Left Behind: The Abandonment of Mass Effect: Andromeda
Spoilers for the entire Mass Effect series lie within. You have been warned.You know that moment when you're excitedly awaiting the postman to reach your house? When a new game is released, responsibilities are thrown aside and that sound of the letterbox is all you want in life. That's exactly how I felt when Mass Effect: Andromeda was released. I was fortunate to receive my copy a day earlier than the official UK release date of March 23rd 2017, so I took the opportunity to shut my life away and spend my afternoon indulging in a game five years in the making. As Mass Effect is my all-time favourite video game series, this was a huge moment.
Once it was finally installed and I booted up the game, I took my sweet time in the character creator. I never gave Shepard a custom appearance as I was happy with the default version, but Ryder needed to feel like my Ryder. While being awestruck by the majestic menu music, I carefully tweaked the facial hair, tattoos and class of my Scott. The sheer excitement that had built up over the years had no doubt influenced my decision to meticulously experiment with every little feature the game had to offer before the journey had even begun. Nonetheless, I eventually made it to the meat of BioWare's latest title in the sci-fi franchise.
It looks magical, does it not?
After spending many hours exploring planets, fighting the Kett and getting to know Ryder's squadmates (with an obligatory romance, of course), I came to the conclusion that I loved Andromeda. I was only slightly aware of the negative reviews upon starting the game, but after the Internet roared with hatred towards poor animations, a sub-par plot and an overall experience that didn't come close to matching the original trilogy, I simply rolled my eyes and carried on playing.
Initially I really did think I was alone with my positive opinion, however as the months ticked by and the bandwagon of hate moved onto its next target, I realised that Andromeda had in fact made an impact on a lot of others as well. Whereas some fans of the franchise couldn't gel with the new characters and the radical change of direction for the series, others were completely immersed in the galaxy. Unfortunately, though, the damage was already done. EA followed the fallout since release and thus decided that the game was to be left to die. There was no more worthwhile profit to be gained, therefore the only logical conclusion was to give the game a swift death and move on to the next project. Any plans for DLC or other future content were scrapped outside of some multiplayer updates because the public had bashed the game to the point in which revival was impossible, according to EA. Now a full year has passed since the game hit the shelves, and it feels like nothing but a distant echo in a vast canyon.
EA's decision to cut all ties with Andromeda had me reeling. Anyone who made it to the end of Andromeda and completed all quests knows that are so many questions still left unanswered. Who was the benefactor? What will become of the Ryder twins' mother? Why do all the Asari have the same face apart from PeeBee?
The biggest slap in the face, though, is the Quarian ark. In the epilogue, Ryder receives a message from the Quarians, a major race that we never saw in the game but were actually on course for Andromeda like the rest, and discovers that they are in grave danger. This obviously explains their lack of presence throughout the game. Fans evidently assumed that this would be the source material of the game's DLC, with the other questions hopefully being answered in subsequent content, or at the very least in a sequel further down the line. But no. We are instead left to wonder what will happen to the inhabitants of the Nexus, and accept that reading a book will give us the closure we desire. That's right, the fate of one of the series' most beloved races will be decided in a novel this June, not in the game itself. Unsurprisingly, fans of the game who were pining for extra content weren't too pleased by this announcement.
You may as well put the gear away, Ryder. You've got a book to crack on with.
From a business perspective it's understandable that EA made this decision. Development of Andromeda was troubled and the launch was rougher than sandpaper. Before the possibility of a huge loss of profit, diving out with a hefty sum makes a lot more sense. But that's where it ends. Games aren't the simplest of consumer products, so treating them as such can create a lot of fallout. After the announcement that there was to be no DLC at all for Andromeda, fans who stuck by the game took to social media to vent their frustration. #SaveTheQuarians even began trending on BioWare's posts, and it still makes a few appearances today. A sense of inevitability for this result always loomed when looking back on the incredibly messy launch, but those like me who enjoyed their time in the Andromeda galaxy felt robbed of an experience they felt invested in. The upcoming novel is an attempt at damage control but it's not enough for those who actually liked the game.
