Mass Effect Andromeda has been stoned without relent since the public first got ahold of the game, largely due to unacceptably amateur character animation and facial design.  However, this is low hanging fruit for drama profiteers, and nobody has yet opened the real Pandora’s box of what is wrong with the game at its core.

The surface blemishes can be fixed — look at the hideous state of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate at release, yet it’s a fine game today.  The ugly to the bone aspect that cannot be redeemed with any amount of updates, however, is ultimately going to end the Mass Effect franchise.  The game is a solid 7/10, which was reflected across the spectrum of professional reviews and amateur outlets as well – and that’s because the game has some serious warts that are unacceptable on a AAA title. Remember, we’re living in the post-No Man’s Sky world here too, so bad design and unkept promises and cringey art is a lightning rod for drama… and on Youtube drama = paycheck. Thus they played directly into the negativity based profit model and deserve what they got. Don’t forget that EA has a highly paid marketing department who are professionals for interacting with and understanding this culture – so you cannot make any excuse that the reaction was unanticipated.

Now, the true “what nobody is talking about” is that beyond the visuals, the core premise of the game is a blank canvas, which the writers utterly failed to utilize to any fraction of its potential.

Consider JJ Abrams’ treatment of Star Wars 7, where the movie was just a collage of regurgitations of a bullet point list of what a committee determined was what people liked about the original trilogy movies. So, you end up with the same enemies, same Death Star, same character archetypes, etc and they’re even fan service quoting the same dialogue from the old movies.

Is it Star Wars? Yes. But it’s also the most lazy and embarrassingly hollow failure to create something interesting given the magnitude of opportunity they were given and the high profile of the license. In Mass Effect Andromeda, we’re taken to a new galaxy. It turns out that everything in the new galaxy is so similar to the elements of the original galaxy that it is not only incredibly uncanny and thus awkward, but also could have just been some planets in the origin galaxy that we’d not encountered yet.

The “aliens” are just more humans in masks, who have the same range of motives, culture, and values that we’re already too familiar with because they are our own. An entire galaxy where there’s an expectation that we’re going to see how life could have evolved in wildly unique ways, but due to committee design and utter lazy writing, the whole thing is completely uninspired and familiar. And I call that a massive squandering of potential to do something interesting.

What about a race that lives on gas giants?  Tentacled floating balloons that have no similarity to our own values, technology, language, and maybe don’t even recognize our sentience and attempts to communicate with them — until the player discovers enough about them to succeed in it.

Perhaps a planet that is predominantly water, and the aliens there are aquatics?  Think back to the movie “The Abyss” for inspiration here.  They can’t live out of water, but they have space travel.  That means their spaceships have a liquid atmosphere inside that they swim around in.  Maybe they didn’t evolve hands because they’re all biotic, and can manipulate tools with their minds.  Given an aquatic race that has telekinesis as a rule, how would their technology look compared to ours who have to rely on hands to manipulate, and eyes to see?

Could a fungus based type of life evolve into a giant neural network and become a planet-covering unified mind?  Let’s say that “fungus people” are excreted from the planet like organic robots from a factory, to do a task and then melt back into the biomass pool.  Then humans arrive and for the first time, the fungus people encounter the concept of individuality as a valuable sustained existence and not a continual reincarnation cycle – and it’s hugely disruptive.  Or maybe they look at individuality as suffering, and have a desperation to return to nothingness as fast as possible.

What would happen if humanity tried to interact with energy beings that are pure biotic forms that have no concept of time because they experience a completely different frame of reference than us?  Yesterday and tomorrow are utterly alien concepts to beings who only understand “the now”.  What things were, or will potentially be don’t exist… are you humans insane?

Those are some ideas just off the top of my head for how the writers of this game could have taken the Mass Effect franchise to a (cough) new galaxy of potential.  Instead, we’re presented with two new human-like species for cosplayers to make rubber suits of, who think and act like we’d expect them to if they were from some other human nation.  Ultimately it’s a hugely offensive wasteage of the opportunity potential that being empowered to create a whole new galaxy in a AAA franchise like Mass Effect embodies.  For this, I say “Shame upon you, lazy corporate bastards.”  If the past few years of scifi have done nothing else, they have reinforced beyond dispute that nothing creative and satisfying can emerge from playing it safe via design by corporate committee writer shops.

Of course they know their product is miserable, but when it’s about money and a sure-thing milking of the fan base. Their incentive isn’t a burning desire to express something.  This is a game that fundamentally has nothing meaningful to say.  It’s about making money, because there’s potential to sell another Mass Effect game to people.  The story the game tells is only important in that it needs to exist.   So long as we’re desperate for any sort of stimulus that engages our need for what appears at least on the surface to resemble the things we’re nostalgically craving, we’ll keep perpetuating the cycle of hope, hype, experience, and regret.

The end result here is a game that ticks all the boxes, yet feels devoid of meaning because in an effort to stay safe and familiar it fails to introduce anything thought provoking, novel, emotionally impactful, or just basically worthy of discussion after the events have played out. It’s a popcorn-flick time waster that doesn’t challenge or even engage the audience with a need to think about anything. And it definitely isn’t upholding science fiction’s primary function — to discuss philosophical topics about humanity outside their terrestrial baggage so they can be considered more honestly and from alternate points of view. This game isn’t exploring anything, it’s just delivering a weak nostalgia tickle.  I think it’s telling that the most mental investment a player will have in the experience is the equivalent of solving a hieroglyphic sudoku puzzle, which is the very definition of “killing time on a bus ride.”

Farewell, Mass Effect.  We will always fondly remember the first two and three quarters of your incarnations.  It’s time for creative fire to emerge elsewhere, because this field is now fallow.