Mass Effect: Andromeda, the fourth ‘full’ game in the Mass Effect series, was released on April 23rd to a somewhat mixed reception… perhaps leaning towards poor. It received an average of 73% on metacritic across all platforms, and individual reviews ranged from 2/5 (GiantBomb)  to 8/10 (Game Informer). So, what’s happened since then? Where does the game find itself, and what lies ahead for the series? I’m going to attempt to address both of those questions, and we’ll soon see that the answers to those questions are totally divergent.

This won’t be a full ground-up review, there are plenty out there and I particularly recommend Polygon’s – who awarded it 7.5/10 – as a starting point if you haven’t played or read about the came at all. Please read that first as I intend to focus on what’s happened since.

Firstly, I want to address what the community’s expectation was of ME:A, and what the game was subsequently interpreted as. Looking at much of the criticism the game received it seems to me that people expected ME:A to be a natural evolution (at least gameplay wise) of what we received in ME3. That expectation led to a perfect storm when, upon release, the game took on a different form. This misaligned expectation seems to have fueled a lot of the hatred the game received. In reality, the game’s form follows the same rationale as the game’s story… bear with me here.

This misaligned expectation seems to have fueled a lot of the hatred the game received. In reality, the game’s form follows the same rationale as the game’s story…

Andromeda starts after the events of Mass Effect and just before Mass Effect 2 begins, with the Hyperion with your character aboard, “Ryder”, a soon-to-be Pathfinder (see title pun) heading off towards the Andromeda galaxy on a quest to find a new home for the Council races. You’re immediately setting off in a separate direction to the original story, with 600 years between the two by the time you arrive in Andromeda. The gameplay, focus on exploration and approach to the inventory system in a more traditional RPG-style manner is an off-shoot from Mass Effect 1, and not so much a progression of ME3. If you go into the game ignoring the slim-downed inventory system and more-linear storytelling in ME2 & ME3, and instead imagine what a 2017 evolution of the original game might look like, you would probably be imagining Mass Effect: Andromeda, or a game very close.

At launch, Andromeda was hugely criticised for having a number of troublesome technical issues, in particular, its facial animations and dodgily edited cutscenes. Since then the game has received 2 significant patches. These patches have made noticeable improvements on cutscenes and conversations. NPC’s eyes are no longer glassy and vacant, and the lighting has been improved to make everybody look less like a plasticine model.

So where does that leave Andromeda? If it had launched with this extra polish on day one would the reception have been so negative? That really depends on who you are. The reviews in the range of 73% I believe remain fair for your “average gamer”, but if you’re a fan of the Mass Effect series and you come into the game with the right expectations then the game is easily worth an 80% in my opinion. The lowest aggregate score received in the original trilogy was 88% (ME1), so ME:A may be the ‘worst’ game in the series and I am happy to admit that, but it still isn’t a bad game.

The lowest aggregate score received in the original trilogy was 88% (ME1), so ME:A may be the ‘worst’ game in the series and I am happy to admit that, but it still isn’t a bad game

Visually, the game excels. Its landscapes are both huge and beautiful, a combination that no Mass Effect game has truly managed in the past. ME2 & 3 were beautiful but you never had a truly open space to get lost in. The original game had vast planets to explore but they didn’t treat your eyes very well. The combat in Andromeda is fantastic, but an acquired taste. The auto-cover system is jarring at first, especially for those used to the old button-triggered cover system, but once you’re use to it auto-covering you are provided with unparalleled flexibility. As long as an obstacle is big enough, be it a tree, rock, crate, vehicle, whatever, you can easily nip in behind it.

The dialogue and conversation options this time around have also improved in my opinion. Gone are the days of just flicking straight to the paragon or renegade option depending on your leaning. The dialogue system now categorises responses as emotional, logical, romantic etc. This blurs the line between good and evil and allows for a much more natural way of choosing your responses. As a result, your relationships with characters, especially your teammates (many of whom are fantastic, might I add), are a lot less binary and open to a lot of give and take.

your relationships with characters, especially your teammates (many of whom are fantastic, might I add), are a lot less binary and open to a lot of give and take

Coming back to that idea that ME:A is a progression of the original game, rather than the latter parts of the trilogy, the nature of exploration is incredibly similar to ME1. The Nomad is your new Mako, and it is absolutely superb. You are faced with huge open planets that are teeming with things to do and things to see. It’s very much what we expected ME1’s exploration to be like in the first place. Having said that, Andromeda falls short of recreating the original trilogy’s sense of isolation and creepiness.

