I finished Mass Effect Andromeda a few days ago and I’ve given myself time to mull over what I did and didn’t like about the game. Now I know I normally write about literature, art, mental health and sometimes some actual science, but occasionally I’ll tell you a bit about my gaming. I think it prudent to tell you a bit more about my gaming likes and dislikes before reviewing the game because different strokes for different folks and all that. And also I’m aiming this guide at people with basic gaming knowledge.
It should come as no surprise to you that what I look for in a game is a great story, I love reading and writing after all. Games with little plot line or badly written plots don’t often interest me. Sometimes I’ll play the odd mindless shooter or even a bit of Assassin’s Creed, but that’s only when I’m feeling mentally drained. The first game I remember my family owning was Monkey Island, it came on about 11 floppy disks and it was a point a click adventure. I’ve loved a bit of puzzle gaming ever since (played every Monkey Island game since too). And the third thing I like in a game is having some control over how the story unravels, this usually comes in the form of character decisions. Meaning you get to make a decision on behalf of your character, stuff like save this guy or this guy, or punch this annoying person or don’t punch this annoying person.
It’s pretty hard to find a game that meets all these requirements, Bioware (makers of many great games) are usually pretty good to me and hit two out of three (and according to Meatloaf that ain’t bad). The first three Mass Effect games told the story of Commander Shepard and although it ended badly it was mostly damn well written. And Bioware love to give you choices, you get to choose how you react in conversation (are you serious or sarcastic? are you a goody two shoes or an arsehole?). And this isn’t limited to their Mass Effect universe, their Dragon Age games and Star Wars The Old Republic can say the same thing.
After having cocked up the ending of Mass Effect 3 and put out a disappointing sequel to Dragon Age, Bioware were in a spot of trouble. They were losing fans and losing them fast. The next game they put out had to be frigging magic. And it was. The third instalment of Dragon Age was spectacular. But the Mass Effect franchise was where it really mattered, people were still raging about ME3. ME4 had to be as good if not better than DA3. They pushed back the release date not once, not twice but three times, just to make sure they had time to get the game right.
So going in my expectations were pretty high but I was still wary of the possibility they could break my heart again… will the 600 year journey to the Andromeda galaxy be worth it?
What I’ve learned over the past week or so is that I’m not the graphics snob I thought I was. I set my graphics to Ultra and my computer (that hasn’t had an upgrade in any form for about 4 years) surprised me by agreeing to my terms. And I loved it, the graphics were beautiful and I thought the facial animations were pretty decent.
Apparently though I’m in the minority, the internet has been abuzz with whiny graphics snobs wanting more and better.
But what about those three elements I always look for in a game? Well story line, check. It was interesting, not completely predictable and well thought out. It was pretty important for them think it out well because even though they said this would be a stand alone game, there are enough questions left unanswered that I’m positive this game will have a sequel or two.
Element number two, gives me options. Check. When in conversation I had the opportunity to select from up to four possible reactions; logical, professional, emotional & humorous. Naturally I tended to stick to humorous because I’m a sarcastic rogue with a heart of gold… There were even a few options that the developers gave you no indicators for. They were moral dilemmas for you to make and no influencing highlighting was given as to which was the “right” choice.
And element number three, a bit of puzzling. Check. Every now and then I got do a sudoku type puzzle. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I liked it, it added an extra challenge to saving the galaxy.
So this is probably the first time a game has ever delivered on all three items on my wishlist. What luck! I got pretty heavily stuck into the game and set about saving the galaxy as I am often found doing. In the first four days I racked up about 60 hours of gameplay and stood triumphant, for now, over the Andromeda galaxy. I had romanced some crew members, fired off plenty of head shots, scanned everything in sight, got to grips with my biotic powers and seen a nebula that looked like a krogan. What a thrill ride it was.
The game play mechanics though were pretty familiar, in fact it would have taken me a great deal longer to complete all that I did, if I didn’t correctly predict how it would play out. I’d be asked to liberate places, save lives and collect rocks along the way. There were actually a lot of different kinds of collectables and being familiar with the need for logic in such an endeavour I was prepared.
And this is perhaps where my disappointment lies. I felt as though I was playing a spacey version of Dragon Age: Inquisition. This didn’t feel to me like a Mass Effect game, I’m not sure I know what it is that makes a ME game uniquely Mass Effect (hopefully it wasn’t just the presence of Shepard or I’m in for further disappointment). Indeed the open world liberation and collection set up felt so familiar I am slightly fearful that Bioware is about to become very methodical and procedural in their game developing. Am I about to see my favourite gaming franchises turn into nothing more than Assassin’s Creed? The same game with a different wallpaper every year.
I can see why Bioware would think it’s a good idea, they lost a lot of fans by being “creative” with their story (personally I call it lazy but that’s not how they saw it). Dragon Age: Inquisition made them A LOT of money, no doubt repeating the process and or giving it a spacey background will also earn a lot of money. But it made Andromeda a little bland for me, the “big” choices didn’t feel that big or important. The conversational choices didn’t really make much difference at all to my character, whether you’re humorous or not he or she jokes around and is generally a pretty amiable character. I don’t remember having the option to punch a snarky reporter in the face once! Gone is the Renegade Shepard play style. Sometimes I want to be an arsehole but apparently Mass Effect no longer approves this message.
Overall I’d definitely recommend this game, it’s beautifully crafted, exciting and if you played the original trilogy or not they’ll fill you in with the details you may need or want to know. Hopefully Bioware are going to prove me wrong and keep creating varied games that submerge you in an alternate universe.
You’ll want a good gaming rig to play it on PC though, it may have been four years since I upgraded a part in my computer but I bought the best parts I could when I built it so it’s no weakling. Otherwise you’re looking at being a console player PC master race for life!
P.S. Forgot to mention the progression of the romance scenes has been… err… surprising. The first game got an 18+ rating in Australia for a bit of tasteful side boob, this one’s been given a 15+ rating (again in Australia) and gets pretty jiggy with it… If your other half catches you playing this at just the wrong time you are going to have a good amount of explaining to do…