Cognition Dissemination: Mass Effect’s Final Destination

The developers of Mass Effect: Andromeda were placed in an unenviable position. Bioware’s Mass Effect series caught on with a significant audience during the last console generation, specifically those who were looking for an engrossing western RPG and enjoyed sci-fi operas. Its fanbase increased with each installment, partly thanks to the series expanding to multiple platforms after starting as an Xbox 360 game that made its way to PC. That the developers also simplified the mechanics while keeping many elements people enjoyed about the series in its sequels was also a large factor in increasing its popularity.

The team responsible for the last-gen Mass Effect trilogy moved on to the development of a new property, leaving Andromeda to a younger and more inexperienced team at Bioware Montreal. Given the kind of experience the series’ fanbase was expecting after the previous high-selling installments, the chance of them making a game that would disappoint quite a few of them was sadly higher than usual. That EA gave it a bizarre ad campaign, which resulted certain showcases like the reveal at their E3-style conference last year being underwhelming and the game’s advertising going dark for months, only increased skepticism towards it. Many felt that was justified after they laid their eyes on raw footage shortly before it released in late March, which showed off questionable animations, writing, and mission design.

That was reflected in its sales, as though it made it into the charts in both America and Europe, it didn’t rank as high as previous installments. That wasn’t good considering current-generation games require higher budgets and more resources, and thus have higher sales expectations from their publishers. The development team also spent five years working on this title, far longer than the development periods for previous games. Given EA’s expectations and how cutthroat the AAA sector of the gaming industry tends to be, it was easy to fear the worst for the team and the franchise after the sales results.

As it turns out, that fear was justified. The ever-reliable Jason Schreier at Kotaku reported that EA has put the franchise on hiatus in response to the sales and reception. Also, much of Bioware Montreal’s staff has been moved to the also-Montreal-based EA Motive, who’s working on the single-player campaign for Star Wars Battlefront II, among other projects. Enough staff will remain at the studio to continue working on Andromeda’s multiplayer, while others who are still working on updates to the single-player and assist with the development of Bioware’s upcoming new property. This isn’t the most surprising turn of events given the publisher we’re discussing, but it’s tough not to feel bad for the team.

It’s a pity this is happening after the team fixed many of its issues in a quick fashion after launch. The more embarrassing animations have been polished through numerous updates, like the semi-infamous “My face is tired” cutscene and another where Peebee holds her gun backwards when firing. They’ve also quickly provided updates for the various bugs and glitches for the single-player and multiplayer. It reflected the desire of a team that wanted to not only continue working on this game, but future installments, especially given that its resolution leaves some questions unanswered.

Now, it’s unlikely they’ll get the chance to continue. In combing through various reactions to this news, the fanbase is divided on whether they should even receive the chance. There are those who enjoyed it and want a sequel, but others either didn’t like the game or were unmotivated to purchase it after evaluating footage and previews; the latter audience believes the series should be put to rest, and that EA should either remaster the original trilogy or move on to yet another Mass Effect series in a few years, or both. If EA returns to the series, it won’t be handled by the same team.

Though it’s worth noting that the series is reportedly going on hiatus instead of being put to rest, EA isn’t often in the habit of reviving franchises. One of the only recent examples was Mirror’s Edge, which returned in the form of last year’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst after the original put up underwhelming sales in 2008. The chance of Mass Effect returning is higher than, say, the Dead Space series, since the former was far more popular. But note that if it does return, expect its story to distance itself from Andromeda if it isn’t a complete reboot.

In the meantime, hopefully the developers will clear up any unanswered questions in its story through single-player DLC, assuming the remaining team is large enough to create it. If not, maybe they’ll have to settle for a novel adaptation. The young team that worked on this has to feel demoralized after these results, so I hope they get to work on something that makes them feel better about themselves at either Bioware Montreal or EA Motive. It’s good that none of them are being laid off, in any case.

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