t F this up” deliverables, as failure here doesn’t bode well for Mass Effect 4 or Dragon Age 4.
That said, I’m glad this is not a jobs cut operation. The people working on Anthem NEXT are going to other projects, which is great. Here’s hoping both of those major projects can apply lessons learned from Anthem (and related, Cyperpunk 2077) so that a quality product is delivered and employees survive the process.