Mass Effect Andromeda had its problems, but Bioware Montreal really deserved another chance to get it right

By Alex Donaldson, Wednesday, 2 August 2017 09:29 GMT

Mass Effect Andromeda ultimately left me disappointed – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.

Back when Andromeda launched both Brenna and I racked up hefty hour-counts in the game before release, and it’s true: it was a disappointment. The thing is, though: it was a disappointment that got better. A lot better.

As a result this was a game that I struggled to really articulate my opinion on. Brenna did a much better job back then, describing Andromeda as being “like a cake baked by an inexperienced chef” – and that seems about right. The ingredients are there on paper, but it’s not quite cooked right, most often not cooked thoroughly enough. It was clearly rushed, and that’s something that post-launch leaks and updates have confirmed to us.

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“Word of mouth has been absolutely brutal, and though many of the issues that plagued the game in its first month have now been patched, it’s all too little, too late. The damage is done.”

After scores of patches and updates to fix many of the glaring problems that caused the game to receive a public mauling and become a little bit of a meme, the saga of Andromeda seems to have reached its natural, sad conclusion. The development team at Bioware Montreal appears to have basically been dissolved, with the team that built Andromeda essentially being absorbed into Motive, EA’s latest studio that’s currently busy working on multiple projects including Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Amy Hennig’s mysterious Star Wars action title.

This is a bummer. While a merging sure beats layoffs, it’s still a sad moment: Bioware Montreal was a studio with some great talent that clearly had strong ideas for stories to tell in the Mass Effect universe. Further, no matter how final the trilogy ending felt that’s still a universe ripe with story and gameplay opportunities. The team wasn’t that which created the Mass Effect Trilogy, but instead were a secondary team built up over the course of Mass Effect 2 and 3 – their largest contribution being to DLC and multiplayer for those games. The experience with the latter is likely why Andromeda has such strong, snappy combat.

Andromeda is perhaps one of the greatest-ever examples of how a few things really can kill a game stone dead – even if it sells. Andromeda has shifted millions of units, was declared a financial success and EA praised it as a revenue-driver in their recent earnings call. It wasn’t enough, though. Word of mouth has been absolutely brutal, and though many of the issues that plagued the game in its first month have now been patched, it’s all too little, too late. The damage is done. This is really the thing that sealed the fate of Bioware Montreal and of the Mass Effect series for the foreseeable future – completely toxic word of mouth.

Terrible facial animation, all too frequent encounters with bugs and some nasty clunkers in the script made for brutal-looking compilation videos on YouTube that were met with despair, anger and mockery in equal measure. These things weren’t a small deal, either – one of them, embedded here, has five million views. That’s a lot of negative impressions, and lordy – that video is painful to watch.

On top of all that the game starts out strong but then has a slog of a segment right at the top that feels like moving through molasses, but then it finds its feet and begins to soar. The later stages of the game are as adrenaline-filled as some of the best moments of the trilogy and some of the interactions with the crew as inspired and lovely as the ME3 Citadel DLC’s greatest hits, but you do have to fight to get there.

All the scars of a game that struggled to find meaning, purpose and direction are there. It didn’t surprise me to read reports that much of Andromeda’s development was focused on experimental gameplay concepts that didn’t come to fruition, nor to hear that the building the targeted open worlds was a struggle in Frostbite. It’s clear to me now that Andromeda would’ve likely been better off with a more focused, narrow design in the vein of ME2 and ME3, but these are things easily said in hindsight.

“Andromeda is good it’s really very good, however, and crucially it’s brimming with potential that now won’t be expanded upon in a sequel.”

Among all that, however, there are ideas that don’t quite reach potential that are still full of promise. The planetary viability concept is a strong thing to tie into a progression-based RPG. The core cast felt on their way to becoming as good as their trilogy counterparts (I put it to you that not even Garrus truly becomes the brilliant, remembered Garrus until his second outing), and aside from the botched handling of first contact with the Angara, the worlds of Andromeda did feel sufficiently alien, something which was a major aim of the game from the word go.

But all of this is flawed, yes. Andromeda is a game that is ultimately more than the sum of its parts, but how broken or misused certain parts are stands out even now in a post-patch world. But it’s still a good game – albeit not one that lives up to the incredible legacy of the trilogy. We don’t talk review scores much here on VG247, but now that the embarrassing bugs have been patched Andromeda is a seven through and through; a decent game that simply doesn’t quite come together to become great. When Andromeda is good it’s really very good, however, and crucially it’s brimming with potential that now won’t be expanded upon in a sequel.

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That potential is what makes this news so sad. Andromeda is an uneven experience, but it was one that absolutely left me ready to see what Bioware Montreal could do next. With the fantastic tightness of combat and a lot of clever ideas not quite expressed to the fullest outside of battle, Andromeda would have proved a strong framework upon which to build a better Mass Effect experience truly worthy of the series’ name. That will sadly no longer happen, at least with this studio, and I honestly feel that both the franchise and the studio deserve better. They deserve a second chance.

For all the memes of EA marching brilliant studio after brilliant studio to their deaths (RIP Westwood, Bullfrog, Maxis, etcetera) Bioware as a whole of course continues. The original Bioware studio in Edmonton just welcomed back Mass Effect creator Casey Hudson and has Anthem on the way, while Dragon Age 4 is a proper worst-kept-secret project. Bioware Austin continue to work on Star Wars: The Old Republic. Bioware lives on, then – just sadly without Montreal and at least for the foreseeable future without Mass Effect.

As a Mass Effect fan I do hope that the series eventually gets the second shot the Montreal studio did not, even if it comes in the form of something basic like a trilogy remaster. It’s one of my favourite video game universes, broad enough and rich enough that many different stories could easily be told there – be that in the Milky Way or in Andromeda. Andromeda could’ve been better, but it also generally deserved better – and I hope this isn’t the end.

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