As we count down the list of our top ten reviewed games this year we also wanted to include a couple of the games that we played but never got around to reviewing. First up is the game that I found completely and utterly disappointing because even though it clearly wasn’t finished they decided to release it anyway. It was supposed to be a fantastic, bold and innovative take on a well established and much loved franchise. But in the end all we got was Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Andromeda was an unfinished, uninspired mess of a game that soured the reputation of what was once a gleaming franchise. Even now, in its heavily patched state, the game is exceedingly difficult to force yourself through. If the bland, drudgery of the characters and dialogue isn’t bad enough the tiresome and never ending parade of loading times will put off even the staunchest Mass Effect fans.
I should know, I adored this series and the premise of the game was tantalisingly fascinating. For those who might have missed it, Andromeda was a story about trying to colonise the Andromeda galaxy as a kind of plan B in case Shepherd failed and the Reapers destroyed our galaxy. I loved this idea as it starts on the rather grim principle of accepting defeat and running away but that tone is contrasted nicely with the hopefulness that is implicit in boldly exploring uncharted space. Bright ideas and a whole new galaxy to explore. Mass Effect was about stopping evil aliens in a massive war but Andromeda literally could have been about anything. Unfortunately it just ended up being about fighting evil aliens in a massive war.
Now I should say that Andromeda does deserve some credit for it’s combat system. It was better than the combat in Mass Effect and many reviewers have given it a great deal of praise for this. But let’s be honest, saying that your game has better combat than Mass Effect is about as impressive as saying your game has a better story than Destiny. Ultimately if I don’t care why I’m fighting I tend not to enjoy re-living the same cover based firefights around chest high walls over and over again. Competency in gameplay does not cover for poor story telling. Only excellence can do that; and Andromeda was anything but excellent.
In terms of technical ability this game offered glitches, texture popping, crashes and the worst facial animations I have ever seen. I had to restart the game on several occasions either because the game straight up crashed or twice because certain objectives, that required interaction to progress, bugged out and would not allow me to interface. Repetitive gameplay sequences are made horrendously worse when you are literally forced to repeat them because of technical errors. There was one bonus to the terrible work done on the facial and body animations and that is that they were so bad as to be completely hilarious. Many of you will have seen the Andromeda animation memes but for me the ultimate example of the incompetence of the developers is in a scene where a character literally brandishes a gun that’s facing the wrong way. Quite something, even if it was early footage.
So how did this happen? How did a game franchise that set the tone for character and dialogue crash so spectacularly to the ground? Well the easiest explanation is that Andromeda was handled by a different studio to the rest of the series. Bioware Montreal was a new team, given the Mass Effect title to work on while the original Mass Effect team went on to work on other projects. Inexperience may have had something to do with it but perhaps the worst problems for the team came from the internal instability that saw several key members leave during production. Losing the director, lead writer and editor can be a crippling blow to production for any studio. But Bioware Montreal had even bigger problems.
The actual theory behind the game’s design was changed drastically during production. An unfortunately large amount of time and resources were devoted to making the planetary exploration element of the game work on a procedurally generated system. Unfortunately the developers learned far too late that this was a much too complicated idea to fit into a narrative based game and even if that was manageable they did not have the technical resources or talents to actually construct interesting environments that were randomly generated.
So with huge design decisions being scrapped halfway through the development cycle it’s no surprise that the product that they eventually scrambled to make was a very rushed, very ropey game. The tone was ridiculously contrived, at times feeling like a Saturday morning cartoon. But really the biggest disappointment has to be the incredibly boring use of the huge opportunity a new galaxy offered. Mass Effect used the concept of a mysterious, ancient race with advanced technology to form the building blocks of its narrative. It was pretty depressing to arrive in the Andromeda galaxy and go through the exact same thing on the first planet we land on. Not particularly inspired.