Next Tuesday, developer BioWare is set to release Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest installment in its long-running Mass Effect video game series which saw its first entry a decade ago. Published by Electronic Arts ($EA), Mass Effect: Andromeda is being billed as a new standalone type of space, role-playing adventure that has loose ties to the original trilogy of games but is the start of a brand new story.
Now that the marketing speak is out of the way, I’d like to touch on my early impressions of playing the game while also give a brief explanation of my sales expectations for this year and beyond. Especially now that it’s been five years since Mass Effect 3, a game that was well-received but also lamented for certain aspects especially its ending.
I’ve played Mass Effect: Andromeda in a trial run under EA Access, the publisher’s subscription service that allows earlier games and previews of newer ones. My impressions have been mixed overall, to say the least, with a skew towards optimism once I was finished up.
First, the highlights of the early game for me:
- Setting. The original trilogy was set in our own Milky Way galaxy, while the new game is (quite obviously) set in the Andromeda galaxy. This opens up much more potential for exploration and finding new species of planet, wildlife and aliens to encounter.
- The game looks great. When it comes to visuals, art direction and color palette, the game has been stunning especially on its first “major” planet. I’m playing on Xbox One, though based on the consensus of previews online, this holds true for all platforms.
- You have a Jet-Pack! I said it on Twitter recently but I will reiterate it here: BioWare has added a jet-pack to the game, and it’s the the single, most important update to the series in its history in my opinion. One of the biggest knocks on earlier games is that the combat and mobility isn’t on par with other games in the genre. Having a jet-pack completely changes combat, especially when used with the game’s diverse suite of abilities.
- Story. I think there’s more to the story than the generic sci-fi setup that takes place early on. The premise is you are a key part of the Andromeda Initiative, a plan for humans to colonize a new galaxy. You wake from cryo-sleep to face hardship and a mysterious threat early on. I enjoy the way the game frames you has a futuristic explorer, dubbed a “Pathfinder,” rather than as a member of the military as in earlier titles. You have the choice at the beginning to play as one of two characters that are brother and sister, Scott or Sarah Ryder, then the other becomes a non-playable character existing in the world alongside you. The early story offers intrigue as to your background and how the relationship with your parents ties into your current situation, plus there are definite overtones of artificial intelligence and the relationship between mankind and machines.
- Customization options. Suffice it to say there are a lot of ways you can spec your character, from appearance and skills to gear and weapons. But the most important improvement is that now you aren’t “locked in” to a certain type of character role as older games required. You can move swiftly between styles: soldier, tech specialist, ability-enhanced bad-ass and the like!
But that last point actually leads me to the first item on my list of concerns with the game..
- All the customization, upgrade, skill, research and development options are overwhelming. After the game’s drawn-out prologue, it basically throws all its systems at you early on and it feels overwhelming even to someone that has played a lot of similar games. There are so many choices to make, the game boasts! Which is not always a good thing, especially early. I know this will ease over time, and you can re-spec your character as I mentioned above, I just don’t know where to focus my efforts in the early-game or have a good idea which combat abilities best suit my play-style. I almost wish there was a firing range or test area right away that I could leverage, rather than relying on the quick mini-tutorial videos that display each ability.
- Odd first impression. The game starts…. slowly, and makes an odd first impression. Most games now have a glorified tutorial area masquerading as a mission, and Mass Effect: Andromeda is no different. I know I said just above that I wish more of the game was “tutorialized,” but I mean that from a customization and choice standpoint, not from a story or gameplay one. It seemed like most of the time at the start of the game was walking, stopping, walking, stopping, sometimes shooting but mostly walking. At least I had a jet-pack to make it to faster!
- Animations. Especially those face animations. I can’t say much more than the internet has already said. There are plenty of videos and GIFs displaying the funny facial and other animations that are just a Google search away, and during my early play-through, I noticed the faces are particularly creepy.
- Generic characters. Perhaps it’s because I’m familiar with the older games, but right now all of the characters feel generic and “safe.” Same races and similar roles that populated the original trilogy, albeit with less of a military focus. This will assuredly change as I progress, I mean we are exploring a brand new galaxy, right!
