Genre: Sci-fi RPG
Synopsis: An intergalactic coalition from the Milky Way sets out to colonize a new galaxy. After 600 years travel, with the passengers cryogenic-ally preserved, you–Ryder (a customizable character)–are among the first woken up. You’re part of the team meant to explore the planets and ready them for settling.
Unfortunately, something has happened to this galaxy between when your people first analyzed them 600 years ago, and now. The worlds don’t sustain life the way they’re supposed to. Now you have to figure out what happened and how to fix it–while trying to initiate peaceful first contact with new species along the way.
Series: In the same world as the other Mass Effect games, but stands apart from them.
Verdict: Plenty of great concepts. Execution vacillates between good and mediocre.
Considering my obsession with Bioware and how many playthroughs of every Dragon Age game I’ve done, I expected to marathon Andromeda. That’s not happening. I’ll definitely finish it eventually–it’s good enough for that–but I’m not completely engrossed in it. But for now, I’ve gotten a sense of the game’s strengths and weaknesses in its beginning and middle. Spoilers follow.
The beginning was great. There was this deep sense of exploration as you get dumped on this a new, strange world and try to fend for yourself. The driving story behind it was immersive, the characters had these nice hints of personality that boded well for getting to know them. The side quests revealed bits and pieces of the big picture you’d fallen into, letting you slowly piece together where you stood.
The settings are beautiful. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but I love how the environments of every planet are distinct. They each have their own unique look and their own unique hazard conditions. It creates a different feel for every world.
I went into the next part of the story super-excited to see where it leads. And it starts out promising. The plan that our initiative had is in tatters–we’re missing most of our ships and colonists, the worlds we wanted to live on aren’t habitable. The station we’re meeting up with doesn’t have enough resource to keep going for much longer and, to top it off, recently exiled a large amount of its population after a rebellion. This was all great set-up.
Then there’s figuring out the old technology left by an advanced civilization, technology that can regulate the atmosphere and make these planets livable. When we find out we’re not the only ones interested in this tech–and that the other guys (the kett) aren’t friendly–it sets up this great dynamic of combat archaeology.
I mean, think about how awesome that sounds: combat archaeology.
It’s such a cool concept that I’d have used in the title of my post if it had lived up to my expectations. Unfortunately, while there were some nice aspects to it, a lack of variety made it less cool with time.
After a while of traveling around Eos doing side quests in a more open world fashion, the fun of that also peters out pretty quickly. Some games do a great job with an open world landscape, and that turns into a great strength for the game–Fallout: New Vegas comes to mind. Andromeda is not a Fallout game, and (with exceptions), much of the open world content is a bit of a weakness.
Next, your team makes first contact with another species called the angara. This is an indigenous species, unlike the kett, who arrived and violently disrupted the lives of the angara. Now, the angara and the kett are at war, and the angara may make useful allies for your initiative–if they have a reason to trust another new species so soon after the last one that arrived turned on them.
I’m wondering if this story line here isn’t a bit too close to the old ‘an outsider walks in and fixes everything for the indigenous people’ plot. It doesn’t actually make sense that your initiative develops a technology in another galaxy, completely independent of this one, that happens to be able to interface with the technology of a more advanced civilization here. And this tech is way more advanced, completely beyond what your people are capable of. Meanwhile, the angara have literally built their civilization around this technology, yet can’t operate it as well as you can.
There’s no way around this: I don’t like how dependent the angara are on the protagonist. The game tries a few times to create the impression that it’s mutual, that both groups need each other–but the narrative doesn’t really support that.
There are a couple of other things here that stand out as a little strange to me:
- There are a group of angara extremely against any new alien arrivals–including you. You manage to win over one such commander literally minutes after killing his entire squad. That’s an impressive devaluation of his people’s lives. I get wanting to create an avenue for the protagonist to win over her/his detractors, to give the player a sense of accomplishment, but that’s maybe not the best way.
- The angara are way too aware of their cultural differences with us. One companion, Jaal, explains to you that his species feels emotions strongly soon after he joins your crew–which, 1) he only knows his own experiences, so really, he should think that our people feel emotions weakly while his are normal. And 2) he shouldn’t know enough about us to pinpoint exactly where our differences come from. This feels too much like treating our culture as the default, which the angara shouldn’t do.
- The angaran city is weirdly similar to our city, considering how our two populations have developed independently throughout literally all of history. Two random cities in the real world today will look more different. Two cities in another Bioware game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, will look more different. Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t even give them different doors.
This is where the game picks back up for me.
Kadara is awesome. The vibe of the warring criminal factions creates a great backdrop, and the open world side quests are actually interesting–scanning murder scenes or suspects, determining which of two factions are lying to you, that kind of stuff. It shakes up the usual dynamic for go-somewhere-and-fight-people missions or fetch quests.
The mystery behind the Charlatan, an anonymous figure leading one of Kadara’s factions, also adds quite a bit of fun to the game. I don’t know if we ever find out who this person is, but I’d love it if we did. I suspect the bartender. (I’m probably wrong. I usually am.)
That’s all I’ve seen of the game at the moment. I’ll wait to talk more about characters until I’ve played through the whole thing–briefly, so far, I think they’re cool conceptually but don’t engage on a deeper level.
So this game isn’t what I was hoping for from Bioware, but that’s a really high bar to clear. It’s still enjoyable, with some great ideas. That said, it’s definitely got its highs and lows.