Monday, March 27, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda review

    Well, that was definitely a Mass Effect game.

    That's probably the best way to describe my experience with Andromeda, which is a game that I had mixed feelings going into. Like many fans of the series, I felt burned by the ending of Mass Effect 3. I wasn't one of the people who believed it was worth naming EA one of the worst companies in the world and it didn't kill my children or anything but it felt dissonant to have an uncertain ending when I'd put literally years of investment into my Shepard's relationships. I, really, felt like i was done with the series afterward and wasn't sure if I was ever going to look back.

Sara Ryder, commander of Krogan.
    Still, I had a lot of fun in the Mass Effect universe and was intrigued by the possibility of returning to it. Unfortunately, it felt like the newest game's premise was going to side-step the ending of the original trilogy rather than address it. Your character is a colonist in a cryo-ship which has made a six-hundred-year journey across the void between galaxies until they reached Andromeda. When you awake, the events of the original trilogy are long in the past and you are surrounded by favorites of the original series without the third game to "sully" it. At least, that's how I felt.

Salarian bureaucrats are awesome...and racist.
    Really, I have to stress the game isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's a game I'm going to enjoy playing all fifty or so hours of content it provides and which gave me a satisfying, if slightly generic player experience. The characters were likable, if not especially memorable, and the graphics were lovely except for the faces. The gameplay was fun but mostly a return to its roots. This is a game which is fun and I highly recommend but it's also a game which is going to be perhaps a little disappointing if players were expecting something truly epic.

    The premise of the game, as mentioned, is you are Sarah (Fryda Wolff) or Scott Ryder (Tom Taylorson doing a Nolan North impression) and you're the son of Alec Ryder (Clancy Brown) who is the Pathfinder a.k.a Chief Scout for the Andromeda Initiative. The Andromeda Initiative, despite being amazingly well-equipped for a private enterprise, ends up hitting dark matter pockets and scatters across the Helius Cluster. Many of the Initiative's leaders are killed and you discover the worlds you were going to settle have all been rendered uninhabitable by six-hundred-year-old alien tech. Worse, a hostile alien race called the Kett take umbrage to your presence. You are forced to step up and become the new Pathfinder who will find a way to colonize this cluster despite the fact it's a post-apocalypse hellhole.

Yeah, the giant snake monster has no chance.
    Weirdly, this game feels like it's riffing from a bunch of other popular sci-fi video games. The Remnant's ruins feel very distinctly like the Forerunner ruins of Halo and the fact they're referred to as "Vaults" plus the fact much of the game takes place on desert scavenger worlds in a giant Mako-esque dune buggy evokes Borderlands. There's also the fact the Kett turn out to be what might charitably be called an "Evil Empire" which is opposed by a plucky resistance. Given the original Mass Effect trilogy was a fusion of Star Wars and Star Trek (which made it, effectively, Babylon Five), that's not surprising but the references are rather notable. The fact the majority of aliens you'll meet are ones from the Milky Way also feels somewhat cheap.

The Nexus is the center for your adventures.
    Despite this, I actually state I feel like the game succeeds in reminding me why I liked Mass Effect. Liam, Cora, Drack, Suvi, and the others don't have anything on Mass Effect 2's cast but they're all pleasant people I enjoyed hanging around with (as much as you can enjoy spending time with fictional people). They're sort of all blandly pleasant at worse (ala Kaiden and Ashley) and archetypically endearing at best. The romances feel a bit weak and I can't help but think fans will take them too personally. It strikes me Bioware may have been onto something just making everyone bisexual ala Dragon Age 2. Certainly, you just need to sacrifice realism sometimes for player enjoyment.

Cora is my favorite character in the game.
    Gameplay wise, the game plays like, well, Mass Effect. It's a shooter with RPG elements as well as a return of the Mako (in all but name). The only real complaint I have about it is the absence of the Renegade and Paragon system which was really something I loved. The Ryder twins feel a little more generic without their option to be outstandingly noble or ruthlessly psychotic. Still, the writing is crisp on that end too with both of the siblings having a Nathan Drake-esque adventurous spirit, awkward dorkiness, or a cool professionalism depending on how you want to play them.

    The game does suffer from terrible loading screen times with each movement from planet-to-planet taking forever and gradually driving you up the wall. In some cases, you go through three or four before you reach the end. Also, there's a lot of busywork quests that aren't worth it unlike the Loyalty Quests for squadmates that are much funnier as well as more entertaining overall. By the end, I was much more concerned about getting the actual game completed than I was in getting 100% completion. The 1.05 patch fixed many of the original game's facial animation problems but they were still noticeable given how beautiful or distinctive many characters were in the original trilogy.

    In conclusion, this is a fun game and I'm going to continue playing it until I've done just about everything but it's a very "safe" sort of game too. In terms of genre, I'd say this is the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of the franchise. There's a lot of the same beats of the original and very little risk taking but it washed a lot of the bad taste out of my mouth too.



  1. I can see why they fled the ME3 ending. Like other folk, I didn't much like it, though my real complaint is that the synth/bio conflict in ME always felt tertiary to me (AI isn't even the setting's primary technology) and in the context of a space opera setting with aliens it's actually a very strange "us v them" mentality to have (a human-made AI is still Terran, any AI willing to go full Skynet on us is unlikely to consider an alien AI its brother)

    Of course, the other reason is that it creates a wide possible range of what the galaxy might be like. Personally, I'd suggest just making one ending canon. For example, coming up with a fourth ending "they found the Reaper's off-switch". Alternatively, make the control ending canon. Shepard is now a distant but powerful god.

    1. I agree. I think they could also combine all the endings like Deus Ex: Invisible War and have a bunch of cyborgs, some controlled reapers, and many destroyed ones running around.