September 24, 2021

So, final thoughts on ME: Andromeda.


So, Mass Effect: Andromeda has been effectively abandoned already.

I’ve been reading many articles over the last few weeks proclaiming that Andromeda was ‘the death knell’ for Mass Effect, that this was the title which killed the revered series dead. Except, it’s not, is it? How short a memory people have at times. Andromeda was not the death of Mass Effect; it was an exercise in ghoulish brand transplantation, lifting the moniker from a dead franchise and seeing or perhaps hoping that it would carry a game that just wasn’t quite all it was promised to be.

Let me unpack this for you.

Does anyone remember 2012? I know, five years is a long time, but it was the year that a certain game called Mass Effect 3 dropped into our laps. After two lauded previous entries, hopes were high for the third time around this universe. I can very clearly remember that… well… this didn’t turn out so well for BioWare. It’s not that it was a terrible game; quite the opposite in fact, technically and narratively it was still a strong video game. But after years of multiple choice answers to in-game events and questions, when the time came it wasn’t a promise that BioWare could deliver on. Much of the anger and frustration wasn’t even aimed specifically at any gameplay element – it was pitched squarely at the conclusion, another multiple choice event that effectively ended the trilogy in one of a few ways.

Many felt cheated. So invested where so many people that, robbed of ‘their’ ending, that frustration leeched into forums, websites and social media. I sort of understood – it was hardly the best crutch for the series to go out on – but the anger kept growing, and before long it had invaded the wider viewpoint of the series. Fans were trashing the games, shredding them, furious at the even slightest notion that all their choice was eventually for naught.

This backlash led BioWare to release a content update with “expanded endings”. As I mentioned years ago on this very blog, this wasn’t so much about expanding on the endings already there – they did, albeit superficially. But rather, they served as a means to tie up loose ends in the series. To give the franchise no-where else to go. It didn’t satisfy the critics or the fans, but the update served one very important function above all else – to kill Mass Effect. If there’s nowhere else to go… then the series just stops. The end. Game over.

Andromeda at least for me comes off as a game which could have easily been its own thing, its own brand even. That the writers involved had to put in so much effort and so much nonsense in which to distance itself from the original trilogy and make it somewhat distant enough or non-connected enough to not have any elemental choice from the original series involved in it… ahem. Sorry. Let me be more simple on that – they had to spent time, money and effort to explain why this “Mass Effect” didn’t involve anything from the original endings of the previous “Mass Effect”. At that point, one has to ask the question… why bother at all?

Of course, even without the Mass Effect moniker, I don’t think Andromeda would have been so warmly received. Much of the frustration comes from how technically lacklustre it was on launch – we’ve seen the animations, we’ve seen the backwards guns, we’ve seen the derp faces. That’s the sort of thing that would hurt any game, really (hello Assassin’s Creed!). Might it at least have been given a chance? I don’t know. We will probably never know. But this whole exercise was foolish from the outset – the fanbase which burned your trilogy conclusion in effigy was your prime target market by slapping on the Mass Effect name. A market that anyone could have pointed out was never going to be satisfied with the game as it was released. Talk about self-defeating business decisions, take a bow EA and BioWare. This ranks up there as one of the dumbest. Sure, they tore your actually decent trilogy several new and interesting bodily orifices, but they wouldn’t dare touch a half-arsed, good-enough-I-guess second-rate pretender parading itself around as a series entry, right? RIGHT?

I don’t know if its just short-term memory loss, wilful ignorance or just an attempt to deny the past. But Mass Effect died with those expanded endings. It should have died with them. They gave the franchise no room to go anywhere, because such radical endings would end up with a proper sequel having to make one of them ‘canon’; and ooh boy, that’s a can of worms that should never be opened. Which was the point, at least in my view. It booby-trapped the future of the series and, in effect, booby-trapped any attempt to wring money from the residual value of the brand name in question.

Which is why they had to go so far to put that distance in there. To bleed any more money from the series, they had to navigate around the proverbial minefield that BioWare built around the Mass Effect franchise. The end result was they had to build it in another field – readas galaxy – entirely (hence I ask, why they bothered at all). But it was never going to be enough – and it was always, always going to be judged against the original trilogy. Which was at least, aside the ending fiasco, a pretty decent sci-fi game series. I enjoyed it.

The Mass Effect brand is, in part, what killed Andromeda. Too much history, too much expectation and more importantly – too much baggage.

But hey, please keep insisting that Andromeda is what killed Mass Effect.

I’ll be over here, listening to Chumbawumba.

*sings* Do you suffer from long-term memory loss? I don’t remember…


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