It’s been quite a while, but then it takes quite a while for a message to travel all the way back from Andromeda. After years of waiting, Mass Effect: Andromeda finally saw release on March 21st and that’s where I’ve been since. That and doing life chores. I’ve reached the end of that journey for now and I must say it was highly satisfying. I’m not sure if it’s just the sentiment that gets the most attention, if it’s the popular thing to do these days, or if I’m genuinely in the minority but most of the chatter I had seen about Mass Effect was negative. Twice this year I’ve had this feeling with newer games (Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and now ME: Andromeda) where I’ve really enjoyed the game but the vocal gaming community seems to be on the complete other end of the spectrum.
First I feel I should back up and talk a little about Infinite Warfare. I had never really played a Call of Duty game prior to this. I wasn’t a huge fan of the FPS genre in general until Bioshock came out and was like, “Hey, we dropped a really amazing story in to this FPS.” My only exposure to most of the war FPS games had been people talking about multiplayer, which generally doesn’t hold a lot of sway on me. For me to buy a game, I usually need someone to tell me a story for my money. So, CoD, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, all those games had never really been on my radar because I’ve never seen much emphasis on the campaign. I didn’t know some of the games even had campaigns until recently. E3 last year, I’m watching a live-stream of Sony’s presentation while working and discussing bits and pieces of the show so far with friends. I look up and see some crazy space combat going on where they have you boarding a ship, IN SPACE. For a while I thought maybe this is new Mass Effect footage, but no. It’s a Call of Duty game that has my sci-fi tinglers all tingly. I’m in shock. Up is down, black is white, CoD has what looks like a great space combat story to tell. Have I been missing something all this time? In usual fashion I remained skeptical, because I still have this mindset that Call of Duty is a brand that caters mostly to multiplayer where people go if they want to hear who all has been banging their mom or the occasional hate crime. Then a free trial weekend came out and I played through it. The demo removed all doubt and I picked up the full game not too long after that. While the campaign is short, which I’m told most of them are, it was well done. The story could almost be a spin-off of a Gundam story with space colonies at war with Earth. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) playing the Char-like figure for Settlement Defense Forces. The space combat missions are incredible, the story is engaging, and the gameplay was easy to jump in to even without having played a CoD before. Yet everyone seems to hate it and now the franchise is going back to WW2 because that’s what the peoples want I guess.
Now fast forward a few months and actual Mass Effect (not a Call of Duty that tricked me in to thinking it was Mass Effect) finally hits the scene. For the first week it was hard to find any news about it outside of complaints about the animation. Gifs and video clips stormed across the internet and people seemed to dance and cheer and the apparent burning down of a great franchise. Meanwhile, I grab the game because despite the somewhat lackluster summation of the original trilogy, I loved the franchise. I’m playing the game and I’m not really seeing any the glitches that I’ve seen all over the internet. Sure, some of the faces are weird, but who am I to judge peoples’ faces. Video game faces are always a little weird. None of it really breaks the game for me. To me, this Mass Effect had more emphasis on exploration, which was where I got a lot of my enjoyment from the original trilogy. Popping in to a system, seeing what’s there, scanning planets for anomalies. While planet scanning was the direction the later games took to exploration, a major highlight is that Andromeda brought the rover back which was easily the best thing about Mass Effect 1. The number of planets you can drop the rover on and go joyriding is less, but the size of the areas you can drive around in is much larger. There’s a great balance there that took the best pieces of the original games and brought them forward to the next generation.
Outside of exploration, how does the rest of the game stack up? Combat is pretty much exactly like Mass Effect 3, which was smooth and not quite as complicated as earlier games, mainly ME1. Multiplayer, which was mandatory for the best ending in ME3, is back and almost identical. It doesn’t appear to be mandatory for the single player experience this time, but there are rewards that make it somewhat worthwhile. The co-op multiplayer in Mass Effect, is surprisingly something I found myself enjoying in both ME3 and now Andromeda. Even after completing the game, I occasionally turn it on to play a match of multiplayer if I have time to kill. The companions are alright, though as with other games, some of them you will dislike and hardly ever use them except when forced or it feels appropriate, others are your go to characters that you enjoy and you’ll use most of the game. Just so you know, Drax is the best character. One patch came out already to help with the worst of the animation complaints, but I feel like there’s at least one or two more patches that need to roll out to fix some of the quests and general oddities that are now a part of modern games of this scale. Even so, I don’t regret any of my time spent playing the new entry and I hope the negativity doesn’t impact the continuation of the series.
Whether it’s a new trend of hating or I’m blind to the severity of the problem, I can’t say. It’s still very strange to me the amount of backlash this game received, when lots of other big releases have had similar, well-known issues and are still held in the highest regards (Gravity-defying horses, falling through the game world in to eternal darkness, and so on). Perhaps some of this is residual hate for how the end of ME3 boiled down to choose a color. While disappointing that every decision for three games boiled down to that, I don’t think I was as surprised or upset about it as everyone else seemed to be. Knights of the Old Republic really boiled down to one choice deciding which ending you got, so it’s not like it was unprecedented. It’s unclear what, if any, lesson developers may have taken from the earlier trilogy in this regard. I just hope we don’t have to wait too long to find out.