Mass Effect: Andromeda could have restored the beloved franchise to its former glory. Instead, it very well may have knocked the already ailing series back on its heels even more. BioWare is already promising continuing support in the form of patches, but as we've seen many times in the games industry, the first impression is the one that matters. No patch can undo the damage to its reputation.
It's important to understand that Mass Effect's strength as a brand was already not at its peak. In the wake of Mass Effect 2, legitimately one of the best games of the last generation, the series was riding high. Its combination of strong storytelling, a cadre of instantly iconic characters, and solid action-RPG gameplay earned it praise and positive feelings that continue to this day.
Mass Effect 2 still enjoys a 94-96% rating on Metacritic depending on platform, with the notoriously tougher user review score still just below a 9/10. By comparison, Mass Effect 3 hit a slump. Its reviewer score ranges from 89-93%, which is understandable for the final entry in a trilogy that didn't quite stick the landing. The real story of the disparity is in its user scores, which dropped to 5 or 6 out of 10. While the critical and user reviews for ME2 were more-or-less aligned, there's a wide gulf for Mass Effect 3. Clearly, the fans were not pleased.
That's likely largely due to the controversy over the ending. Even with BioWare's attempted make-good, that backlash left the franchise's reputation with a black eye. Andromeda represented a chance to start fresh and win back those left disappointed by the last entry. While not without its charms, it certainly isn't the unqualified success the studio must have hoped.
Most frustratingly, it appears this may not be BioWare's fault. Insights from other developers and animators, as well as the timing of its release just before the end of the fiscal year, suggests that the developer may have simply run out of time. The goofy animations, for example, take more time in a Mass Effect game because it needs to respond algorithmically to several scenarios, and some might not have been smoothed over by hand. That makes the process efficient, but it comes at a cost. In the modern age of social media, problems that may have been isolated to a fraction of the userbase get amplified worldwide.
To its credit, BioWare has been aggressively supporting it with patches. We're already up to 1.04, and the game hasn't been out a week yet. More so, lead designer Ian Frazier said on Twitter that the team is looking at patching "lots of issues" and plans to "strongly support the game moving forward." It's entirely possible that in three or six months, the problems that are causing the most public embarrassment will be fixed, and the game will be virtually unrecognizable. A player picking it up for the holidays could have an experience that bears no resemblance to the current criticisms. We can hope, at least.
Those who do get it later will probably do so at steep discounts. The game is barely a few days old and it's already been price-slashed at some retailers, as much as 24% off. That suggests that its bad reception has already tarnished the reputation beyond repair, and in the eyes of retailers, they need to spur on sales sooner rather than later.
Whenever players do jump on-board, even if it's much improved and at a lower price, it will be too late for Andromeda–and maybe, for Mass Effect's already-suffering reputation. As Hello Games could tell you about its own space epic, post-launch support can't turn around a game's favors single-handedly. Mass Effect needed a strong new entry to lay the groundwork for the future. After this, Mass Effect as a franchise may not have one.