Why I could never write an objective review of Mass Effect: Andromeda

September 2020 was a rough time for me. My country was in lockdown, I was temporarily out of a job and I was completely isolated from family and friends. At the time, I was living alone, and the only companionship I had was my cat. Then, my cat died. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t exactly take it well. After moping around for a day or two, I decided that I needed something to occupy my mind, anything to keep me busy. That’s when I first came up with the basic blueprint for what would eventually become Fine Aged Gaming. I looked in my library, selected all the titles I hadn’t yet played, and made a list of the ones I thought would be more interesting to write about. Mass Effect: Andromeda, Bioware’s rather infamous 2017 blunder was on top of that list. To be fair, my reasons for selecting it weren’t exactly objective in the first place: sci-fi games, open world RPGs and Bioware’s specific brand of cinematic storytelling, snappy dialogue and polished gameplay were all things I adored. In many ways, Andromeda seemed like the perfect comfort food in video game form. And it was.

At first I kept up the pretense of actually attempting to review it. I took notes and I made sure to be extra observant and critical of all the tiny details. But I soon found myself completely engrossed in the experience. In less than a week, I sunk 70 hours into it. I lived and breathed Mass Effect, only occasionally taking bathroom and lunch breaks. And it was downright therapeutic. The story was never serious or dark enough to make me think, the gameplay was engaging and fun, but not so challenging that I had to put in too much effort, and the familiarity of the Mass Effect universe felt like a warm blanket. It was an experience that, at the time felt like exactly what I needed. So, as a reviewer, how do you even approach a game that had this effect on you? Well, at least in my opinion, you don’t.

I think the greatest distinction that needs to be made here is between the game itself, and my memories and experiences of it. As an entertainment product, Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t better or worse depending on how I felt when I played it. The circumstances of my experience don’t improve it, or negate it’s flaws, but at the same time, I cannot deny that I greatly enjoyed it, no matter how much of that enjoyment was influenced by outside factors. At the same time, I could try to talk about the ridiculously inadequate facial animations, or the inconsistent quality of the dialogue, but that would feel wrong somehow. Those are things I know about the game, but they aren’t things I experienced for myself. The memory I have of Mass Effect: Andromeda, my subjective experience of the time I spent with the game, is undeniably a good one. Yet so little of it relates to the actual game, as a product in itself. If I were to give an honest review of my experience, it would not only be useless to anyone not in the exact same circumstances as myself, but also somewhat misleading, without the added context. And if I were to try and separate the game from the context, I doubt I’d succeed. But isn’t this true of any game we play? Aren’t we always influenced by past events and current circumstances when experiencing any piece of art or entertainment? Well, here’s where it gets dicey.

Looking back on all my favorite games, I can definitely draw a direct connection between how much I enjoyed them and what was going on in my life at the time. In general, whatever strong emotions I was feeling at the time, either positive or negative, had a strong impact on how much a game stuck with me. Perhaps there is a larger conversation to be had about how strongly subjectivity impacts criticism of media, even among professionals(which for the record, I do not claim to be), and how much we should let it influence our writing. But I honestly feel that starting such a conversation exceeds the scope of my experience and abilities. For me, the simple truth is that I try to be as objective as possible. That’s why I never review titles I’ve played before, or feel any nostalgia for, or sequels of games I’ve loved. I even try to limit myself from reviewing titles that are part of media franchises I’m very familiar with, although in today’s world of giant interconnected universes and spin-offs to spin-offs that’s increasingly difficult. I can’t really define a definitive threshold past which my objectivity can no longer be trusted, but I do know when it happens. At least I hope so. And that’s why, in this case, I know that I could never write an objective review.

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