Starting Screen: Mass Effect Andromeda is Coming Out at Exactly the Wrong Time

There's never a good time for a bad game to come out, but this month is worse than most.

Feature by Kat Bailey, .

Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and racing games.

Good morning, and welcome to gaming's first review apocalypse of 2017—BioWare's Mass Effect: Andromeda.

The forthcoming space epic, which is out tomorrow, has received mixed to positive reviews, leaving it at 77 on Metacritic. I was actually one of the harsher critics in awarding it a three out of five, though it feels weird to call a middling score "harsh." It's the prototypical open-world game that has some good ideas but is also fairly flawed.

Naturally, Twitter and the rest of the gaming sphere has decided that this is a disaster of the first order. The gaming community loves its narratives, and in much the same way that Horizon Zero Dawn is being elevated into Game of the Year contention, Mass Effect Andromeda is already being cast as an irredeemable failure. In a few years, Mass Effect Andromeda will be held up as a prime example of BioWare's "dark years," if there are such a thing.

The thing is, Mass Effect Andromeda was probably screwed regardless. BioWare's reputation has taken a hit of late, and It's coming out in a period with some notably popular games. I'm not a big fan of Horizon Zero Dawn, but I know plenty of people who are; and when paired with Breath of the Wild, March has given us a pretty formidable 1-2 punch of games. And that's not including Nier: Automata, which we loved, and Persona 5, which stands to be pretty damn good.

In general, there's an overwhelming sense of being buried by a lot of high-quality games right now, making any potential backlash twice as harsh. In the wake of the vicious mockery of its animations, Andromeda seems to have hit a perfect storm of raised expectations and expected disappointment. There are some studios that people are willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Right now, BioWare is not one of those studios.

Does that make the criticism of Andromeda unfair or unduly harsh? Not really. Andromeda's boilerplate encounters, stripped down dialogue, and overall lack of imagination still invites plenty of criticism. I doubt that the critical concensus would have changed much even if it had been released in January or February. But the fact that there are so many good games out right now makes the criticism extra keen. The narrative was more or less set the second that the gifs highlighting Andromeda's awkward animations started to hit, and it's only going to grow harsher as time goes on.

Mass Effect: Andromeda Review

When strange new worlds aren't strange enough.

End Credits: A Look Back on This Week's Best Articles About Mass Effect, Nier, Zelda, and More

End Credits wraps up the week by pointing you to the coolest stuff we wrote across the past five days. This week: Disney Afternoon Collection is coming (but not to Switch), Zelda's oozing with cool stuff, and Mass Effect Andromeda looks ... ehh.

Nier: Automata and the Illusion of Survival

“Everything that lives is designed to end."

But that's how things are now. Games are a major investment of time and energy; and with only so many hours in the day, people are bound to gravitate to the cream of the crop. It's no wonder that studios tend to gravitate toward safe, established designs given how little room there is for error. Mass Effect Andromeda is mostly notable for being a perfect storm of anti-hype: viral memes, a busy release window, and a general lack of confidence in its developer. Whatever its relative merits, they're bound to be buried by the narrative that it's a terrible game and BioWare are past their prime.

It's not a horrible game by any means, but there's less and less room for "not bad" in the current media landscape. And with so much love in the air for Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, and everything else, the time was ripe for a bit of disappointment. Unfortunately for BioWare, Mass Effect Andromeda seems poised to catch the brunt of it.

Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week

As long as we're talking about flawed RPGs, how about a moment to remember Resonance of Fate? tri-Ace's gun-centric adventure was one of a handful of weird, experimental RPGs released on the PS3 back in 2010, ultimately garnering a small but loyal audience. Part action RPG and part tactics game, Resonance of Fate has you sprint across a stage spraying bullets while mixing in backflips like a character out of the The Matrix. It's a weird but memorable game, not the least because it had cutscenes like the above, which I never get tired of posting. It's a weird game—not one that I would necessarily characterize as "good"—but it still maintains a strangely positive place in my heart. If you still have a PS3, I recommend checking it out, if only because it's so different from its contemporaries... or really anything that's come out since.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box:Seiken Densetsu 3's Decision Bell

Is Seiken Densetsu 3 (which can loosely be thought of as the sequel to Secret of Mana) coming to the Nintendo Switch? Maybe! Will it be officially translated and released for English-speaking audiences? Probably not!

