CRITICAL MASS: DOES ‘MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA’ DESERVE THE HATE?
Our initial impressions of Bioware’s latest addition to their once lauded sci-fi RPG franchise were both mixed and cautious. Having now experienced more of the full game, it seems our reservations were well founded as many gamers and fans of the series have discovered for themselves over the last week.
Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t necessarily a bad game but it cannot escape a multitude of flaws and issues that are inherent throughout the game. This is born out in the game’s reasonable aggregate scores on Metacritic of 76%. However, its user score of just 4.6 shows the level of disappointment ME: Andromeda has garnered in its release window. And if there’s one thing that gamers can’t stand, it’s disappointment.
This has inevitably led to a vast array of accusing theories and blame games alongside the merciless mocking one has come to expect when a game falls so short of expectations. So, where did it all go wrong for Mass Effect: Andromeda?
IN SPACE, EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU MEME
Never in the history of the internet has a game’s reputation been better encapsulated by a single meme. The horrendous facial animations that plague ME: Andromeda are coupled together with the game’s frequently risible dialogue and are concisely captured in a single image and phrase; all gift-wrapped by Bioware themselves
The actual bare bones of the game are pretty solid: the planet maps are expansive, the combat is by far the best it’s been in the series, and traveling around the galaxy has been significantly overhauled to look the part of blockbuster sci-fi rather than the cheap Java game it used to resemble. So, it is truly bizarre to see such amateur presentation and writing that wouldn’t look out of place on Steam Greenlight stretched over the skeleton of what is clearly a Triple-A production.
Some of the technical faults could have been forgiven had ME: Andromeda been released at the start of this console generation, but we’re a long way from that point now. Even at a cursory glance the game doesn’t look or feel finished, which has been backed up by former Bioware animator Jonathon Cooper in a recent Twitter PSA where he provided his take on why so many things have gone awry in ME: Andromeda’s presentation.
But a rushed production doesn’t explain or excuse the poor script, bland characters, unintuitive menus, and wooden voice acting that crop up throughout the game. ME: Andromeda‘s most heinous crime, though, is that it is a Mass Effect game in name only.
THE PRIME DEFECTIVE
Had ME: Andromeda been released as a fresh IP, it would probably be gathering a fair amount of praise as a decent space RPG with a few glaring presentation issues. Remove the familiar alien races from the Mass Effect universe, change the combat to first-person, and almost any relation to the previous trilogy would disappear. If anything, ME: Andromeda feels more like a Star Trek game than its actual namesake.
It’s apparent just by experiencing even the first few hours that the modus operandi for ME: Andromeda is very different compared to its predecessors. ME: Andromeda doesn’t drive itself forward via a narrative laced with politics, race relations, and distinct characters that enlivened the first 3 games. Instead, it concentrates far more on exploration, combat, building character stats, and crafting new weapons. As such, it is a far more traditional RPG experience. The plot (no spoilers here, not there is a lot left to spoil) is spread thin and is devoid of the agonizing choices that Commander Shepard had to face.
But many fans fell in love with the series for its varied and distinct characters, who often provided the most memorable encounters and moments of the series. You could fill a lake with the tears that were shed when Mordin sacrificed himself on Tuchanka in Mass Effect 3, but you’d be lucky to form a small puddle if anything were to happen to any of the ciphers who make up the cast of Andromeda.
Again, though, as the autopsy continues on the games’ many shortcomings more admissions are surfacing about trouble behind the scenes and that Bioware was toying with several different directions for the game. This does go a long way to explaining why the final product feels so fudged and more reliant on standard RPG tropes than its own legacy. Overall, it seems like it was a desperate struggle to get the game into a workable form at all.
However, such revelations haven’t stopped those with other axes to grind taking a wild swing at the game…
DON’T FEAR THE REAPERS
As if ME: Andromeda wasn’t having a hard enough time of it thanks to its technical and creative issues, matters have only gotten worse for it with accusations of pandering to so-called Social Justice Warriors. At best, these insinuations mistake correlation with causation and, at worst, just flat out fabricate them to try to ensure that Gamergaters finally have proof that SJW’s really are ruining video games.
Most of these individuals don’t warrant or deserve further attention (a quick Google of the following subjects will yield plenty of hits if you’d like to know more), but here is some rumor control to counter the bullshit that has been doing the rounds recently:
- A cosplayer with no previous animation experience was NOT the ‘lead facial animator’ on the game (her name is nowhere to be seen in the game’s main credits).
- You CAN customize your character to have a white skin tone (only in an early beta-version of the game was this not the case).
- There are NOT less heterosexual than homosexual romance options in the game (quite the opposite, in fact).
- A ‘white-hating racist’ developer did NOT play a major role in the development of the game (again, his name is not listed in the main credits and Bioware issued a statement saying they no longer work with the individual in question)
- Anita Sarkeesian does NOT make a guest appearance as an endgame boss who wipes your hard drive if you don’t sit through her entire series of ‘Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games’.
Okay, so that last debunk was a pre-emptive strike. However, the idea of Mass Effect: Andromeda as a piece of SJW propaganda -that some Gamergaters are perversely clamoring for it to be- simply does not materialize in the game itself. Unless the concept of a band of diverse individuals having to team up to overcome adversity for the greater good -which was also the conceit of the last 3 games- is the signifier of an overbearing leftist agenda, then incontrovertible evidence of the P.C. Brigade propagating their message in the game is thin on the ground.
There is a tragic irony to this Gamergate Gestapo still looking for any trace of an SJW influence in video games with such swiveled-eyed paranoia, since they are merely just the other side of the same self-righteous coin as their overly and equally neurotic politically-correct antagonists. Likewise, people posting fatuous reviews on Metacritic expressing sentiments such as “my character isn’t white enough” or “the females aren’t as attractive as they should be” aren’t exactly helping dispell the SJW prejudice that gaming is the sole reserve of sexually frustrated straight white males.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Despite all this stuff and nonsense, there are fleeting but frequent reports that people are actually enjoying the game. If one can tolerate the graphical glitches and lack of narrative drive then there’s undoubtedly a solid, even deep, sci-fi RPG with plenty of sights to show you.
Many of the technical issues will undoubtedly be fixed over the upcoming months and late adopters of the title may wonder what much of the whinging was about after a few patches are applied (though there will be plenty of Youtube videos to remind them why). However, with this amount of disappointment and controversy dogging the franchise once again after the cataclysm of Mass Effect 3‘s conclusion, is there going to be the will or the means for the series to continue? It’s looking doubtful, currently.
But, with all the outrage and scorn inflicted Mass Effect: Andromeda (some of it justified, some not), if this is to be our last visit to the Mass Effect universe, one has to wonder if that’s such a bad thing…