05 June 2017

Promise Lost ~ A Reflection on 'Mass Effect: Andromeda'

Enough of the eagerness and euphoria has left my bloodstream that I can look at Mass Effect: Andromeda a little more objectively. If I were to write a review today, I would align myself with those who gave the game a 7/10. By my rating system, that'd be about 3.5/5. Regardless of whether people think it's a good score or not, I cannot condone the gaming industry's skewed and bullshit re-interpretation of ratings for games, and I condemn the bombardment of low ratings from players who hate the superficial faults and call the entire game a dumpster fire based on said shallow nitpicks. Also, a budget of $40 million isn't that much money in the realm of AAA games, especially when this industry is getting so massive that Hollywood will soon be sweating bullets. Mass Effect: Andromeda's problems vastly eclipse quantitative numbers regarding finances and "five years".

THAT SAID. I may still say I love this game in many ways, but when I wake up and smell the coffee this game is a disappointment. Mass Effect: Andromeda took the franchise one step forward and two steps back for a variety of reasons more harmful than "bad animations". And above all, I fear the way Bioware will address these problems, much like every single major developer in the AAA market has done for almost a decade. Now that the Bioware Montreal team which worked on Andromeda is being downsized, my fears are coming true.

Without a doubt, this series deserves better that what we got, but I want to pick at the miniscule specs of gold that is worth preserving and improving upon.

Here there be some SPOILERS.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a two-pronged blade where with every positive point there is a negative to its back that intimidates some, confuses others, and infuriates the rest. I hate to give the game such a backhanded compliment, but seeing the beautiful intertwined with the ugly at every turn allowed me to embrace it more than the average player. I did not expect Mass Effect: Andromeda to stand taller than the original trilogy; I avoided much of the hype to dampen my excitement and diminish some of the inevitable disappointment. With this approach, my frustrations did not last long enough to go on a ranting rampage despite my willingness to call out this game on its worst sins.

One thing that never failed to calm me was the menu theme, "A Better Beginning". Mass Effect: Andromeda's soundtrack does not stack up to the original trilogy's, but the music does capture the serenity of the beautiful new worlds, the chaos of combat, and the wistful cries of what could have been with more time, more effort, more resources, more of whatever magic failed to keep this game from suffering the backlash it endured. This game provided me hours to escape the real world and from work, and it helped me recover from the insanity of 2016. Sometimes just sitting there and allowing myself to bask in the menu theme for an hour eased whatever stress I had from the day or week. It's not the best piece of music - long, slow atmospheric pieces tend to bore me usually - but because it embodies the anxiety of exploring a new galaxy and struggling against several rough starts with no backup from home, I would place this in the same league as Shin Megami Tensei IV's menu theme in terms of warming up for the true meat of the game.

Graphically, Mass Effect: Andromeda also swallowed me whole. The transitions between planets and systems are brilliant ideas in theory, and on numerous occasions I simply let them play out. The sense of movement allowed me to better ease myself into the new world. While I enjoyed it, the fact the transitions were cutscenes rather than clever ways to mask loading times and that they were unskippable until the very first patch shows a level of incompetent oversight that baffles anyone with common sense. Once my mood improved over time, I joined the rest of the world in skipping them, albeit less often than the average player.

Similarly, side quests I once did not mind pursuing on my first run were quickly abandoned on my second playthough. Part of me wishes to attempt a 100% run, but I burned myself out rather quickly, and I struggled to get back into the game when I needed to write out this post. (I even lost motivation to stream, though the infamous "anything past 7/7 and you get copyright-striked out the ass" relating to Persona 5 further dissuaded me.) Completing my third run will happen, and the past few patches give me more of a reason to notice all of the minor improvements, but Mass Effect: Andromeda just barely handles its open world, narrative, and player choice juggling better than Dragon Age Inquisition.

Yes, I still cannot review this game. I have never finished my Mass Effect 3 review as of this post, and I want to wrap it up before I jump onto Andromeda. Part of the severely long delay is due to burning myself out with Mass Effect along with real life anxieties preventing me from writing. Taking in much of the criticism of Andromeda did not boost my mood either as Youtube persistently threw more and more videos of people acknowledging the same superficial flaws over and over again. Rather than contribute to the homogenous celebration and memorialization of this game's failures, I figured it was best to simply remain silent and keep my opinions locked in my head.

But I keep needing the reminder that keeping things in a bottle and never allowing it to leak out will cause the pent-up energy to burst free and decimate the area. Thus, this post is here.

While contemplating my feelings for this game, I picked up the prequel novel in audiobook form to see if it brings anything to the main story to give it additional flavor. Besides fleshing out a few important side characters we meet on several occasions on the Nexus and providing some belly-aching comedy over how incompetent the Nexus' leaders truly are... it added nothing to the dangling plotlines that serve as the ultimate failure of Mass Effect: Andromeda's narrative. Old troubles and issues persist from the original trilogy, which spits in the face of Mass Effect 3, but I could forgive them if this game tried to explore the old conflicts with twists and subtleties that shine a new light on the old races we fell in love with since the first game. Unfortunately, Mass Effect: Andromeda serves as a "greatest hits" compilation and offers the same old polished material with new undercooked knock-offs of the old material with the unsatisfying promise of future payoff.

