Overdosing in the Void: Andromeda and The Disease of More

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Posted by Nodima (2602 posts) -

First of all, apologies for using the phrase "disease of more" in the title of two blogs in a row. Unfortunately I find the phrase applies to so many variations of an idea you otherwise can't articulate - or don't hear argued for - that often: the idea that something can be so good it's bad. As a brief refresher for those unfamiliar with the phrase, it's meant to explain how successful/championship level sports teams manage to become worse without any significant changes to their character other than having previously reached the height of achievement in their sport.

Now, it's reasonable to argue Bioware, unlike Rockstar San Diego, had already experienced this phenomenon prior to Andromeda's release. Mass Effect 3 sacrificed clever, character-driven storytelling in favor of satisfying the series' intimidating premise that a trilogy of games would conclude with tailored responses to all of the questions you'd answered. I've never played the Dragon Age series, but my impression of those games is: the second had a lukewarm reception overall, and Inquisition featured much of the content creep that defines Andromeda's worst impulses while also featuring on many's game of the year lists.

If Inquisition had a lot, at least it seemed to have had All That on Bioware's usual terms. Andromeda, meanwhile, is a singularly exhausting experience. Even after several patches allowing for things like semi-normal facial animation, skipping the transition scene between each and every planet (but not system) in the galaxy and whatever else they fixed, two years later Andromeda suffers from a fantastic amount of bloat. One can't help but wonder if this team had just focused on one aspect of their game - mainly, the colonization of a new system - if they wouldn't have been onto something truly special.

Why did I complete Andromeda? Well, like Jeff said to Brad during a podcast a couple weeks after the game's release in response to Brad's lamenting he had played - and would continue to play - far more Andromeda than he'd ever expected to, I was looking for one more hit of Good Mass Effect. Personally, I found the opening hour highly compelling, actually. I loved how high the stakes were while also being contained within a small bubble of a story. I was upset when the father died because it was interesting to consider a Mass Effect in which your character's opinion isn't the one everyone in the galaxy abides by.

I think people forget how unique that first hour feels for a Bioware game because the following hours quickly diffuse that notion as alien creatures immediately understand the five separate languages of human, turian, krogan, salarian, asari and angaara (and this isn't hand-waved away until some small side dialogue sprinkled across side quests) and the player character quickly becomes a known quantity. I wish the idea of a "Pathfinder" had been a confusing notion for the native races throughout the storyline.

I also found the final two hours to be a neat return to that dark, small sort of space. I won't spoiler tag here, because I've said The Final Two Hours - The Final Two Hours. The writing doesn't muscle any of these ideas across the goal line necessarily, nor do the cutscenes sell any of what's going on, but Bioware had some ideas there. Archon severing Ryder's connection to SAM, Ryder nearly killing herself to awaken the Remnant fleet (after already dying three separate times only to be revived by SAM), all the colonies making a push on Meridian, and the hints of DLC to come...it's almost enough to forget that I ignored the main storyline for nearly 25 hours to hunt a bunch of outcast settlements down, track dozens of quests that had me jumping from planet to Nexus to planet to Tempest as if space travel and load times were inconsequential.

Andromeda opened enough interesting spaces that it's actually a bit sad the whole thing got shut down. If I could argue Red Dead Redemption was the Worst Good Game due to its long development cycle allowing its teams to overthink certain aspects of their game, Andromeda is famously a game that's Just Good Enough set in a universe that deserves far better, hamstrung by a publisher that unlike Take Two would rather half-bake a thing and get its money back than make sure the quality is there.

Is the writing bad? Kinda. Yes, mostly. Is the acting bad? It's certainly boring! Are the cutscenes hard to understand by modern standards? For sure. Is the combat a saving grace? Actually, it's kind of awkward, though Singularity + Charge + Nova + Krogan Hammer is still an endlessly satisfying loop. Still, there is something there in the general setting/theme of the game, the opening and the closing hours, and just taking some time to be in a world where they say a bunch of Mass Effect Words that it's disarmingly easy to overlook just how big a waste of time this game is. Queuing up a podcast, turning on subtitles, turning down the volume and just going with it is a little too much like comfort food, bad for your health and just mildly satisfying enough to take another bite.

I feel like the question of whether Mass Effect: Andromeda is worth it on any of its many deep discount sales comes up every time its on sale; I say buy it! I bought this game for $7.99 nearly a year ago on PSN and only just gathered the strength to play it during the lapse between Mass Alex season 1 and 2 because I don't have a working controller for my PS3 to play the original series. I wrung 70-80 hours out of this mess and only really ever hated myself because the mob had made me feel like I should. Will this game make you lament the fact that no truly great Mass Effect game is scheduled for any time soon? Yes, but it might also make you a bit disappointed in how fierce the reaction was to this game initially.

