It’s April 4, which means BioWare’s "what’s ahead" announcement for Mass Effect: Andromeda — hyped last week in an odd tweet — is here.
Aaryn Flynn, the studio’s general manager, lays out what’s changing in a new blog post. There’s an initial patch, coming this Thursday, and a more general plan to address other issues with the game in subsequent patches to be released "over the next two months."
We’ll start with the imminent fixes. Here are the bullet points:
Allowing you to skip ahead when travelling between planets in the galaxy map
Increasing the inventory limits
Improving the appearance of eyes for humans and asari characters
Decreasing the cost of remnant decryption keys and making them more accessible at merchants
Improving localized voice over lip sync
Fixing Ryder’s movements when running in a zig zag pattern
Improving matchmaking and latency in multiplayer
The first thing on that list is a no-brainer, and a feature that really ought to have been in the game on day one. The spaceflight animations are probably in place to mask load screens, but they’re excessive.
Everything else is… just fine. Bigger inventories don’t mean much when the entire item management interface is as cumbersome as it is in Andromeda. I didn’t even know Remnant decryption keys were a sticking point — all they do is let you bypass a nifty series of puzzles — but so be it.
I would describe all of these changes as "quality of life" improvements. They don’t really address the game’s deeper issues, but they ought to make for a more pleasant time overall.
There’s also the roadmap for what’s coming in future patches. Here’s what Flynn wrote:
More options and variety in the character creator
Improvements to hair and general appearance for characters
Ongoing improvements to cinematic scenes and animations
Improvements to male romance options for Scott Ryder
Adjustments to conversations with Hainly Abrams
The first two items on this list also fall under the "quality of life" banner. Moreover, they don’t mean much if you’ve already started playing, since you only interact with the character creator before you begin a new game.
Continuing improvements to in-game cinematics and character animations? Good. That stuff can turn into a horrifying mess when Mass Effect starts to break. It’s just too bad Flynn doesn’t offer more specifics.
The last two bullet points are where things get weird.
"Improvements to male romance options" addresses a very specific piece of criticism: that the latest Mass Effect falls woefully short in offering a gay male version of Ryder any meaningful in-game romantic relationships.
This shortfall is a story unto itself — Kotaku Australia detailed it very well right here — but, in short, male Ryder’s only gay romance options are non-party members. That, in turn, means less character development around those relationships.
Then there’s Hainly Abrams. Again, this is a whole story unto itself and one that is difficult to sum up. Hainly Abrams is a trans character who introduces herself as such — but BioWare has faced criticism for the awkward abruptness of her introduction.
Again, this is a conversation that merits further reading and discussion. Check out Eurogamer’s and/or Polygon’s excellent breakdowns.
My point is this: I’ve already spent more time and more words talking about these meaningful criticisms than Flynn did. It was already jarring to see BioWare hype a patch notes announcement last week, but the actual announcement is even more problematic.
BioWare has effectively turned these very complicated and nuanced topics of discussion into bullet points. There is no context in Flynn’s announcement to explain why these things are being addressed, and there’s nothing to set critics’ minds at ease.
It’s all just too vague. Not only is it left unclear why these changes are happening, there’s also no sense of what form they’ll take. Even if we put the "why" aside, the "how" of it all is a complete mystery.
Beyond even that: I’m not entirely sure that patches can "fix" what’s wrong with Mass Effect: Andromeda. There are deeper issues — with the story delivery, the overall flat voice performances, the feeling of "smallness" in Andromeda’s ostensibly new and unexplored galaxy — that even the most extensive patch won’t be able to address.