Mass Effect Andromeda: A Lesson In Protecting Valuable IP

In the spring season preview I posted in January I talked, at length, about the then upcoming, now released, Mass Effect Andromeda. As I said in the article, Mass Effect is perhaps the most special series in gaming for me. It arrived at an incredible time for me, with the series’ initial release arriving right before I started high school ten years ago. Now in 2017 Mass Effect’s fourth entry has released as I close up shop on the college portion of my life. ME has been with me through turbulent times, and the parts that have theoretically created an adult out of me, whatever that means. Just like Pokemon before it, Mass Effect is a memory that defines media in a certain part of my life. When I think of the things that I enjoy, or that I remember about those parts of my life, Mass Effect and Pokemon sit front and center in the entertainment section of those thoughts. That is why for me, Mass Effect Andromeda is such a weird beast. It is one thing, and another at the same time. It is a preeminent example of something being both great and terrible all at once, but for different reasons. Before I criticize the game in any way, or its creators I should preface this by saying, I think Mass Effect Andromeda is a great game. It is fun to play, it has gorgeous environments, and a return of some of gaming’s very best multiplayer. Just like its forbears it has one of the best universes of lore in gaming to build upon to create both great characters, and engaging scenarios. Something happened along the way to release however, that kept this great game from being spoken of in exaltation amongst its elder trilogy. That something is lack of respect.

The final sentence of my entry on MEA in the spring preview was “Potentially janky facial animations notwithstanding“. This was in reference to the recent trailers that had been released that worried some about the potential problems with the game’s animation. People said it was weird, didn’t look right, and most troubling that it was not up to par with an IP so valuable, and series beloved by so many. When I wrote that preview I believed that the game, as all Mass Effect’s before it would help to push the medium forward in terms of writing, storytelling, world-building, and that something as minor as poor facial animations would be overlooked, as they should, in favor of the overall product. I said in that preview that “even if Andromeda is only just as good as any of its forbears it will be the best game released in 2017”. I still stand by that statement, because I still think it is true, or would be true if Andromeda was as good as any of its predecessors. the truth is, it is not. The facial animations are only a symptom of a larger problem that seemingly plagued this game. A disease that it developed because it was not treated with the respect that Mass Effect deserves.

(Warning this video contains large spoilers for the game.)

Mass Effect Andromeda was not developed by the same people who made 1, 2, and 3, Edmonton, the A team of BioWare so to speak. Nor was made by BioWare Austin, the B team responsible for the massive MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic. No, MEA was developed by a new studio, who had never made a game before: BioWare Montreal. BioWare could stand on the rooftops and shout all day that its earliest games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic are what put the company on the map, but everyone really knows that 2007’s Mass Effect took the company into a whole new world of attention. That is why it is so incredibly disheartening that BioWare did not put its whole foot forward on relaunching the best IP it ever developed. While I am jumping down BioWare’s throat, I should also point out that the game’s publisher Electronic Arts deserves its own fair share of the criticism. It is now a well shared meme that “5 years + $40 million = Mass Effect Andromeda”. Many believe that a five year turnaround time, and $40 million dollars would, and should, be more than enough to create just one great game. Hell, look at Naughty Dog, in a little more than five years they released three of the greatest Playstation games of all time: Uncharted 3, The Last of Us, and Uncharted 4. Nevertheless, the poor facial animations give us a glimpse, with the help of one former BioWare animator now working at the aforementioned Naughty Dog, into a world of a rushed development cycle. One that was not planned as well as it could be. I won’t delve into the details, (you can read them at the link above) but it shows a careless attitude on the part of EA towards what should be their flagship storytelling franchise.

Right now it does not matter how good Mass Effect Andromeda really is. It does not matter that the multiplayer is as fantastic as ever, and that when the Frostbite engine is hitting it’s graphical stride the game looks incredible. The only thing the general public thinks about MEA right now is that it is a joke. That it is a bad game, with bad writing, bad animations, and bad characters that was dumped out by Electronic Arts to be one final cash grab from the rotting corpse of one last generation’s most beloved series. In a world of YouTube, and memes those bad animations spread like wildfire, and quickly consume the mindshare of the public. Now everyone I talk to who doesn’t have MEA thinks its a horrible mess, and a truly bad game, even when that is not true at all. By being blasé with such an important franchise, by not giving it the time, and the team that it needed to polish up the imperfections and get it ready for prime time, EA may have doomed Mass Effect to an early grave as a franchise. Now once again the ending of Mass Effect 3 is prevalent in everyone’s mind. Instead of building something great out of the rubble of that fiasco, EA has only made things worse for a series that produced one of the very highest rated video games of all time in Mass Effect 2. I hope Electronic Arts learns from this mess, not only of the importance of not cutting corners, but that they fucked MEA up, and that despite this, Mass Effect deserves another chance with a better team, more money, more time, and more love. A team like BioWare Edmonton perhaps?