By William Haderlie / April 3rd, 2017
|Title||Mass Effect: Andromeda|
|Release Date||March 21, 2017|
|Platform||PC Origin, PlayStation 4, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||ESRB M for Mature|
Game development does not happen inside a vacuum, but in many ways playing the end result of a developed game often is a time machine back into what the developers were thinking about at the time they started production. A lot can happen in the gaming industry during the long development cycle of a major game that can serve to render many decisions questionable or dated by comparison to its peers. But you can’t just scrap a game or make large changes midway, even if the developers have the time to play other games while they are in the terrible grind of AAA game production (which they often don’t). Hence you have the general internet tenor regarding the reception to the newest Mass Effect game, Mass Effect: Andromeda.
It is releasing in a world where we have had games release like The Witcher 3, very recently Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. So many of its gameplay elements can feel very dated to many, even looking past some of the performance issues people have been having. If I wanted to sum up my experience with the game, and thereby the review, into one simple line it would be the following: Mass Effect: Andromeda is 20 percent Mass Effect, 30 percent Mass Effect 3, and 50 percent Dragon Age: Inquisition. So your mileage with the game will greatly depend on how much you liked those three games. Fortunately for me, I absolutely loved all three of those games.
Notably excluded from those three games that I said make up the DNA for this new title is the critical darling, Mass Effect 2. That is actually going to be the crux of this review, and why my review will generally be more positive than most of the other reviews about this game. Bugs and performance flaws aside, how much you appreciate this game will come down to the question on whether you thought Mass Effect 2 was a positive change for the series or a negative change. Don’t get me wrong, I still do love Mass Effect 2, but it happens to be my least favorite of the original trilogy. It turned an RPG into a cover-based shooter, and while it was well made, it also lost much of the core Bioware character and world building.
Sure, the first game was even more buggy than Mass Effect: Andromeda and the action was much more of an RPG than the tight controls of a third-person shooter, but it had an epic story and the strong characters that has been a hallmark of Bioware ever since Baldur’s Gate. But my favorite entry in the Mass Effect universe so far has been Mass Effect 3, which will likely surprise many people. Since it has bearing on this review, let me briefly say that I agree that the ending was disappointing for me as well, but the other 99 percent of the game was really amazing in my opinion. Perhaps I’ll go into the reasons for that elsewhere, it’s not due to the same reasons many people had for disliking the ending.
Mass Effect: Andromeda tries to differentiate itself from the previous series right off the bat by having you play as a Pathfinder instead of a member of the Alliance Military. A Pathfinder needs to be able to handle themselves, but it is much more important that they be diplomats and be able to do science and explore than just be able to shoot a gun. As a result, your scanner becomes possibly your most important tool, other than the AI that is installed inside of your head. That’s right, AI is once again a major part of this series. And that is quite understandable, especially as we approach the capability for viable self-determinant AI in the real world. Instead of going the Geth or Reaper or EDI route this time, they instead made it so that the AI is a major part of making your hero the badass that she/he needs to be.
For my playthrough of the game I went with the female Ryder, whom by default is Sara Ryder. By giving her a first name, you can actually have NPC characters finally refer to her by her first name. This is necessary since she’s a civilian and it would have felt weird otherwise, but it’s also nice for personalizing your character. I chose to play through as Sara because I generally prefer to play as female characters, especially when lesbian relationships are an option for the game (I generally prefer not to romance male characters by personal taste), and I also chose her since in the original series the performance of the amazing Jennifer Hale was quite superior to her male counterpart. I’ve only played a little of the male character, and I’ve watched many scenes with him in it, and he’s better than the original male Shepard was, but I still prefer Sara.
There are a few aspects to Sara Ryder that I actually prefer already over the original Shepard. The first is that she is more than just a soldier. Don’t get me wrong, I was part of the military for a decade, so I’m not casting aspersions. But I don’t want space exploration to just be about military conquest, and that side of science fiction is my least favorite part. Another aspect that I liked more is that the Ryder twins are actually young in this game. For one, that gives them more room to grow over the series. And for the other, you can see a lot of youthful optimism and they seem to be discovering many aspects of their world at the same time you are. Also, when it comes to being forced into a situation where they are having to lead a people and be diplomats, you feel their unease and that they are over their head much more viscerally. But probably the largest reason that I’m already starting to like her more is that she is given license to be more feminine.
Now I’m not making the statement that more feminine girls are preferable to more masculine girls. That is up to the eye of the beholder. However, it’s undeniable that military organizations tend to take as much femininity out of women as they can. And while FemShep had the better performance, my largest criticism of her was that when it came time to act feminine she really couldn’t, particularly when it came to romance. But Sara actually feels more like a real woman, from her emotional responses (no matter which direction you go with them) to even the way she walks or dances. And seeing her act all flustered while crushing on Suvi felt much more real to me than most RPGs. She really looked and acted like a younger woman first realizing that she was falling for this educated and foreign sexy chick.
Another differentiating aspect to the new protagonist is that they actually have a family that are living and that you have varying relationships with. This felt like the first Bioware RPG that they truly tackle filial relationships in any large way. All throughout the game her family relationships end up playing major roles in the story. You could very well say that the family dynamics of the Ryder clan can either save or doom the entire Andromeda Galaxy. Even as someone who doesn’t really have much use for filial relationships, it was still interesting to see this from a new perspective. But really, a major portion of Mass Effect will still remain the variety of romantic choices that are available to you, and I would not have it any other way. In some ways they are stronger and more adult than ever for this new game. But in one small way they took a step back as well. So first I’ll go with the minor negative, and it’s going to get a lot of play in certain circles (to be clear, I generally agree with those circles). The negative is that not all the relationships are equal in the game, both in the quality of the performances and writing and in the depiction of the actual sex scenes.
The issue that is going to be largely publicized (I’ve already seen a couple articles on it) is the fact that the two exclusively gay characters, Suvi and Gil, are two of the relationships that are given the least in the way of explicit sex. However, I have seen all the various romance scenes and I will say that they are not the only two who get the short shrift. A lot of it is simply that the two best sex scenes are given to Cora and PeeBee. PeeBee is bisexual, therefore you can have that scene with either Sara or Alec, but the performance there seems to fit the male more than the female. (I really don’t want to have to explain that more here. Consult the internet if you really want to know the differences between lesbian and straight sex.)
That being said, the relationships in general are written better than they were in the original series, and I still want to applaud Bioware for having the fortitude to give representation to a wider array of sexual preference than other game companies do. There seems to be more romance to them this time and more variety, and part of that can also be down to their different missions and organizations, while the rest just comes down to Bioware getting better through practice. I do also want to applaud them for having fairly explicit sex in the game. The game is already rated M for Mature, so there should be no need to make it for teenagers. Yes, they do have limits imposed on them by the ESRB, but any companies that will push that organization to be more liberal with mature content is alright by me.
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