Mass Effect: Andromeda – A Missed Opportunity
Mass Effect is a series close to mine and many gamers’ hearts. If you read my memories piece , you’ll know the carefully-crafted stories far surpass anything imitators have tried, and have enabled me to forgive a lot of gameplay issues. Andromeda, on the other hand, tested me like no other instalment ever has.
Welcome to the Initiative, Pathfinder
By kicking off events between Mass Effect 2 and 3, the writers have neatly sidestepped the burning question of which ending to that trilogy is canon. They made an odd decision to throw you into the deep end, starting the story with your arrival in the Andromeda galaxy with no build-up. More jarring is that your character is supposed to have a close relationship with your father and (initially) comatose twin, but that relationship is never established. As a result, I had no connection to either character. A short intro, like the beginning of the The Last of Us, would’ve tied this game to the original trilogy and established your character and their relationships.
After the short prologue, you are immediately thrown into conflict with the main villains, the Kett. You land on a planet and you see them attacking your crew members. We do not see if we, as the alien colonists, have created a misunderstanding that led to this. All we get is that they are big, scary, and want to kill us. A more nuanced introduction that leads to war would’ve better served the game’s narrative. Instead, we basically get the simplistic “we are the good guys and they are the bad guys” setup.
As the story develops, you get glimpses of a more complex narrative. The Kett also seem to be colonists from elsewhere in Andromeda, but are searching for something tied to the “Remnant” technology scattered throughout the worlds you explore. Conveniently, this technology is the key to the Initiative’s survival in the Andromeda galaxy. The central storyline has glimpses of brilliance, but the execution is unfortunately substandard for a BioWare game.
One aspect that annoys me is that you effectively behave like any other historical example of a colonist — invading a planet and immediately overriding any concerns as you strive to establish a colony. Each planet has life that evolved for that environment, like being able to survive radiation that would kill you in minutes. Not once have I heard an NPC question the wisdom of terraforming the planet to suit the Initiative colonists. Interestingly, it seems as if morality, as enshrined in Star Trek’s Prime Directive, and the struggle to balance survival against respecting alien worlds, is a foreign concept to the Andromeda writers.
Find us a Home, Pathfinder
The game delivers on the premise central to the game that you are an explorer and pioneer. You become this legendary Pathfinder after the very first mission. As much as you are exploring Andromeda for a place to call home, you are also exploring your new-found role and abilities conferred via “SAM”, a new constant AI companion. This is a wonderful touch, mirroring the external journey with the personal.
Each world is beautiful in its own way, from the initial lush green world, to the deserts of Eos and the ice plains of Voeld, the Frostbite engine has never rendered anything better. However, the worlds are empty. Much like a road trip through the Karoo, all you care about is reaching your destination. You will run into a couple of points of interest, but they are generic, amounting to little more than a reason to engage in a firefight to get some XP, scan some items for research points, and then move on. Nothing in the design makes you excited to see what’s around the corner.
Driving the Nomad is made more tedious by the distances between points of interest, luckily you unlock fast travel points by driving to supply drop spots. This highlights a central problem with the game’s design and internal rules: these drops are identified on your map immediately. Logically, if you can identify the suitable spots and drop the pods from orbit, surely you could just drop them all to the planet once identified, instead of driving to the spot to trigger the drop?
A second illogical design decision is the fact that your AI SAM is talked about as this supercomputer able to complete countless complex calculations in seconds; in fact, one mission relies on this ability. Why then can he not complete the puzzles required to unlock the various monoliths found in the game?
Coupled with the tedious driving on-planet, are tedious transitions when you travel on the Tempest between planets and star systems. Initially, the first-person transition is exciting and interesting. However, at around 15 seconds per transition, it is too long to spend doing nothing as you travel around this huge map.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
24 March 2017
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