Mass Effect: Andromeda didn't get off to a good start. Early gameplay videos, first impression pieces, and Origin Access's 10-hour early trial revealed a myriad of wonky animations and other problems. Upset "fans" went as far as to harass EA and BioWare employees — an abhorrent thing to do in any circumstance, but especially so over a video game.
Now that the game has been released, I can say that the outrage was misplaced. Is Andromeda a perfect game? No, it's not. Is it the steaming cow shit the community at large made it out to be? Not even close.
First Impressions Matter
EA's trial of Andromeda surely swayed some people into buying the game. However, Andromeda's sloppiest moments are inexplicably contained within the first few hours of gameplay. Cora's famous sasquatch walk and Director Addison's everything happen shortly after the game begins.
The criticism heaped upon those moments is warranted; Director Addison is not only written as an unlikable character, but also includes unfortunate lines such as "my face is tired." I can see the intent with that line. The developers attempted to portray Addison as exhausted and frustrated, tired and short-tempered. Instead, the line is silly and her tired mannerisms come across as a failure of animation, rather than animating someone who really needs some rest.
The entire interaction with Director Addison has been the source of much of the mockery leveled at Andromeda. She's held up as the prime example of poor animation, poor writing, poor everything. That's understandable, given she's one of the first people you talk to in the game.
Your first interaction with Addison, however, isn't indicative of the rest of the game. It isn't even indicative of further interactions with the character in question. Unfortunately, it's one of the first things you see in the game, so it's going to stick with you—and be the lowest hanging meme fruit.
Goofy animations do still happen, but they tend to the lighthearted goofs we all expect from an open world RPG rather than busted cutscenes and conversations.
Your Bad Is My Good
Throughout the marketing campaign for Andromeda, Sarah Ryder—the female option for the protagonist—was criticized for being ugly. She was compared to an ogre, a goblin, a gremlin, whatever creepy-faced monster you can think of. I'm going to keep this one simple: I don't get it. I don't understand. I mean, look at her.
I know different people have different tastes. People find different things attractive. But come on, now. Am I living in Bizarro World where gorgeous is ugly? "But the animations!" People cry. "Her animations are so bad!"
Are they, though? Is that not a pretty good wait, what? Naw, I'm out animation? The shock, the hesitation, the bail-out. Here's the truth: Humans have stupid faces. Really, seriously stupid faces. Gloomy, grizzled characters are easy to represent in games. They scowl and grunt a lot. An expressive character is going to look silly at times because you look silly.
I challenge you to hold up your phone, record yourself making various expressions, then watch the footage. Make your angry face. Laugh. Be skeptical. Make the face you make when you're razzing a buddy. You look like a buffoon, my friend. It's going to be even worse if you pause the video for a still screencap.
We all look silly. Embrace it.
In some cases, the "poor animation" being called out in Andromeda is no worse than--or isn't as bad as--some of the most common graphical errors or examples of poor animation in other beloved games. Remember Shepard's dance animation in earlier Mass Effect titles?
Shepard's dancing in the first Mass Effect was dreadful. We didn't write it off as bad animation. We didn't insist Shepard be the best dancer in the galaxy. We saw it as endearing. It was a character flaw. We dubbed it the Shepard Shuffle. Players were so enamored with Shepard's awful dancing, the developers carried it forward into further games, slipping it in for comedy and fan service.
In Andromeda, Ryder can't get away with those things. Ryder can't have awkward moments without the game being declared "an unplayable cringefest." Ryder can't goof or stumble without catching flak.
The same applies to bugs. Andromeda's bugs aren't outlandish at all compared to other beloved AAA titles. In Skyrim, giants catapulting their enemies into the air is a physics glitch. Players love it. In The Witcher 3, Geralt's horse Roach climbs over the terrain like Spider-Man. Players love it. They turned it into a meme. Roach's antics are now referenced in Gwent, The Witcher's card game spinoff.
Andromeda can't get away with that. Roach spawning on a rooftop is a laugh, but Liam hurtling himself into outer space is evidence of a bad game.
No, Liam hurtling himself into outer space is hilarious.
A New Beginning
We all look back on the original Mass Effect trilogy through the lens of nostalgia, but we need to peel that back a little. Mass Effect: Andromeda isn't Mass Effect 4 for a reason. Andromeda is a new beginning. As such, its narrative has more in common with the first installment of Mass Effect than Mass Effect 3.
If you're one of the people who feels Andromeda has a slow start, remember the first Mass Effect needed time to set things up, too. Before you and your Shepard could jet off to explore the Milky Way, the game needed to introduce you to it. And Mass Effect took forever to do that. To recruit your full team, the game sent you ping-ponging across the Citadel for hours, teaching you about the setting along the way.
Andromeda is faced with the same challenge: Introducing a player to the universe for the first time. Not only must it provide information about gameplay and the setting, it must introduce an entire new crew.
You love Garrus. I love Garrus. But we love Garrus because we had multiple games to get to know him. Do you remember Garrus in the first Mass Effect game? Garrus sucked. He was a big whiny baby. Slowly, though, you got to know him better. He grew. He evolved. He became someone you enjoyed, respected, loved, maybe snogged.
If there are specific characters in Andromeda you don't like, that's perfectly fine. If you're trying to argue the Andromeda cast has no depth, though? I don't think you've bothered talking to them very much. You're not going to know much about these characters upon meeting them for the first time, but all we knew about Garrus for most of an entire game was he was a space cop who had to turn in has badge.
In Andromeda, you don't need to wait an entire game to learn about someone. As it turns out, Liam was also a space cop who had to turn in his badge. But while the original trilogy required multiple games to delve deeper into Garrus, Andromeda doesn't drag its feet on telling you more about Liam beyond space coppery.
Yes, There Are Problems
I don't say any of these things to excuse Andromeda completely, of course. The game does have problems. There are animations that could use work. There are bugs. In my case, the game has some problems I initially overlooked because they didn't factor into how I play. For example, as you saw above, I'm playing the default Sarah Ryder. As it turns out, the custom character creator is pretty terrible and every Ryder comes out looking more or less the same—or absurd. Luckily, the developers seem keen to address it.
And the options for m/m gay relationships are limited, to say the least. The good news is the developers are discussing how to address that issue, too. With rare exception, the vast majority of players' issues with the game are cosmetic. They're fixable problems. For all the flak BioWare catches, they have a history of going out of their way to make their players happy. Players didn't like the ending to Mass Effect 3. In response, BioWare released free DLC to at least provide closure. That's something.
Should these problems be excused? No. Definitely not. Andromeda does have its issues and it's lacking a layer of polish it probably needs. It's not trash, though. It's a good, fun game. If you've tried it and haven't enjoyed it, fair enough. If you were excited about trying it but you didn't due to the outcry, try it anyway. The game isn't a fraction as bad as it was made out to be.
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