Mass Effect Andromeda on Ice: Why Developers Shouldn’t Build Games for Sequels

SPOILER WARNING: This article will reveal, analyze and discuss several end game plot threads for both the Mass Effect Trilogy and Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Greetings, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for this site, but I thought this was a really important topic to touch upon, since it concerns a series very close to my heart, and this news seems to be getting a lot of traction lately.

There’s been a troubling trend in games developing recently concerning the push for franchises. From a business standpoint, I totally get it. Publishers don’t want to invest a ton of money and resources on a one off game experience that will only be played for so long. Instead, they favor sequel-spawning IP with cliffhangers to draw audiences in for either a new installment in a series, or countless paid DLC at the very least as an alternative. In my opinion, I think this practice only seeks to damage a game’s quality as a whole. We can talk about the pros and cons of paid DLC until we’re blue in the face, but that isn’t the heart of what I’m getting at.

So, I beat Mass Effect: Andromeda for the first time just last night. It took me quite a while to do this. Many people have already beaten the game and otherwise moved on with their lives, but I decided to take my time with it. For one, I wanted to see everything the game has to offer as bias-free as possible. I still do think a lot of the game’s hate stems from people who have never played a Bioware game before, let alone a Mass Effect. On the other hand, there was just something about it that made it feel like a chore to play. I found myself often taking breaks from it to read a book, or even exercise and actually see the light of day (God forbid). Thus leads to the crux of the matter regarding Mass Effect: Andromeda’s major issues.

ME: Andromeda’s biggest problem isn’t graphical, or bug-related. It’s narrative.

In so many ways, ME: Andromeda played it safe. Too safe. All Mass Effect fans obviously are aware of the controversy surrounding the Trilogy as a whole, and how the ending of Mass Effect 3 was lauded as one of the most polarizing endings of video game history. To be a fly on the wall in Bioware’s offices at the time would’ve been extraordinary. So much pressure from fan and publisher to clean up their mess, it’s no small wonder that they decided to proceed the way they did with a “sequel.” They were never going to please everyone.

So they played it safe. They moved the setting to a completely separate galaxy, which feels strangely similar to the old one. We’re introduced to the cardboard cutout enemy of the Kett — Reaper stand ins that are simultaneously less threatening or interesting. Harvesting is replaced with Exaltation, but the concept is the same. An unfathomable race of beings wants to take you and everyone you care about and make them into abominations. It’s Mass Effect Lite, and it doesn’t shake things up enough to feel like it matters. It FEELS like they were avoiding the ending of ME3 at all costs, so they recycled something similar to appease folks.

The Kett aren’t all that uninteresting. Despite the Archon’s completely questionable motives and logic, it’s cool to have a bad guy to sort of spar with again. It felt more akin to Saren Arterius than a Harbinger. The Primus, and her deal she proposes are also cool. I suppose it’d be nice to get some more knowledge about the Kett, and get a better understanding of their political hierarchy and what makes them tick. For the most part, they just seem like something we have the excuse to shoot.

The Angara are another place of narrative concern for me. When you think of First Contact with a new species, there’s a lot of potential drama there. A lot of opportunity to make something really interesting out of that dynamic. I feel like the ball was dropped here as well. It takes very little effort to win over this new race, and aside from looking cool, there isn’t anything really interesting about them that stands out. The council races all play second fiddle storywise compared to the Angara (obviously, since this is a new galaxy), but more often than not I found myself missing the familiar faces of Mass Effect lore. No Quarians or Drell, barely any Turians or Salarians. All of these races I found more appealing than the lovey-dovey, solar powered Angara. They had the potential to make something super interesting come out of first contact, but again they played it safe.

Even the big story revelations fall flat. You’re supposed to care that the Kett are sort of Exalted Angara. You’re supposed to care that your father died so that you may live on and carry the torch. You’re supposed to care that the Angara themselves were constructed, compared to evolving naturally. Your supposed to care that your AI kills you and brings you back. You’re supposed to care about your sibling being in a coma most of the game, and ultimately being used as a tool by the Archon. I just…didn’t really care all that much about those things.

