I was skeptical when I heard BioWare was making a new Mass Effect game. No matter how you choose to end ME3, Commander Shepard’s story is over. Peace is established, and everyone in that universe will be living in Shepard’s shadow for centuries to come. This doesn’t leave much room for new threats or heroes. The only way to sidestep that problem, it seems, was to blast sideways out of the galaxy entirely. Enter Mass Effect: Andromeda.
The new title stars a cast of adventurers who left the Milky Way shortly after the events of Mass Effect 2, and have been living in cryo-sleep for a little over 600 years. That is to say, just before Commander Shepard saved the entire galaxy, and simultaneously hundreds of years after most of the characters we’ve come to know and care about are long dead.
As I eagerly awaited the release, I began to hear troubling reviews. Everyone, at least the people in my circles, seemed to hate it. Undeterred, I started it up on launch day expecting the worst. But honestly I don’t really get what everyone is so mad about. I could be a little too close to this franchise (does the N7 tattoo give it away?) but moments in this game feel like coming home.
Maybe it’s the “sudden death of a mentor figure that leads to an unexpected position of responsibility” call to adventure. Maybe it’s meeting new species of aliens. Maybe it’s just cruising around unknown planets, falling off cliffs in a wonky rover while chasing a mysterious question mark icon. But this game is almost like playing Mass Effect again for the first time. In a good way.
For one thing, the combat mechanics feel tighter and more streamlined than previous games, especially the improved cover system. My soldier character puts down enemies pretty handily, but fighting doesn’t feel tedious or repetitive. For another thing, I can finally jump. I didn’t realize how much I had wanted to do that until I could. My only complaint about that is that these people apparently had jumping technology before the Reapers invaded Earth and didn’t share it with Commander Shepard.
Another feature, which I could probably geek out about at length in a separate review, is the online multiplayer. If you liked the ME3 multiplayer, (which I’ll admit holds up well even now) you’ll like Andromeda’s. The most notable update has been to the quality of the graphics, as the overall structure remains the same. You join three strangers for ten rounds of killing baddies at a random base, with teambuilding mini-objectives thrown in for good measure, leveling your characters and earning loot with every successful mission. So if you ever get tired of your responsibilities as the Pathfinder but want to stay in the Andromeda Galaxy, it’s a great way to zone out and shoot things.
The leveling system has gotten more sophisticated, but maintains the same feel of the previous games. Ditto for navigating around my ship. My crew still hangs out waiting for me to engage in increasingly personal chit chat, but now I can get to every room without encountering a load screen. I’m not sure why it took three games to implement this feature, but I’m glad we’re finally there. Especially because the stakes for chatting with your crew are notoriously high in Mass Effect games, with consequences ranging from a missed romantic connection to a violent death.
Speaking of romantic connection and violent death, one notable feature in Andromeda feels a little clunky. I find myself cringing at how Ryder is able to shamelessly hit on so many people despite not being very adept at flirting. We’re talking cheesy pick-up lines from the get-go. It lacks the depth of previous in-game romances and borders perilously close to workplace harassment. This isn’t to say I don’t like the option to romance so many characters. If I had been able to sweep Mordin Solus or Karin Chakwas off their feet in ME2, believe me I would have done it. But perhaps in the future, if BioWare is going to meet the demands of their thirsty fan base with even more space pals to snuggle, it could be handled with a little more subtlety.
There is room for improvement, to be sure. The journal system of quest objectives feels a little messy, and I’ve found it difficult to locate and keep track of my objective markers. The new method for researching and developing scientific technology likewise has me scratching my head, as it feels like a distraction from the elements BioWare fans love most: shooting villains, helping NPC’s solve their trivial personal problems, and making out with space hotties.
Perhaps initially hostile reviews were too focused on the original trilogy. Despite the inevitable comparisons, the places where it has improved or fallen short, this is a totally separate game, and it does stand up on its own.
Like space explorers who are disappointed that their new home isn’t instantly the “golden world” they were promised, perhaps we all need to walk back our expectations of what a game can be. It can’t, for example, be exactly like the old titles we’ve played before while simultaneously being fresh and innovative. The pioneers who joined the Andromeda Initiative must have known you can’t have “Oregon Trail in space” without the occasional mishap and space-dysentery. Similarly, we must have known deep down that a Mass Effect game without Commander Shepard was going to be different from what we’re used to, and we signed up anyway.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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