The team at Bioware Montreal famously received mock reviews in the 80+% range and breathed a sigh of relief, content that the game they'd made wouldn't be what fans were expecting, but like the leap from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 they would be able to polish their rough edges and deliver a work worthy of the promise the IP offered. Having finally played Andromeda, I unexpectedly find myself wishing that were still the future of the franchise.

It may have been a cheap trick, the final revelations of SAM and the Ryder Family Secrets paired with the hints at DLC during the epilogue, but I can't help myself pondering over who the benefactor is and why the last ark became so difficult to track down. I also am totally interested in where my choices would have led - SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS - as I let the salarian ark's traitor go free in exchange for his information about the kett, accepted the Primus' kill code and used it, made the Moshae ambassador and let Sloane maintain rule over Reyes. Who knows whatever choices I forget - weirdly, though the game treated almost all of these flatly and unceremoniously (often without any musical cues at all!) I still care about them.

Damn this brand and its inherent goodness. I hope it comes back, even if it sucks again.

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#1 Posted by Humanity (18725 posts) -

Well this definitely helped me get over the hump of wondering if I should get it. Mass Alex and the general slump in releases has been slowly but steadily pushing me towards this game. Considering that I really liked Inquisition I think I may be more forgiving of it than others. I think I'm ready to take the leap. We got this!

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#2 Posted by Zeik (5192 posts) -

I really do need to just play this game at some point and see for myself whether the reception was warranted or not. I have found I have enjoyed many of the games from Bioware that everyone seems to hate, like DA2 and ME3. In fact I fell into a similar trap with DA2, letting the reception color my opinion of the game so much that I didn't touch it until years later, but when I did I loved it. (It might actually be my favorite DA game.)

I always tell myself to not listen to Bioware fans and just play the games myself to form my own opinion, but it's hard not to let the overwhelming and seemingly unanimous disdain for Andromeda color my opinion and enthusiasm for trying it.

From reading this and other impressions of the game it definitely seems like the Montreal team bit off way more than they could chew when developing this game. I remember when it was first announced they were handing the series off to another team to do something with I definitely had expectations for something smaller and more focused than the average Bioware game. Hearing that it's upwards of 70-80 hours is pretty ridiculous for their first entry in the series.

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#3 Edited by ArbitraryWater (15698 posts) -

@humanity: @zeik: I will echo this blog post in that I fully believe that Mass Effect Andromeda is one of those bad games worth playing if you're like me and absolutely just need to know firsthand. I only put 25 hours of my life into it, basically doing everyone's loyalty mission (except Liam's) and zooming through the main story. That's about all I could take, but I went in with low expectations and didn't necessarily regret it.

A lot has been said about this game's myriad failings like it's some sort of aberration, but structurally Andromeda doesn't do anything remarkably different from the last couple of Bioware games. In some weird way, it exposes the fundamental limitations and weaknesses of their style of writing and characterization. I kind of actively despised most of the supporting cast (they're either incredibly boring or trying way too hard to be cool/quirky) but the only real gulf between Andromeda's cast and Mass Effect 2's is one of execution. That really extends to a lot of the game, and it's why I tend to agree with the "Feels like a Direct-to-Video sequel" line of thought. It's also made me retroactively wonder if those old Bioware games were as good as I remembered, but thankfully Mass Alex has convinced me that ME2 is still a-ok. Jury is still out on the rest of them.

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#4 Posted by Nodima (2602 posts) -

@zeik said:

From reading this and other impressions of the game it definitely seems like the Montreal team bit off way more than they could chew when developing this game.

I think this is definitely at the core of it. If you haven't read the Kotaku piece I linked in the blog, you should. The game was in pre-production for over three years and still wasn't nailed down before they entered full production. Because two separate pre-production cycles had two different ideas of what the game would be, and because they had to switch engines and animation rigs mid-planning phase, and because Bioware had never developed a game internationally before (Edmonton, Austin, and various contractor studios helped push it out the door) the pipleline was an utter mess.

