Let’s face it, there’s been little doubt Bioware has problems, not since Mass Effect: Andromeda was released. From some of the worst facial animations I’ve seen on a game from that studio (you have to go back to long before the original Mass Effect to find them) to news the Montreal studio was being shut down and merged with a new EA studio in the same town, Mass Effect fans have been wondering what the future of the franchise might be.
A week or so ago, it seemed fairly certain the studio was abandoning at least ME:A, if not the entire franchise. There came the announcement that there would be no single player dlc. Oh, they’d continue supporting the multi-player platform but fans wondered for how long. Bioware announced the remaining contracted books would come out but, let’s face it, that doesn’t exactly thrill the hardcore gamer. We want games to play in the Mass Effect universe and we want the questions left hanging in ME:A answered, either on our consoles or on our PCs, not in a book or graphic novel. We want to PLAY the game, not read it. The books are fine, as tie-ins. Not as substitutions.
And yes, I get the irony of a writer saying that.
Now, there is a small glimmer of hope for the future of the franchise. Casey Hudson, the man behind the success of the original Mass Effect Trilogy, has returned to Bioware as its general manager. I, for one, cheered when I first heard the news. When he left Bioware several years ago, I was concerned about how ME:A would fare. Between that and the game being shipped over to Montreal for development instead of staying with the originating studio worried me and, it appears, with good reason.
That said, I liked ME:A, despite its problems — and there were a slew of them. Note, liked it but didn’t love it and I loved the original trilogy. I enjoyed Andromeda’s combat system and the ability to switch between combat profiles on the fly. But a good combat system doesn’t make up for the lack of a compelling story, nor does it overcome lousy animations. Not in what should have been a premier game.
Last night, I sat down after finishing work and decided to play for a few minutes. As I noted in my earlier post, I’ve been replaying the Dishonored series in preparation for Dishonored: Death of the Insider. But I wasn’t in the mood for stealth and decided to start a replay of the original Mass Effect Trilogy. As I did, I found myself thinking about why I keep going back to ME. What is it that calls to me as a gamer? And, other than the animation/visuals, what about ME:A doesn’t call as much to me?
From the beginning of the first Mass Effect game, you knew there was something at stake. You knew the bad guy you fought was just the prelude and so much more was at stake than your own life or the survival of your ship and crew. There was an urgency in Mass Effect that built through ME 2 and culminated in ME 3. (We will forget about the ending of ME 3, which I still think is a cop-out)
But there is more to it. From the very start of Mass Effect, while you are watching the introductory scenes, you get a feel for Commander Shepherd. You know there is a history there, one you want to explore. It doesn’t matter which backstory you choose. You already know something about Shep and you want to find out more about it and you want to know how it will impact the game ahead.
You don’t have that with ME:A. All you know at first is there has been a colonization effort launched prior to the end of the original trilogy — something we never heard of before. That bothered me because, in the middle of a war where the players know that to lose means the extinction of all sentient life, there should have been some mention of plans to send people out of the galaxy in the hopes of saving civilization that way. But nope, no mention of.
The real problem, in my mind, with Andromeda is that Ryder, whether you play as Scott or Sarah, isn’t compelling. Sure, Ryder is thrust into the role of Pathfinder when Alec Ryder, the father, is killed. Until then, Ryder is simply another member of the Pathfinder team, not even the second-in-command. What you wind up getting is on the job training of your Pathfinder but in a very Mary Sue way because nothing goes wrong. Oh, there are evil aliens that want to rule the Andromeda sector but there are no missions that fail. No side quests, at least that I recall, where you can fail to rescue someone or something and that, in turn, has an impact on what happens next.
Since Andromeda came out, I’ve played the game twice. Once as Scott and once as Sarah. It was fun but it doesn’t rank up there as the great game it could have been. I said in an earlier review of Andromeda that the biggest mistake Bioware made was in calling this a Mass Effect game. I understand they wanted to cash in on the franchise but all they wound up doing is damaging the franchise, possibly fatally.
It takes more than having a character dressed in N7 armor or having a few recordings of fan favorite Liara to make this a Mass Effect-worthy game. Easter eggs like opening the right dialog boxes to reference Miranda Lawson aren’t enough either. There was a feel, a sense to Mass Effect that is missing in Andromeda. Bioware didn’t want another Commander Shepherd. That was their biggest mistake. This game needed a hero. Instead, it got an intern trying to step into daddy’s shoes and doing so without ever stumbling.
Nope, that’s not the way to do it.
We knew from the beginning that the Ryder, brother and sister, would live. We knew they would find someplace for their “Arc” to dock or land. We knew they would fight the bad guys and prove they belonged in Andromeda. And we never got the feel of being in peril we got from Saren or Sovereign in the first game. We never had a manipulator like the Illusive Man in ME2 and ME3. We never doubted we would win out.
What does this mean for the future of Mass Effect? With Hudson back at the helm of Bioware, not all hope is lost. He has tweeted that he would like to explore the universe again. But that most definitely isn’t the news the fans want. We want to know there will be a new game, one worthy of the first three. There is potential with ME:A. It was dropped due to poor management, poor design decisions, outsourcing to under-qualified designers and programmers. We’ll not even talk about the writing. But the potential for future GOOD games in the ME:A universe is there or Bioware could do what some fans have wanted since the end of ME3 — it could go into the future of the Milky Way or allied space and show us what’s happened and how everyone managed to come back from the destruction of the war.
Heck, it could pick up from the one ending where there was a glimmer of hope Shepherd was still alive.
One this is certain, if Bioware drops the ball again with a game like ti did with ME:A, the studio will be in serious trouble. Gamers can forgive a great deal but they can’t forgive bad game after bad game. We have long and vengeful memories at times.