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.
Okay. Now that I’ve come up for air, it’s time to talk a bit about what I’ve been doing down in the gaming depths. The past two days have been filled with little else other than one. Singular. Activity. That being Dragon Age: Inquisition. Now, of course, I’m known for my somewhat heretical enjoyment of the “Not cool to like” Bioware titles – Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 – so my opinion is going to be a bit suspect on these things, but I have to say that Dragon Age: Inquisition is probably one of the more addicting games I’ve played in a long time.
The story is pretty simple at first. There’s a giant hole in the sky where the veil between the magical Fade world and our world have been torn asunder and now demons are pouring out like it’s a Necronomicon Spring Break in Transylvania. You also fell out of the hole, being the sole survivor of the explosion that caused it and with a weird glowing thing on your hand that can actually close the smaller holes dubbed Rifts. So now it’s up to you and your buddies to close the hole! At least at first that’s what is going on. I have a sneaky suspicion after 15 or so hours of game play that something else is waiting in the wings. Considering I know there’s a place called Skyhold and I haven’t seen it yet, but we’re already marching to close the big hole… yea.
The characters are diverse but there’s none that I immediately latched onto as favorites like I did in Dragon Age 2. I’ll admit that the characters were the big selling point for the second installment for me. From Merrill’s innocent quirkiness and dark reveals to Isabella’s love of life and even Anders and Fenris and their opposing view of the mages. Here we are treated to a veritable menagerie of characters and sadly to say only a handful of likeables thus far. Cassandra comes off as a cross between Miranda from Mass Effect and an ill tempered drill sergeant. Solas (pronounced Soul-less) feels pretty much soul-less due to having that elven “I’ve lived more than 100 hundred lifetimes and am all knowing and all seeing and thus don’t need to care much” thing going on. Varric is… Varric, I can’t really describe the fast-talking, double dealing, best example of a bard in gaming I’ve ever seen any other way.
About the only character I actually dig thus far on a personal note is Sera and that is because she is completely bat-$#!* insane. Her introduction can be boiled down to she has just killed a lot of people and stolen all their pants for absolutely no reason except maybe to sell them. Too bad my first playthrough is a lawful good mage. My Chaotic Neutral rogue playthrough however is gonna love her.
There insane amounts of little things to explore, collect, and unlock but each of these little things will help you in some way. Seriously! Either by granting experience to your character, giving you more power which you use to send people on missions, or giving you Influence which is kind of like XP for the entire Inquisition and lets you unlock overall power boosts like being able to open harder locks or getting extra XP from codex entries or kills. I spent the first day doing absolutely nothing with the main story quest and just wandering around the hinterlands doing little odd jobs and finding doodads and resources.
Yes, resources. Because crafting in this game requires an insane amount of resources. But it’s not all annoying. See unlike MMOs where you need a certain kind of metal and a certain kind of wood to make an item, DA:I boils it down to just need 10 metal and 2 wood. Any 10 of one type of metal and any 2 of any kind of wood will do. Now which metal and wood you use will affect things like bonus stats or color and pattern of the item, but the fact that creating things requires categories of items instead of specifics is much easier. Especially when you will need specific crafting materials to fill requisitions from your army, essentially researching things to help your forces and thus help yourself like better weapons or gear. For instance, I don’t know how much of this was me clearing up territory and claiming it protected by the Inquisition and how much of it was me filling up requisitions but as I kept playing I noticed that a pair of Inquisition soldiers would just appear in random spots with chests of a few useful items for you.
On that note, another great thing about this game is that it actually feels like you make progress. You know how in Skyrim you would do something insane like almost blow up Winterhold but then afterwards no one pays even a single thought let alone any lasting effects? Or in well ANY MMO you can clear out an entire fortress of baddies and kill their leader only to have them all just waiting for you in a few minutes? NOT HERE. If I bring a band of bandits under my command, every bandit in that company of rogues is now an ally and will no longer attack me. If I clear out the mage and templar strongholds, suddenly the mages and templars go from open war breaking out everywhere to nearly gone save for maybe a random pack wandering the wilderness. Yea, those strongholds and camps you clean out? STAY CLEANED OUT. You control that territory now. It’s yours. Oh geeze does that feel good. Because that means you can clear out the major conflicts in areas and then have nothing to contend with exploring except beasts, demons, and the occasional highwayman or Carta team (dwarf thugs) to deal with.
So thus far this game has been so much more addicting than Skyrim ever was. It’s that right blend of basic to use but expansive to master mechanics, a truly consistent world, and engaging characters that I might not instantly cling to like in previous installments but are interesting enough for me to want to see where their character paths take them while we try to save the world. Except Solas. He’s kinda just boring. Screw you, Solas.