When the Virtual Console first became a thing, I harbored dreams about region-exclusive games finally going global, e.g. Terranigma and an assortment of Japanese titles. It happened, like with Rondo of Blood, but very rarely. Once Nintendo discovered the Virtual Console is the perfect instrument for crushing retro gamers' hearts into a pulsating crimson paste, it indulged in our misery again and again. I don't expect anything will change.

Thankfully, you don't have to understand Japanese to take in Seiken Densetsu's Decision Bell, the music that accompanies your party through the game's (Rabite-infested) iteration of the Holy Land / Pure Land. I have a weakness for huge, brassy bells, and this tune has them in spades.

I have to admit I generally don't find Seiken Densetsu 3's soundtrack as memorable or as stirring as Secret of Mana's, but it definitely works the SNES's soundchip a lot harder. Hope you like woodwinds.

Mike's Media Minute

Friday marked the release of the fourth Marvel show in Netflix's quartet of street-level heroes, Iron Fist. Iron Fist covers the adventures for Danny Rand, a heir to a billionaire's empire who also find himself to be the heir to an ancient legacy. Lost in the mystical city of K'un L'un, Danny becomes the Iron Fist, a martial artist who can control his Chi to make his fist a thing like iron.

The early reviews weren't kind to the show and in my final estimation, I think they were a bit harsh, but it's not a great show. It's not a horrible show either. It's just kind of there, occupying a space in your viewing habits.

Finn Jones isn't really the problem, it's that the show has no real vision. It spends its time equally with boardroom politics as it does with martial arts action. Things happen, but if you look over the course of the entire show, nothing really happens at all. (An issue in the previous Marvel shows is they're really 8-10 episode shows stretched to 13 episodes.)

Worse, the martial arts action isn't great. This show had to do at least one thing right: the fighting. It doesn't. The choreography is okay, the hit have no impact, and the editing seems to have to compensate for the fact that Jones isn't actually a martial artist. The best of shows like Arrow and Agents of SHIELD surpass Iron Fist. Worse, the same weekend Iron Fist debuts, AMC's Into The Badlands begins its second season, showing how you pull off an amazing martial arts show on a TV budget. ITB's characterization and writing is dodgy, but the fight scenes are art, so it works. Iron Fist doesn't have the later to lean on.

Overall, it's a disappointment, because this should've been the easy sell. Hopefully, season two follows with a showrunner who has a love for martial arts action and the source material. The elements here aren't bad, they just need to be put together properly. If you're hungry for martial arts action, watch Into the Badlands.

Caty’s (AltGame) Corner

One of my favorite mobile games is Mini Metro, a port of a PC and Mac game about mapping out a transit system and ensuring that all commuters get to their destinations in a timely fashion. On mobile, the game’s far more intuitive than its original version, a calming experience as you watch the trains whizz by, tapping to add extra carriages or trains as needed per line. The game, despite its serenely plain visuals, gets chaotic quickly, as lines zig zag across one another, and inevitably a station closes due to overcrowding. In Cosmic Express, the latest game from developers Cosmic Engineers, I’m brought back to that tranquility, only this time with a side of puzzle and pastel goodness.

Cosmic Express began as a game born of the annual Train Jam, a literal train-bound game jam that developers partake in on the long ride to San Francisco from Chicago for the Game Developer’s Conference. After the 2015’s jam, developer Alan Hazelden teamed up with fellow developer Benjamin Davis and 3D artist Tyu to further craft the macaroon-hued, alien-saturated world of Cosmic Express.

