It wasn't that bad, guys.
Mass Effect: Andromeda, the sequel to Bioware's beloved sci-fi RPG trilogy Mass Effect was an immediate critical and financial flop, panned for its hideous animations, mediocre writing, and boring plot.
Today, Mass Effect: Andromeda is regarded as a creator-killing failure, single-handedly responsible for the closure of Bioware Montreal.
But it wasn't that bad, guys.
Alright, before you start throwing garbage, let me quickly state a few things I'm not going to do. I'm not going to tell you that Andromeda is a triumph of video game production. By all accounts, the game's five-year development cycle was riddled with issues, from an understaffed animation team to sudden director changes, brutal crunch periods, and so forth. It shows; Andromeda has serious problems. I'm also not going to defend some of the specific controversies related to the game, namely its botched and insensitive handling of the franchise's first transgender character, Hainly Abrams, who deadnames herself two lines into her introduction. While post-release updates have gone a long way by removing the offending dialogue, there's really no excuse for having gotten it so wrong in the first place.
I'm also not going to tell you that Andromeda is "so bad it's good," that it's some sort of The Room-esque spectacle of failure that must be experienced firsthand to be appreciated. No, I enjoyed Andromeda unironically, and I'm going to try to convince you to do the same.
To the extent that Mass Effect: Andromeda attempts to capture the poignancy, the doomed romance, and the grand space opera scale of its predecessor trilogy, it fails. The writing is awkward, riddled with "insert punchline here" lack of originality and stiff, clunky banter. The plot is inconsistent, full of missed opportunities. We're exploring a new galaxy and there are only two alien species, one nice and one not nice? Really? Worse, almost every single character is as dumb as a sack of space potatoes, and the villain is, at best, generic and ridiculous. But, strangely, all these myriad failures transform the experience into something mesmerizing, albeit something I'm not sure it was ever meant to be.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a teenage comedy in space. And it rocks.
The plot follows a group of various aliens from across the Milky Way as they attempt to colonize the Andromeda galaxy, only for everything to go as dramatically wrong as possible almost immediately. You play as Ryder, a young man or woman forced into the role of Pathfinder (basically, the expedition's designated scout, leader and everything-doer) after the death of your father. Your character's basic inadequacy is a recurring theme in the beginning of the story. Nobody respects or expects much of you, even as they're desperate for you to solve all their problems for them. Any attempts your character makes at drama or sincerity come off as the words of a dumb kid trying to be taken seriously.
Similarly, your own decisions don't carry as much weight as they did in previous games. wherein your story choices could lead to the deaths of important characters, not to mention billions of offscreen innocents. By comparison, Ryder's stakes are fairly low, being the first game in the series where none of your companions can permanently die. There's an inherent silliness to all of it, especially in the way that every side character seems so stupid and inept, similar to bumbling adults in high school movies...But somehow it works, transforming the story into a light-hearted adventure where, however hilariously Ryder or anybody else messes up, nothing can ever go too wrong. It's nice, sometimes, to know that the Scooby Gang will always get the bad guy in the end.
As per the norm for Bioware RPGs, conversations take place using a dialogue wheel, with the player given the choice between various responses corresponding to one of four tones: Professional, Casual, Emotional, or Logical. This allows for more roleplaying freedom than in previous games in the franchise, wherein the Paragon / Renegade choices allowed only for a binary decision between 'Bestest Good Guy Ever' and 'Total Jerkface.' Now, your Ryder can come alive and develop a personality all their own.
Personally, I usually picked the "Casual" options, which turned the game into a hilarious chuckle-thon with all the characters frantically trying to out-snark each other like they were at a table read for a Joss Whedon script. It's a good system for an intimate story; I came away from Andromeda feeling more connected to Ryder than I did to Commander Shepard over the course of three entire games. What's more, the lack of a "Companion Approval" mechanic (a mainstay in Mass Effect's sister series, Dragon Age) means that you don't have to tiptoe around conversations. You can scold and argue with everyone to your heart's content without fear of one of your best fighters ditching you.
Taken from the official Bioware Blog.
Infectious good cheer permeates
Andromeda, no matter how grim and serious it's trying to be. Your squadmates don't have tragic backstories or dramatic character flaws, but their inexperience, awkward jokes, and failed attempts at drama bring them to life. In response to one squadmate's line in the middle of a tense gunfight ("I think I pissed that one off. Probably because I shot him in the face!"), YouTube reviewer Angry Joe famously said that it was like something he "would have said in middle school." He's right. The squad is a gaggle of idiot teenagers (and one grumpy alien grandpa), stumbling facefirst through an epic space adventure, and it's good fun to run around with them.
