Mass Effect: Andromeda – A Retrospective

There’s an old saying that I’m sure you’ve heard before. It goes something like “don’t cry because it is over, be happy that it happened” (I’m sure I’m not getting the exact phrasing right, but you get the idea). Sadly, in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda, fans of the Mass Effect series have struggled to find much about Andromeda to be happy with after having played it, and now it’s already looking like the series has come to an end, at least for the time being. Looking back on my own time with Andromeda, I have bittersweet memories of what I experienced, and yet I can’t help but feel sadness at the thought that I might never get to play a new Mass Effect game.

To put it plainly, I’m not happy with how Mass Effect: Andromeda turned out, but I’m also not happy that, rather than try and build upon Andromeda’s bright spots, Electronic Arts and BioWare are instead just shelving the franchise for the foreseeable future.

An Uphill Battle

As I said before, I was not impressed by Andromeda upon first playing it. The single-player campaign’s story eventually grew on me (though I could have done without all the needless plodding across planets), but in many regards (especially the game’s multiplayer component), it felt like a noticeable step backwards from the high bar of quality that was set with the earlier Mass Effect games, Mass Effect 3 in particular.

I remember my emotions after having spent my first few hours with Andromeda being a mixture of anger and hopelessness. “This is what BioWare thought would be a worthy follow-up to Mass Effect 3?” I thought, “Did BioWare honestly expect fans to be ok with such a shoddy game?” It wasn’t even the infamously bad facial animations or constant glitches I had a problem with (though they certainly didn’t help). It was the fact that the multiplayer remained virtually unchanged from its Mass Effect 3 incarnation, it was the laughably bad melee combat system, it was the realization that I had waited five long years for a game that felt like it had been developed in less than eight months.

Over time, my anger eventually faded and, as I mentioned before, I actually ended up liking Andromeda’s story campaign for the most part. I even found the multiplayer component to be tolerable, though I mainly stuck with it because it is one of the few dedicated options I have being a player who prefers co-op multiplayer over competitive. Then I read this in-depth look from Kotaku’s Jason Schreier into the many obstacles and hurdles BioWare faced while making Andromeda, and I realized that the game’s shortcomings weren’t due to laziness on BioWare’s part, they were due to circumstances beyond BioWare’s control, circumstances that included major late-game re-scopes, difficulties in adapting to a new console generation, an extremely compressed development timeline, and, of course, the dreaded crunch.

According to Schreier’s article, Andromeda may have taken five years to make, but a large bulk of what ended up in the game’s final version was constructed within an 18-month period. I felt guilty over my previous anger. Of course the team at BioWare didn’t intend to make a shoddy game, they just did the best with the circumstances they were given. It wasn’t laziness that did Andromeda in, it was enthusiasm that soon morphed into over-ambition (at one point the game was set to have hundreds of procedurally-generated planets for the player to explore), communication issues that took months to resolve, and, undoubtedly, constant pressure from EA to adhere to a strict timeline so that the game would be ready by its announced release date.

Lost in Space

At launch, Mass Effect: Andromeda was a disaster to be sure, but BioWare pledged to make things right, and in many regards it did. Massive post-launch patches for the game fixed the facial animation issues, squashed bugs, smoothed out textures, and made the overall experience much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, whether it was due to the overwhelming backlash received from fans, poor sales numbers, or a combination of the two, Electronic Arts and BioWare decided to shelve Andromeda and seemingly abandon whatever plans it had for expanding the core game via single-player DLC.

Fellow GameCrate writer Christopher Atwood recently discussed how single-player DLC could have been exactly what Andromeda needed to redeem itself in the eyes of fans, which makes its apparent cancellation an even more bitter pill to swallow. It’s never easy accepting the loss of something you care about, even if that thing is a beloved game series which suffered from a noticeable yet totally fixable misstep. I’ll do my best to enjoy my time with Andromeda for the time being, and I’ll even hold out hope that it isn’t the end of the line for the Mass Effect franchise. But deep down, I’ll always remember that even a series as beloved as Mass Effect isn’t safe from a perfect storm of disasters and fumbles. One need look no further than Mass Effect: Andromeda for proof of that.