The Problem with Mass Effect Andromeda
Gaming | Opinion
by Benjamin Ferrarini
Mass Effect is a series of sci-fi themed video games developed by Bioware, a Canadian based software company, and Published by Electronic Arts. The first game in the franchise is an RPG with third person action elements. It follows a protagonist known by their surname Shepard. Shepard can be male or female based on player choice. Either way Shepard is a commander in the navy protecting humanities interests in the galaxy. In Mass Effect humans are just the newest arrivals in a galaxy thriving with alien species all with their unique backgrounds, cultures and philosophies. All these races are governed by a ruling council made of representatives from the various races. Humans are still the new kids on the block fighting to have a seat at the table. This changes when Shepard’s ship, the Normandy, uncovers evidence of an ancient race of sentient machines. These machines labeled “Reapers” clean the galaxy of life once every 50 thousand years and time is almost up.
The Mass Effect Trilogy follows Shepard and their crew as they seek to prevent the Reapers from returning. Mass Effect is another game that required you to make decisions between possible paths to your goal. Mostly these choices fall into two categories, moral delineations the game dubs Paragon and Renegade. The Paragon path tends to be more altruistic, compassionate, and diplomatic. The Renegade by contrast is more confrontational and combative, favoring ends justify the means tactics. As such Mass Effect tries not to cast either as good or bad but different methods reflecting
different play styles and different philosophies. While there are benefits playing predominantly one side or the other it is possible to walk the middle ground responding to each situation differently.
These kinds of choices are nothing new but Mass Effect did take the concept to a another level. It was one of the first series which carried your choices from one game to the next. Repercussions were felt across the trilogy depending on the decisions you made. There was a range of levels this worked on. The most subtle involved an optional conversation in the second game. If you chose a certain response that same character will feed that line back to you in the final act of the third game. This is where Mass Effect really shined, less in the big decisions but the subtle small interactions that build lasting impressions.
This year Bioware and Electronic Arts released the fourth installment in the Mass Effect franchise. Billed more as a spin off then a direct successor to the original trilogy, Mass Effect Andromeda sought to redefine the series taking it in a “bold” new direction. Unfortunately a host of flaws and poor decisions hurt the game. Upon release it became known as the most poorly reviewed Mass Effect to date. I want to briefly take a look at why Mass Effect Andromeda failed and what it means for the future of the franchise.
When working on Mass Effect Andromeda the development team promised a departure from the original trilogy. First and foremost the game would be set in a new galaxy. All new worlds and races to discover and explore. Second none of the OG characters would return including Shepard. Then came news they were going to ditch the Paragon/Renegade system believing it too tied to the original trilogy. Finally they said they wanted to create a more open world feel by allowing the player the freedom to go anywhere and explore the game anyway they saw fit. But this freedom would come at a price. Mass Effect Andromeda would be open and less linear then it’s predecessors. The Developers claimed a “vast majority” of the game would remain open after completion of the main story. Each of these things marked departures from the other games leading to something that promised to be more of a spiritual successor set in the same universe. The question is: after changing so much does Andromeda still feel like Mass Effect or is it Mass Effect in name only? I suppose the answer lies in the minds of the beholder but there is a measure of objective criticism we can apply.
One of the developers said in an interview with Kotaku “The goal was to go back to what Mass Effect 1 promised but failed to deliver, which was a game about exploration…” It is my opinion that developers missed the point. Exploration wasn’t the promise of the first Mass Effect and it wasn’t what primarily drew people in. Bioware had managed to create a world people fell in love with and characters they wanted to spend time with. The beating heart of Mass Effect was the characters that inhabited the world. From Shepard to the compelling sympathetic antagonist “Saren”. The first game told a story that built out the world and gave reason to hop from one planet to another. The second and third games continued to emphasize characters and story.
These are the things that were missed in Andromeda. The characters were not interesting or compelling. The villain archetypal and one note. The story rudimentary and too open with an ending that was simply underwhelming and anticlimactic. The new team missed what made Mass Effect special and tried to make a game from the elements that make up every other game. Unfortunately Andromeda is just a generic action RPG built atop the bones of something far greater.
In just the last few weeks Bioware announced there would be no single player DLC to expand Andromeda. Future games in the franchise have been shelved indefinitely and the team that worked on it has largely been dismantled. For now it seems Mass Effect is in limbo and one has to ask is this a good thing? Critically Mass Effect Andromeda received a lukewarm reception with most agreeing that it is an okay game but that it falls short of the original trilogy. Gamers have had a wider range of reactions from declaring the game worthless to those who love it. Personally I did not enjoy Andromeda much. I felt the best parts were buried under layers of bland gameplay that was more monotonous then fun. The worst part though was that it carried the Mass Effect name. If Andromeda had been a new IP I may have been more forgiving of some of its failings citing the challenges to create something new. However, Andromeda is the fourth game in a highly acclaimed series which is known for the traits we’ve covered here. Andromeda stripped out most of those defining qualities and presented something that didn’t feel right with a host of flaws and a stunning lack of polish. Thus taking some time to pause and reconsider what direction Mass Effect should take could be beneficial for any future games.
One last thought, news just broke that the current head of Bioware Aaryn Flynn is stepping down and leaving the company. Casey Hudson the creative director on the Mass Effect Trilogy will be returning to the company to replace him. With Hudson taking over the studio there is perhaps a glimmer of hope for the future of Mass Effect.
To read more about Mass Effect Andromeda’s troubled production you can see the excellent Kotaku story quoted above here: http://kotaku.com/the-story-behind-mass-effect-andromedas-troubled-five-1795886428