If experience has taught me anything it’s that the games I enjoy are often those that the prominent games media aren’t crazy about.
I’m sure a large part of this is due to the fundamental difference in how a journalist and a regular consumer plays games. Journalists need to get through a game as quickly as possible and move on to the next title, while consumers tend to play fewer games for longer periods. There is value in each approach, but in the end the perspective is different.
And so we come to this: Mass Effect Andromeda.
We all know the situation by now: Mass Effect Andromeda has some serious issues with its animations. There are noticeable bugs. There are issues with its presentation of LGBTQ characters. Other than the infamous furor around No Man’s Sky, I can’t recall any game in recent history that was received with such sadistic glee over its problems.
I kept wondering if there was more to the story. As our own Batphantom talks about in PUGCast 34, the reception has been widely disproportionate to the actual game itself. To be clear: the issues are real. The jank is real. The animation and writing issues are real, and much like Scumm_boy points out in that podcast episode, that is more than enough to cool any enthusiasm for the game, and justifiably so.
And yet I found myself wondering what my reaction would be. Of course I’d seen the gif storm of wonky animations and T-pose bugs. I also read the excellent feedback on what went wrong with the animations from an actual industry professional, and understood the challenges. Being very familiar with animation processes myself, when I saw the first gifs coming out I knew exactly what I was looking at: automated systems, which are absolutely necessary for a work of this scope. You cannot compare these types of animations to something like a Pixar film or even Uncharted. Totally different animals.
That’s not to let them off the hook: many other games of similar scale who use automated systems don’t have these problems. The characters in Mafia 3 or Watch_dogs 2 turn in decent performances despite using similar techniques. But understanding both the technical issues and how things work in a massive developer like EA/Bioware makes me less inclined to get out the torches and pitchforks just yet.
Bioware has stated that they have heard the feedback and will be making efforts to improve things in the coming months. How much can they really improve? How committed are they to fixing it? What will the game look like in 6 months?
As we have seen with No Man’s Sky, it’s possible to drastically change and improve a game post-launch, when the hype has cooled and the games media has moved on to the next product cycle. And yet games of this size don’t end just because they’re not on the front page of Kotaku any more. Look at the list of games being streamed on Twitch: only a small handful of recent releases are talked about in the games press, but those are games being played by millions of people.
So I’m diving in. I’m starting to play Mass Effect Andromeda now, before the big patches, and will be writing a series of these longform articles to talk about the current and changing state of the game. These aren’t going to be hot takes, but I hope they will be thoughtful, measured commentary on an interesting phenomenon in current gaming history. I’m going to give my honest reactions as I work through the game, slowly, taking time to consider its steps and mis-steps.
We don’t really do written game reviews at Operation PUG — the world doesn’t need yet another Giant Bomb-wannabe. This is the sort of thing I think we can do well, since we are a small hobbyist site who aren’t tied to product cycles. We’re not out for clicks and views. Our audience is small, and I think appreciates a more introspective approach.
Next time: Meet Pathfinder Karen Ryder née Babbage.