Mass Effect Andromeda Highlights the Inherent Problems on How We Quantify “Good” and “Bad” Games

Mass Effect Andromeda's problematic animation and bugs quickly branded it as a "bad" game, but was that really the case?

Mass Effect Andromeda’s problematic animation and bugs quickly branded it as a “bad” game, but was that really the case?

Previously, we talked about how Final Fantasy XV highlighted the problem with how rhetoric in the gaming community can lead to some uncharitable claims about how games are in final release and how a more mindful approach to the critical dialogue should be approached. While playing Mass Effect: Andromeda this past weekend, it dawned on me that the staggeringly polarizing reception of the game is the result of the same problem.

The game, by no accounts, was a perfect one. Although I have yet to finish it, I’ve already encountered more than a handful of bugs that plague both the story’s cutscenes and its gameplay. At one point, I thought my character (A customized Sara Ryder since the facial animations look better on a custom character) was having an episode because her face was not rendering expressions properly. The story, which many gamers on forums had called “trash”,  wasn’t too bad at all. Overall, relative to where I am in the game, Mass Effect: Andromeda simply isn’t that bad a game.  However, the game did not deliver at the same caliber as its predecessor and its animation problems, coupled by its uneven story telling and frustrating bugs, makes for a topic for critical discussion. The problem here though is, the extreme backlash of the game made many perceive Andromeda of being one of the worst games to come out in 2017, although the game itself was at most a entertainingly mediocre experience.

As the very well detailed article from Kotaku explained, we know that Mass Effect Andromeda’s development did span a period of about 18 months, but there were some significant and complex hurdles the team faced ranging from creative differences/changes to a change in leadership and even problems integrating the game’s principal mechanics to the Frostbite engine. During the 5 long years of development hell, the game went on from being idealized as BioWare’s take on the procedurally generated exploration game that No Man’s Sky tried to pull off, to the sloppily released final content we were given in the end. “Sloppily” here does not refer to the game’s overall “badness” in this sense, this is more a descriptor of the fact that there were literally several unpolished elements of the game that existed post-release that should have been dealt with prior to launch. Unfortunately, the result was swift- fans immediately dropped their verdict of the game, dismissing the game in its entirety quickly. This immediate dismissal leads to an equally immediate cessation of further discussion; people say the game is bad, so it has to be bad, right? Sure, reviewer sites will try to parse the actual gameplay and narrative to eventually create something resembling a review, but what it ultimately does is fan the flames of community disapproval. This is not to say that consumers are not justified and expressing their disappointment of their favorite product, but what this does mean is that the gaming consumer has so much leverage of the success of a game that it almost creates little room for the benefit of the doubt without someone being ostracized.

The problem we are describing here is that when a community quickly dismisses a game as “bad” or quickly praises it as “good” despite factors such as, say, games being in Early Access (i.e. PUBG), a wall is erected preventing the general community from fully enjoying or experiencing the game itself without having heavy handed opinions over their shoulder as to the quality of the game they play. Game reviews are an important part of understanding whether the game is truly worth playing or not, but that is ultimately to the discretion of the individual buyer/consumer. When games become quickly judged without actual analysis, we close the possibility that there may be redeemable elements in a “bad” game that can make it “good”, or at least bearable-and games that are “good” having elements that can make the game actually be problematic. What makes Andromeda resemble something closer to “good” is its story. We know that the general story itself is all over the place and its ending (no spoilers) presumably leaves us at a massive cliffhanger that would have been sorted out through some sort of DLC/expansion. However, the Mass Effect series doesn’t simply focus on the overarching “save the galaxy” theme; it has smaller scale story telling elements that cohesively brings the entire plot together. For Andromedait was the smaller storytelling elements like character back stories and day-to-day life of the pilgrims of the Milky Way galaxy that added a certain charm to the game. There was a kind of endearing element of knowing that you character, Ryder, will commit to actions that well help establish a troubled initiative on proper footing and that feels great. But the legitimacy of these elements that theoretically would make something “good” or at least categorized as “decent” don’t apply once an immediate refusal and/or dismissal is dropped by the general public.

Sophia Park’s Polygon article actually touches on this problem of how such a quick dismissal of media elements leads to us losing such potentially positive experiences, arguing that with Andromeda, there is a kind of greatness hidden in it’s “mess” or “badness” in my vernacular. As Park puts it:

Mass Effect: Andromeda complicates its questions about identity and personhood with its “messiness.” It has questions it isn’t sure it’s asking. But that doesn’t lead it to being a waste of anyone’s effort, nor is it a joke. This issue showed us something more raw than we expected about the studio process by creating that story. The synthetic/organic relationship felt more personal because it was given some space to be explored honestly. It wasn’t honed or buffed away during the production.