Maybe the game isn’t all to blame. The ghost of Mass Effect 3 loomed heavily over my experience with the game. Andromeda provided just enough of a tidbit to make me hopeful for some sort of resolution or closure to all of that, but again this was dangled just out of reach to receive any meaningful payoff.

Personally, the most interesting things about Mass Effect: Andromeda are the things they didn’t include in the game. The cliffhangers. The lingering plot threads we may never get absolution for.

Did humanity survive in the Milky Way in their fight with The Reapers? This game ALMOST tells us for sure. Who is the “mysterious benefactor” that funded the Andromeda Initiative and likely killed Jien Garson before her dreams could be actualized? The game easily could’ve revealed this, but elects to present the question unanswered. What’s so special about mama Ryder, and what are the implications of her being alive and curable? Where is the Quarian Ark, and why can’t we go there? What will the Primus do with their new found dominion over the Kett? What the hell was up with that rogue AI, and why is it never mentioned again for the rest of the game? These are the most interesting parts of the game, and they were removed (or otherwise not included) to intentionally tempt players into buying further DLC or games.

This is a shady practice, and one that isn’t a first for the company. Both in Mass Effect 3 and even the well-received Dragon Age: Inquisition, players had to pay extra to get the complete experience of the game — resolving important story threads, and even locking out some of the most interesting and relevant characters behind a pay wall — so they can further stuff the proverbial coffers at EA. It creates a recipe of mistrust for the gamers, and instills a negative relationship between publisher and consumer.

It is almost arrogant for a company to purposely exclude game content from a game thinking they can sell said content later on game alone. It was because of these decisions, that a lot of the impact of ME: Andromeda fell flat. In so many ways, the game just feels incomplete. No character or story thread is really fleshed out enough to make it feel like a worthwhile, impactful experience. There’s likable things about it, sure; some of which actually improves upon the Mass Effect formula. That doesn’t make a great game, though. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a fun, and decent game. If they hadn’t played it safe, or cut out the most compelling content, it could’ve been amazing.

The saddest part about all of this is that Bioware Montreal (the fledgling young studio who made ME: Andromeda is being dispersed onto new projects from EA, according to multiple sources. The future of Mass Effect is for all intents and purposes is on ice maybe indefinitely, so we won’t even get answers to some of the most interesting questions for the series.

Morals of the story here? Don’t release a game before it’s ready. Be willing to have your developers take extra time to craft a satisfying experience that works, and isn’t riddled with bugs. Obviously playtest it more; use the community even. Alphas and Betas are invaluable learning tools for developers looking to improve their game.

Most importantly: don’t assume your game is going to be a huge, sequel-spawning hit. Focus on creating a whole, satisfying experience. Give the gamer the full game. This will make them want to come back for more and buy more of your stuff. The fact that I don’t have answers to these narrative threads, and just the general way the game has been presented despite it’s issues are more than enough to leave one jaded about your company. It’s a real bummer. I don’t want to hate Bioware or EA, and I certainly don’t want to hate Mass Effect. Mass Effect has provided me with some of the most rewarding gaming experiences of my life. It’s also been a source of immense frustration, because it’s always a stone’s throw away from being something truly special.

I’m not sure I’ll buy another Bioware game, at this point. I put a good 70 hours into ME: Andromeda, and I can’t really recall a part of the game that really stands out and makes me want to bother with a second playthrough. I even played Mass Effect 3 several times over despite hating the ending, so that’s saying something.

This should be a lesson to publishers and developers alike. At this point in the video game industry, consumers are holding things to a higher standard. In many ways, it’s unfair. Making video games is hard, and we should respect that. A little narrative effort goes a long way, though. Make every game like it’s your last opportunity in the universe you’ve built. That’s where you get something special. Also, don’t make a sequel unless you have an important and rewarding story to tell. People don’t play Mass Effect for the fun gameplay; they play it for the depth of character and engrossing story Bioware used to be known for.

I’m rambling, I know. I didn’t hate the game, I was just super let down compared to my expectations. Hopefully, this all becomes a cautionary tale for would-be game makers, and we begin to see new thrilling experiences like we know are possible.

Thanks for reading! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. For more Mass Effect related content, check this out!

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