Off Topic: Mass Effect Andromeda was a good game
Yes. I am that guy.
Following in the wake of a big article by Jason Schreier about Bioware’s development woes on Anthem, I got to thinking about similar posts and articles I read about Mass Effect Andromeda, and in both cases I have two simultaneous brain storms. One, that the way game companies are approaching development and crunch time is unsustainable. I don’t think seeing big game development studios just bleeding people, causing stress to the point where people resign or take extended stress leave for the sake of their mental health is in any way defensible or sustainable. We’ve seen multiple articles about this now, and when we’ve got one for the last two big releases Bioware has made, then we have to accept that Bioware has a definite problem in how it is developing its games.
Two, every article I see about Mass Effect Andromeda pretends the game was bad.
When consensus gets it wrong
The game was not bad. I’d go so far as to say it was certainly better than the original Mass Effect and made a very good starting point for an entirely different direction within the framework of Mass Effect — a game set hundreds of years after the original trilogy, a game that deliberately moved the stakes and the storytelling in new and unique directions. I do not pretend the game was perfect, but when I see people writing reviews that argue that shipping the game was unconscionable because some of the facial animations looked a little weird, I find myself confused. I spent hours playing the game. Did I think some of the facial animations were a bit off? Sure. But I played Mass Effect, I played Mass Effect 2, and I played Mass Effect 3 and if you want to talk about some bad facial animations, it’s not like Andromeda invented weird looking kissers in this setting.
Rereading Schreier’s article about Andromeda, I feel like there are a lot of valid criticisms of both the game and the way it was developed, but even in the article an assumption is made that the game was a disappointment to long term fans of the franchise that is simply not universal enough to be held as such. I played it, for a long long time, through at least three different versions of Ryder, and a lot of my friends played it. Even now, doing a tweet about the game some two years later, I still get people saying the same things I said about it — while it’s not Mass Effect 2, it was overall a good game that was a lot of fun to play and had fun characters.
It’s hard to know where all the vitriol comes from about the game. Is it because EA have basically driven many gamers into a frothing rage with how they handle loot boxes and microtransactions? Is it because Andromeda tried to be different from the original trilogy and lost fan goodwill in the process? Is it because those facial animations really are that bad and I just can’t see it?
I mean, that’s possible. I don’t have the best eyes and I tend not to focus on certain visual details.
Okay, maybe the animations weren’t great
To a certain degree Andromeda was always going to have a lot to live up to, and I certainly think it’s fair to say it wasn’t a Mass Effect 2, or even a Mass Effect 3 (a game I loved right up until the ending, which I am still never going to like but which I can more or less ignore nowadays when I go back and play it again) because no game was ever going to be that. It’s also obvious that Andromeda took a lot of inspiration from Dragon Age Inquisition — if you liked DAI, that’s not a problem for you, but if you prefer your ME and DA games stay separate I can imagine it being a sticking point. I mean, that game won a ton of awards and was critically praised to the rafters, but it feels like a lot of the stuff that Andromeda borrowed from Inquisition is the source of people’s problems with it — the facial animations (both games use the Frostbite engine, for example), the world exploration, the giant monster alien worms that basically are the same as dragons in DAI — and both games revolve around a story about an ancient menace that seeks to steal a power your character has for their own ends.
For me, what I liked about Andromeda are the smaller parts of it. I should be clear — I’m not arguing Andromeda is as good an RPG as Inquisition was, or even as good as the last two Mass Effect games (although it didn’t enrage me the way ME3 did and the ending where everyone Ryder has dealt with comes into play is a pretty solid way to wrap up a game) — but I am arguing that it certainly wasn’t a bad game, and even that it was a good game — a fun game, a game I enjoyed playing and still play from time to time. The things that it did well, it did very well — the voice acting, characters like Alec Ryder, both Ryder siblings voice actors, and the cast of characters you put together as you desperately try to learn how to save an entire galaxy despite having absolutely no qualifications for the job.
It’s a game much more about exploration and adventuring and much less about a singular big menace threatening everything, and I have a lot of affection for it.
You will become the pinball wizard
Also, frankly, they finally made playing a Vanguard fun and engaging. They kept trying and kept almost making it, but none of the original trilogy could present you with a Vanguard who could survive actually using their powers as supposedly intended without dying very quickly. I played Vanguards repeatedly and kept having to go with a kind of ‘like an Adept but occasionally I can charge’ playstyle until Andromeda, where I could finally go out there and be the biotic wrecking ball the games kept telling me I should be. The switching profiles meant that you could swap between playing as a cold long distance sniper or a in your face biotic on the fly, and it was something wholly new to the series. Imagine if you were playing Inquisition and you could just decide you wanted to be a mage now, or an archer, or a sword-swinging warrior. Andromeda let you do exactly that and I haven’t heard it praised nearly enough for that flexibility.
And I liked that the romance options had some interesting flexibility, some specific characters you could only romance if you made specific choices early on (like which Ryder would be your character) and they weren’t cookie cutter. It wasn’t do enough nice things until their love bar is filled up — sometimes, it came down to what kind of Ryder you were playing and whether or not they got along. Romance isn’t a faction grind and Andromeda seemed to understand that more than most RPG’s these days.
Certainly not all good, but not nearly all bad
Now, I certainly do think the way Bioware has been developing games since Inquisition, with a lot of crunch and a sort of inability to learn from what worked and what didn’t work in the past, definitely needs to change. Andromeda was not a happy development process and there’s plenty of room to criticize that, or even to criticize the game for a myriad of issues like their clear attempt to set up DLC that they didn’t have much of a plan to implement. The way Andromeda ends there are open plot hooks that will never really amount to anything, because we’re not going to see any more of this game. The fact that Andromeda clearly took down Bioware Montreal can’t be glossed over — as much as I may feel like this was a good game that people were unreasonably harsh on, it’s also clear that the toll of its creation was far, far too intense.
Still, I think if you haven’t played it you should give it a shot. It’s fun. Ryder is fun, a trifle snarky, and kind of adorable in their sheer Okay, I have no idea what to do here so I’ll just do my best attitude. It feels much more grounded in how life actually works, sometimes, and is a refreshing change from the omni-capable heroic type who never knows doubt or fear. Ryder is just doing their best and hanging on by their fingernails, the same way most of us end up.
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