I promised in my last post that I would write a more complete review of Mass Effect: Andromeda once I beat it, which I did over the weekend, after approximately 60 hours. But since writing my last post, I’ve realized that I can’t write the sort of review most people expect, with the numbers and the ratings. I already did that with my “first impressions” post, in truth, but for the sake of keeping my word, I’ll briefly go over them now:
- User Interface – Still 2/5 because I never got used to it. Since BioWare is releasing patches to address bugs, gameplay issues, and minor story concerns, there’s the possibility they’ll streamline the UI, too. But I’m not holding my breath.
- Gameplay – Still 4/5. I realized by the 45th hour that I was growing tired of running around doing side quests, so I had to smother my compulsion to speak with every single quest NPC. You can do those quests later, anyway, after beating the main storyline.
- Writing & Voice Acting – Still 4/5. I will talk more about this below because this is the most important part of the game, for me.
- Graphics – Still 3/5, but since BioWare is releasing patches to address animation and other graphical issues, this might become a 4/5 rating within the year.
And now, onto the meat of my thoughts. Warning: There are minor spoilers!
When BioWare was promoting Mass Effect: Andromeda prior to its release, I found myself none too impressed. I thought that the premise — traversing dark space to reach the Andromeda galaxy, where the denizens of the Milky Way could find new homes — to be, frankly, a lukewarm plot. When BioWare introduced the first two members of your squad, Liam and Cora, I thought, “Wow, how boring.” The introduction of Vetra and Drack piqued my curiosity more, but Peebee reminded me too much of Sera from Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I immediately wrote her off as a character I would never like. Honestly, I had low expectations for all members of the new squad and their collective story. How could they possibly compare to Commander Shepard, the team aboard the Normandy-SR2, and saving the galaxy from certain destruction?
Having beaten the game now, I can say without a doubt: I love the Ryder twins, I love each and every crew member, and I truly appreciate just how different Andromeda is from the original trilogy.
Sara and Scott Ryder
For my first playthrough, I chose to play as Sara. Now normally, if a game has a default face for its protagonist, I stick with it. In the original Mass Effect trilogy, I didn’t alter John Shepard’s face at all, a decision I enjoyed. But with the conversations happening now about the under-representation of Asians and Asian-Americans in media (especially Hollywood), I decided against my usual habits. I made a Southeast Asian Ryder family. I made a Sara Ryder who looked a little like me. And I couldn’t be happier.
That aside, I like how different the protagonists are from Shepard, and I think a lot of people online have missed this point entirely. At the start of the first Mass Effect game, Shepard is a 30-something war veteran of multiple tours. They are the candidate for the first human Spectre — an elite team of special tactics operatives — because they are literally the most badass human soldier in the galaxy. Sara and Scott, on the other hand, are in their early 20s, and up until the start of Mass Effect: Andromeda, they did guard duty at their respective sites. Guard duty. So of course, compared with a battle-hardened commander, they are going to be inexperienced, maybe even a little immature. Personally, I wanted a different personality for my Ryder than what I had for my Shepard, and it worked out perfectly in the game. The Ryder twins’ blend of sarcasm, wit, hopefulness, and honesty was incredibly refreshing for me, and it made them more relatable to me. I really enjoyed them as protagonists.
Honestly, the best part about the Ryder twins is precisely that they start out young and inexperienced. Mass Effect: Andromeda is not the war story that the original trilogy was. It’s a coming of age story. It’s about feeling lost and adrift, struggling to carve out a place for yourself in a huge and terrifying new world, and growing into the role everyone has placed on your shoulders. It’s about family, both of blood and of choice. (And “family of choice” is one of my favorite tropes in fiction, hence why I love this aspect of the story so much!)