In its recently released entirety, you lay down the twisty tracks of an intergalactic train on an isometric circular surface, hellbent on helping usher alien passengers to their destinations. As the game progresses, the destinations require a bit more thought to realize in an efficient fashion. But even if you grow flustered, the saccharine color palette makes the experience alone a delight. Cosmic Express is available for iOS, Android, PC, Mac, and Linux.

Racing With Jaz

Although it's been out in Europe since the end of last year, WRC 6 was only recently released in the US, and this weekend I spent some time getting to grips with it. It's the official game of the World Rally Championships, and packs all the cars and drivers from the 2016 WRC series, as well as a selection of WRC 2 and WRC Junior teams. The action plays out across 14 races that comprise 65 individual special stages (including 11 super special stages).

So far, driving the game has been an entertaining experience. The handling engine is one of the game's strengths: It feels detailed and involving, and nicely captures the different kinds of surfaces featured in rallying, from hustling cars down narrow, twisting, and bumpy dirt tracks to caning them around the tarmac super special stages. As a consequence, racing can feel quite exciting, and the action is definitely quite challenging.

However, while the game drives well, there are a few graphical glitches. The cars and tracks are generally nicely detailed, but unfortunately there's a lot of screen tearing. It's not like it completely ruins the action, but for those who care about this sort of technical aspect, I think the game could potentially be off-putting. Another weakness is simply the subject matter itself. Because it's a licensed product, WRC 6 just doesn't feature a particularly compelling range of cars - definitely not as broad and interesting as the likes of DiRT Rally, for example. That said, it's also a lot more forgiving that Codemasters' brilliant, but hardcore off-road racer, making it a better game to play if you're new to rallying - assuming you don't mind putting up with its technical flaws

Quick Thoughts

  • I hooked up my new TV over the weekend—a 4K Samsung that positively dwarfs my previous set. I finished my review of Mass Effect Andromeda on it, soaking in the ultra crisp visuals and the vibrant colors. It's made me seriously consider picking up a PlayStation 4 Pro that I haven't until now. Of course, the flipside of getting a new television is that they can be tough to calibrate. I flipped over to HDR and found it entirely too dark, so now I'm obsessively fiddling with my settings in an effort to ensure that everything is just so. My main fear is that HDR won't really be compatible with the TV's gaming mode, which will hurt its input delay. Sadly, nothing's perfect, but it still looks fantastic in 1080p. That's perfectly alright for now.
  • Speaking of the PlayStation 4 Pro, I can't wait to see the above beautiful 4K.
  • On the subject of Mass Effect Andromeda, word hit over the weekend that a bunch of misguided fans are harrassing some poor developer working in EA's motion capture studio, to which I ask: seriously? When did it become okay to harrass people over the work they've done on a video game?
  • Circling around to games that are somewhat less disappointing than Mass Effect Andromeda, Caty has this lovely meditation on life and death in Nier: Automata, a fascinating game that is being sadly overlooked amid all the hype for Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild. As I would say on the podcast: "Throw it on the pile."
  • There was a minor kerfuffle last week when Capcom announced that a bunch of their old Disney Afternoon games will be bundled and re-released (yay!), but that the Switch will be left out of the mix (boo). It's a disappointing decision, but perhaps emblematic of how cautious developers are being around Switch. But with initial sales and hype being relatively strong, more developers may be hopping aboard soon. All I know is that I want to play more NES games on that screen.
  • Here's an X-ray of the Nintendo Switch's guts to start your week. Enjoy!
  • I'm not normally one to rail against another site's "Best of" list, but this article on The Ringer recently caught my eye. It purports to pick the best game since Ocarina of Time, with Ringer editors throwing in some obvious choices (Shadow of the Colossus, Last of Us) and some weird ones (Metal Gear Solid 2, the original GTA III). Notably absent from the list is Dark Souls, which we called our best game from 2000, and a number of other games (Witcher 3?) Lists like these are always gonna be kind of arbitrary, but as The Ringer looks to expand its footprint in the gaming space, they might want to dig a little deeper than the original Halo trilogy in their hunt for the best games since Ocarina of Time.
  • Speaking of lists, Caty has this look at Shin Megami Tensei games that you should check out after Persona 5, which is out in a couple weeks. Read if you're looking for games that will keep you busy over the next decade or so.
  • If you haven't been totally swamped by this month's releases, a lot of last year's best games are getting big DLC updates in next week. Final Fantasy XV, Dark Souls 3, and Battlefield 1 will all be seeing major content drops, and Destiny will be hosting an Age of Triumph event. So, you know, if you weren't already completely buried...
  • As always, we're keen to hear what you're playing. Are you planning to pick up Mass Effect Andromeda despite the reviews? Are you still all in on Zelda or Horizon Zero Dawn? Or are you revisiting an old favorite? Let us know!