There's an enormous amount of banter between the characters, and the sheer amount of chatter out in the field feels like it puts every other Bioware RPG to shame. Even the members of the team who are supposed to be strait-laced and serious can't seem to stop cracking bad jokes or being the butts of them. It's amusing to imagine how desperately they're trying to sound cool or impress each other as they blurt out stilted one-liners. And some of the jokes are legitimately hilarious! When you first meet your only native-to-Andromeda alien companion, there's an extended sight gag of the two of you trying to figure out how to shake each other's hands that wouldn't have felt out of place in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Even the obligatory romance sidequests with your shipmates are charming; they don't really work as epic stories of true love in the face of danger, like the romances in the previous games, but if you imagine them instead as stories about idiot kids trying to tongue-spelunk each other's wisdom teeth, they'll put a smile on your face. My Ryder's romance with the gravelly-voiced alien sniper Jaal culminated in him taking me to his childhood home and introducing me to his mother, followed by the two of us sitting on his bed while he showed me his old stuff and babbled like a nervous sixteen year old. Why am I the only one that likes this game?
Fine, I'll talk about the face animations.
One of the most ubiquitously discussed issues when the game came out was the terrible facial animations for the characters: Their eyes were glassy and unmoving, their lip-syncing didn't match what the voice actors were saying, and their expressions alternated between "stiff" and "painful contortion." It was pretty bad—although perhaps exaggerated by the various Youtube compilations that took the absolute worst examples and presented them as indicative of the entire game., But still, pretty bad. Fortunately, post-release patches and updates have gone a long way towards fixing that problem. It's still not great, and some of the aliens (the blue-skinned Asari race in particular) still talk like there's an IV dripping botox into their faces. But it's leagues better than it was, and it doesn't need to ruin the experience for you. Seriously, you get used to it. It's not that bad.
You may notice that I've made it this far into my defense of a video game without mentioning the actual gameplay. That's because there's really nothing to defend. It's just really good. The combat is fast-paced and exciting, there's a huge variety of weapons and powers to experiment with, and the free-form class design makes all sorts of playstyles and strategies possible. Andromeda is challenging without becoming frustrating, and for the first time in the series, I found myself actually making use of the option to issue orders to my companions mid-fight. The boss-fights are fun and engaging, there are a decent variety of enemies and environments to fight across, and the switch-based puzzles and sudoku minigames in the ancient alien ruins are rare enough to be a nice change of pace without becoming annoying.
Sure, there's not a great variety in the quests—just about all of them can be summarized as "drive here, scan some stuff, kill some things"—but there's still some mystery to them, and the combat is enjoyable enough that the lack of diversity isn't a problem. The UI could have been better designed, and the gear upgrade system was frankly broken upon release, but unlike almost every other Bioware RPG I've played (all of which I have enjoyed), at no point in the entire runtime did I get sick of the combat or wish I could just skip back to the story. That's a triumph for the genre. It's so good I even played a little bit of the multiplayer and enjoyed it, and I never play the multiplayer in Bioware games. Nobody does.
I don't know if Andromeda is my favorite Mass Effect game, but it is the one I find myself returning to the most. It isn't like the original trilogy, but it was never going to be. If you walked into this spinoff expecting all the drama and pathos of an entire trilogy crammed into one game, maybe you were setting yourself up for disappointment. There will never be a sequel—Bioware Montreal's absorption into EA Motive and the canceling of Andromeda's planned downloadable content more or less guarantees that, despite the obvious sequel hooks left in the ending. In some ways that's a shame, but perhaps it's also a blessing. Mass Effect: Andromeda, beautiful, silly mess that it is, was lightning in a bottle, and now it'll stand on its own forever.
If you tried
Andromeda when it came out, but didn't like it, or heard from someone on the internet that you weren't supposed to like it, or you were one of those people drawing fanart of the original trilogy characters murdering the ones from Andromeda, maybe give it another try. Open your heart to the silliness and the wonder and the good, clean, fun. Stop expecting it to be something it's not, and you might just enjoy it as much as I do.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda for PlayStation 4 Reviews - Metacritic ›
- Mass Effect: Andromeda review - this galaxy has promise | Games ... ›
- Mass Effect: Andromeda review | PC Gamer ›
- Mass Effect: Andromeda is a thrilling sci-fi drama stuck to a boring ... ›
- The Story Behind Mass Effect: Andromeda's Troubled Five-Year ... ›