Closure is what we crave when engaging with a story. Without it, the entire experience can suddenly become tainted. Mass Effect fans will be very familiar with this concept, much in part to the infamous ending of Mass Effect 3. Years were spent forging relationships with the crew of the Normandy and becoming fully immersed in the Milky Way galaxy, only for it to be squandered in the last ten minutes of the third act of the trilogy. That's how many saw it at least. The original ending of Mass Effect 3 sparked a debate of gargantuan proportions across the Internet due to the simple fact that it didn't conclude anything. What were the results of the genophage cure? What did synthesis actually look like? Did the Quarian and Geth reconciliation bring true peace for both races? None of this was explained, which meant that a sour taste would be left in players' mouths, and it would take some quick intervention from the developer for it to disappear.
So in response, BioWare created the Extended Cut. In this new version of the ending, the synthesis, control and destroy choices were all expanded upon, explaining what became of many of the characters we grew to love, as well as the ultimate fate of the Reapers themselves. Mass relays didn't explode, Shepard got a tribute and the future of the galaxy was established, giving an element of closure that was so sorely needed. For some people this was still not enough, but others praised BioWare's efforts in stepping up to the mark and alleviating the concerns of fans. It's commendable that BioWare did this, and many would agree that the final "Citadel" DLC provided the true ending that so many had wished for. There was, and still is a wound in the trilogy because of the controversy, but extra content and action from the developer bandaged up much of that wound, rescuing it from a fatal finale.
A chance to say goodbye to Shepard's love interest was one of the many things the Extended Cut gave us.
Mass Effect 3 is proof that a game can be refined after looking ugly at first glance. If Ryder's adventure experienced that same treatment, perhaps I wouldn't have needed to write this article. However, the final part of Shepard's story did, of course, possess the advantage of leaning on the other two games in the trilogy, which were masterpieces in themselves. The trilogy as a whole had years of lore behind it and three instalments worth of memorable moments for fans to immerse themselves in. With the previous games establishing practically every plot line for the final game, it meant that we were still able to witness Mordin curing the genophage, feel the emotional impact of Thessia's destruction, and my personal favourite, tear up at Legion sacrificing his very soul to save the Geth from complete extinction. Andromeda, as a new chapter in the saga, had to set up an entirely new world with different characters and lore before even thinking about epic finales. Following a ground-breaking trilogy like Shepard's is clearly a big ask, and it's one that BioWare obviously struggled with.
With that in mind, I looked at the game from a different angle and accepted it as the fresh start that it was. While you can never force yourself to like something, you can't force yourself to dislike it either, and I liked Andromeda despite its flaws. With hindsight, those flaws are now clearer than when I first allowed my obsessive fanboy-ism to sweep me up in the game, but I still retain fond memories of my journey to getting 100% of the game's achievements regardless of that. Popular opinion always trumps the unpopular one, though, so those who hate the game would probably look at me with disdain after hearing my thoughts. If EA and BioWare were to do the same, not letting their own vision of the game change because of the popular opinion, akin to Mass Effect 3, then perhaps we would be having a very different discussion a year later. With no other immediate games to lean on, though, Andromeda was understandably easier to kill off.
Did these characters honestly get the chance they deserved?
When a developer or publisher allows profit to be the only driving force for a game's success, that greed will regularly come back and bite them. From loot boxes to game cancellations, the industry is now more than ever driven by financial bottom lines. Call of Duty, FIFA and online multiplayer titles that give the masses immediate gratification come out year after year because they are reliable profit earners. Translating that over to sprawling RPGs with rich lore, though, will mean an almost instantaneous death for the game in question. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a fine example of a game that was given time to be crafted — granted it was also pretty great to begin with. If a game needs another year to be the complete vision that fans are in hope of, then allow the developer that year to bring that to fruition. On the flip-side, if you pull a Mass Effect 3 and let down the fans in a huge way, don't give up on the game; instead, amass every effort in bringing it back from the brink of death. Andromeda wasn't a Witcher 3, but it deserved better than what it got.
One year later, I look back on Mass Effect: Andromeda with a slight sense of nostalgia and fondly remember my time with it. Did I have to choose between Cora and Liam as I did with Kaiden and Ashley on Virmire? No. Did the final mission present the prospect where any one of my squadmates could die at any point? No. Did the Angara uncover the truth of their haunting origin and confront their creators like the Geth did with the Quarians? No. Did I like the game and was I glad I played it? Yes. It wasn't perfect, but it definitely deserved an opportunity to redeem itself. Given the chance, a gem could have been unearthed once some fantastic DLC was in place, but what we have to live with is the result of what happens when the industry gets it wrong. Say what you will about Andromeda, but what we can all agree on is that it shouldn't have ended this way.