Let’s make something clear, the original Mass Effect trilogy was, and is, one of my favourite gaming experiences. It goes beyond any other gaming experience because all the others are still gaming experiences while the Mass Effect trilogy transcends that and has a place in my heart similar to other media like a fantastic TV show or film.
I was seriously disappointed when the various reviews and YouTube videos hit the internet based on the early access that Electronic Arts provided. It weaved a narrative of a game that was absolutely terrible. It didn’t help that some of that narrative fed into some of the negative expectations I’d started to form myself way earlier.
Dragon Age Was A Bad Sign
I have a strange relationship with the Dragon Age games, which can be defined by the fact I liked Dragon Age II the best. I know, I can hear the Internet crying out in anguish. It was more direct with its story, had less RPG baggage and I loved the way they went with a framed narrative for structuring the game.
Dragon Age: Inquisition was the exact opposite. An open world with all sorts of busy work minutia and it always seemed you had to engage with that busy work in order to progress the narrative. It was big, but the vast majority of it was vacuous.
Despite this it was critically lauded and won numerous Game of the Year awards. It was my belief the sealed the fate of the Mass Effect games as soon as it happened. The Mass Effect games had been making a journey ever closer to dropping RPG baggage to become more like a shooter with a story involving significant choices. There was no way Bioware and EA would not want to duplicate the across the board adulation for the third Dragon Age game via duplicating the structure within Mass Effect.
That was depressing. Amazingly, I think they have done exactly this but it doesn’t seem to make a difference at this point.
A Torrent Of Negativity
It’s oddly appropriate that Mass Effect should be brought down in a similar way to how films are destroyed via a negative wave even before the final product has been witnessed.
I guess gaming has grown up in that regard.
The various scenes from the game did make it look terrible and exhibited a total disregard for quality and an overall experience. It was painful to watch. Everyone piled in on it as YouTube ‘creators’ follow the views and if doing a highlight real of Andromeda’s problems gets you views then everyone will pile in. This is not to say the animations did not demand some work but they seemed to have been easily fixed because they’re working fine for me in the patched version I’m playing.
There was also stories confirming the game followed a Dragon Age model of play. Lots of open world zones with minutia to do and that the story gets lost in the busy work and endless stream of tasks. It was this that shot an expected arrow through my heart rather than the bad animations as I probably suspected they would fix those.
I relegated the game to ‘I will play it eventually when it gets really cheap’ territory. It wasn’t on my time horizon for a very long time. Then it was given to me for my birthday and I started playing it way earlier.
Surprisingly, I am really enjoying it.
A Structural Case of Deja-Vu
I recognise that the game has numerous structural similarities with the original Mass Effect trilogy and Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Like in the original Mass Effect your character is special. In the trilogy you are the first human Spectre and this is unique and important. In Andromeda you are the Pathfinder, a mixture of explorer, soldier, guide, diplomat critical to the Andromeda effort
In the trilogy the beating heart of all of civilization is The Citadel while in the Andromeda galaxy it is The Hyperion which is similar but different at the same time. It’s a spaceship that has made its way across the dark space between galaxies.
Structurally, the game is like Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Hyperion is similar to the base in Inquisition in that it needs restoring to its intended glory and this gives you advantages as you do so. There is also some missions you can send NPC commandos on but I’ve not done that yet. You go to various open world zones, logically in this case planets, and ‘secure’ them as colonies of the Initiative (rather than bringing them under the domain or allegiance of the Inquisition).
Despite this similarity in structure I believe the game plays out differently enough to maintain interest and make it a unique experience.
Indiana Jones in Spaaaaacccee!
The feeling you get coming out of Eos is the game is basically Indiana Jones in space. Your protagonist is a grand mixture of explorer and fighter trying to unlock the mystery of ancient technology to transform the nature of human colonisation.
Hell, one of the best characters, PeeBee, is literally a young, female alien space opera Indiana Jones.
It has a bit of that slightly pulp feeling to things as well, galivanting around in the Nomad. Helping people out. It feels slightly different to the original trilogy but it’s hard to explain. I guess the impending threat was so BIG in the original trilogy it felt odd diverting from it. In Andromda it feels more like the natural outcome of freebooting around trying find a way, bring people onside and move things along.
A Different Sort of Hero
You are the Pathfinder, which makes you important. That’s fine. It’s a space opera narrative. This means the central protagonist is always called out in some way as being especially destined. That is where the similarity ends though. The protagonist in Mass Effect was confident, older and sort of new he could kick ass and take names. The problem was galactic society was holding him, and by implication humanity, back.
It’s different in Andromeda as the situation is reversed. My Sara Ryder is younger, has been thrust into the position of Pathfinder in the shadow of her father who was not supposed to die so early in the expedition. You’re not playing the confident hero held back, but the inexperienced hero not expecting the burden thrust upon her.
