Within the sphere of internet-based videogame discussions, outrage and anger are part and parcel of everyday life. For the most part, these often-inflammatory debates are nothing more than pointless background noise akin to your next-door neighbour’s dog continuously barking throughout a long, cold winter night: it’s annoying and distracting, but in reality, it does little to truly insight fits of uncontrollable rage in those unfortunate enough to be living within its vicinity. However, sometimes the barking crescendos to such a degree that it prompts others to jump into the fray, resulting in a maelstrom of tortured rhetoric and enflamed emotions.
Such is the case with Mass Effect: Andromeda, who’s somewhat lower than expected review scores have incensed people the world over, with many proclaiming the game an utter catastrophe for failing to live up to the lofty expectations set in stone by the original trilogy. Of course, such assertions are ridiculous – a 75 rating on Metacritic is still a great score after all – yet upon closer inspection, these internet prophets of doom are actually closer to the truth than they realise. In fact, it’s the lowest score any Bioware game has obtained since the barely remembered Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood’s 74 rating. If you peel away the angry propaganda and take a microscope to the situation, it would appear that the 75-average rating (78 for the PC version) garnered by ME: Andromeda is in fact a rather worrying situation for a studio that once dominated the RPG space like no other.
Right now, the “situation” has divided the internet into two distinct camps: the internet peacekeepers who maintain that 75 is still a great score (rightly so); and those who, obviously, believe the opposite, claiming that ME:A’s “disgustingly low” score is the worst thing to happen in videogames since the putrid cesspool that was No Man’s Sky. Both groups are dramatically exaggerating the reality of the situation – Andromeda’s 75 is by no means a biblical proclamation heralding the end of days as make it out to be – but upon examination of either side’s arguments, there are troubling truths that suggest Bioware might be in a spot of bother.
The reason I think this stems from the fact that, when put into perspective, the 75-average is disastrous given the high history and pedigree of the studio involved. Throughout its lifetime, Bioware has maintained an impressively high standard of excellence, with even their most “disastrous” projects still maintaining a level of quality almost in heard of in an industry that just loves to implode under the might of monetary success – kind of like rock stars for that matter. Studios burn bright for a while, setting the world alight with their brilliance before snuffing out as their achievements overwhelm them. Bioware, somehow, has been able to avoid this – until now that is.
Now, I’ve seen an argument being banded around by the peacekeeping faction that states how Andromeda’s review average is fine, even when compared to near-universal praise reaped upon the first three Mass Effect games. This avenue of analysis claims that the 75-average is okay given the reality that Mass Effect: Andromeda is its own distinct entity, entirely separate from the original trilogy in all but association. It’s the start of something new, a whole new world that offers us a new fantastic point of view of the Mass Effect universe, and thus should be considered in nearly all respects as an original IP and appropriately judged as so.
However, even if you conform to such a viewpoint, the 75-78 review average of Andromeda is still cause for concern. Once upon a time, the original Mass Effect was a rosy-cheeked newcomer just like Andromeda, and yet it still managed to attain an impressive 89 review average. The same goes for Dragon Age: Origins, which garnered an impressive 91 percent Metacritic average on PC. Baldur’s Gate stands at a 91 percent average, as does Neverwinter Nights, with Knights of the Old Republic coming in at an amazing 93 and 94 on PC and Xbox360 respectively. Even often forgotten Jade Empire, an ARPG inspired by ancient Chinese historical and mythological stories managed to obtain an 81 rating on PC and an 89 for the 360 rendition.
The reasoning behind this splurge of facts is to demonstrate how the “brand new IP” argument is redundant, as historically, Bioware have always managed to impress when introducing gamers to a fresh, dew-picked idea. Andromeda’s (apparent) failings are not due to its virgin status, and thus any proclamations that otherwise say so should be dismissed for the paper-thin excuses that they are. There’s something else at play here, and serious analysis needs to be taken in order to deduce the exact details relating to Andromeda’s tepid reception. I’ll get on to that at a later date, but for now Bioware needs to retreat into the shadows and re-evaluate their methods. The studio is at a crossroads, and how they respond in the wake of Andromeda’s reception will be crucial for the company’s future. Ideally, they’ll take on board the criticisms and strive to improve and, hopefully, innovate with their next title in an attempt to re-establish themselves as one of the powerhouses of the RPG genre. However, if they fail to do so, a dark and dismal future could manifest, forever shrouding the studio in the enveloping dark cloud of stale mediocrity and ridicule – something they might never escape from. Only time, and EA’s upper management decisions, will tell.