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Comments 23

  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #1 Tetragrammaton 11 months ago
    As a fan of The Podcast Formerly Known As Keepin' It 1600 I have a lingering fondness for The Ringer. For what it's worth, Halo 1 does have a pretty good claim to be one of the best games since Ocarina of Time since it near singlehandedly justified a purchase of the original Xbox and made online multiplayer A Thing on consoles.

    It wouldn't be my choice for best game since Ocarina but based on that criteria it's an understandable choice.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #2 NiceGuyNeon 11 months ago
    If Breath of the Wild doesn't win game of the year at nearly outlet it's going to be because it's the second best game ever made. Hyperbole? YOU WISH! But it's enough to make me shrug at the new Mass Effect. I love the original trilogy, but I'm not in the mood for open world Mass Effect with subpar writing. I don't think every game needs to be open nor do I think every game benefits from being open. Mass Effect is a surprisingly compact and focused trilogy and I love that about it.

    I'm definitely going to be buying Nier Automata eventually, but I'm still smitten with Zelda. I beat it and I honestly don't know what to do with myself. I want to play more of it. After 102 hours and all 120 shrines I still want more.

    That said I have the first Nier and think I should play that before Automata.

    I also have Resonance of Fate which I'm considering too. It was cool to see it discussed.

    But also Zelda is so heavy on my mind I want to take a break from games. I don't know how I'm supposed to transition to other releases.

    So I'm sure Mass Effect is fine and all. Like, it's a game. It exists. It works. But I'm over here having a formative gaming experience as an adult and not an impressionable 12 year old. It's tough when your competition is amazing and you're just kind of there.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #3 NiceGuyNeon 11 months ago
    I think the original Halo trilogy is the best shooter series ever. I put it above Doom, Half-Life, and Quake, all of which I grew up with.

    I don't see anything wrong with their list.

    Super Mario Galaxy 2 is my favorite game of last gen and in my opinion the greatest platformer ever made.

    Halo is my favorite game of its gen and in my opinion the greatest shooter ever made.

    Resident Evil 4 is my favorite action game ever made.

    Grand Theft Auto 3 is arguably the single most influential game since it's release. It's hands are all over everything now including Zelda.

    Metroid Prime is in my opinion the best GameCube game ever made, ahead of Wind Waker and RE4, and one of the greatest shooters ever made.

    So they didn't have Dark Souls or Persona 4, two of my favorite games (Persona 4 being the better game over Dark Souls and in my opinion the best RPG I have ever played), but I also know these aren't for everyone.

    Their list is fine. It highlights individual editor favorites and they wrote a lot of stuff that speaks to me from RE4's pacing to how affecting the Phendrana Drifts are in Metroid Prime. Not everything needs Dark Souls, as wonderful as it is.

    It could also just be that they're my age and we share similar experiences. I don't know I'm not diving in, but their choices are fine.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #4 Tetragrammaton 11 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon But also Zelda is so heavy on my mind I want to take a break from games. I don't know how I'm supposed to transition to other releases.

