Something strange is going on with Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s a huge game from one of the most beloved franchises ever, it comes out in about two and a half months, and…I feel like I still practically know nothing about it.
There’s been footage, sure. There was the cinematic teaser trailer. The PS4 Pro walk-around-and-press buttons-in-4K footage. The trailer with all the combat and a tiny bit of story. And now a new trailer showing menus and a bit more fighting.
And yet, despite this, I still don’t really feel like I have a sense of what this game is. Other Mass Effect games followed the saga of Shepard assembling a crew and trying to save the galaxy. But this game, featuring the same universe, but a different galaxy, feels much more nebulous, despite presumably being larger in size than any of the past installments. It’s about exploration and survival, sort of? But there’s still a story? You have a crew and a ship and a Mako, but is it the same format as old Mass Effect games? That remains pretty unclear.
I think Mass Effect: Andromeda is doing something pretty interesting here. I don’t think this is bad marketing, rather it feels like a conscious choice to keep most of its cards close to its chest. It’s showing certain systems and segments but holding back on larger details in a way that’s relatively unprecedented for a AAA blockbuster like this. Bioware seems to be purposefully avoiding hype, letting the brand speak for itself, but holding back quite a bit of the game itself.
My theory? A lot of this is because of No Man’s Sky.
No Man’s Sky was a game that practically drowned in an ocean of its own, endless hype. Many games, big and small, have probably learned from this example, believing that it’s probably better to say little or nothing at all than to go all out promising the best X genre game ever and listing off feature after feature in excruciating detail.
But with Mass Effect: Andromeda, there’s a much closer connection to No Man’s Sky, because this is also a game about exploring and surviving on various planets in a sprawling galaxy. Yes, it’s much, much more involved with its combat systems and stories, but I’m willing to bet that a long time ago, Bioware saw people going crazy for the concept of No Man’s Sky, and it became a not-insignificant influence on their development, at least to some extent.
The problem? I think Bioware is now worried about people associating Mass Effect with No Man’s Sky, which ended up being one of the biggest let-downs for most players, and is now held up as an example of what not to do when developing and releasing an ambitious game.
Between the example of No Man’s Sky and other hype cycles that have backfired on big games (Watch Dogs, the original Titanfall, etc), I think many potential blockbusters might be treading more carefully than they used to. The biggest example of this we’ve seen recently was Bethesda’s very fast ramp-up and release of Fallout 4, which did get a full marketing campaign eventually, it did not have years and years of build-up like we’ve come to expect from the industry.
Mass Effect: Andromeda feels like it’s taking things one step beyond this even. The biggest news stories about Andromeda over the last few years have just about its endless series of delays, and now that it finally has a (hopefully) fixed released date, we pull back and realize that wow, we really know barely anything about this enormous game.
Ultimately, I think this is the right call. My personal affection for No Man’s Sky aside, it’s probably the right call for Mass Effect to avoid those comparisons. And Mass Effect can get away with hiding an enormous amount of its gameplay and content because the name is going to sell the product no matter what. And given that this is such a story-heavy series, and this installment in particular is all about fresh exploration of new places, I understand why they would want to keep so much of it under wraps.
In my mind, I think it’s probably a good thing we’re moving away from these tremendous hype-cycles of developers showing off loads of early footage that ends up looking worse eventually, or promising features that never actually come. Some series still go the full nine yards for this (I felt like I barely even needed to play Battlefield 1 and Infinite Warfare at launch due to all the info/early tests there were), but others are shying away. Mass Effect is doing it, and we’ve also seen this to some extent from Zelda: Breath of the Wild this year, where there’s only been essentially one or two areas in the whole massive game shown off in early gameplay.
And yet, hype remains. Natural hype, fueled by curiosity in these storied series, not artificial hype manufactured by ad campaigns. And I think that’s just fine. Yes, part of me worries that with so little shown that maybe Mass Effect won’t be as substantive as I’d like, but honestly, I think it will all work out, and this is just a different promotion tactic rather than some elaborate smokescreen to keep players from finding out about a lack of content. We’ll find out soon enough.
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