Speaking of family…
The Non-Playable Characters
As mentioned, I have come to love each and every member of Ryder’s crew. Unlike with the crew of the original trilogy, I can’t actually point my finger at any one crew member and say I dislike them. Liam became my Ryder’s best friend. Grandpa Drack has a depth I never expected from a krogan. Cora has walls and layers like I do, so completing her character arc was personally satisfying. Vetra is Ryder’s other, snarkier, more cynical best friend. Even Peebee, who I expected to be annoying with no chance for redemption, is multifaceted and charming (in her own way). And Jaal is such a perfect mix of dry humor, traditional masculinity, and honest emotion that I can’t conceive of romancing any other squad member as Sara Ryder.
But more importantly, the whole vibe of the Tempest’s crew is very different from the vibe of the Normandy’s. Even Kallo, Suvi, Lexi, and Gil — the non-squad members — banter with the rest of the team and join in on the fun. I agree with Reddit user Godtaku’s post to the /r/masseffect subreddit: the crew in Andromeda is more likely to hang out and be friends with each other. Heck, there’s even a quest called Movie Night that ends in just about the most perfect cutscene in the entire game. And there are some pretty great cutscenes!
Outside of the Tempest, there are NPCs to love and to hate. I enjoyed the writing for just about every character, even the insufferable ones like Tann and Addison. Minor characters like Vorn, Avitus, Kandros, and Raeka genuinely warmed my heart (or hurt it — lookin’ at you, Kaetus). I fell unexpectedly, deeply, frustratingly in love with Reyes Vidal and I’m mad that I had to reject his romance path. Since I romanced Jaal, I laughed out loud at the emails you get from his mother. I truly feel that Andromeda provides a great breadth of character personalities, some more complex than others, some more meaningful than others.
Also, the fact that gay and lesbian relationships exist between NPCs without being central to the main story is wonderful. On the Tempest, Kallo and Suvi talk about a woman Kallo spends time with while on shore leave. Suvi teases him about it, only for Kallo to reveal that the woman is the widow of a pilot he trained who’d died on a mission. I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “It’s the most I can do for Zoe’s memory to look after her widow.” And when searching the ruins of the turian Ark with Avitus, it hit me based on his dialogue that he and the turian Pathfinder (another male) were in a relationship. (Arguably, this is more pertinent to the main story, but I have read that some players didn’t even realize the two turians were gay, so it obviously wasn’t central to the quest.)
In the same way that Shepard and the Ryder twins are different in tone, so too are the plots between the original trilogy and Andromeda. The former is dark, brutal, and tense; the latter is more lighthearted and hopeful, though there are darker themes, too. Gersande La Flèche touches on some of those darker themes in their playthrough notes of the game, which I highly recommend everyone read. They cover AI and colonization in better words than I could. And based on the conversations in the epilogue, I know that the coming months for the Ryder twins will doubtlessly involve a convoluted, political mess full of gray morality and difficult choices.
The final mission of the game was seriously epic, and I loved just about every aspect of it. I did have a minor gripe about the final battle, but the happy ending and the epilogue were really satisfying. But overall, even though we defeated the game’s main villain, the ending felt inconclusive for me. After thinking about it for a while, I realized why: because Mass Effect: Andromeda is a setup for future content. Maybe they will make two more games and end up with another Mass Effect trilogy. Maybe all the content will be released through DLCs. There are so many loose ends that were never addressed, and I’m hoping they will be resolved in said future content.
Somehow, BioWare managed to take a relatively lackluster plot (in my opinion) and produce an interesting and fun game out of it. It’s certainly not perfect; there are better games released in 2017 than Mass Effect: Andromeda. But for a die-hard Mass Effect fan such as myself, it was a worthwhile adventure I plan to revisit again and again. I’m already planning a second playthrough using New Game+ with a couple of different story decisions — and maybe even a third playthrough as Scott instead of Sara, as an infiltrator instead of a vanguard. But I’ll wait until later this year, so that BioWare can release more patches and fix more bugs first. Until then, I’ll be enjoying the theorycrafting, fanfiction, and fanart the Mass Effect community has to offer.