Since its release Mass Effect Andromeda has been subject to much scrutiny due to the obvious in game animation fiasco and subsequent announcement that Bioware has placed the series on hold but was the game itself really to blame or were we spoiled by the success and perfection of the previous trilogy?
In recent article at Kotaku a number of Bioware employees have opened up about Mass Effect Andromeda’s troubled development. Take a look through the article its a great read, here I break down the main points but I want to dive into whether Andromeda ever really stood a chance anyway?
It’s recently been admitted that Mass Effect Andromeda suffered quite a development cycle with the game going through several different iterations before the game we actually got to play was settled upon, in fact if the reports are to be believed the current game actually only took about 18 months to develop, no wonder the facial animations and dialogue was so bad…
According to the report the original idea of Mass Effect Andromeda was a “No Man’s Sky” like procedurally generated galaxy where you could explore and exploit each planet you came across but this turned out to be more of a problem technically for the team than they had originally envisioned and the game was reworked into what we eventually got to play. It has to be said that the Bioware Montreal team who took over the series were only used previously for DLC and this was the studio’s first full project. Andromeda was also the first Mass Effect without the director Casey Hudson at the helm who moved on shortly after Mass Effect 3 released.
So with all this happening before Andromeda even released did the game stand a chance at being successful? Well short answer yes and long answer no in my opinion. First let’s see why the game should be successful and the biggest asset Andromeda had was the Mass Effect name and the legacy that came with it. The original Mass Effect trilogy will go down in gaming history as quite frankly one of the greatest(if not the greatest) gaming trilogies ever released. The fan base that Mass Effect has pretty much guarantees a healthy release in terms of initial sales but it also brings with it the weight of that name (more on that later).
Also the game made many improvements on the original games not in the least with the incredibly honed combat that Andromeda brought to the table. We were introduced to an improved morality and dialogue system along with an almost perfect co op multiplayer mode lifted straight from Mass Effect 3. If you could overlook the facial animations debacle Andromeda had the potential to be an incredible game in its own right.
Andromeda had all the building blocks to be a truly great game even with its development hell the work carried out by the team in those 18 months has to be commended despite the fact the game could have done with another few months in the cooker before going to retail.
But here in lies the long answer as to why Andromeda was doomed from the start.
The first answer is well…the Mass Effect brand. I know …I know but wasn’t this a big advantage for Andromeda? Well it was and it wasn’t you see as with any great brand it’s a double edged sword where you can either do a better job than those who came before or forever be called a great pretender. Unfortunately Andromeda was just not up to the task to take on Commander Shepard and the original trilogy. This is by no means a bad thing I have always said the original Mass Effect games are the pinnacle of story driven gaming, the fact Andromeda attempted to recreate that is a success in itself but it was never going to take those games from the hearts of diehard fans, me included.
Secondly the technical issues that Bioware and EA allowed the game to release with is quite simply unforgivable and shortsighted. The game had a pre release allowing us to play the first ten hours before buying and let’s face it that was a huge miscalculation by EA. I still remember just how badly the animations and glitches were taken the piss out off on social media and in the gaming press and then utter lack action taken by EA or Bioware to fix these problems.
Infact when it comes to the animations the much hyped up Frostbite engine just couldn’t handle the character animations and the game plowed through several animation software packages before the team finally settled on using Maya, this is after a large amount of animations were made using a previous software.
Theres also the admittance that during the development the team was constantly advising that the team was to small and that they just could not bring together the original vision of the game’s procedurally generated world while delivering the signature Mass Effect story.
And lastly the release window itself. Andromeda went up against Ghost Recon:Wildlands, an incredibly anticipated title with arguably a much more wider appealing base than Andromeda has. Mass Effect still sold more units that week but it was still less than the release of Mass Effect 3 which surprised EA(god knows why). On top of all that the game had already been pushed back from the originally slated Q4 2016 window meaning EA missed the holiday rush.
Basically every issue Mass Effect Andromeda suffered could have been solved by EA and Bioware pushing back the release date and allowing the team time to solve the issues the game had. The game could have also benefited from having a project manager with a clear vision for the game from start to finish. Now whether this would have even been possible I don’t know. I’ve worked in game development and the time constraints a publisher puts on a team can be counterproductive at times so things have to be prioritized which is probably why the animations were so awful.
Unfortunately this is a common problem in the games industry at the moment with games becoming increasingly more expensive to develop and publishers seemingly putting more and more pressure on developers there’s a chance this will become so much more common. We have already seen calamities with games launching and multiplayer servers simply not being up to the task and issues found in betas still not being ironed out by release date. Andromeda was just the latest in a long line of screwed up releases.
This all begs the question of where to go now with the franchise? It’s clear Andromeda was not meant to be a standalone game and Bioware has already said it will continue to support the game with updates and multiplayer player add ons, DLC is still up in the air as anyone who has completed the story knows there is a clear set up for a fifth Ark to enter the storyline. Bioware have said that Bioware Montreal will now be dedicated to supporting other games and the Mass Effect franchise has been “put on hold”.
I personally hope Bioware and EA decide to complete the Andromeda games they have started. The more personal story that the Ryder twins presented felt more natural than the entire galaxy is at threat doomsday scenario of the original trilogy. Andromeda has serious potential as a trilogy but it needs the right team to develop it. At this moment though it’s clear that a new Mass Effect game is some ways off and EA and Bioware are not doing themselves any favors by keeping us in the dark about the franchise’s future.