We Thought We Found Hope
When Bioware introduced the original Mass Effect 10 years ago, the video game world instantly fell in love with the choice based narrative and amazing cinematic spectacle. Awesome Gamers everywhere were eager to take control of their own custom Commander Shepard and go soaring across the galaxy, saving the universe and getting it on with aliens! The game’s sequels, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, would only serve to improve upon the weakness of the game – namely the combat – and fortify it’s strengths – doubling down on the consequences of choice through the Paragon and Renegade story arcs. Bioware was praised for it’s brilliance, and the fan base grew loyal and strong. So, when Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced at E3 2015, the crowd went wild! As time went by, more of the story was unveiled, along with screen shots and videos to whet the public’s appetite for space exploration and other worldly flirtations.
The timeline for Andromeda places it somewhere between Mass Effect 2 and 3, so instead of playing as Shepard, who is somewhere on the other side of the galaxy making all the tough choices, you play as one of the Ryder twins, Sara or Scott, as they discover what it means to be a Pathfinder, all while searching for a new planet for humanity to inhabit, fighting off a new alien species, and navigating tough intergalactic relationships. If it seems like a tall order, that’s because it is. Bioware isn’t a stranger to tall orders though, as this is the company that gave us Dragon Age, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, and Baldur’s Gate, after all. So needless to say, fan’s weren’t worried, and the expectations were peaking. Unfortunately, it was due to those very same high expectations that fans felt they were let down so bad.
But There Was No Life Out There…
Let’s get something out of the way first, and come to a common understanding: the facial features need a lot of work. I know this. You know this. Thanks to the internet, everybody knows this. And thanks to the internet, we found out before the game was even released. So that’s a “check engine” light going off on the dashboard before the car even approaches the starting line. Red flag. Whatever, I already pre-ordered it, and I’ve played games with worse. Besides, you can always put a helmet over fugly. I brushed off the bad face memes and just went to watch more special ability videos on Youtube. Even though the faces looked ugly, these special powers look Nasty with a capital “N”, so I’m still in.
When release day came, ugly or not, I was ready to strap on some N7 armor and save the galaxy. I went with the pre-loaded Sara Ryder, opting to save my custom create-a-character for the “New Game Plus” feature on my second run through, with fingers crossed that Bioware would have patched up the faces by then. I wasn’t too worried about it, I was more hyped up for the combat anyway. Unfortunately, combat would have to wait, as the game forces me to wade through roughly 30 minutes of dialogue and interaction before I ever even get to pull a trigger. I honestly wouldn’t have minded so much, because there really is an interesting story buried in Mass Effect: Andromeda – awaking from a coma after traveling light years in space to find a new home, watching your father perish right before your eyes as he sacrifices his life for yours, adopting the mantle of Pathfinder and shouldering the hopes of humanity, and discovering the dark secrets of a new alien race: the Kett – there’s some real good stuff here. However, the problem is, it’s just not put together well.
A major part of story telling is HOW you tell the story. Whether or not you’re able to convey and connect with your intended audience. After a while, I was able to look past the sub par faces, but I still wasn’t able to fully connect with the game due to another fly in the ointment: the voice acting. It’s not that the game was voiced terribly, it’s just that coupled with the already bad facial animations, it created this huge emotional disconnect in the game for me. The lip movements wouldn’t sync up with the audio; the facial expressions didn’t convey the same tone or emotion as the actor’s voice, there was even a moment when the audio cut out altogether for a cut scene. It’s little things like that, these bugs and glitches, that kept pulling me out of what should have been a fully immersive space opera. It’s hard to care and to get lost in a game when it keeps stuttering and bugging out. At one point in my play through the game bugged out so badly that I lost all visibility on the planet I was on. I thought it was a loading issue, so I left the planet and came back, but there was still nothing to see. I ended up turning off the game and just walking away. When I came back to try again later things were working fine, but it’s things like that that take away enjoyment from the game.
The Search Continues…
Yes, there are things to enjoy in this game: the combat, for one. When I finally got away from dialogue wheels and cutscenes, the combat that I experienced was fantastic! The graphics, for another. Despite some poor choices in facial animations and character modeling, the environments and space itself look magnificent. The star systems are beautiful and vast, and the sense of awe is ever present in the design. It’s just unfortunate that the game lacked the cohesive polish that it needed to deliver a perfect package, worthy of being a contender for game of the year. There is so much to do here in Andromeda – a universe to discover, relationships to foster, drama to unfold – that it all just collapses under it’s own weight. If this had only been a new IP, like “Ryders In The Sky” or “Twin Galaxies”, and not Mass Effect, than it wouldn’t have been so bad. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The Mass Effect name carries with it a legacy of great storytelling and meaningful character arcs that really draw you in, however, Andromeda completely dropped the ball on this one.
Imagine it like this: You have a special Love in your life, and for this Love of yours you’ve planned what is promised to be, not just an evening of dinner and roses, but an experience you’ll both remember for a lifetime! You’ve been building the anticipation, sending picture clues of what the night has in store. A bottle of champagne. Rose petals on the table. A picture of the plate settings, the fancy china and the polished silverware. Is that a salad fork? Damn right it is, we’re getting fancy tonight! But as soon as you’re sitting across the table from the Love of your life, and you start to pour the wine in her glass, you realize that this magical moment has now become a Mylanta moment. “Buuuurp!” Not exactly the sweet nothings you were hoping of whispering, but oh well. You both laugh, because Love is like that sometimes, and you carry on with the evening. But it’s not just a one off incident. “Baby, do you know amazing you look right now – BURP!” “Ever since I met you, my whole life has been – BURP!” “Nuh-uh, You’re the best. No I’m not, You -BURP!” You try to get down on one knee to propose -PFFFT! More laughter is elicited, for sure, and the love you share is still there, undoubtedly, but the evening, for all intents and purposes, is a wash. Fun was still had, to be sure, because that’s what Love does, finds that fun in all the flaws. However, it wasn’t what it was supposed to be. It wasn’t what was promised or expected. It just wasn’t magical, just meh.
And that’s what Mass Effect: Andromeda is, a game filled with promise and expectation. A night alone with our Love that we had been promised, with our exceptions already high from the memories of what came before, to have them lifted only higher still with hype of what was to come. But what we got wasn’t a polished, pure, perfect expression of love – we got a bloated, gassy, glitchy expression of love. Fans of the game series, and those who truly Love Mass Effect are able to see beyond the flaws and just appreciate the game for what it is, because underneath the rough edges there still is a really good game here. I know I’m still playing the game, despite the glitches I’ve faced. But that’s just it though: because of those glitches, the game is just good. It’s not magical. It’s just meh.
Bioware has listened to the feedback however, and announced that they would address all the major issues, even listing out what would be tackled first on their patch notes. Whether it is enough to revive interest in Andromeda and save the game from going the way of No Man’s Sky is still too soon to tell. But Bioware, and Mass Effect fans everywhere, haven’t given up hope.