andrew burke





Starfield and Mass Effect Andromeda

Posted on: 2023-09-06

A new space opera video game from a legendary studio has come out, years in the making. It features a combination of Role-Playing elements, open world(s), a vast arsenal of heavily mod-able weaponry, an epic core storyline, warring factions, pirate outposts, player-choice conversation trees, romance options, distant scrappy colonies, alien landscapes, wild animals, resource collection, ancient alien artifacts, psychic abilities, your own cool spaceship, and even jetpacks.

This could describe the recent release of Bethesda's "Starfield", or BioWare's "Mass Effect Andromeda" in 2017.

Screenshot from Mass Effect Andromeda
Mass Effect Andromeda
Screenshot from Starfield
Starfield, capture from

Reactions to Starfield have been mixed, but they haven't been anything like what Andromeda got. Andromeda's development journey has become a case study in bad game development and it's heartening to see that Bethesda (who have had some terrible launches of their own) seem to have approached Starfield in a much more mature fashion, delaying release by months to ensure better quality, specifically stating that they don't do "crunch" anymore, and even trumpeting their low bug count.

I agree that Mass Effect Andromeda didn't entirely succeed, especially compared to the original Mass Effect trilogy. It has some fantastic visuals, some charming moments, pretty great combat, and a decent core storyline once it got moving - but the characters weren't as engaging as in the original trilogy, the many side-quests were overlong and underwhelming, and the start of the game was actively frustrating and annoying (I may write a whole post about that at some point). It also had a ton of weird animation problems when it first launched, mainly due to outsourcing and not enough time for proper QA, which became a fixation of a gamergate online crowd actively looking for something to mock and pile-on about.

(Andromeda also had the misfortune of coming out in 2017, which had an extremely strong roster of outstanding games, including Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassin's Creed Origins, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. When I got around to playing Horizon Zero Dawn, I actually felt extra sad for the Andromeda team for being so outdone, especially by a studio previously known mostly for generic shooters).

Starfield seems to be connecting with people more quickly, though it too seems to take a while to warm up:

I think in many ways Starfield is what Mass Effect Andromeda wanted to be - an action RPG with a vast procedural galaxy of star systems and planets with a gripping core storyline - but they ran out of time and money and had to drastically reduce their scope to get the game out the door, and it showed. Starfield seems to have kept its original promises for the most part.

It's also interesting how both of these games have come from RPG backgrounds and added planetary exploration and starflight, while No Man's Sky started with starflight and has gradually added planetary exploration and RPG elements.

But at the end of the day, it turns out that making a sweeping space opera is hard. Balancing galactic scale with engaging characters and relatable storylines is difficult. I think Mass Effect Andromeda and Starfield may end in the same category as huge-budget gorgeous but not-entirely-successful movies like Jupiter Ascending and Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets. I love both of these films for their exhilarating wackiness, while being fully aware that they don't work in many ways. I can appreciate Mass Effect Andromeda in the same way, and perhaps someday even Starfield too.

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