I get the feeling that at this point, everything that can be said about Mass Effect Andromeda has been pretty well covered by the internet at large. Ending controversy aside, the original Mass Effect Trilogy was one of my favourite gaming experiences, like ever. So to wait for so long for Mass Effect Andromeda and for it to turn out like this. It’s a real shame. To note, this piece is going to be spoiler free, so don’t worry about ploughing through.
It almost goes without saying, but I’ll point it out anyway. Mass Effect Andromeda is a bit of a let down. Not only is it a let down for the returning fans of the old games, but it doesn’t really do a whole lot for the newcomers to the series either, especially with other games of the same kind out there right now. We’re not short of really good sprawling open world games by any means right now. And yet I forced myself through over 60 hours of this game just to see the finish. So you better believe I have some thoughts.
For me, the real heart of the original trilogy by the end were its characters. I cared about the resolution to the story because I cared about the people who I’d been through it all with. Andromeda: not so much. That was what the original games were to me, a gathering of likeable misfits I wanted to spend time with. Part of the reason I wanted to play Andromeda so much was to forge those bonds with different characters all over again. It’s a shame it didn’t turn out that way.
Probably my favourite characters in the new game was Jaal, who initially felt like a copy Javik from Mass Effect 3. As the game progressed though and I started to learn more about the guy, he grew on me. His earnestness and general happy attitude, mixed in with a potion of nobility made him the only really original feeling character introduced in the game. Hell, my second favourite character was Drack, and I kind of feel like the only reason for that was because he felt so much like a carbon copy of Wrex that I kept calling him that by mistake.
It’s because the writing in this game is kind of weak. Main characters seem to have far less depth to them than even throw away NPCs from the original games, not helped by the game’s, now famous, terrible facial animations. Most of the game’s models look terrible, The one exception would by my Ryder looked so much more human the best Shepard I could hope to create in the original trilogy, all of which looked like a breed of troll people who somehow all the aliens wanted to bang. In seriousness though, even through the Turians and Krogan look decent, they all share the same model. Even the Asari, who before had a whole array of different faces, as varied as the human characters, now have the exact same face, which is especially bothersome when there are three of them on the screen at once.
There were small snippets of the old Mass Effect in there, little characters interactions that made me smile. Mainly during each characters’ loyalty mission. And it was these little snippets of old Mass Effect that kept me playing all the way through to the end. They were just so few and far between though that it made the experience all the more frustrating.
This puts a huge nail in what made me gravitate towards the series in the first place. Talking to people in this game seems like a chore. And In a Bioware game, that’s unforgivable. Mass Effect was one of the only games I can think of where the talky bits were what I craved. The shooting galleries were just interstitial sections that broke up the character interactions I desired oh so badly. Here, more often than not, I didn’t want to talk to people. Between the rubber faces that just stare out into nowhere and the consistent levels of snark, it was difficult for me to treat the events of the game with a gravity approaching the original trilogy.
The older games did a great job of making the events of the plot seem important. Characters had a whole gamut of emotional responses to what was going on around you. It made the lighthearted moments all the more effective when they did happen. The main characters in Andromeda joke and quip their way through the entire game, even when things are supposed to be at their darkest. It gives the game an overall tone that makes it difficult to get invested in. To be fair though, this is an issue that seems to affect more than just Mass Effect, with a lot of movies and games shifting their style to this more irrelevant tone of flippancy. Like the DC shared movie universe and even Destiny. It works for some, but for Mass Effect, I don’t appreciate the change. It’s harder to give your tightly wound characters their moments of levity if even they’re cracking wise during the final boss encounter. I’m getting away from the point though.
I feel like Mass Effect Andromeda drops the ball in this most important of ways, lettings its character development and interaction take a step back in favour of creating a huge world for us to play around in. So, does the game play make up for my prior complaints. The game, as a whole feels like a souped-up version of the very first game. I’m mainly speaking in terms of the combat and the over world traversal using a Mako-like vehicle. Because hell if I could remember the name of that thing. (or the ship, or the Citadel Stand in.)
The combat is probably the thing about the game I like the most. Moving away from the cover based shooting of the second and third games, and returning to a more free-form action of the original game. While I enjoyed the whole slew of powers at my disposal, the game lets itself down in that the encounters eventually run together. There are probably four major enemy types you fight against throughout the game, and for the most part, they’re hard to discern. Strategy doesn’t feel like it shows its head as much as it did when the game was cover based. Having lost the ability to control your team mates and most enemies having larger health pools means you just bang your guns and powers against whoever shows up until they die. Maybe the game is different on higher difficulties, but by the end even the combat was feeling a bit repetitive.
The reason I tired of the combat so much is starting to get down to the core of what my real big problem with Andromeda. My biggest issue is its scale and just how unnecessary it all feels. While people had their problems with the Mako in the first Mass Effect, dropping down onto planets and driving around them, as empty as they were, gave the galaxy some sense of scale. It made you feel like a pioneer, going out there and seeing things for the first time. I get the sense that Bioware tried to do that again here. And it only works really sparingly. There are five main worlds to explore in the game, packed with people and side quests. Which would be great, if the side quests felt tailored in any way. There are so many of them and so few of them stick out in my mind that I really believe that the game as a whole suffers for there being so many of them. On top of that, taking an agonising 10 seconds to move between each uninteresting planet doesn’t make your galaxy seem bigger.
The game has a real problem of quantity over quality, you end up accumulating so many inconsequential side quests that it feels almost overwhelming. In the older games, choice was a huge factor in everything you did. Bioware didn’t shy away from letting you know that your choices would have ramifications, that they could affect the future of the series as you continued to play. Here, choices seem irreverent. They’re still posed in similar ways to the original. Only now, you get one line commenting on your choice and it feels like it was swept under the rug. There was this feel of a woven story from the older games, you felt like every choice you made mattered. You had no idea which choices would carry over to the next game, so you acted like they all did. In Andromeda, Ryder flip-flops so often that you almost feel like you’re flat out lying to people about your dad when you sing his praises to one persona and then call him a dick to the next one down the line.
Had Bioware narrowed their scope dramatically and taken out their dozens of side quests for a few, well tailored and interesting ones which felt engaging and exciting, the game would have been so much better for it. I don’t know how much behind the scenes pressure Bioware were put under by EA, but this game felt so much more by the books than the experimental, narrative experience of the original trilogy I loved so much. I came into Andromeda wanting a narrative driven sci-fi epic. What I got felt like Dragon Age: Inquisition in space. Which makes a while lot of sense in hindsight. But that’s not really what I wanted here. I fell off Inquisition pretty hard, and probably would have fell off this also if it hadn’t been Mass Effect. A new standard has been set for open world games, between the Witcher 3 and The Breath of the Wild, Mass Effect feels like it’s lagging behind. Made all the more painful to play.
I’m not done talking about Mass Effect Andromeda though, don’t worry. I’ve got another topic talking about how the game dealt with the introduction of the new alien races, I just thought this was long enough already. Call this a part one..