Around last year EA released a teaser trailer for their upcoming new Mass Effect title that got many people excited. Prior to that though, there was already alpha gameplay footage that leaked online. Fans were excited as they shared theories and gatherings that emerged from this demo that showed a group of people who are dealing with a hostage situation which quickly got resolved after the hostage used some strange fruit to carry out an airborne virus that painfully dispatched his captor. Safe to say, the HYPE is real…or was.
Fast-forward to 2017, the game’s release date.
Before any official reviews emerge, people were already pointing out how bad the facial animations are. It spawned memes after memes of Director Addison’s “tired face” and many other descriptions that involves the character models being utterly hideous and soulless. People criticized the game for having an insane budget while being backed up by EA themselves, yet the QA department still gave the go signal for the game’s release.
As you might imagine, scrolling through various gaming websites and forums consisted of nothing but reposts of the same old “tired face” meme I mentioned, which made me question whether some of these people even played the game as it was a newly released title. Even YouTube was plagued with this phenomenon— just to be clear though I am not here to justify these issues that the game has, but rather shift the focus to what I believe the game truly suffers from.
Why? Because fundamentally, the facial animation issues are nothing compared to what the game truly suffers from. I consider myself a diehard BioWare fan among all my friends, and whenever Mass Effect: Andromeda becomes a topic of discussion, I always get labeled a fanboy because I give pretty much no input when discussing the animation flaws since I am way past it. I crave for something more substantial since I can easily suspend my disbelief when it comes to visual anomalies in games.
With that said, I will tackle each one of these issues that I believe are what causes the game to severely fall short, and hopefully this will give your insight on what makes this entry in the franchise a disappointment to many true fans rather than relying on the de facto trend that meme’d its way on top.
ASPECTS OF THE PRESENTATION ARE UNDERWHELMING
When talking about presentation I am usually referring to the overall impact the game has in its writing, visuals, music, and most importantly emotional investment. When thinking visuals, it’s about either the graphical fidelity of a game or it’s unique aesthetics, and you can’t really blame anyone for comprehending it in that manner; we as people place our basic judgment solely on sight. With Mass Effect: Andromeda the first thing most people noticed are apparently… you guessed it: the terrible facial animations and the ugly character models (I’ll get to that later). Again, these are all valid points; a game with a budget of 40 million USD released in 2017 should look better, and patch 1.05 proves that it can be done when not rushed.
With that said, let’s talk music. I am not a musical prodigy and I have no clue what an octave or an allegretto is, but I do know what I like— what give me the “feels” and by “feels” I don’t always mean scenes that bring me to tears, or epic showdowns that pump me up. I am talking about having scores that supplement the scenes that are presented.
The original Mass Effect Trilogy had such an awesome soundtrack that I still listen to it up to this day. Andromeda however has such forgettable music… I am not sure if it’s the sound mixing, but most of the time I barely hear anything, it’s harsh stillness that surrounds my journey. Some might appreciate the stillness but to me it feels less impactful especially since the original trilogy had such a memorable track that did an excellent job in paving the way for a new world with its heavy synths and beats that gave this surreal cosmic setting its own personality.
THE GENERAL TONE
I don’t like it. Perhaps it’s not for me, as I generally enjoy a deep layer of seriousness to my space-operas. With ME:A nevertheless, they went ahead and chose to make it a lighthearted thrill ride… or so they think. My experience however gave me the impression that the stakes don’t feel high, and the implicative consequences tend to have no weight to them. Every character I encounter just seems to not really care about what’s happening around them even though life threatening event are creeping in— they just joke around and don’t take anything seriously, as if the writers purposefully gave the game an improvisational tone to it. Each dialogue exchange seems like a college party where people ask each other what their course is or why they chose it—joining the Andromeda Initiative would be ME:A’s equivalence.
Many reviewers spout out how much they dislike the personality of Peebee and Liam. Peebee because she’s an annoyingly perky brat, and Liam for uttering nonsense all the time just being so-so weird. What I believe these reviewers forget to mention is: their loyalty missions are compelling. It gives insight to their true personality rather than the first impressions, I mean, sometimes you choose a crew member, and you stick with them for the entirety of the game, ignoring the others in the process.
Despite discovering the layers in each character’s personality, I still firmly accept that the tone is misplaced, and by the time you actually start caring it’s already too late. Fans waited half a decade for the new game and they deserve a bit more. The crew members in the game are receiving late-game loyalty mission cutscene that act as tributes even though it doesn’t feel well-deserved at this point.
GAMEPLAY STRUCTURE AND PACING
Gameplay-wise this is probably my biggest complaint. To keep it concise, I feel that switching between narrative development and gameplay is way too far apart and contained which evokes a strong sense of dissonance. You spend about an hour in cutscenes and dialogues, and about 4-6 hours running around an empty planet killing the same enemies and picking up/scanning collectibles you don’t care about. If it wasn’t for the combat’s fast paced action and the fluid verticality, the game might have been an incredibly boring experience.