This creates a hero who is growing into her position, is less confident of her choices and, more importantly, is surrounded by people who are similar. They are team that is finding its way, trying to do its best in an unfortunate situation. While Shepard and his team strode across the galaxy confidently making choices that decided the fate of the galaxy and the fate of entire species, Sara Rider tentatively steps out into the unknown trying to do her best to make the expedition a success despite her youth and unexpected rise to prominence.
This is great and I’m enjoying it immensely.
The Open World Sections Aren’t Arduous
While the game does have a Dragon Age: Inquisition model, it’s not pissing me off as much as the Dragon Age game did. The open world in Dragon Age drove me to stop playing it. I don’t believe this is going to be the case in Andromeda, not yet anyway.
The open world elements just don’t seem that arduous. I think the reason for this is two-fold: you can directly address the open world ‘stuff’ and each zone seems to have an overall narrative.
The open world doesn’t seem too large and all consuming. There are clear quest givers a bit like a World of Wacraft zone. You can also travel around the map in the Nomad pretty fast and the landscapes look really good. This means you can zoom around mopping up the colonisation beacon points and this opens up rapid travel. Once that is done it’s easy to do the quests. So far I’ve not found the quests triggering the busy work problem, they have enough narrative and interesting context in them to make things worthwhile.
In this early part of the game it’s making each new open world section exciting: what will the mini-campaign narrative be? What will the surface look like? Etc.
It Oozes Atmosphere
I’ve been completely surprised by this as the wave of negativity had me thinking the experience would be completely dry, but it isn’t the case. It oozes atmosphere.
The planets are really nice and you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere. I get that the first two planets I’ve focused on have been a desert and a cold planet but they are well done. I just like being there. This wasn’t the case with Dragon Age: Inquisition, the open worlds themselves didn’t pull me in on atmosphere alone.
I like how rescuing the Initiative’s mission in the Andromeda galaxy isn’t just about opening up colonies, you also have to deal with its fragile leadership and the terrible history of The Hyperion going through a rebellion against its leaders.
There has been one event so far that brings this all home. When I opened up EOS for colonisation it felt like a momentous occasion that rippled through The Hyperion and gave people hope. It made me happy. I’m hoping this atmosphere and my protagonists influence on it will be maintained as the game progresses.
Smashing The Auto-Level Button
Andromeda seems to allow me to ignore all the RPG gaming baggage I want without finding myself blocked in the game. This is a great thing as I avoid tabletop RPGs that have a lot of this baggage, so why would I suffer them in a computer game.
I’m hitting the auto-level button all of the time. I’ve not made a single levelling choice myself yet. This hasn’t seemed to have disadvantaged me. The fights are fun without being too tiresome. It was fun having a bit more control over the two other people in my team in the original game, but I don’t really miss it that much.
I’m also ignoring the crafting for now. I may engage with it a bit, but probably not a lot. It doesn’t seem that difficult to understand or use. I also think it might be taking care of itself but I haven’t figured out if this is the case yet. I suspect the standard equipment set may level up as you do. I have a ‘standard assault rifle II’ available to me out of nowhere, so I’m hoping version III appears when it is applicable. This makes crafting an option.
I tend to think the introduction of crafting into single-player games is a bad thing. It represents the MMO-isation of gaming generally, which is a trend I tend to really dislike.
The Game To End Mass Effect?
Since I’ve just completed the first ‘colony’ of the game, I realise the game has plenty of room to get repetitive, boring and way too full of open world bollocks.
Despite this, based on my experience so far, Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t even close to being bad, never mind bad enough to put a stake through the beating heart of the whole franchise. I’ll keep you all updated as I progress through the game, but a franchise killer? No way.
A wave of negative narrative that Bioware decided was too hard to fight long-term? Quite possibly. Could they have also decided the wave of negativity helped along some internal strategies dictating how resources should be used elsewhere? They’ve moved into the gaming as a service model along with everyone else. That I get. Possibly they also decided the ‘religious levels of reverence’ that exist around the original trilogy would also doom any new game to expectations problems?
I know I held the view that Mass Effect: Andromeda probably had to be something ridiculously magical and illusive to get even a cursory nod compared to the original trilogy of games
Let’s see how my view of the game changes or not as I progress through it but at the moment I’m finding it hard to see Andromeda as even remotely franchise level destroying.
At the moment I’m on the ice planet helping the Angara resistance, mini-campaign number two. It’s atmospheric and fun and I plan to continue. Since the game is dragging me into playing it rather than me having to persuade myself to play it’s already doing better than Rise of the Tomb Raider (which is great when I play but I sort of have to nudge myself to play it).
I’m hoping my opinion of the game doesn’t drop significantly over time, but I am open minded enough to understand this might happen.
Crossing my fingers.