    Egads, that's exactly where I'm at. When I'm playing other games, I wish I were playing Zelda. When I'm at work I wish I had my Switch on hand. It's the same feeling I got when I was playing Xenoblade (and X) but x1000. I think when I finish BotW I'm going to step away from gaming for a while. Catch up on my reading, find a new job. I can already tell I need loads of detox time or I'm going to be soured by everything not being Zelda.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #5 yuberus 11 months ago
    I've still been hooked on Zelda - it has some flaws but I'm loving it! Probably will still be at it for a couple more weeks, at any rate. Beyond that game? Maybe Persona 4 and some old school games.

    Mike is more optimistic about a season 2 of Iron Fist than I am!
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #6 Roto13 11 months ago
    I've finished Zelda and I want something to play in the couple of weeks until Persona 5 comes out. (And I can't find Nier: Automata anywhere.) It's Andromeda for me.

    I finished powering through Iron Fist today (despite spending most of the weekend at Toronto Comic Con) and I thought it was pretty dull. It was weird. A few of the Netflix Marvel seasons have had stretches that were bad. Iron Fist was never that good to begin with so its low points weren't as frustrating as the last few episodes of, say, Daredevil Season 2 or Luke Cage.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #7 touchofkiel 11 months ago
    I really like Starting Screen. It reminds me of the various official blogs you guys used to throw together at 1UP, with all sorts of random thoughts on various topics that don't really have a place anywhere else.

    But I think Bioware is getting the benefit of the doubt...otherwise, let's face it, without Bioware, who would care about what looks like a flawed, very generic sci-fi shooter/RPG hybrid? There's no denying that, on the surface at least, Mass Effect (and Dragon Age, while we're at it) are REALLY generic in their world-building and archetypes. I never would have had interest in either series (ME1 10 years ago, damn!) if they weren't from "those guys who did BG and KOTOR."
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #8 chaoticBeat 11 months ago
    @touchofkiel I think the Bioware fame cuts both ways though. It's because of Andromeda's connection with the original ME trilogy that it's being held to such a high standard. Can you imagine if Andromeda was made by a lower budget rpg studio like Spiders? I think that it would probably have higher scores across the board.
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  • Avatar for TomMog #9 TomMog 11 months ago
    As narratives go, Bioware is screwed no matter what they do because there will always be a thick cloud of "Bioware sucks" surrounding every release of theirs, pouring out of a highly motivated, incredibly loud group of non-fans with axes to grind. Release schedule rivals don't matter one bit. Andromeda is coming out at exactly the wrong time because over the years Bioware has amassed a cadre of very vocal, very passionate people who hate their guts for various reasons.

    Even if they did release something as good as Breath of the Wild, social media would just end up being chock full of "actually it's bad" posts, with some smatterings of accusations of reviewer collusion. As it is, a whole lot of people are casting various 6 or 7 out of 10 scores as "mediocre" while grinning and rubbing their hands, as they insist those scores are irrefutable evidence that they've been right about the awfulness of Bioware all along. And maybe they're right, I don't know, because I don't really play Bioware games. I'm just getting tired of hearing about it at this point.

    Anyway, while it's technically true that this is the worst time for the Andromeda release, it hardly matters, since any time you'd care to name is also the worst time.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #10 SatelliteOfLove 11 months ago
    That Hiroki Kikuta 3-Dimensional Sound™

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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #11 NiceGuyNeon 11 months ago
    @Tetragrammaton I beat it last night. It took me 2 weeks and 102 hours. I've never marathoned a game like this in my life. As a kid my mom would stop me. As an adult I was used to playing 2 or so hours and then doing something else. I just am so blown away by it that I feel like if I play something else I'm just going to disappoint myself.

    I think I'm going to just read a novel and break away from games for like 2 weeks or more if necessary.
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  • Avatar for Jaegermeist3r #12 Jaegermeist3r 11 months ago
    First things first: great read.
    I`m on my second playthrough of nier automata. Such a great combination of platinum games action, RPG, Open world and a great story, which i only begin to grasp. I hope that enough people bought this gem so that square enix will further invest in a Yoko taro/ platinum cooperation.
    Suikoden II takes the spot in my pre-bed game time. The sprites in this game look gorgeous especially the animations. It's a big step if you compare it to the first one, which looked more like a pretty SNES game. The story is also more engaging with a villain you have to despise deeply.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #13 nadiaoxford 11 months ago
    @SatelliteOfLove Gotta love how The Sacrifice series of songs ties so closely to the ending gauntlet of Secret of Mana songs, i.e. The Oracle and Meridian Dance.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #14 TheWildCard 11 months ago
    Resonance of Fate = best Tri-Ace game not named Valkyrie Profile.

