Mass Effect Andromeda is here. Unless you’ve been sent to another galaxy in a massive ark, you know that by now. The internet has been abuzz with chatter about Bioware’s latest entry into their much loved and occasionally maligned franchise.
What are they talking about? The plot? The adventure of exploring a new galaxy? The difficulties of writing a story that doesn’t involve Shepard and neatly sidesteps the mess that was the consistently retconned ending of Mass Effect 3? No, none of that. All talk is about facial animations.
Do not adjust your monitor, smartphone or VR device. That’s right, I said facial animations. However, that’s not all that fans and haters alike are pissed off about. Glitches, weird graphical mishaps, and walking animations that seem to be mo-capped by actors and actresses who have just crapped their pants.
How much you care about that sort of stuff may affect how you feel about my words, but here’s a weird thing, Mass Effect Andromeda, for all intents and purposes, is a good game, maybe even a great one. However, all press is focusing on animation jank. In many ways, it’s a game that has been hurt by its colossal budget, rather than aided.
Most reports circulating around the web put the budget of the game in the forty million dollars range, and it’s been in development for a purported five years or so. With all that time and money, it’s bizarre that it feels like a game that’s been rushed. It’s nearly impossible to make your player character not look like a weird, fish mouthed alien/human hybrid and animation glitches are abound. If anything, Bioware’s facial and character models seem to have taken a step backwards from Dragon Age: Inquisition.
It’s hard, but cast your mind back to the first Mass Effect title. It was a rough and ready attempt to build a compelling sci-fi RPG with a brilliant mix of character development and action orientated combat. Success half depended on invisible “dice rolls”, and your own prowess with a weapon and management of your squad. There were a lot of horrible menus, useless cluttered loot, and a plethora of animation and graphical jank, but even still, the game was a barnstorming success.
Mass Effect 2 and 3 went further down the route of action; in many ways streamlining the RPG systems for the better despite many fan’s protests. Despite this, bigger budgets, 2 and 3 had their own jank, they had their own cheesy moments and glitches. That didn’t matter; there was fantastic gameplay, a compelling story, and a huge universe of side quests and sci-fi that was a sheer joy to explore.
This is where Andromeda shoots itself in the foot. The budget and development time doesn’t seem to have been spent anywhere in particular. The game’s planetary vistas look great, but in moment to moment scenes, it doesn’t look a whole lot better than Dragon Age: Inquisition, and only moderately improved versus Mass Effect 3. Maybe that’s my rose tinted spectacles doing the talking for me, but still, there’s nothing here that screams forty frickin million dollars to me.
These days, gamers are picky we constantly see triple A titles being released as broken messes, with day one patches in the range of forty gigs or more. Andromeda doesn’t drastically re-write the formula or offer any gameplay or storytelling experiences that made you think the money has been well spent. There’s nothing here that other games haven’t done equally as good, or actually better. Andromeda wins in how it pulls it all together, but where did the time and money go?
It’s another Mass Effect game, a great one, but it’s from EA, the much hated evil overlords of the gaming world. It popped up with roughly fifty different special editions, it was offering the ability to buy season passes and micro transactions before it was even released… like every other Triple A title we’ve seen in the last five years or so.
It launched with an easy target painted on its poorly animated back. The hate of Mass Effect Andromeda is emblematic of hate for all games with giant budgets from behemoth publishers. These games keep landing as rough, rushed messes delivered with glitches, game breaking bugs, and a series of hooks to try and get you to buy season passes, spend money on in game tat, and pre-order to play early.
Great franchises are being destroyed by the money they’re given. They’re hyped to oblivion with teaser trailers and teasers for teasers and pre-order bonuses and double experience boosts on cans of crap energy drink. By the game arrives, we’re all so sick of two hundred dollar Ultimate Special Unicorn Deluxe Editions and trailers and self-inflated hype that we’re ready to pounce on every little detail and tear it to shreds.
It’s fair enough. If you want sixty bucks from me for a game, plus another forty for a season pass, plus a few dollars here and there to boost my way through your tacked on multiplayer mode, I am going to land on your menu screen ready to give you hell. I will tear you to shreds for the slightest indiscretion.
On the other hand, give me a beautiful little indie treat for five to ten dollars, with no DLC, no huge marketing campaign, just a small team of folks making something great, then I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Dodgy animation or graphics doesn’t matter on a shoestring budget coding from your bedroom, but if you’ve got a team of a hundred developers spending a near Hollywood level budget, get your shit together.
It’s like releasing a film to theatres where a quarter of the footage is grainy, another chunk of it is out of focus, and then the ending has to be bought with your credit card. Would you stand for it? Sure as hell you wouldn’t, so I understand, why would you with a video game when it costs so much more than a theatre ticket, when they are hyped for so much longer than this summer’s next disposable blockbuster?
Publishers; give your cash cows a little more time to graze, and you’ll see the results in spades. If doesn’t matter about the size of your budget if you don’t give developer’s the time to really make everything shine.
Gamers; don’t look down on Mass Effect as a franchise, or the team of dedicated developers behind it. Play the game, remember your fond memories of the universe, enjoy it for the good, and overlook the facial animations - they’ve always been shitty anyway.