Over six years, the Mass Effect franchise emerged as one of the preeminent gaming franchises. The games became the gold standard of player agency. Just about every decision you made, big or small, had an impact on your experience. A galaxy spanning war was perfectly juxtaposed with the intimate storylines of your crew. By just about every measure Mass Effect was a masterpiece.
So obviously you throw it all away, right?
Despite some justified grumbling at launch about Andromeda’s fit-and-finish, Bioware’s return to the Mass Effect universe was a hit. They wiped the slate almost completely clean in order to craft a new universe that is a worthy successor to the original trilogy. But there are a few things that can be improved upon.
Note: This piece will be fast and loose with the spoilers at all stages of the game. If you haven’t completed Andromeda I recommend you do so first.
When I finished Andromeda I texted a buddy of mine to share my thoughts. I said I thought the end was good but it lacked a “Vigil Moment.” This referred to the moment near the end of Mass Effect 1 where Shepard has a conversation with a Prothean AI, Vigil. It’s in this moment that we learn of the fate of the Protheans and the truth behind Reapers and their cycle of extinction. Vigil effectively lays out the stakes for the rest of the trilogy in that moment.
Andromeda lacked that same moment. We get hints while on the Remnant city of the battle that released the Scourge. There’s a scene where we learn that the Angara were created by the Jardaan, the same race that created the Remnant. But once you board the Archon’s ship, the story largely unfolds exactly as you’d expect outside of a “the Princess is in the other castle” moment when “Meridian” turns out to not actually be Meridian but merely a part of it.
While Bioware doesn’t need to embrace their inner M. Night Shyamalan they could use a little variety in the story. We don’t need things turned on their head, but a few more twists in the road would be welcome.
Keep It Lighthearted
The original trilogy was saturated with a seriousness that at times felt overbearing. Andromeda seemed to step back from that. Moving away from the Systems Alliance to the Andromeda Initiative gave Bioware the opportunity to sidestep the formal rigidity of the military. Instead of the gravelly voiced Admiral Hackett providing us with updates we get Director Tann, always looking to curry favor with the Pathfinder for his own ends.
This carried over to the crew as well. No longer a military vessel, the Tempest crew was loose. Ryder and company repeatedly joke about their (lack of) pay, he quips about Lexi not getting her leave approved, and there’s a running joke of the crew leaving the vidcon without Ryder’s permission. It all culminates with Liam’s movie night. Your love interest snuggles up to you while the crew banters back and forth. And let’s not forget Ryder and Kallo’s masterclass in acting at the end.
As the series inevitably grows darker and the Pathfinder becomes more experienced, I hope Bioware doesn’t lose sight of the balance they struck. Sometimes being quirky is okay.
The thrill of exploration
Despite the move to a new galaxy the exploration mechanic was the weakest it’s been. Exploring the Milky Way was so rewarding because of the rich backstory infused into each planet. I remember a gas giant with text hinting at a mysteries machine hidden deep beneath the clouds. Another referenced a large scar on the surface caused by an enormous weapon. But in Andromeda that’s missing. Generally there are three categories of planets: former Angara world, world damaged by the Scourge, or run of the mill inhospitable planet.
Andromeda 2 needs to rediscover some of that thrill that comes from the unexpected. I felt that despite being in a new galaxy and being tasked with discovering new worlds and mysteries, Pathfinder Ryder was merely re-discovering planets the Angara or early Nexus settlers had already come across.
Odds and ends
- The Remnant: Maybe it’s just because of 15+ years of exploring Forerunner ruins and the role the Protheans played in the original trilogy, but the Remnant in Andromeda were forgettable. I’d love to see them transformed into something more than “generic mysterious alien race #52.”
- The Kett: Similar to the Remnant, the Kett felt under-baked. We get hints at their larger place in Andromeda but that’s all they end up being. Were they the cause of the Scourge? What was their relationship with the Jardaan? What was the Archon planning on doing with Meridian?
- Overhaul the inventory: It’s always been an issue, but Andromeda’s inventory seemed particularly obtuse. A new set of armor required a complicated dance of creating, equipping, unequipping, and dismantling armor at two different stations. It’s a slog.
- Re-think Profiles and Skills: Cool in theory, I never once changed my Pathfinder Profile from Adept. Unless you go in knowing you won’t specialize a skill group (Biotic, Combat, or Tech) Profiles become largely useless. In that same vein, not being able to access more skills in a fight is limiting. Once I got my “Pull + Throw” combo set up there was no incentive to try anything else. But I still want to access Singularity, Lance, etc.
- More, smaller worlds: Andromeda implemented the open-world exploration that was a big part of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I enjoyed it, despite what others say, but I wished that the balance was towards more, smaller worlds. The lore justified why everything seemed to happen on just a handful of planets but sometimes the size of the maps were overwhelming, particularly the first time you visit a planet.