Mass Effect: A Funeral For a Friend
So I was not even halfway done with my ‘I finished Mass Effect Andromeda’ post (Not the final title, I assure you) when Electronic Arts announced that the Mass Effect property was pretty much dead. Oh they didn’t use those words. That would be dumb. No, they said that Mass Effect – the entire franchise – is being put ‘On Hiatus’. Which in all honesty means that they’re going to stick it on a shelf until there’s nostalgia dollars to be made from it. Along with this news, we learned that Bioware Montreal was being gutted and the remaining staff would be support developers for other EA titles such as Battlefront or Project Dylan (the currently unnamed Bioware action game that rumors say is EA’s contender to go head-to-head with Activision’s Destiny series and The Division.) The only development for Mass Effect: Andromeda moving forward will be bug fixes and multiplayer support.
How did we get here? I mean, it’s not even been 3 months since the game came out. Now there will be no DLC, no sequel for the cliffhanger ending, and pretty much an end to the entire Mass Effect idea and setting for the foreseeable future.
Well, I’m sure some people have a very good idea of how this happened. I mean, the internet backlash was hitting this game before we even got to the release date because of the whole 10 hour preview that some people had. Mixed that with streaming media so everyone could share in the initial reaction and boom! Great recipe for an instant flame war. And I’m not going to sit here and hold those people solely responsible. The game had problems at launch. I’m not going to argue with that. The animations could be goofy, there were issues with bugs and the inventory system was just screwy. I mean, most of this didn’t bother me personally. Nor did it bother a lot of people I knew personally. But then again, I was raised on RPGs where “Facial Animation” was changing the position of an eyebrow on a 20×20 pixel head. I remember it being a big deal when “mouths moving when they have lines” was a big advancement. So maybe I’m a bit more forgiving of some silly animations. Ultimately, the game was playable. It was downright fun. Right from launch. The patches fixed issues as they rolled out and the fun got even better. That’s the way I viewed it all at least.
There’s also the issue of the broken fan base over to make the game more open-world. Right now “Open World” games are kind of a thing and its started to get some backlash against it. That isn’t Andromeda’s fault, but it did release right as the genre’s popularity has started to decline instead of at its peak. Really, I don’t think open world was much of a goal for the game as it was the side effect of the questionable overall design choice: An updated Mass Effect 1. Everything from the open format of upgrading abilities, to the inventory system and ranked equipment (Ranks I-X just like ME1), and the big open worlds to drive around and explore were all pretty much just yanked from Mass Effect 1 and then peppered with some of the sensibilities of ME2 & 3. Instead of moving forward from ME3’s gameplay, they went back and tried to revive the stuff that the second and third installments tried to push away from. And for that reason, I imagine there was a lot of push-back from fans. While there are some in the Bioware fandom that hold on to the classic Mass Effect as the last time the games were “RPGs” (a sentiment I disagree with. I view RPG as more of a choice of how one approaches and interacts with the game rather than a specific set of mechanics that must be followed) most of the folks I’ve spoken to over the years hold Mass Effect 2 as the pinnacle of the trilogy and many of them cite the choices to move away from things like the Mako sequences on worlds or the painful inventory system. Going back may have made sense to the developers, especially in light of the emphasis on exploration, but I don’t think it was what a lot of fans wanted.
Speaking of the exploration, I am still gathering that there in lies the big disconnect with expectations vs reality. Andromeda was set up to be a break off of the original Mass Effect trilogy. The same setting but a different story, hence why it was never labeled – and Bioware heavily emphasized that it was NOT – Mass Effect 4. Andromeda was about exploration. Going to a new place never before seen and trying to establish a home. This wasn’t the tale of a super-soldier trying to save the Galaxy. This was just a random team of people who volunteered to travel nearly a millennium away from home and try to set up camp in a barely charted galaxy. So it was a big step down in the important-ness scale. Just as epic, but more in a scale way instead of a heroic way. Because face it, Ryder isn’t a hero. They’re the kid of an ostracized scientist who had greatness thrust upon them compared to Shepard who was a damn legend before the opening title dropped hence why Shepard was being considered for Spectre Status. Ryder’s job before having the Pathfinder title dropped on their lap was Recon Specialist. No rank, no record of glory, no nothing. Andromeda was about new beginnings. A theme that runs through out the game and is handled really well. I just don’t think everybody was on board with a new beginning.
It’s one of those tough calls that you have to deal with as an artist in an entertainment industry. Especially if your a AAA developer or working with a big movie studio. You can make great art, but even then if no one is buying what your selling then you are just shooting yourself in the foot. It’s the cruel reality, and not one that I personally like or support. Electronic Arts supposedly dropped $40 million on Andromeda (That’s half of CD Projekt Red’s budget for The Witcher 3) to a brand new division of Bioware set up in Montreal to try and win back the fans that Bioware HQ in Edmonton put at risk with Mass Effect 3’s ending backlash. They decided to dive back into the well and play it safe by retreading ground established by Mass Effect 1. They developed a story that was easy for new comers and series veterans to get into with a brilliantly handled themes of exploring the unknown and establishing a new beginning. They crafted a story that wrapped up both the ‘new beginning’ as well solved the primary conflict without giving everything away so fans could theorize and have something to look forward to in the future. It created a villain with an interesting motivation (The Kett) and a mystery to ponder on without concrete answers (The Remnant). It ended the game with solving the issue of finding a home but gave a cliffhanger as to what will come next.
Mass Effect Andromeda was a good game overall. A good game that stumbled at the starting line and it cost them big. I honestly worry about Bioware moving forward. After this, ME3’s ending, and The Old Republic, I imagine EA’s patience may be wearing thin. Consumers on the other hand have higher expectations of Bioware than ever. Things could be rough going forward for the Canadian RPG powerhouse.