The Story Behind Mass Effect: Andromeda’s Troubled Five-Year Development

Andromeda

Mass Text Incoming: Pretty good read and playing the game you can clearly see the results of a “turbulent” development. The game simply lacks direction. It has some good individual elements – the feel of the combat, the environments, sound design sound out as excellent. It has some very poor elements – character models, performance, UI design, and the overall pacing. But all the elements feel like they never really had enough development time to mesh together into a cohesive whole.

A lot of the “hivemind” criticisms I feel are off base. The characters are pretty good. The writing is actually quite good if you look at it in isolation. Most sidequests, even the fetch quest “tasks,” have a decent amount of story and dialogue attached to them. The character interactions and banter are plentiful and enjoyable.

But none of it fits together. The open world can be fun from a pure gameplay standpoint – the loop of driving around a gorgeous alien environment listening to your squadmates chat, hopping out and destroying some enemies, finding some cool Remmnant site – it’s fun. But it actively hurts the narrative.

Here’s how a typical gaming session goes in Andromeda:

You land on a planet, talk to an NPC at an outpost or hub area, get a quest. You pull up the map, see the nav point for the quest you just got is way on the other side of the explorable map. You talk to some more NPCs, admire some scenery, get in the Nomad and head out. On the way you see you have a couple other map markers of other quests or tasks, might as well do some of those right? You stop and scan something for one of the overarching “find the rare minerals” type things. You get back in the Nomad. Oh look, a Remnant site with some Kett. You get out, fuck up the Kett (with some very enjoyable powers), get some loot.

You stop at the next marker, this one part of an ongoing loyalty chain for one of your crew members. Get there, have a nice conversation with them, next step in that is meeting them at one of the major hub cities on another planet. Ok great. Get back in the Nomad, stop at another nav point. This one you can’t quite remember when you got, but it says something like “find the missing scout.” You get to the area, search around for a bit, find the crashed ship. Get ambushed, and suddenly this minor sidequest turns into a pretty extensive series of events that takes close to an hour and culminates with you assaulting a major hidden Kett base. Tons of dialogue from your companions, your pilot on the Tempest, good combat, great example of what a sidequest in an open world game should be. You don’t really remember how the storyline of the quest started because you got it while playing a few days ago, but gameplay-wise you’re having a good time.

You finally take out the base. OK, that took a while but was fun, what was I doing again? Oh right, I talked to that NPC when i first landed here about… something? Eh whatever, here’s the nav point.

You finally get to the nav point that you set out for at the start of this gaming session. By this point you don’t even remember why you are here, who you are helping, or even what you’re supposed to be doing. “Search for clues” your journal says. Clues for what? You try to recall the conversation you had with this NPC just 2 hours ago but can’t. It wasn’t a cinematic conversation, it was just a locked third person over the shoulder camera in a generic outpost room. The voice acting was good and the dialogue was fine but there’s nothing to visually distinguish this conversation from any of the other hundreds with the same locked camera. Whatever. You find “the clues,” you fast travel back to the outpost, hand in the quest… oh yeah! It was.. that random Angaran lady.

Sweet, some XP! You’ve leveled up! You have been mostly playing with the same 3 active abilities focused on close range mayhem, but they have those profiles right? You should start investing in some longer range stuff, that’d be fun. But wait, in order to switch profiles it has this long cooldown. That’s not fun. You don’t want to waste a few seconds in the middle of a fight waiting for a long CD so you can swap abilities. And you’d want a different weapon for your new build, but then you are ruining your power cooldown by carrying several heavy weapons around you aren’t going to use all the time. Might as well just stick with the 3 powers and 1-2 weapons you’ve been using. OK now back to the Tempest. “Pathfinder, Jaal would like a word.” Ok, cool. Man, I love the Tempest. Man, seeing shit out the windows is such a great touch. I wish more of the game had little stuff like that. Oh, hey Jaal. Hey this conversation is great! Wow, Jaal’s animations are actually fucking incredible! He’s moving around and doing stuff and Ryder is responding and it feels like there’s tons of dialogue options… why isn’t every conversation like this?! This feels like the old games but better! I kind of wish instead of 100,000 lines of dialogue this game had 25,000 of this quality…

Alright, time to get off, enough gaming for tonight. That was.. kind of fun at times I guess? But what did we accomplish? It felt like there was some decent narrative in those sidequests, but I couldn’t remember what the larger story was for any of them. Who was that NPC again? I don’t even remember their name. The combat sure felt good though. And the Tempest was great. But…. it’s funny how I can still almost perfectly recall random side characters and little stories from Mass Effect 1, a game I haven’t really played in years. And yet I can’t remember what the story was of that NPC and that quest I just did an hour ago in Andromeda….

You get the idea. The game’s design shoots itself in the foot over and over. The combat is awesomely satisfying and tight and well designed… but it’s ruined by the stupid profile and leveling system that encourages players to just pick 3 active abilities, use them the whole game, and put everything else into passives. Does anyone actually switch profiles often? I never do. It’s not a well thought out system at all.

The open world design is pretty solid, and can be very enjoyable at times. All the writing and dialogue is good for the most part, but the way the player experiences it is so fragmented by the open world approach that it’s ruined. You end up just checking off map markers one after the other, often times have absolutely no idea why you are there. And there is a reason for you to be there, but usually you were told it so long ago, and you’ve done so much shit in between then and now, that you don’t remember. This happens even on major priority quests. I found myself constantly checking the “journey so far” section of the codex just to have some semblance of an idea what the hell was going on. And I’m a pretty attentive player who loves this shit, its not like I was skipping through the conversations.

Author: jabba_the_wutt