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.