Mass Effect Andromeda’s Marketing So Far Just Isn’t For Me.

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The new footage of Mass Effect: Andromeda from Nvidia’s CES 2017 keynote looks okay I guess. For Mass Effect fans who are less interested in shooting aliens than in other popular aspects of the franchise, EA’s marketing for the game so far has been odd. The game comes out on March 21st and the level of hype in the air feels decidedly light for such a big release.

The new footage was pretty much just some combat. Sure it clued us in to some new aspects of the combat like how players can switch classes. Maybe a lot of people are excited about that and think the game so far looks good, but it’s just not the reason I play Mass Effect. I don’t dislike the combat in this franchise, but it is the part of the game I care about the least. I probably wouldn’t miss it if Mass Effect was some narrative exploration game about flying through space.

I don’t think it’s surprising to say a big part of BioWare’s draw for a not-insignificant portion of its audience is composed of the stories and characters it writes into its games. The original Mass Effect was heavily criticized for its janky combat and interface but still lauded because it handled the introduction of the franchise’s universe so well. People like writing their own characters and navigating their own ways through these stories, arguably as much as they like shooting the aliens.

More than that though, I’m into Mass Effect to play a game about exploring space. I’m  one of those people who actually liked driving the Mako across vast alien landscapes, and was disappointed that BioWare scrapped that from the sequels instead of trying to improve upon it.

BioWare has promised fans we’ll see the return to a focus on exploration in Andromeda but we’ve seen virtually none of it. I think we’ve gotten maybe two half-second shots of some land vehicle driving over a hill or something. The most exciting screenshot out of the new batch that came with the trailer is the one showing the space shuttle flying across an alien horizon, but I bet that backdrop is probably just for a cut scene.

And for a game three months out we know shockingly little about the plot or characters. We know the general jist of the setting and I think we’ve seen two supporting characters. We don’t know what the central conflict of the plot is at all. Mass Effect 2’s trailers in comparison were almost all about the different characters players were going to recruit.

If I didn’t know the reputation of Mass Effect and saw what BioWare has shown so far I’d think it was advertising any other third person shooter with all the focus on getting points to unlock things, kind of a lot like today’s primarily multiplayer shooters. It looks like a logical conclusion of the trajectory BioWare has been on since Mass Effect 2 when it stated it wanted “the Call of Duty audience,” stripping the game down to shooter arenas. Mass Effect 3 went even further with a stripped-down quest system and side quests taking palace in re-used multiplayer maps. I won’t deny that Mass Effect 2 and 3 were ultimately better executed games than the original, but I think that’s because the original game tried to do more new and interesting things. BioWawre had a chance to refine those things and instead chose to follow the beaten path.

The reason I can’t form a complete pre-release opinion on Amdromeda yet though is because I haven’t yet played BioWare’s most recent big release — Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’ve heard criticisms about how it forced players to do a certain amount of side quests to further the plot, many of which people called mindless and repetitive, which makes me a bit worried about Andromeda. I’m already starting to imagine how Andromeda might incorporate exploration into some kind of points-based system designed for player retention rather than genuine engagement with a galaxy designed to capture players’ interest.

In the Nvidia keynote footage you can spot a class called “pathfinder” in the user interface which suggests exploring places is going to play into character development. I think BioWare in interviews has mentioned systems by which Andromeda will gate progress by how many outposts you set up or something like that. I can easily see this turning exploration into a chore instead of the pursuit to uncover a genuinely interesting world the level designers have created. But we’ll see. I’ll probably do a second part to this blog after I’ve played some of Inquisition.

BULLETS:

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