Last week, I did two things gaming wise: I beat and completed Horizon Zero Dawn, and I started Mass Effect: Andromeda.
It has been an interesting transition.
Coming back to a franchise that I love is always fraught with peril. On one hand, you get the comfortable feeling of slipping into well worn shoes. You pick up the controls and you settle into a world that you once devoured. On the other hand, you get there, and you find everything slightly off. Or that the nostalgia has given you rose-tinted glasses and you realise how much you put up with the game in order to enjoy it.
With Mass Effect: Andromeda, you get a little bit of both.
I guess I will start off with my harshest critiques first.
Mass Effect: Andromeda hasn’t innovated enough since its last offering. From the story, to the controls and UI, ME:A has largely rested on the laurels of its predecessors without keeping up with the times. While the game is still good, it hasn’t taken the next step in gaming evolution, and it shows its age.
ME:A follows a group of explorers who left the Milky Way Galaxy and travelled for 600 years in cryostatis. After arriving there, challenges plague the settlers as they find their way in the Andromeda Galaxy. The explores represent the major races you found in the first Mass Effect Trilogy, but this goes not include any of the original characters from the game (makes sense, they are 600 years in the past). You are the “Pathfinder” tasked with finding planets for colonial settlement. You and your team of Milky Way and Andromeda Aliens work together to face the challenges of the new Galaxy.
Along the way, you do side quests as well, as develop personal relationships, including sexual relationships, with various characters in the game.
My biggest gripe about Andromeda is the UI. It feels it has hardly changed from previous versions. Folders upon folders to switch quests? the interface is clunky and old, and takes you out of the moment. Contrast that with Horizon Zero Dawn were you can switch weapons, items, while in game, and the Quests are easy and understandable to switch between. The UI is just no longer intuitive for gamers, and it feels more of a throwback than a progression.
The other gripe I have of the game if his ham-handedness with the dialogue/personal relationship. Now as a Gay man, I of course decided to try and pursue a gay relationship in the game. Now, BioWare has a history of having sexual relationships in their games, from Mass Effect to Dragon Age, some of the most talked about features is who you can sex, and what combinations there are. Gay Male relationships were introduced in Mass Effect 3, and Dragon Age: Inquisition had a couple of very good Gay Male options, and also dialogue. ME:A feels like a step back. It kinda feels like the romance option for Gay Men were written by people who don’t know Gay people at all. The conversations are a bit cliched, and the whole thing feels like it was written by straight people. Gil, the engineer of the ship whom I am currently romancing, talks constantly about his friend Jill, who is in charge of reproduction for the travellers to Andromeda, and she keeps remarking how Gil should look at it. While the kid conversation is… nice… it just seems like the whole conversation felt nothing like anything me or my gay friends would say or do. It actually feels a bit “After-school special” territory with a “Full House.” Moral ending. It feels like it is just kinda slotted into the game to show its inclusiveness, as if saying “Hey! We get you want children too, here is a conversation to that effect!”
Also, I have ran into a couple of Trans NPCs, and again, the conversation seems to be created by people who have only seen and heard Trans people on TV. And while I am all for more diverse inclusion into the game, this is a disappointment to only boil groups into stereotypes. Dragon Age: Inquisition did an amazing job in having both good gay relationships and Characters, and a believable trans character with the dialogue to match. But in stepping back, I realise that Mass Effect has always been like this. What was progressive in 2007 seems a bit insulting now in 2017. It is not enough to have someone be Trans or Gay in a game, they need to be more than just Trans or Gay. I want good characters who happen to be Trans or Gay.
But then, the game seems like a lot of fun.
The game play is good, it reminds me of what I love from the overall series. I like the progression system, the abilities, the profiles, and the way you can switch around them relatively easy. I love the locales, and how big the areas are. I like the combat mechanics, and I actually enjoy the multiplayer quite a bit.
And that is the rub. There is enough of the game that I really like to outweigh the parts that annoy me.
I think part of the let down comes from playing the game so soon after Horizon Zero Dawn, and while I know I have a bias of loving the game, it feels like a complete evolution from Mass Effect’s story structure and it gives a better, more progressive, story without being so ham-fisted. HZD also had a trans characters but it was done in a way that treated the NPC as a character and not a tickbox. HZD felt like they had a wide range of people in on the development of the game who gave their characters believable dialogue. The same was done with gay characters throughout the game. It may be referenced, but it wasn’t the defining feature of the character. For Gil, he is defined by being Gay, and his friend Jill pestering him to have a baby. (I personally think Jill has a crush on Gil and wants to get him into bed, but that is just my imagination running wild).
So, I have begun to approach ME:A as a game that is fun, but is no longer the go-to game of action RPG games. Its story suffers from trying too hard to tick off requirements of inclusion without putting in the work to make the inclusion a part of the story and making it better. The gameplay is still good, and the game still enjoyable if you glaze over the cheesy dialogue between characters. The storyline is alright, weaker than the original series, and the main characters are harder to get to know and like. Maybe time will tell, but it I kinda miss Shepard.
I give it a B-
3.5 stars out of 5