Let’s React to the Mass Effect: Andromeda News (Or Anti-News)

After months of speculation, it was made official a few days ago: There are no planned future patches for single-player or in-game story content for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

While they say patches and not paid DLC, I think it’s pretty clear they mean single player content period. They elaborate: “we will continue to tell stories in the Andromeda Galaxy through our upcoming comics and novels, including the fate of the quarian ark.”

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier called it in May and again in June and is now probably enjoying the biggest I-told-you-so of his career. Anyway, his posts caused the fandom to erupt in a “Is it true? Is he right?” explosion that took Bioware what feels like forever to confirm or deny. I feel like at this point, they’re just accepting all publicity as good publicity.

Speculating on the Why

I browse the Mass Effect subreddit pretty often. The audience seems younger and less thoughtful than the Dragon Age subreddit, but there’s sporadic decent discussion and frequent fantastic fanart.

Regarding Andromeda DLC, there are plenty of (relatively) long posts about how the game under-performed, how it was mocked by early reviews and how troubled the development process was (a topic also explored in depth by Schreier – I don’t normally endorse “professional” blog-like sites because I rarely like them, but if everything Schreier wrote is true, then that was some excellent reporting. And if it’s all made up, well, it was still one of the most interesting things I’ve read all year.)

All factors which most likely influenced the decision to abandon single player (for the foreseeable future).

What isn’t mentioned nearly enough though, is the less dramatic but probably main issue: in comparison to single player, multiplayer is really freaking lucrative.

Content DLC calls for a giant boatload of people: writers, voice actors, cinematics, animators, programmers, sound crew, testers, etc. A huge machine to put or keep in motion. All that to produce a few hours of story and gameplay that will sell for 10-15$ per player.

In multiplayer, players will throw 10-15$ at the game, over and over, for weapons and cosmetic items that already exist. They do have to keep the game fresh, but – and I admit to knowing very little about game development – it seems to me that APEX mission development requires a fraction of the team needed for single player DLC. Plus, it seems that the multiplayer team is sailing along smoothly, while the key single player developers, those who hung on until the end, are probably still trying to unlive the past few years.

Speculating on the future of Mass Effect

Will there be another Mass Effect game?

Everyone seems to think so. (Even Schreier posted Reddit that he guesses something would happen in 5-6 years)

I assume the game direction options are: 1) a prequel to the original games, 2) a sequel to the original games, 3) Andromeda 2, 4) a non-RPG game in the Mass Effect universe (think Blizzard’s Hearthstone).

Option 4 is the safest option from a business perspective – just like the current multiplayer, a card, an arena style or a MOBA would bring in the dough with minimal effort and risk. As an RPG player, I think this idea sucks massive donkey balls.

Option 1, a prequel, has been considered, I believe. Something about a focus group that revealed that fans adamantly want a sequel and not a prequel. I’ve seen fans say they’d like to play in a prequel world as another species, but believe it would never happen because apparently the larger player base only wants to play humans. Me, I think playing a non-human is trivial compared to a prequel’s bigger problem: one of the major joys in Mass Effect is discovering an unknown world and not knowing what will happen to it. A Mass Effect in known surroundings leading to a known outcome doesn’t sound very fun. In my humble opinion, of course.

A sequel, Option 2, would force some sort of backtracking on the endings. The meaning was a clear “fuck it, we’re done and we’re going to mess up the universe so they can’t force us back”. They all guarantee to leave the galaxy in one of several unplayable states. (So this recent tweet from former project director Casey Hudson made me chuckle.) While I would love to play some kind of investigator/explorer part of a galaxy rebuilding team, Synthesis Galaxy is awful and Refusal Galaxy would just be the same story with a different face. Destroy and Control could be worked with as a what-if, I guess. Cameos of beloved characters would also be a pain since pretty much everyone has the potential of being dead.

Then, Option 3, ME:A2. Popular opinion seems to be that the Andromeda setting is toxic. I disagree. The Andromeda setting is awesome. Going to a different galaxy totally blew my mind. At least for the first hour or so. It had, and still has, tons of potential. The weaknesses in the writing: the pathfinder’s progression, the shallow squadmates and new species, the sub-optimal placing of plot twists and the general lack of inspiration are all more due to the chaotic development forcing the game being published before it was finished. The bones of the story were interesting, they were just given to us without enough meat to sate our hunger. ME:A2, with a proper development team, using the first Andromeda’s loose ends could potentially be a exceptional gaming experience.

As for a time frame, I actually find 5-6 years to be short. Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that did well. It was released in late November 2014 and closed with its last DLC less than a year later. It’s been almost 3 years and almost 2 years since Trespasser, and while the team has made it clear that they’re actively working on DA4, there’s no formal announcement and probably won’t be until Anthem is released in (tentatively) Fall 2018. Which would set a Dragon Age release in 2019 or 2020, 5-6 years after DA:I. So for a franchise that has taken as many blows as Mass Effect, I don’t think 5-6 years is a long time.

