Mass Effect: Andromeda was a good game. That's not what I expected. I expected a sublime, transcendent game, a game that made me consider divorcing my husband to move to Canada and live on the top of the BioWare building, next to that family of geese from last year.
I really really like Mass Effect. Whenever somebody asks me for my favourite ever game I usually say 'Mass Effect 2, but with the context of playing Mass Effect.' When Andromeda didn't immediately cause me to have a stroke induced by pure joy, I began a process.
Mass Effect: Andromeda came out near the end of March. March 21, in fact. I know this because we had it on our whiteboard for ages, written alongside 'ALICE WILL CUT YOU' to indicate that I wanted to be the reviewer. Although I wouldn't have actually cut Colm, because that would have been a lot of paperwork. It was a hyperbolic statement to indicate that I have very strong feelings about the Mass Effect series. And then, when Andromeda came out, I was underwhelmed.
This was impossible. There was not a space in my brain that was the right shape to accept the thought that I would not enjoy a Mass Effect game to near-perfect completeness. I was numb. I ate, for some reason, huge quantities of cheese and onion crisps.
The lack of shock was a shock. The other Mass Effect games started with a bang. Sometimes literally. Sometimes I was exploded out into the quiet void of space, and that was the start. In Andromeda I spent a good 15 minutes or so tooling around a med bay and talking to my dad (incidentally, Ryder seems to freewheel through the Kübler-Ross model astonishingly quickly following Papa Ryder's demise: grief to cheery colonising in as long as it takes to flirt with their squad).
I was disappointed. Andromeda wasn't doing what I wanted it to. And then I realised I didn't even know what that would be.
It's like when a politician fucks up eating a pie or whatever, and everyone tweets something like:
Aide: Mr Dicksplash, we need you to eat this pie like a human being.
Mr Dicksplash, MP: Sure
[hilarious photo insert of Dicksplash failing to do that]
Alright, but how should a person eat a pie? How would you eat a potentially overheated pie, with filling liable to slide off in a river of molten gravy and errant pastry flecks, in a way that wouldn't make you look like a gurning prick if a single moment of it were isolated in a photograph? It can't be done. (The exception that proves this rule is former Chancellor George Osborne trying to hold a pint, which literally anyone in the world could do more naturally, but this is because George Osborne's reaction is natural if you only ever hold pint glasses in photo ops)
Mass Effect Andromeda was that politician. If you asked me how Andromeda should have eaten the pizza, I wouldn't be able to tell you. So I approached it with a carefully blank mind. The game was actually amazingly good, I was just thinking about it the wrong way.
I didn't give a number of fucks that were even worth counting about all the animation stuff, I really didn't. It was an easily mockable cosmetic issue that was pretty easy to ignore in the game itself, at least for me it was. But Christ, the glitches. The game breaking bugs I encountered on the first few days. There was a quest marker over an email terminal but no emails on it, what the lightly toasted shit BioWare?
People were such predictable assholes about the animation that you had to issue a statement asking them to stop harassing a woman who turned out to not even really be involved, so I'd have dearly loved to have been able to the give Andromeda a 20/10, name it the unimpeachable and undefeatable GOAT, and crown it winner of the Miss America pageant as a fuck you to scumbags. But there was no way in good conscience that I could! Whenever I got in the Nomad vehicle all the sounds stopped working for at least 12 seconds, why are you doing this to me?
And it made me more angry that some of the other bits were really good! I liked the squad! The banter! The planetary vistas! Sunrises over frozen seas, with weird space-whales swimming under the ice! The little details in emails everyone sent to each other! And the combat! It's the best out of any game in the series!
At this point in the process, every time a texture went all janky was the game kicking me directly in the crotch. Xbox One Andromeda had so many pop ins Dick van Dyke could have been its cockney sidekick.
Just. Just let the romance I chose work out. Just give me that.
(It did not.)
I blamed myself. I'd bought a ticket for the hype train (or, possibly, hype spaceship) without thinking about the consequences. I climbed aboard without even knowing the destination, which turned out to be a jungle of depressed purple frog people and doing errands for an administration who continually told me I was bad at it. But BioWare, while they'd not stopped me getting on that train, hadn't made quantifiable promises to me. I assumed you'd be able to fuck a Krogan, but nobody ever actually said I'd be able to. I was a chump. I'd fallen for marketing, which is no way for a notionally grown adult to behave. Idiot, idiot, idiot.
I should never have deliberately styled my Ryder like a high-concept neon cyberpunk raver, because she spent the whole game looking like the colourblind child of overly-indulgent parents, and that is no person to send out on first contact meetings.
After the reviews went out I was committed to living in a world where the latest Mass Effect game wasn't amazing. It wasn't bad, and I bought my own copy to play at home, but it wasn't the triumph I'd hoped for either. I hadn't played every moment at a peak of ecstasy.
And I was a bit embarrassed too, because I'd spent months talking openly about how excited I was, how I was so looking forwards to the release, and the exotic aliens I'd get to bang (which, let's be honest, is a huge selling point for a lot of people). I'd stitched myself up like a kipper.
I was still eating a lot of cheese and onion crisps, but they were as ashes in my mouth.
7. ACCEPTANCE AND HOPE
A month on and we're doing alright. BioWare pushed through the first major patch and now Foster Addison has learnt to blend out her makeup properly, and her face actually does look tired — although she's still a waspy sonuvabitch who doesn't need to shout at me about my dad so much, Christ, how about an 'I'm sorry for your loss,' Foster?
Most of the cosmetic issues people complained about have been smoothed over, if not the actual technical problems that fuck up the game. Luckily the PS4 version I now have is several magnitudes more stable than the Xbox One build I reviewed the game on. More patches are coming, apparently soon. I like Jaal and Vetra. Vetra is great. Turians are always, just, the best.
Mass Effect: Andromeda was just good. And that's alright. I have learnt a lesson about how I manage my own expectations, that being that I'm the sort of person who, without fail, gets excited by the 'On next week's episode…' sting at the end of reality TV shows. Would you believe that next time on Hell's Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay gets super upset and punches a plate full of scallops? Because holy shit, I don't.
The end of Andromeda has hooks, obvious pointy hooks to dig in on a sequel, or at the very least some story DLC. And I am looking forwards to that possibility, my face turned to the stars with cautious hope.
But I'm not pre-ordering fuck all.