And yes, it’s still great in spite of that rawness. Maybe it’s great because of the authenticity that rawness provides. So why was this left out of so much of the discussion around the game?

The central issue here that both I and Park make is why a game with redeeming qualities and genuinely good features is quickly ignored or marginalized simply because the game has been deemed “messy” or “bad”. There is no critical analysis at this point as the community, which Mass Effect’s community in particular has shown, will begin to bash, troll, and sh*t post the game’s “messiness” or “badness” to oblivion. This leads to little or no consideration of redeemable elements that could have made the experience a positive one for a different crows.  The Destiny series also follows a similar path. Whereas the sequel has had a lot of good media over the past few weeks, the original Destiny was hammered with bad reviews from the community. Many who have never even played the game were now quick to downplay the game merely because it had been deemed both “messy” and “bad” by the community standards. Although Destiny had irredeemable flaws in its story telling at launch and horrible weapon balancing, the subsequent DLCs made the gameplay experience much more bearable and even fun. It is why there was still an optimistic community of Destiny players who found joy in the game despite the increasingly bad press the game received.

The central point I wanted to make is that games such as Mass Effect Andromeda are never truly given a proper analytical lens for consideration because the community always finds itself to be the highest voice of authority in deeming the goodness or badness of a game’s merits and quality. Again, this is not to say that games like Andromeda should win game of the year awards, but there is an inherent problem with how the gaming community is quick to judge the value of a game based off quickly dismissive remarks of a game’s features. Given that even centralized scoring systems can be manipulated to poorly represent or positively represent a game, such as Steam’s recent issues with review bombing, often times one can only take reviewers verdict on the games they play as subjective experience that only they would have experience in their own way. Ultimately, we must take other people’s perspectives with a grain of salt and investigate the goodness of a game through our own perspective. There will always be a general consensus of objectively broken or incomplete games, but “good” and “bad” games are ultimately dependent on the sole individual and not the general market, at least from a critical analysis lens. I’m not entirely done with Mass Effect Andromeda, but it was a good enough experience to temporarily break me away from my Destiny 2 grinding, which for me holds some merit. Sure, the game may be far from perfect, but it has a certain essence to it that definitely is still reminiscent of the Mass Effect series, even if it doesn’t completely replicate it.

“Comrades”, Final Fantasy XV’s Multiplayer Expansion, Is Set to Release Next Month

Final Fantasy XV's latest content drop comes out this October.

Final Fantasy XV’s latest content drop comes out this October.

Some more information has been surfaced on the strange expansion to the Final Fantasy XV universe. Some time back, we wrote on the multiplayer expansion “Comrades” and how it fit awkwardly with a primarily single-player experience of Final Fantasy XV. Today we got additional footage of the expansion, which shows off the setting that it takes place in and what exactly the point of the whole online experience is all about.

From what we could parse from the new trailer, Comrades takes place directly after Chapter 13 of the main game, and you play as one of the many Kingsglaives, protecting Eos from the impending perpetual darkness that occurs after Noctis takes his leave. Bestowed with the power of the Kings, you and your fellow Kingsglaive go out and try to kill hold off as many Daemons as possible. The game seems to tie this plot point in through the many quests that will be made available to you. Presumably Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio will be important characters in the resistance, while other important figures may pop up as well.

From what we gathered from the closed online test, Comrades will mostly revolve around questing with other players and collecting materials to let your fully customizable character grow stronger, as well as give them some cool/silly outfits while you’re doing it. It will be interesting to see how Square Enix will incorporate the FFXV narrative into Comrades. Square Enix has gone towards updating their base game as much as they can to improve the quality control of the series, while also adding important story points to close up any problematic plot holes that the game at launch did not answer. Comrades will release October 31 on PS4 and Xbox One.

Left Alive’s Debut Teaser at Tokyo Game Show Looks Promising

Square Enix's new IP may be a cool post-war mech game, considering the team who will be making the game.

Square Enix’s new IP may be a cool post-war mech game, considering the team who will be making the game.

Today at in a pre-show of the Tokyo Game Show press conference, Square Enix showed off a new IP, but with familiar artwork involved. The new IP, Left Alive, didn’t show much in terms of gameplay, but based on the artwork and the teaser, which you can see below, we’re definitely getting a war/post apocalyptic feel to the game.

Metal Gear’s Yoji Shinkawa will be fronting the character design team (hence the familiar art work) and  Toshifumi Nabeshima of Armored Cored V is directing the series. Considering that there are some heavy sci-fi elements in the teaser, we may actually see a new mech IP popping up for once! Left Alive is slated for release next year in Japan, but there is currently no word on whether there will be an international release yet.

Holy Crap, A Zone of Enders Remake is Coming to PS4

Zone of Enders 2nd Runner is getting a remake!

Zone of Enders 2nd Runner is getting a remake!