What About These Comics and Books?

I wonder how they could wrap up the Quarian Ark story in a satisfying way via books or comics. While I doubt most of us are really attached to the bulk of our choices in ME:A, designating “cannon” pathfinders would ruin what little sense of ownership we felt over the universe. The other option, dodging the problem by not involving any pathfinders in the Ark retrieval, would be very, very difficult to pull off (yay APEX rescues the Ark! ….ugggg).

As for already published Mass Effect literature, I haven’t felt inclined to read any of original trilogy media, however I’m told the Drew Karpyshyn books are outstanding. I have read Nexus: Uprising (from Andromeda) and enjoyed it. (The selling point was that one of the authors, Jason M. Hough, hung out in the Mass Effect subreddit and made some very relevant posts. He seemed like a cool guy so I decided to read his book. I don’t regret it.) Supposedly the next book features Cora’s past. I’ll wait until it gets reviewed before deciding whether or not to get it. Same for any other Andromeda books. I am pretty unlikely to read comics though, just not my thing.

Looks like a grim future for us Mass Effect fans (and for us RPG fans in general, if the market keeps it’s current direction), but what can you do?

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6 Comments on “Let’s React to the Mass Effect: Andromeda News (Or Anti-News)”

  1. Redbeard Says:

    “Me, I think playing a non-human is trivial compared to a sequel’s bigger problem: one of the major joys in Mass Effect is discovering an unknown world and not knowing what will happen to it. ”

    I think you meant prequel here, but aside from that I agree completely. Part of the fun of playing a well designed and written RPG is how the story unfolds. With a prequel, there’s not exactly a lot of wriggle room as to how things end up.

    I’ve not played ME2 or 3, much less ME:A, but I’ve felt that the storytelling is Bioware’s strength dating back to the old Baldur’s Gate games. Going the MOBA route just to cash in is what I’d consider expected, but not a lot of fun for the people who love a good story. And, given how these things work, the timeline for MOBAs’ popularity with the general public is likely past its peak and starting on the overall decline.

    I certainly hope they end up with more ME games set in the ME:A universe. If Bioware’s dev team is not forced into releasing early and allowed to develop a sequel the way they want, ME:A2 would likely be a smash hit.

    • Ophelie Says:

      Oops, yes, prequel! *edits* Even though I wrote that post over two days, my brain was still fried the whole time. You’d think news commentaries would be the easiest thing to write but I’m terrible at them.

      Bioware’s stated mission is (still) literally “to create, deliver, and evolve the most emotionally engaging games in the world.” so I would be shocked if they went off rails and made a game without a predominant role-playing component. But then, I didn’t expect them to ditch single player in ME:A so quickly either, no matter how lucrative multiplayer is in comparison.

      I don’t follow the gaming industry all that closely, but it does seem like League is over its peak and no contemporary MOBA ever stood out (except maybe DOTA2). Survival and arena games seem to be all the fuss these days.

      I worry about RPGs, single player in particular, because while I feel like there’ll always be a steady market for them, in comparison to multiplayer games, they’re expensive to make with low returns and the bar is getting higher and higher. Remember when FFVI was the pinnacle of video game storytelling? I love that Bioware has experimented with so many narrative shapes over the years, from old school DnD to tactics to MMO to action-adventure to exploration to co-op (in Anthem). Some forms works better than others, but I really hope they keep it up because I love me a good story, there’s a feeling of total immersion that you can only get through video games and I’m still searching for my Ultimate Gaming Experience.

      I’m hoping for more Andromeda games too. The first game lacked direction, which sucked up most of their time, money and energy, but now that the foundation is set, they can focus 100% on building a great narrative.

  2. Redbeard Says:

    Wow. I’d not read that Kotaku article, but that takes me back to my days at a software development firm (not gaming software, but CAD/CAM software). I think I’m going to have to write a post on that article as a follow up, but yeah, I’ve been there. When it’s development hell like what they went through, it’s amazing that they actually released ME:A at all.

    • Ophelie Says:

      I’m looking forward to reading it!

      And yeah, when you consider everything those poor artists went through, I find ME:A quite impressive. It’s still a huge game with a lot going on.

      Besides, ME:A isn’t even a bad game. It’s not a good Bioware game and it’s not a good Mass Effect game, but if you replaced those labels with “generic TPS in space”, Andromeda would have been fine.

  3. Talarian Says:

    As someone who’s been a gamedev for a few years now, you’re point about single player content vs. multiplayer content, and effort/expense required is pretty on the nose.

    • Ophelie Says:

      Good to know!

      It’s a shame because I love my sophisticated single player content, but it seems almost silly to devote tons of resources for such small returns. I can’t even be properly disappointed.

      (Also hiiiiiii Talarian!!! It’s been awhile!)

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