It hurts me to say this. I am disappointed in Mass Effect Andromeda. I was practically drooling when I played Dragon Age Inquisition in 2014 because I thought that if this was the B team, what was in store for me with the next Mass Effect was going to be crazy amazing. And I get that not everything can be Mass Effect Two (Or Dragon Age Two), but this is baffling.
The game is empty. And not in the Horizon Zero Dawn way. In Horizon, the emptiness of the landscape is it’s own character, pushing on the player, increasing the sense of loss and longing, compounding the alienation and general doom the plot throws at you for hour after hour of isolated villages and stark, desolate panoramas. Andromeda is different. Like someone forgot to make the rest of it. The last time I played a game this empty, it was the first Mass Effect.
This game is the equivalent of having a trusted friend start telling an amazing story only to leave through a window and never return. There’s so much to unpack, so many interesting threads I wanted to follow and yet, side quest after side quest had little or no payoff whatsoever. At least not in the sophisticated ways that I’ve come to expect in the 5 plus years since the last Mass Effect hit the market.
As a whole, the game felt unaffected by my actions. Time passed, but things didn’t change much on the ship or in the settlements. I made big decisions about core values and direction, but I saw no indication of those decisions being acted on in the world. A crowd scenario I’ve come to associate with the Mass Effect franchise: Random stranger asks for help with mundane issue/advice while you’re walking through a public area happened only once. And every time I came back to the area, he was still there bemoaning his fate like I’d never said anything. Other random encounters were the conversational equivalent of the comments section on an otherwise good political think piece. I felt ineffectual.
I would have loved this game if it came out in 2010. Instead, it felt like there was at least another year of QA to be done before anybody should have seen it. And I’m not just talking about the NPC’s wildly rolling eyes that made them all look like they were experiencing a psychotic break. I know they recently patched the eyeball issue, but there’s no patch for the narrative holes that were both glaring and surprising for being a franchise and a company widely known for having some of the best plots and character development in the industry.
There are spoilers beyond this line
For example, Jaal spends so much time talking about how emotive the Angara are, how big and loving their families are. And yet, when you go to meet his “true mother” she does the mom equivalent of a cut and run. “Oh nice to see you I’m off to a resistance meeting. Bye now you boys be good.” Um… Mrs. Jaal… did no one tell you your true son, who is fighting at the motherfucking front lines against the Kett (your biggest enemy) is coming to town? You couldn’t skip one resistance meeting or, barring that, not have him arrive on resistance meeting night? I thought you guys talked to each other.
After that you walk with Jaal through a scene that couldn’t even compete with an Italian grandma’s house after Church in terms of crowd. And they all have similarly lackluster greetings for their long-absent and constantly endangered cousin. Was this scene written by a Caucasian orphan alone in a closet with absolutely no input from anyone? Do you not have a single ethnic friend? Has nobody seen Friday or My Big Fat Greek Wedding or even Mi Familia? After all the dialog about how expressive, emotional and loving Angara are, they’re basically the family in Home Alone. I get that two different teams could have written the plot outline and the dialog, but were they not allowed to talk to each other?
The other relationships are less bad, but still not great with the exception of Drack the Krogan. He was so disproportionately well done that I kept expecting him to die. He does not. Ship’s engineer Gil actually says “I’m good for a laugh, so I know lots of people but I don’t let too many in” in your second ever conversation. As if someone copied and pasted the character description straight into the dialog box.
Like everybody else I was bummed out that there were only two gay romance options for a male protagonist. And unlike the other romance options (adorable cop with a heart of gold, badass Asari-trained commando, sweet talking smuggler boss, quirky and sassy Indiana Jones babe, spiritual cerebral science friend, ballsy reporter) the two dudes who will romance a gay Ryder are deeply flawed. One is clearly from Reddit, and the other is a hot Latino smuggler with a (very unsexy and predictable) secret and no compunction against straight-up murder. And let’s not even get into how annoying it is that it’s the fucking space future but Latinx people are still getting cast as the criminals.
I also noticed that the traditional third act romance scene I’ve come to expect from Bioware games was conspicuously absent. This might be because I romanced the murderer, who isn’t in the bridge crew and therefore isn’t around before the final fight. I’ve also heard that this might represent a movement towards a more naturally flowing relationship development in the series and away from the prescriptive. But it was a little annoying that my character is headed off on a suicide mission and there wasn’t even an option for a video call.
Ultimately, and despite my bitching, I did like this game even though I was disappointed in it. It’s going to take a lot more than one shaky performance to throw me off the franchise. And if we consider this a whole new series, rather than the fourth in a line, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that both Mass Effect One and Dragon Age One were miles behind their sequels in nearly every measure of quality.
Perhaps EA is throwing Andromeda out as a test case to see whether or not the series is still worth investing in. I say it is. By the end of the game, there are some pretty sweet set-ups for game two and I really want to know where that goes. I just hope that there’s more QA and writing time.
On a personal note, playing a game that deals heavily with the themes of parent death and homesickness really tugged at my heart. As you know my mom died in December, and I’ve been living in Portland, about 1,000 miles and three major climate zones away from Los Angeles, where my family has lived for nearly 100 years and three generations. Homesickness hits me like a brick sometimes and even though I really love our new city, it still doesn’t feel like home. The air is different here. Better, but different all the same.
Sometimes the way the characters dealt with grief and loss, both of the Ryder parent and of the Milky Way Galaxy was poignant, insightful, even healing in the best cases. But I was left with the feeling that the concept of loss, which is so rich and and so universal wasn’t explored like it could have been. Except to the extent that I wanted a fully developed game and got less than that.
I am just starting my second playthrough, this time with a female Ryder. I’ll update this review when I’m done.