What suffered most was animation, writing and acting because those are the things you need to have the general skeleton of gameplay and set pieces to wrap the story around. Unfortunately, those are also the things that make for Good Bioware. Like @humanity said, this results in characters like Liam played by incredibly talented actors like Gary Carr (check out The Deuce on HBO, he's arguably the best part!) coming off as one-note goofballs that become predictable after just a few conversations (granted, having subtitles on for much of the game didn't help since I find that makes all acting inherently less energetic).

There are several interesting story beats in Andromeda, and all of them are handled so poorly you just know in your heart of hearts they weren't meant to be that awful. It's a real shame what happened to this game, and I'm glad I experienced it since I don't find much time for average or below average games anymore. That alone speaks to the power of the Mass Effect brand that it held my attention and even convinced me to do every damn thing it had to offer other than a single side quest that still glitches and can't be completed under certain conditions and the random tasks the game offers no waypoints or guidance for.

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#5 Edited by darkmoney52 (92 posts) -

I couldn't get myself to play more than a few hours when it came out. I remember the biggest turn off not being the glitches or animations oddities so much as just not liking the general vibe and writing of the game.

What I hear about the pacing if the game further in doesnt sound promising either.

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#6 Posted by AdamALC (284 posts) -

I played Andromeda to completion and despite the bizarre bugs, boring story, and one dimensional characters, enjoyed a fair bit of it. I could see bits of potential in some of the side quests, and the game play was entertaining, but most of that old bioware spirit was missing. That they didn't finish the game, and trashed any expectation of finishing the game pissed me off. Mass Effect might be my favorite modern video game series and that it went out with such a whimper turned me off future Bioware products in general.

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#7 Posted by rkk667 (85 posts) -

I played the game through and made the same choices you did funnily enough. I actually got interested in Anthem because of the traversal and combat in ME:Andromeda so now that is a disappointment with all of the issues and skipped story if you fall behind - when I was initially thinking oh well i do not play shooters much.

For Andromeda I enjoyed that it suggested/prevented me from wringing each planet dry all at once and i got that good feeling of coming back for something new rather than boredom.

Unfortunately the time spent travelling back and forth really adds up.

I had big problems with Liam during and after his loyalty mission where he keeps secrets and continually puts so many people in danger. Our shaky relationship never recovered. The other characters were great and memorable.

Unfortunately I had a couple of missions that could not be completed and left exploration at 99% - research tells me Bioware stopped fixing these bugs because the game had not sold. I understand no DLC but it hurts those who did buy.

In the end I would also recommend it for the price it is at now with a hope that they just do anything in this style again.

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#8 Posted by xanadu (2039 posts) -

They killed Mass Effect.

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#9 Edited by Junkerman (524 posts) -

Its just too damned bloated and the plot skips over the parts of exploring a new galaxy it should be savoring.

I actually replayed the part where you first meet the Angara because I legitimately thought I skipped a cutscene where everyone was like "Oh shit a new alien race! How do we communicate? How should approach them? How will they react to us?"

...instead you just straight up land on their planet's main city like you were going to Illium and everyone speaks English and doesn't even bat an eye that YOU are an alien.

Also the fact that its super grim dark when you first get to the main base where everyone has been alive for years before you woke up... and then a few minutes later that's hand waved and back to making jokes and doing fetch quests.

Also... the protagonist is just kind of a Nathan Drake quipster and you don't really get to influence that one way or another. Even during Liam's quest where he's a complete idiot the protagonist totally waffles if you pick the "Don't fuck me over again" dialog option.

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#10 Edited by BoOzak (2573 posts) -

@junkerman said:

Its just too damned bloated and the plot skips over the parts of exploring a new galaxy it should be savoring.

Thats what bothers me so much about this game, it's such a good premise and the perfect way to soft reboot the franchise but they blew it so hard with only a couple of bland new races and another damn progenitor mcguffin hunt.

I know these games are very different but while playing Andromeda and to a lesser extent Anthem I was reminded of Xenoblade Chronicles X and how that game weirdly enough did a lot of things I wanted from both of them.

Sure it's design was repetitive and the story was all over the place but there was a lot of variety in the areas you went to and the different species you interacted with. New LA (the hub) also grew as you played and there were a lot of weird quests that varied wildy in tone. Ranging from investigating a serial killer who turned out to be a racist pizzeria owner and organising an alien's funeral by capturing a beast and then feeding the corpse to said beast.

Anyway, I liked that game, (you may have noticed) and I didnt hate Andromeda, but I have quite a high tolerance for tedium. (This blog made me realise that I bought DLC for ME3 and still havent seen the 'new' ending(s) maybe that will be my 'one last hit of good Bioware' Anthem isnt really doing it sadly.

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