Should We Be Concerned About Mass Effect: Andromeda?

By Mark Delaney, 1 year ago
Note: This editorial will contain some spoilers for the Mass Effect trilogy.
"Hmm. That was weird."

Those were my first thoughts with regard to Mass Effect: Andromeda when the title was officially announced at E3 2015. I'm a huge fan of the series. I put over 100 hours into my Shepard (Jack, to be specific). I remember courting Liara in the first game, saving myself for her as the Shadow Broker and resisting all other temptations in the sequel, and seeing it through with her til the last moments of the trilogy's closer. I recall building my squad in Mass Effect 2 and embarking on that fateful suicide mission. I remember miraculously getting them all out of it alive, too. I remember every diplomatic disaster, every near-violent standoff I was able to talk my way out of, every favor for the galaxy's many powerful allies. I remember all of what the trilogy gave me as a participant in the epic space opera. Call me crazy, I even liked the ending to Mass Effect 3. The series is important to me. It's up there with some of my all-time favorites, and does some things uniquely memorable for me that no other games have provided me as a gamer. So why then, when the much anticipated new beginning to the narrative universe was that all I had to say when, after years of speculation and guessing games, Andromeda was finally unveiled?

"Hmm. That was weird."

The reveal played out rather quickly. A carefully selected Johnny Cash song accompanied some explosive cinematic action, but that was it. EA showed off the cinematic trailer to bolster their presence at E3 and officially unveil the name of the new game, and if it was only meant to do those things, it worked. However, I expected more for one of their marquee franchises. It became evident we were still far off from the game's arrival, which indicated that the studio and publisher didn't have much more to show us on that day. I let that air of weirdness dissipate, confident the coming months would be more revealing.

A new hero awaits, but little else is known even now, just weeks from launch.A new hero awaits, but little else is known even now, just weeks from launch.

The next time we saw anything of note for the game was N7 Day in November. I anticipated a better look at the actual game, not cinematics again, with its expected release date sitting then just a year out. On the contrary, that same weirdness returned. The teaser we got that day was full of live-action video from real life spacecraft launches spanning decades of human space exploration. It captured the series' spirit of discovery and adventure, sure, but without almost any in-game content, I struggled to find the point. Hmm. That was weird. It was even narrated by Jennifer Hale, in character as Commander Shepard. The same Shepard who has nothing to do with Andromeda. Again, I told myself to not be alarmed. They didn't want to reveal the new protagonist yet. Maybe that was it. And it's not like all games need to have a multi-year promotional period. Fallout 4 had proved that around that same time.

The game remained quiet in the months that followed. At one point EA's CFO Blake Jorgensen hinted at the game's revised release date while speaking to a crowd at San Francisco's Media and Telecom Conference, telling the crowd it was due in EA's fourth quarter which runs January through March of 2017. Surely this meant BioWare and EA were gearing up for a big push, a push that would seem to coincide with E3 later that summer.

When E3 arrived, the world watched as, amazingly at this point, we were again left without much to see of Andromeda. This time the video focused mostly on BioWare employees working on the game. We saw what they do on the clock, shots of programming, character designs, some concept art, and a lot of talking heads excited about what they're working on. This event marked less than a year out from the game about which we had heard so much, but had seen almost nothing. There's a strong argument to be made that the D.C. area Bethesda did things right with their Fallout 4 promotional period. Reveal the game within just a few months of its arrival, don't delay that arrival, and promote it well along the way of that short period. This isn't the trajectory Andromeda has taken, however. We've known about the game for almost two years but knew almost nothing about it until it graced Game Informer's cover in their December issue.

One aspect of the game that has been especially quiet are the possible squadmates.One aspect of the game that has been especially quiet are the possible squadmates.

Right around the time of that magazine issue, we also saw two more glimpses of Andromeda, and once again they were both without much substance. The first was a video that was shown during the PS4 Pro reveal. It was a slow moving segment that focused mostly on the new protagonist, Ryder, interacting with an alien planet. It didn't seem like the best excerpt for either the creators of the game to build hype or Sony trying to sell their new system. Hmm. That was weird. The other recent video came at The Game Awards. This one was highly teased and looked to finally be the big reveal for which fans had been waiting over a year.

Hmm. That was weird.

