This weekend I managed to finish Mass Effect Andromeda. While I did not come close to hundred-percenting the game, I still feel like I touched all of the important bits. Andromeda divides up its quests in a number of logical chunks: Priority Ops, Allies and Relationships, Heleus Assignments, and Additional Tasks. Priority Ops is functionally everything you need to do to finish the game. Allies and Relationships are tasks you are doing for your crew or other significant individuals and organizations within the Andromeda Galaxy. Heleus Assignments are for lack of a better term the equivalent of planetary missions from SWTOR, and anything you pick up for a specific planet ends up getting filed here. Lastly there are a number a busywork items that get filed into the Additional Tasks bin… and I largely think of these as Daily Quests from the MMO genre. According to the game I am sitting at 92% completion, and that is from doing all of the first three categories of quests and largely ignoring the last category… unless I happened to complete it while doing something else at the same time. All told according to Origin I have played 90 hours of gameplay, some of that being with the headstart and then continuing on into the release client. I am going to do my best to avoid any major spoilers about the game, but functionally… you cannot really talk about your experience without at least giving some minor details.
Mass Effect Andromeda had the deck stacked against it before we even set foot in the game. What I mean by this is the fact that the original Mass Effect trilogy is among the most loved gaming properties in history. The number of N7 hoodies and car stickers that I see out in the wild is pretty staggering that I live in a section of fly over country that is not exactly known for its geek friendliness. In truth I personally think that if they ever made the original Mass Effect trilogy into a science fiction television show that over the course of its run chronicles the events of the entire series… you would have a hit on your hands that would eclipse Game of Thrones by a large margin. So that said… trying to come in on the heels of that game and creating something that is going to ultimately keep up… and hopefully replace it… is just largely a suicidal proposal. The game had issues out of the gate and while the most recent patched fixed most of the ones that were bothering me… it is still the younger sibling of a child star, the Kieran to Macaulay Culkin. This is not exactly a fatal flaw mind you, because as time has gone I’ve come to realize that Kieran Cuklin is the much better actor… drawing out this analogy that horrifically dates me.
Regardless of how good the end product is… there is still an awful lot of awkward that you are going to have to wade through until you reach the tipping point of caring about the game more than you care about the ephemera. For me that point was about eight to ten hours into the game, which in itself is a hefty commitment for a game that has not fully grabbed you at that point. The larger problem is that Bioware in general is extremely hit and miss about indoctrinating you into their worlds. There is often times this odd chrysalis phase of the game, where it is trying to introduce you to new elements and characters and figure out ways to make you care about them. It seems to be the case each time we enter a few franchise, so Mass Effect 1 suffered from it… but 2 and 3 were able to draw on the fact that you probably played the first and they did not need to give you a fully fleshed origin story as introduction. The Dragon Age franchise unfortunately has had awkward beginnings each time because they have yet to give us a true sequel, jumping us into new characters and new perspectives for each game. Mass Effect Andromeda similarly is plagued with a whole lot of awkward front loaded into the game… as it attempts to induct us into a new universe filled with hundreds of new characters for us to start caring about. This is not made any easier by the fact that the Pathfinder is very much NOT Shepard in any fashion, so it takes those first dozen hours to really let that fact sink in.
Prior to Andromeda my top Mass Effect games list would have gone a little something like this: 2, 3, 1. One gets downgraded so heavily because it had an extremely awkward control scheme… and Kaidan Alenko. When it comes time in a play through I gleefully sacrifice Kaidan to the pages of History knowing that for the sake of my crew I am going to have to pretend that I cared. After playing Andromeda the new list looks much the same… just with Andromeda prepended on the beginning. If you place any weight in the Bartle types… I am of split brain with heavy focuses on both Killer and Explorer and as a result respond extremely favorably to open world situations where I get to run amok. Much of the reason why I liked Mass Effect 2 so much, is that there is a large sequence where you go on small character building missions and it allows you to delay the inevitable “rush to the end” that always happens in this sort of game. Part of what makes exploring these large planets such a joy however is the introduction to the Nomad… the vehicle we needed since the first Mass Effect. I never really got into the Mako because it had the handling of a small city… and the Hammerhead was a cool idea that was frustratingly constrained to a bunch of mini-game levels. The Nomad on the other hand is your constant companion as you wander the planets providing protection from the worst the atmospheres have to offer and through the jump jets and rocket boosts gives you the ability to scale absolutely crazy obstacles. As you can see from the above image, you can totally tear donuts or slide out on the ice if you so choose. I absolutely sacrificed weapon and armor upgrades just to be able to craft more nifty addons for my Nomad.
It is impossible to talk about a Mass Effect game without at least hitting on the story. For better or worse the original Mass Effect trilogy was largely the tale of the entire world slowly going to shit. You and your crew from the moment you set foot in the universe are fighting a losing battle. While you might win battles, you are ultimately losing the war… and each game gets a little darker than the previous one. There is of course some nobility and honor in being constantly the underdog, and it provides some excellent character building opportunities… but it is a fixed path and you sort of know it while going through the game. Mass Effect Andromeda however has a vastly different tone. The world is complete shit at the beginning of the game, and everything that could have gone wrong seemingly has. However over the course of your missions you are setting forth to build this better world for future generations. There is a hopefulness in this game that is largely absent in the previous offerings, and given how generally shit our world is right now… it is needed. The wish fulfillment of setting forth into a new Galaxy to make a better future is extremely tangible… and the fact that the game then allows you to start making things better from the first planet you touch down on is extremely important. So while I am not Shepard… over time I came to grow into Ryder and figure out how exactly I would approach the game. There has been a lot of frustration around the lack of the Paragon/Renegade system… but in truth I largely found it too limiting. There were times I just wanted to be a smartass, without actually going full asshole… and this game allows me to do that. What is lacking however is from what I can tell the ability to play a horrible human being… and I am largely fine with that.
The main story arc covers everything that I want from a Mass Effect game. You have evil races hell bent on your destruction, ancient technologies that you have to master… and the promise of lots of interesting story vignettes along the way as you introduce yourself to an entirely new galaxy. It is a glorious space opera and the final “rush to the end” sequence is one of the coolest I have seen in literally any video game. It is reminiscent of the earth landing sequence in Mass Effect 3, and once you have started things up… you functionally have to strap in and enjoy the ride because there is no stopping the final act of the game. That is really all I can say without deeply spoiling the game, and I have danced around the edges of saying more throughout writing this post. The one thing that I really want to talk about that this game does amazing well is the post ending. Most games like this offer you some way of completing everything you missed after you have actually gone off to fight whatever malevolent force is set against you. The problem is that in almost all cases they do some sort of hand wavy bullshit of returning you to a moment BEFORE the final fight… and allowing you to finish things up pretending like the fact moments of the game never happened. Mass Effect Andromeda however lets you continue on with the entire world knowing that you defeated the big bad, and things are subtly altered in the world as a result. This gives me an awful lot of hope that maybe just maybe the DLC for this game is going to literally extend the game much like an MMO, and it would be amazing if they helped to lay the ground work between this game and whatever the inevitable sequel happens to be. At this point I desperately want more game to explore, and while I could roam around doing tasks… I am figuring it is time for me to move on for now. It was a great experience and once I got past some of the awkward windowe dressing… I feel like this is probably the best crafted Bioware RPG to date.