Due to the re-treaded territory and the relatively passable arcs regarding the angara, the kett, and the Remnant, Mass Effect: Andromeda doesn't feel fresh until the very end. The game plays as one long prologue to a fantastic game that never had the chance to bloom due to fear, executive meddling, a dreadfully inexperienced staff, or some other depressing factor that dragged this game into its "abysmal" 7/10 average score.

The characters try their damnedest. The voice actors are trying their hardest despite the inconsistent script and questionable direction. And with each patch, the animators are busting their asses trying to put bandages on coding and systems that probably just don't work well in the eighth generation on consoles on top of the graphical hiccups that no amount of texture polish could fully salvage. With enough patience I can endure the majority of the game's ugliness; a beautiful dish is fine in all, but if I taste it and hate it, that will trump aesthetics every single time. As much as I want to say the content of this meal makes up for the seesaw that is Mass Effect: Andromeda's art design and graphics, this game lacks the ambition needed to win the hearts of the average Mass Effect fan, who already had high expectations from the trilogy and many bruises after the third game's disaster of a ending.

If you take nothing else from everything you hear about this game, know that the combat is blessed with the sturdiest backbone when it should be the story and characters. The characters stand well despite so many odds against them including only having one installment to appear, develop, and evolve, but they all have fundamental flaws that prevent them from being great. Liam is lacking a whole chunk of a character arc, which leaves him with no material for the last third of the game. Cora has the opposite problem; she starts off weak and ends on a stronger note even with her mediocre loyalty mission that diverts attention from her to the asari instead. Drack barely squeaks out of Wrex's and Grunt's shadows at the last possible minute, and reaching Peebee's arc is a trial when several side quests on several planets locked behind a story progression wall makes her feel even more distant than Liam at times. In the end only Vetra and Jaal have their stories be told in a way that feels well paced and meaningful from beginning to end.

Yeah. Jaal grew on me. And I romanced him. I am perfectly willing and able to admit when my first impressions were super-duper wrong. Not sure if I'd romance him again or call his a favorite, but I did appreciate a minor detail in the end regarding fanservice that made me want to give the person in Bioware who came up with the idea a hug. Whatever did go down behind the scenes, it made me forgive them for that random scene with Liam that I still don't understand why it exists.

"Heh, heh. 'Go down'."
I can list other side characters and the Tempest's crew, and they have enough charm for me to want to see them again. Lexi, Reyes, Suvi, Gil, and Kesh stood out despite their limited narrative involvement, and I can confidently say their voice actors helped more than anything. While the Moshae and Evfra are some of my favorite among the angara, too many of their kind look and sound so similar to each other that I wonder if Bioware only hired three men and three women to voice all the secondary angara. This is also true with the asari, most of whom now have British accents for some inexplicable reason, and them all having the same face infuriates me more than the bad animations. Glitches happen unexpectedly in a variety of ways, but lazy art design is purposeful and displays incompetence.

So, yes. This game possesses several fundamentally broken gears that will never be repaired no matter how many bandages and buckets of oil you purchase. I take no joy in admitting it.

At least banter is another improvement over
DAI and the original trilogy.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a mess. It pulls me in and pushes me away like clockwork. Feeling heat and cold while playing the game is frustrating because despite keeping my expectations low, by limiting hype exposure, by accepting that Shepard, Garrus, Liara, Tali, the Normandy, Anderson, Miranda, Mordin, the original trilogy's gang, and their stories are forever sealed in polished finish, I still feel disappointed. Despite acknowledging that the maps are much more compact and dense than in Dragon Age Inquisition, that crafting no longer requires picking up truckloads of space elfroot, that more sidequests have cinematics and world building for the angara and the kett, I still feel some dread for the gameplay. I still wish the main story was more than building a foundation to a home I was expected to own when I signed the contract. While I don't regret preordering the game, I know I will never indulge in that practice with Bioware or EA again thanks to how sloppily Andromeda was delivered.

Sadly, your expectations of this game must be set pretty low to embrace it with open arms. Given it took a while for EA to admit how many units sold, along with some of my friends dropping the game for a month after some of the patches broke their files, I don't blame anyone for steering clear of this car crash. Add on the teasing for future DLC and sequels to solve three or four mysteries that game could not be assed to satisfactorily introduce and enchant the player with and you have the epitome of capitalist, corporate greed exploiting art and their customers in the name of the bottom line.

Fuck you, EA. Fuck you for strangling Mass Effect and then punishing us for your fuck ups. You already killed The Sims, and now I have to watch Mass Effect fall apart before my very eyes. More than ever, I dread the new Bioware IP and I am especially horrified for Dragon Age 4. And I am such a dumbass for giving a company with no heart and no humanity any kind of benefit of the doubt.

This is all the energy I have for now. The more I think about this game, its reception, and what it could have been, I want to crawl back to Persona 5 and vent out my anger by playing a vigilante. Once enough time passes and I can better examine the game from a critical eye, I will deliver a review of Mass Effect: Andromeda that I can be confident of. Fixing up my abandoned ME3 review might help me re-organize my thoughts.

... I need something to make me happier. Anything. Something I can talk about that will put a smile on my face --


Oh superior being(s), please, no.



 I'll do it if only to see more color, energy, and life in characters with 1/1000th of the screen time as the average person in Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Maybe this will also cure my agonizing angst over Yusuke not being a love interest. I'm mad at you too, Atlus.

Also, it's depressing that Mass Effect: Andromeda takes comedic cues from the "Citadel" DLC in ME3 and yet it still looks and feels so drab, bleak, and empty.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...