The exploration aspect is what Mass Effect 1 should have been back in 2007 but for 2017 this needs to teem with more encounters and events. Something which Witcher 3 and Fallout/Skyrim accomplishes way better. Getting from point A to B shouldn’t feel like a chore, it should give the illusion of an evocative journey, unfortunately with ME:A it feels like a stage select screen that takes minutes of repetitive dashing and jumping because walking or driving eventually becomes mind numbing due to the fact that it’s extremely rare for something to happen in between your travels. It doesn’t help that less important quests don’t even warrant a cinematic camera angle for dialogues, it just locks the camera in a certain direction removing any sense of captivation.
LACK OF NARRATIVE CHOICES
The paragon-renegade system in the original Mass Effect was nothing original but at least it warranted discussions in forums on how each individual player progressed through the story, either as a divine symbol of justice and compassion, or as a bad cop (or even in between). The decisions helped build character but more importantly it gave a sense of freedom of expression, and the power to shape events. In ME:A they opted to remove the system completely and reduced the dialogue to either being straightforward or witty, which in turn feels limiting considering that your character devolves into a “Yes-man” who is just going along with everything as opposed to saying “hold on! wait a minute—“ and decides to things his/her way.
Few argue that simplifying the dialogue wheel, gives the story a sense of nuance and grayness that adds depth to the game’s morality, that not caring about good or bad side points makes it more human and subtle— but what good is that if most characters around you don’t take things seriously.
PANDERING TO THE SJW CULTURE
For those who are not familiar with SJWs or Social Justice Warriors, it’s a current on-going global movement that possess ideals that include…well, inclusivity, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, in fact inclusivity is always generally a good thing. They are known to push their hardline liberal beliefs beyond political arguments and onto popular mediums such as: comic books, movies, and of course videogames. BioWare was always a progressive company even allowing gay character romance in one of their previous title known as Jade Empire (2005), but it never overshadowed its main goal when telling a story.
While I am partially neutral to the SJW’s viewpoints I do not appreciate it when agendas at times take priority over artistic vision. During the development of ME:A there were many rumors that surrounded the game—yes I am aware that rumors are rumors, but the effects are apparent on the final product.
Some of them are:
Intentionally making characters ugly for equality – they later defended this by saying it makes the game more realistic by doing so, even though I wouldn’t call having space powers, giant aliens, and weird fish heads walking around as “realistic”.
Outsourcing to a cheaper animation studio – while outsourcing is common practice in business, the animators did a terrible job at animating faces for the characters faces. The most insulting thing about it though, is again the mention of exclusivity (their workforce can’t be all men, it needs more women and/or a diverse crew). Again, nothing wrong with exclusivity, but if it compromises the quality of the project then be ready for a community backlash on your shortcomings.
Hiring an anti-white writer– Manveer Heir or King Curry Thunder, was notorious for always tweeting ludicrous statement towards white people that enraged the community. These tweets weren’t too bad in my opinion, but the fact they preached equally towards all races, made people think of him as a racist hypocrite which ultimately alienated many people from buying this game. This didn’t go well, in fact, BioWare let go of him shortly after.
Hainly Abrams – is a transgender character in ME:A that apparently wasn’t handled well enough by Bioware. The LGBT community took offense for the careless and shallow way the character was written. This is exactly why pandering doesn’t work, it’s okay to include some ideologies but the moment you make it a big deal (especially something so controversial) you are bound to tick off a group of people. Ironically, the people BioWare tried to please are the ones who got offended.
There you have it! My 5 reasons why Mass Effect: Andromeda falls short. Now you are probably wondering, did I even like the game? To be frank, well I am a diehard fan, so yeah, I did like it. Sorta. It’s far from perfect and the issues really stick out like a sore thumb (or face, hah!), yet I kept coming back to it. Perhaps I am justifying my purchase since AAA titles are pricey as opposed to indie games or maybe I am just biased since I am a fan of sci-fi in general, but contemplation has led me to believe that perhaps BioWare and EA will learn from this and deliver a better sequel (Dice’s Star Wars Battlefront 2 looks promising).
With that said, I suppose that’s what it’s like to be a diehard fan after all, right? You keep hoping for the better, until you either get what you wished for, or you move on to something else because it isn’t worth believing in anymore since it lies in shambles. If you despise everything about Mass Effect: Andromeda, yet consider the original trilogy to be a masterpiece or tour de force in gaming, then remember, you can always replay those games. They will forever be there.
DISCLAIMER: Everything written in this article is purely subjective.