Those who know me know how deep my love for quality science-fiction goes. Few, however, know that that love was firmly reinforced by the Mass Effect franchise (and that my own writing reflects not only its themes, but its style). When I first heard about Andromeda, the latest installment in the ongoing series—even though it’s technically more of a reboot/spin-off of the main trilogy—I was ecstatic. New frontiers would be opened up to explore, and I’d have the perfect inspiration to pick up my writing again.
Over 50 hours committed to gameplay, and I haven’t been disappointed by the adventure.
This chapter plays out like a “Mass Effect‘s greatest hits” edition. Aspects of the original games (like the player conversation choice, which is done expertly here), familiar mission designs and aesthetic art-styles, and tongue-in-cheek call-backs to memorable moments from the trilogy make for a fun time, overall. Lag issues, some nonsensical crashes, and like problems are frustrating—even with the v. 1.05 patch—but, thankfully, few and far between. On the upside, the Frostbite engine offers a vibrant and fresh look at what makes Mass Effect the household name that it is. The graphics are amazing, and the handful of awkward animations can be easily overlooked, if one is as dedicated to the story as I.
Ryder is the hero we deserve in this game. It’s hard to try and fill such an icon’s shoes, but Commander Shepard will forever remain a powerful symbol of the original trilogy. Where Shepard fit the tone of the trilogy, so, too, does Ryder fit the atmosphere of Andromeda. You play as a tenderfoot, more or less. A kid. You’re thrust into a situation you’ve not been prepared or trained for, and must learn how to deal as you go, tackling problems as they arise. In that regard, the devs at BioWare succeed; they’ve built the foundation for further adventures in the Andromeda Galaxy, while also keeping the pre-established universe alive. I guess what I’m trying to say is, both characters are memorable in their own right, and Ryder makes for a spunky and fresh start in the right direction.
The side- and supporting characters are pretty cool, and I’ve definitely grown attached to them all. There is more diversity of character, event amongst the periphery cast and aliens. That said, I have my favorites—and my romance—picked out, but I hope that they all return for another adventure in the future. Everyone is really well-rounded and alive, each with their own quirks, motivations, and stances on issues, especially where first-contact is concerned. Everyone has about equal screen-time, and have believable, emotional arcs with wholesome conclusions. Each mission or off-beat task they take you on feel genuine, memorable, and just flesh out each character and make for incredible evolutions of character. Having befriended each one and getting them committed to the Initiative cause makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, and have helped build the groundwork for this new universe.
So. Much. Content! This is both good and bad, as there is a plethora of things to explore and do…but often with the unintentional side-effect of me forgetting exactly how certain side-quests and the like started. Likewise, crafting (which is a major factor in this one) can be a pain. I’d like to think I’ve mastered it by now, but the resource-gathering bit can be a headache, often to the point of giving up. Special task operatives can be assigned with time-based returns on credits, resources, research, and the like, so goals are never too out-of-reach.
Okay…time to talk about the villain.
The Archon is no Harbinger, but—like the Reapers and Shepard—the tension between the Kett leader and Ryder is well-founded. The threat that the Kett pose to the rest of the Heleus Cluster really isn’t all that different from the Reapers. It’s not recycled—like many fans had feared, leading up to the release—and the way the devs went about crafting the story up to the big reveal half-way in is novel. Still shrouded in mystery, I’m excited to see where, exactly, the Kett (and the shadowy Remnant Builders) come from. A whole new universe of possibility, and danger, lies before us. The Kett, themselves, are formidable and varied foes; don’t go up against a squad of them ill-equipped and under-powered!
Speaking of which… Skill-trees have really grown on me; in the original trilogy, I stuck primarily to the Soldier class, looking for brute military force to balance out my squad’s tech and biotic powers. Now, though, we face new threats as Pathfinder, and must adapt. I love using tech powers to weaken enemies and god-like biotics to rip them apart. There’s something satisfying in chipping away an Anointed’s shielding just to fling him off of a high cliff.
I’m looking forward to future DLC. It would keep fans sated while a sequel is being developed, and any more action I can get in Heleus would be very welcome. The ending of this game is left wide-open for interpretation and expansion. If nothing else, then more side-quests, BioWare!
The gameplay is energetic and fluid, and the combat isn’t as stark and one-sided as in previous titles in the series. Going into a fight, one must assess the situation beforehand. Am I ready to take on this patrol? Who to take into this battle with the Remnant? The danger feels real, and I love that sense of exhilaration. Adds to the immersion, makes players think on their feet.
As I said earlier, it’s the conversations and fleshing-out of characters that make Mass Effect what it is. The dialogue options in this game—rid of black-and-white, Paragon-Renegade choices—are far more personal and genuine, sorted into four categories: heart, head, casual, and logical. I stuck more with the former in either pairing, and felt like the universe was falling into place around me, being affected by my relationships and the like.
The score is masterful, and there are even some memorable moments, like in the original trilogy. Nothing to the extent of ME2‘s “Suicide Mission” or ME3‘s end-game suite, but the music accompanies scenes well. BioWare’s still got it, even under new management. This is a solid game, with amazing characters, and a firm foundation for further games. This is the Mass Effect that fans have been longing for, myself included.
I’m not going to give this game a ‘Risk Assessment, as it can’t be rated the same as a film; videogames are an entirely different beast, a whole other art medium, and I have too much respect for Mass Effect to get all googly-eyed over it or totally tear it down. Is this another Mass Effect 2? Hell no. Is it the rolling dumpster fire that people have made it out to be, over the past few months? Again, nope. I can tell that the studio hasn’t lost its touch, as happens a lot of the time in expanding upon a pre-existing and beloved property.
I’m excited to travel even deeper into the Andromeda Galaxy. Even if this is the last time we see Ryder and the crew of the Tempest, it’ll be a new adventure, anyway.
It’ll still be Mass Effect.