    I ended up jumping on deals and picked up both Horizon and Breath of the Wild (on Wii U). Wasn't sure if I should try to play both, but then my TV started dying and made my decision for me! So yeah working on Zelda, getting close to tackling my first Divine Beast.
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #15 NateDizzy 11 months ago
    So nice to see Resonance of Fate get some love. It really is a wonderful game. Franky, I still don't understand why Sega released at roughly the same time as FFXIII, but this is Sega we're talking about. They weren't exactly making sound business decisions at the time.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #16 Mooglepies 11 months ago
    Seiken Densetsu 3 is an amazing game. Such a shame it never got localised at all. I actually have a repro cart for it that came with the SNES Mini I bought (I wanted an NTSC SNES that did RGB out) and I also picked up the Japanese version of the game because, as you say, you don't really need to understand Japanese to play it, particularly if you'd played the fan translation.

    I'm taking a break from Breath of the Wild to play... More Zelda. Specifically, the Link to the Past randomiser hack. It's really great.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #17 TheWildCard 11 months ago
    @TomMog There is a lot of bad blood out there, but if Bioware released a great game critics would have no problem praising it. Unfortunately, they are bound to get a lot of flack for anything less than great.
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  • Avatar for Thetick #18 Thetick 11 months ago
    Nice overview. I still have the 360 resonance of fate lying around, waiting for xbox BC to get me playing again. I did pre order mass effect and i am sure i will enjoy it. If it looks good and plays good i am happy.

    Horizon zero dawn is a mixed bag for me. I love the monster fighting on very hard. The graphics are great. But characters and mission are... meh. Also I do need to sneak Zelda in there before the 28th when destiny gets loving farewell. Busy monthEdited March 2017 by Thetick
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #19 Mega_Matt 11 months ago
    Maybe I'll get Mass Effect if I ever stop playing Zelda... I was a big fan of the first 2 Mass Effect games. Ending aside, the 3rd just didn't do a lot for me and I haven't been hungry for another game in the series since then. I have a feeling I'll go for something else when the time comes to play another game. Too many games for the time I have to play them.
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  • Avatar for gigantor21 #20 gigantor21 11 months ago
    You just HAD to post those MLB pictures didn't you? DIDN'T YOU!?
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  • Avatar for jimmyhill11 #21 jimmyhill11 11 months ago
    I think some of the stinky attitude towards ME-A and Bioware comes from a perception that past Bioware games have been given a bit of a pass by reviewers and gamers feel like they've been stung for that.
    Don't get me wrong, I'm not coming at this from a 'gamer gate games media are corrupt' nonsense stand point. Just the simpler fact that, for whatever reason, the games media got it wrong. There is a general feeling that DA2 was generously reviewed. ME3 was divisive but the the reviews don't reflect this. And DA-I again was generously reviewed, something that became painfully obvious in the wake of Witcher 3. The games weren't bad, it's just that that they were flawed in various ways and maybe the reviews glossed this.Edited March 2017 by jimmyhill11
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #22 Tetragrammaton 11 months ago
    Question: whos's going to be handling the news about Radiant Historia getting the Overclocked treatmentl, and who's going to be doing the retrospective?
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #23 Ohoni 11 months ago
    I'm really enjoying Mass Effect, but it could have been magnitudes better if they'd spent a few more months polishing it, at the minimum fixing the janky main menu UI, and ideally adding more options for facial customization. It likely would have sold way better too, since I would contentedly keep playing Horizon until it was ready to come out. They should have pushed it back to June or so.
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