The iconic Sci-Fi mech game Zone of Enders will be getting a remake for the PS4 it seems! Created by Metal Gear Solid legend Hideo Kojima, the new ZOE game will come with enhanced graphics, 4K support, new recorded music and sounds, and VR support.

The game being remade is not, in fact, the first ZOE game, but Anubis: Zone of Enders, which was known in the West as Zone of Enders: The 2nd Runner. The new remake of the game is called Anubis Zone of Enders: M∀RS. The remake of the sequel will make its way to Japan in Spring 2018. There is currently no word on whether there will be a Western release or not, but considering the popularity of the series here, it seems very likely that we will also be receiving the now much anticipated remake. Although comparatively short by then standards, the ZOE series was praised for its amazing science fiction art work and interesting plot and gameplay. 2nd Runner was the much more popularized sequel to the original, making massive improvements to the game play of the original game and gaining an almost cult following for it. It’s exciting to see a non-Metal Gear Kojima game getting the remake facelift.

King’s Knight: A Frustrating but Nostalgic Reimagining of a Classic Shoot em Up

King's Knight makes its way to mobile platforms, but is plagued with control issues.

King’s Knight makes its way to mobile platforms, but is plagued with control issues.

King’s Knight made its way to the play store and iTunes last week and reviews have been…mixed. The game, which is a reboot of the original NES game, first came to light as a cameo inside Final Fantasy XV. Finally reaching mobile devices internationally, King’s Knight definitely feels like a fresh new game, but has some frustrating issues that detracts from the potential fun of the game.

King’s Knight follows four adventurers as they investigate the recent influx of beasts attacking the land of Olthea. The game plays like a top down shoot em up, allowing you to move freely in different directions. You can have a party of up to four members, which you get mostly through a gaccha style pull system, which utilizes premium currency to use. There’s also a co-op mode, where you and up to 3 other players can band together and complete special co-op objectives and receive nice rewards from them. Very typical of mobile RPG games, King’s Knight also employs weapon and accessory enhancement, as well as unit leveling and evolution as part of their main progression features. It’s an overall simple gameplay experience with a decent story, but its horrible control scheme and questionable gaccha system really puts down the enjoyment of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, King’s Knight is fun, but its controls are not at all fun to mess with. The virtual controller scheme both makes it hard for the player to see what’s going on on their screen and also makes it hard to actually move the characters. There are times where my directional pad does not move where I want it to move, leaving my character stuck in a cluster of enemies, getting me killed in the process. When my character is able to move, I can’t seem to see them at times, since my fingers get in the way of the actual actual in game. At this point, the game feels like it is something best played connected to a bluetooth controller of some sort than relying on the current control scheme. It’s not just the directional buttons that seem to be causing problems either; the jump and shoot buttons also cause some annoying problems in game as well. Players have reported that sometimes characters will jump instead of shoot and vice versa, which definitely breaks the fast paced action that you would expect for a shoot em up type game. The control scheme problem only gets worse if you further progress through the game, where enemies become exponentially more powerful. It becomes very evident at this point that movement is a definite must have in order to succeed, so when movement controls this bad persist in game, it almost makes the experience impossible because you’ll be dead at no fault of your own.

The gaccha mechanics of the game are also questionable in King’s Knight. Normally, gaccha games are pretty standard in the mobile market, but most mobile game developers accommodate for its player base, giving them free premium currency by playing the game or even as event rewards. King’s Knight initially rewards you on launch day with a hefty sum of its premium currency, called Regalcite,  allowing you pull 11 units at once, but after that things get a bit difficult. Not only are drop rates obviously bad, but the acquisition of Regalcite is impossible for viable summoning, as most quest reward between 1-5, well below the amount needed for just one summon. Even with extended periods of playing, there never seems to be enough rewards to quite get to summoning. Furthermore, the “good” units that you pull don’t seem to make a marginal difference in your gameplay experience, as both character and weapon equipments provide the stats necessary for performance in combat. Unfortunately, the acquisition of good weapons and accessories is also pay walled through the Regalcite summons, this time with weapons and accessories. The game is still in its infancy globally, so there is a chance that Square Enix will be more accommodating with its player base, but considering their track record, we wouldn’t hold our breath on them being more generous.

King’s Knight brings back a classic game to mobile devices with beautiful visuals and an interesting enough story, but its horrible control scheme and questionable gaccha mechanics really pull players away from fully enjoying the game. Also, the current player mechanics aren’t readily apparent, with many characters feeling like they do the same thing instead of having a unique benefit that makes them the meta or at least fit for end game/late game content. Despite this, King’s Knight has the potential to develop into a solid mobile RPG shoot em up, so long as Square Enix addresses these blaring issues in its current form. King’s Knight is currently available for download for Android and iOS devices.

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