Side quests are often fetch quests with only a little bit of variety between, and on the occasion you do come across something creepy it’s often diluted with humour or stops short of being totally explicit. You won’t find the same sense of “WTF is going on” that you did when you came across some of the more eccentric quests in the original trilogy. Andromeda is a much more family-friendly affair (barring the odd romantic cut-scene of course).

Andromeda falls short of recreating the original trilogy’s sense of isolation and creepiness. Side quests are often fetch quests with only a little bit of variety between

The last comment to make about the game itself is around the art direction and musical score. Musically, the game has grown on me. It’s still rooted in the old Mass Effect melodies (again very similar to ME1 in many cases) but there is definitely a little bit of magic missing – which I think may be partly down to how the music is deployed in-game rather than its composition itself. The art direction is hit and miss. It’s still very obvious that it’s a Mass Effect game, especially on the vehicle side of things from the Arks to the Nomad and the Tempest, however the enemy and creature design leaves a lot to be desired.

The Remnant are hugely reminiscent of the Prometheans in the new Halo games, crossed with the Vex from Destiny, which are all designs I personally don’t warm to at all and they don’t feel particularly Mass-Effecty. The Kett and the Angara are worthy additions to the Mass Effect races but the fact we only have two major organic race additions is a real shame and difficult to justify. Similarly, the “native” animals on each planet are all essentially the same. A bit of variety to keep the bewilderment of landing on a new world would have gone a long way to retaining the immersion.

All-in-all, with the new patches and an open-mind, Andromeda is a middling-to-good addition to the Mass Effect series. If anything, it ought to be commended for its wealth of content and things to do which, for a modern EA game, is truly a novelty. Its lack of dependence on DLC is a trend we ought to be encouraging but the gaming community hasn’t really picked up on that aspect. The story works, with obvious references to the original trilogy both thematically and explicitly in gameplay.

All-in-all, with the new patches and an open-mind, Andromeda is a middling-to-good addition to the Mass Effect series.

So what about the series? Considering the negative reception things got off to a rocky start, but the game has improved over time with the patch releases. Have things followed a similar trajectory behind the scenes? Unfortunately not. EA announced recently that the series has been put on hiatus, with the developers (BioWare Montreal) being divvied up to either work on further multiplayer content for ME:A (which is a rinse and repeat of ME3’s multiplayer, very little to see here) or they’d be working on Star Wars Battlefront 2’s story mode.

Why did this happen? It appears to be a mix of reasons. Firstly, the mixed reception will always play a part, but it goes well beyond that. The game seems to have sold okay, but that isn’t enough. Not for a franchise like Mass Effect with the investment, EA likely put into it. It has seemingly sold less during an equivalent period than ME2 & ME3, which is enough to turn EA off the idea of immediate sequels very quickly.

To add to that, the game received its fair share of controversy in the realms of equality and diversity. BioWare had to make a prompt alteration to a conversation one NPC has about their experience as a transgender individual, with the original interaction being deemed unrepresentative of what a transgender individual would say in conversation. The development of the game and what appears within it has been the subject of many polarising arguments around feminism and xenophobia in particular, which created a bit of a PR nightmare for EA and no doubt led to the declaration of a hiatus. Just CTRL-F the phrase “Social Justice Warrior” under YouTube videos reviewing Andromeda and you’re in for an intellectually stimulating ride.

So where does this leave us? The future of the series looks uncertain at best. Unfortunately, a number of PR and development missteps led to the game being embroiled in controversy around issues it had tried to address head on. Sci-Fi as a genre has always been a beacon of progression, rejecting the concepts of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and so on. That’s obvious to see across the genre, so it’s a huge disappointment that those issues have played a part in derailing the series’ future due to them being totally mishandled.

Mass Effect Andromeda is a good game as a whole, but an average Mass Effect game. It is still a must-play for a Mass Effect fan but you need to go into the experience with the correct attitude. The game has (in my view) recovered from its rocky start and is more than worthy of sinking your time into, if not for the fact it may be last Mass Effect we get for a long time.

Chris Duddy
Law graduate squeezing every last drop out of student life, still awaiting my British & Irish Lions call-up. Partial to a half pint of Ardees every other Sunday, preferably in the Winking Skeever.
http://www.quillstreak.com

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