Somehow, it wasn't. Again. The video jumped around from scene to impressive scene, showcasing many brief segments of the game instead of ever showing off any singular moment that could be consumed and remembered by the millions anticipating the game. Were they deliberately hiding the setpieces? If so, that would actually be admirable. Such is an approach that Naughty Dog and Epic have famously taken with the Uncharted and Gears of War series in the past. Show us some cool moments, but save the best stuff for our own discoveries when the game launches. Something about the Andromeda Game Awards video felt more like a montage of several separate moments, even when the narrator said the scene-skipping was a time saving measure. It just didn't feel right. It was as though they couldn't prepare any one excellent moment that was ready for public view and instead showed off bits and pieces of what fans have come to appreciate, like player-chosen dialogue and the return of planet traversal with the game's NOMAD vehicle.

Echoing my sentiments of confusion and concern, former IGN staffer and current member of Kinda Funny, Colin Moriarty, recently tweeted some remarks on Andromeda's bizarre promo period. This tweet was then responded to by BioWare's Aaryn Flynn. It's difficult to read the exact tone Flynn was going for here, but he seems to indicate the game has gone through some turmoil since development began.

That all brings us to this week. For a while now both EA's own words and leaks around the sphere of Andromeda have indicated a March release, specifically March 21st, as the game's tie-in comic was due then, which would align perfectly with Jorgensen's release window of Q4 2016. I'd heard those rumors and I simply couldn't believe them, even going so far as to shoot them down on a recent episode of the TA podcast. March was certainly what EA and BioWare were aiming for, but it didn't look at all like it would be a window they could hit -- not after we'd seen almost nothing of the game this close to a supposed release date.

It's nearly launch time and still we know very little. Deliberate move, or sign of trouble?It's nearly launch time and still we know very little. Deliberate move, or sign of trouble?

In case you missed it, I was wrong. Mass Effect: Andromeda was just recently given its official release date. It is coming on March 21st. Such a late announcement would seem to mean the game won't get delayed, as usually delays are announced roughly two months prior to the game's originally planned launch. Even the CES trailer that came with the release date reveal was enigmatic. It focused largely on the RPG menu options, like how to upgrade your squadmates. That's the sort of thing we would typically see long after the game's core gameplay was prominently displayed. Instead, it's what we got alongside the much anticipated release date.

Hmm. That was weird.

EA and BioWare have a lot riding (ryding?) on Andromeda being not just good, but excellent. The ending of Mass Effect 3 left a sour taste in the mouths of many, plenty of whom voiced their distaste for that game's finale and even got it revised. The project is surely a massive money pit for EA, who is rarely in the business of taking financial risks. Meanwhile, BioWare's reputation really relies on Andromeda being highly reviewed. If all we've seen from the game so far truly does point to the game being in trouble, is it within reason for EA to push it out in March anyways? Must they meet the Q4 2016 deadline so greatly that they've decided to throw caution to the wind after years of work? Would EA do that, with plans to patch it over the next six weeks and beyond post-launch? BioWare has already stated this game is not necessarily the start of a new trilogy or even guaranteed to have sequels. Do such plans rest on the critical and commercial reception of Andromeda, and if so, is EA sending it out to die anyways?

The IP seems too important to make that maneuver, even as all we've seen to date could point to that. The alternative theory is much more optimistic. Perhaps, like Flynn alluded to on Twitter, the game's dev cycle was one full of obstacles. It's been in development for years now, certainly since long before the public first learned of it. Maybe after constant road blocks, the game has been better on track as of late. Combining that belief with the idea that they've withheld all the best gameplay moments for players to discover on their own adds up to a much brighter view of things. Maybe now, with the release date revealed and apparently never to be revised again, the next several weeks will see a concentrated and well balanced bevy of promotional material. If everything that happened before was a result of some internal mess the public isn't privy to, perhaps starting now we'll get our Fallout 4 build-up -- sensible, exciting, and without the chance of any more stutters.

I find myself walking the fence between both camps. I don't want to believe EA is rushing the game, and I don't think they would, but everything we've seen so far just looks like the goings-on of a game that has seen a lot of problems with no promises that those problems have been resolved. But come on. It's Mass Effect. One of the biggest names in the art of video games. Surely it's all going to work out in the end, right?

Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.