- Controls. My last complaint, though it’s actually my biggest one too, is a through-line across all Mass Effect games. The controls are not good. They are still “loose” and never as responsive as I’d like. It doesn’t feel as good as other third-person action games. (Then again, it never did.) I don’t think there’s an easy way to swap weapons, or the game doesn’t go a good job of communicating if there is. Plus navigating the game’s variety of menu screens is tedious and cumbersome, not as snappy as it could be. Not to mention the fact that I have to press multiple buttons to even view the map in a game that’s based around exploration is beyond me.
All in all, I am mostly enjoying my time with the game despite its glaring flaws especially its frustrating controls. I’m planning on playing it more and seeing it through to completion, no doubt, as it appears BioWare has crafted a robust space RPG with just a few super rough edges.
As for sales, let’s jump right into fun prediction time: I expect the game to sell around 4 million copies during 2017. Then, it will have upside of 6.5 – 7 million worldwide during its lifetime, implying I think around 60% of its overall sales should take place this year. If it hits this amount, it would be the best-selling game in the storied franchise.
Why, you ask? This is my best guess based on the publisher’s own launch expectations, historical sales plus the current install base and environment of the latest generation of gaming consoles.
According to its most recent earnings call, EA itself anticipates the title will sell 3 million units to consumers within its launch week and up through the end of March. We can compare this figure to the launch numbers that EA presented for its earlier titles, though it’s not a perfect analogy of course since these will be shipped figures: Mass Effect 2 shipped 2 million launch week, while Mass Effect 3 shipped 3.5 million in the same type of time frame. Caveat being that not all of them sold, but it gives a good indication of the supply factor.
Going further, EA also said the launch figure of 3 million sold will be around “30% to 50%” of its lifetime sales, which implies a range of 6 to 10 million copies sold when all is said and done. As you’ll see, I’m leaning towards the lower range of this guidance.
To me, even these days when games have longer life-cycles due to offering downloadable content, ongoing multiplayer events or discounts, I still expect at least half of a game’s sales to happen near launch if not more. Especially for a game with a massive focus on single-player campaign launching early in the year, when there are less “blockbuster” titles. (You could argue this year has more early competition than usual, between Horizon: Zero Dawn, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, For Honor etc but it’s still less busy than a fall release slate.)
After the launch window, I’d expect the natural bump near the year-end holidays for most triple-A franchises, including one as well-known as Mass Effect. Between launch week sales and those throughout the year with a skew toward the holidays, 4 million sounds reasonable for 2017.
As for my lifetime sales estimate of up to 7 million, I mentioned this would make it the best-selling game in the franchise to date even though it’s technically below EA‘s guidance. We know Mass Effect 3 moved around 6 million copies, its publisher just said so on the same earnings call, then historical figures show Mass Effect likely sold 3.2 million implying Mass Effect 2 at roughly 4.8 million considering the franchise figure of more than 14 million was announced a couple years back.
The reason I’m coming in at the “lower” end of EA‘s guidance is I think some folks have been turned off over the years due to the game’s flaws or how Mass Effect 3 ended, and the series is already divisive enough to this day as illustrated by Mass Effect: Andromeda’s mixed previews. Not to mention 2017 is shaping up to be one of the best years for gaming in recent memory, with stiff competition if games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Destiny 2, Assassin’s Creed “Egypt” and more release in the 2nd half. I’d rather be conservative on sales, despite being mostly optimistic about my own enjoyment of the game.
Have you played the Mass Effect series, including this latest game in a preview or trial? Did you find it to be enjoyable, or were put off by certain aspects? Are you bullish on its sales potential, or conservative in today’s climate? Feel free to comment or get in touch on Twitter.
Sources: Electronic Arts, BioWare, Polygon, Motley Fool
Note that screenshots above were taken by me on an Xbox One, except for the photo of the woman character named Foster Addison, which is sourced from Polygon.