Mass Effect: Andromeda is being savaged up and down the Internet as we speak. It did some things that aren’t so great, and now certain people have gone a step past “disappointed” to “outraged”. This is how things are now, I suppose.
I can’t speak to the whole experience of playing the game. At the time I am writing this, I have played the preview version that EA made available that caps you at 10 hours of play. What I have experienced is less than impressive. Even with my deep reservations about the game, the response on the Internet to Andromeda is a bit... heavy handed, to say the least. Andromeda is, at worst, mediocre.
There are multiple reasons for the viciousness of the response. Some of it is from slimeballs waving the #gamergate banner and others who are still so salty over Mass Effect 3's ending that they have yet to put away their knives for BioWare. Other articles can focus on those.
For me, the response to Andromeda is due to a lack of perspective. The reason? You probably haven’t played too many truly bad video games lately. Bad games, truly terrible, miserable experiences, are increasingly rare outside of the foul pit that is Greenlight.
Video games, as a whole, are very good. Maybe as good as they have ever been! Look at the past few months as proof: Resident Evil 7, Nioh, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are all strong contenders for game of the year, and it isn’t even April! If AAA games leave you cold, there are tons of fascinating things happening in the indie scene. Hotline Miami, Undertale, and Hyper Light Drifter are some of my favorite games ever. There seems to be at least one high quality release a month, in an astounding variety of genres. This is a great time to be a gamer.
The factors for this are numerous, but a lot of it comes down to risk management. Simply put, we have forced publishers to “git gud”. The Internet has made it much easier for negative word of mouth to spread about a game (see: No Man’s Sky) and tank the game’s player base. Social media will expose the game for what it is quickly, and the chances of a publisher making their money back becomes increasingly remote.
If the gaming industry is now what it was in 1999, we would see veritable piles of games for things like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, and Deadpool. We still get licensed games, but they are increasingly built from the ground up as stand alone products. The result? More Batman: Arkham Asylum’s, less Spider-Man 3's.
The more blatant cash grab licensed titles are more likely to live in the realm of the App Store than on your PS4. Publishers release those games for a buck, pack the thing full of microtransactions, and hope enough marks fall for their grift to get them in the black. There is still risk here, but it is remote in comparison to making a 60 dollar game with high end graphics, professional voice actors, and realistic physics engines. Mobile gaming is a whole other article in itself, but an unintended positive consequence is that it has cleaned up the storefronts for our home consoles.
I don’t want to come off as overly preachy, or that I am telling people that they have to accept mediocrity. I am just as guilty of it as everyone else. The media climate has allowed me to essentially isolate myself from anything that isn’t of the absolute highest caliber. I am certainly not alone in this, and playing only the elite is going to change your scale.
But it wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid, I went to the local video store every weekend to pick out a game to play. It was like playing Russian Roulette! Choosing something like Batman: Forever instead of Chrono Trigger was fun suicide. It is easy to say now that it was dumb, but for a rural kid with limited Internet access, all I had to go by was my gut and my peers. There is plenty of nostalgia for the good old days, but nostalgia can be awfully selective. For every classic, there were three or four that ranged from “ok” to “kill it with fire”.
For a younger generation that has primarily played the best of the best, or an older one that only views the past as being nothing but gems like Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Metal Gear Solid, Andromeda is going to probably feel kinda bad. Pair that with a marketing apparatus that tells you that every new release is going to change how you play games forever, the opportunities for a fierce backlash are legion.
My pitch is this: If you are someone who is serious about games criticism, and really want to have an understanding of how far games have come as art and as product, play some bad games. I am talking Ride to Hell: Retribution, Drake of the 99 Dragons, and Sonic ‘06. Take a brief dive into the sewer that is Greenlight. There are still straight up bad AAA games! Godzilla for PS4 is plodding, miserable trash. Sonic Boom: The Rise of Lyric belongs not on store shelves but in a fire.
Internet outrage culture is never going to be cured. But sometimes a little perspective can go a long way. Adjust your scale. Play Trespasser, and then turn around a play a couple of hours of Andromeda. It will probably still be just OK. A lot of things are just OK.