The story behind Mass Effect: Andromeda’s 5-year development

Almost immediately, fans asked how this happened. Why was Andromeda so much worse than its predecessors? How could the revered RPG studio release such an underwhelming game? And, even if the problems were a little exaggerated by the internet’s strange passion for hating BioWare, how could Andromeda ship with so many animation issues?

I’ve spent the past three months investigating the answers to those questions. From conversations with nearly a dozen people who worked on Mass Effect: Andromeda, all of whom spoke under condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the game, a consistent picture has emerged. The development of Andromeda was turbulent and troubled, marred by a director change, multiple major re-scopes, an understaffed animation team, technological challenges, communication issues, politics, a compressed timeline, and brutal crunch.

Many games share some of these problems, but to those who worked on it, Andromeda felt unusually difficult. This was a game with ambitious goals but limited resources, and in some ways, it’s miraculous that BioWare shipped it at all. (EA and BioWare declined to comment for this article.)

Mass Effect: Andromeda was in development for five years, but by most accounts, BioWare built the bulk of the game in less than 18 months. This is the story of what happened.

This is a great read, even if you don’t care much about games in general or Mass Effect in particular. It’s a cautionary tale.

BioWare is one the greatest game studios of all time, boasting a long list of genre-defining games that people will continue to enjoy for decades to come. I never bought into the whole “EA ruined BioWare” nonsense, but with a story like this under my belt – which I almost found a little emotional to read – it becomes harder and harder to discard the negative influence EA has over this great studio.

I enjoyed Mass Effect: Andromeda, and 100%-ed the game despite its uneven quality, and it sports some great moments and by far the best combat system of the entire series, but you’d have to be blind to not see the disjointed state of the game, with some aspects – like the aforementioned combat system – feeling fully realised and polished, while other aspects were subpar not just for BioWare standards, but for gaming standards in general – such as the story, some of the characters, and, of course, the animations. I am grateful to each and every writer, animator, designer, and programmer who, according to the reports in the article, were driven far, far beyond breaking point, for Andromeda.

BioWare and its people deserve a better master – or better yet, no master at all – and above all, the freedom to make their own choices. Most likely in vain, I hope EA learns from Andromeda.


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