Mass Effect Andromeda is Mass Effect Redux

I’ve been playing through the Mass Effect Andromeda single player campaign, though my initial excitement has been tempered a bit. For awhile, I thought of the game as the Inquisitioning of Mass Effect. In other words, Bioware built an open world with a lot of pointless resource gathering in the pursuit of making their game bigger and longer. Certainly many of the quests under the quest tab “Tasks” turn out to be pointless.

The desert world, an all-too-familiar trope

As I’ve played more — I’m probably 3/4 of the way through now — I’m getting strong deja vu vibes of the original Mass Effect,. The game looks clearly to be a setup for further games in the series. My daughter Emily is a big fan of the original trilogy, and feels the same way, though not always positively. To quote Emily:

I can see how the story in Andromeda is on par with the original Mass Effect. Maybe it has to be a little simple to set the stage. But the story seems awfully familiar — evil aliens / evil technology turning good aliens (and maybe you next) into them and brainwashing them. Also, I think some of the side characters are less interesting in some cases — Joker versus the new (Salarian) pilot, etc.)

Maybe ME2 and ME3 spoiled me and some of the official reviewers. As I said, maybe it has to be simple to set the stage. But after 2 and 3… the sequels have a lot to live up to.”

I generally agreed with Emily’s assessment. Andromeda thematically resembles the first Mass Effect, even if plot elements differ, but much of it seems to be setup for a longer story arc. And like Emily, I’m a little disappointed that the story beats echo the elements in the original game. Sure, it’s great to build up the Nexus from its damaged shell to something better, but did we really need a near-duplicate of the Citadel, right down to a bar with bad music? And what’s with the inventory system, which seems like it took the worst of Mass Effect and mashed it up with Inquisitions inventory system.

Andromeda’s Departure Point from Mass Effect

I think Andromeda departs from the original story in throwing a bunch of (mostly young) inexperienced characters into the fray, dealing with events beyond the scope of their expectations and training. They have to make it up as they go along, lacking the resources and support that the Citadel Council could offer in the first game. The conflict between the Salarian pilot, Kallo, and the human engineer, Gil, illustrate the tension between the old and new, between sticking with the familiar versus adapting on the fly to the new place.

These are the elements I think Andromeda gets right. Ryder makes mistakes along the way, acknowledging that she’s learning as she goes. Peebee, young Asari who makes Liara T’Soni look like the soul of maturity by comparison, whoops with glee when she encounters the new and the strange. Liam is young, brash, foolish, and impulsive. Vetra operates in the shadows, like the dark version of Garrus, while the Krogan Drack knows he’s reaching the end of his days, but has little aspiration to being more than an old NCO. Jaal, the new alien… well, I’m not sure quite what to make of Jaal, who’s assigned to the crew by his Angaran superiors as much to keep an eye on these new aliens as to help them.

As I’m nearing the end of the story, these characters still don’t seem fully fleshed out, in the same way the characters in the original Mass Effect seemed shallow. Garrus, in particular, seemed like a really shallow character, an echo of a Dirty Harry wannabe. When he became Archangel in Mass Effect 2, he seemed much more interesting. The other characters carried through the trilogy also grew with the story. Liara, Tali, Wrex, all developed deep back stories and all became memorable characters in the longer run.

Can Mass Effect Andromeda strike the same spark? I’m not so sure. For one thing, Mass Effect’s story was tighter and more focused and personal, while Andromeda’s story is big, sprawling, and tries to do too much. Bioware would do well to make the story in any sequel a little smaller and more personal. Andromeda may have tried to hard to be Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 all in one game. Scaling back the ambition in the future might make for a much better game.

Even with all my complaints, I’m having a blast playing the single-player campaign and the multiplayer sticks with the ME3 formula, which is a good thing. But I can’t help wondering if this good game could have been a great game if a few ideas had been left on the cutting room floor.

Ryder contemplates the future of Mass Effect Andromeda

 

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