How Mass Effect: Andromeda Struggles & Succeeds To Pave The Way For Future Games
I recently finished Mass Effect: Andromeda and as I reflect back on the game and the overall experience I had I sit conflicted. There were a lot of parts of the game that I loved, there were some parts that confused me, but mostly there were a lot of things that I see that could and should be heavily improved upon for the next game.
First, here’s a little background on me and my experience with the Mass Effect series. I’ve played through the original trilogy multiple times, mostly going full Paragon. I’ve written extensively about the series, particularly gay representations in the original trilogy, and given talks about my analysis at the Gamercamp conference and at a speaking series at the University of Toronto.
For Mass Effect: Andromeda, I played as Scott Ryder, using the default appearance and name for both him and his sister, Sara. I used the Infiltrator class and pretty much exclusively used a Black Widow sniper rifle. My Ryder was gay, however, early in the game he did flirt with a couple of women — as I was mainly curious if the new “Heart” dialogue option was purely for romance, or also for expressing platonic affection for characters. Turns out it’s all romantic, all the time. I completed the game 100 per cent, including all side quests and loyalty missions.
What follows is a list of musings, both likes and dislikes about Mass Effect: Andromeda and where I would like to see it head in future installments in the Andromeda galaxy.
Please note: there will be spoilers.
Areas of Improvement
The Open World
Mass Effect: Andromeda drops you into this new galaxy and right away says “explore.” There’s a part of me that appreciates the open world found in Andromeda as a storytelling device. You are the Pathfinder and in this game it is your job to explore and colonize, and ultimately find a long-term home for everyone from the Milky Way.
Of course it makes sense that you should have to explore the planets you plan to inhabit. To provide just a series of progressive levels (as is more the case in Mass Effect 2 and 3) wouldn’t make any sense in the role of the Pathfinder upon arrival in Andromeda. (Although, there may be something to be said for why BioWare decided that this should be the role of the Pathfinder, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.) In that sense, I try to be forgiving of the open world that BioWare has created. Plenty of people complain about the emptiness of the world, but if many of these worlds are uncolonized, then having relatively barren landscapes makes sense.
The worlds — Eos, Havarl, Voeld, Kadara, Elaaden — receive small bits of development/infrastructure as you place outposts on them, but none of them (and even the game acknowledges it) feel like home. That is probably something we can expect to see with Andromeda 2.
My issue with the open world lies with the fact that it severely affects pacing and mission structure that BioWare had gotten so good at by the end of the original trilogy. Take for example the lead up to Peebee’s loyalty mission. You have to go to all five of the major planets to essentially drive to a point, interface with some RemTech and then hop back on the Tempest and head to the next navpoint. By the time Peebee’s loyalty mission actually unlocked I was so tired of this constant inter-planetary chase that I started the mission not expecting much. (I was wrong on that count, but more on that later.)
Another example of how the open-world affects the mission structure is in the quest “Truth or Trespass.” This mission is unlocked after rescuing the salarian ark, and involves you searching for a potential traitor that sold the ark location to the kett. This mission has you travel to Havarl, Elaaden, and then finally suggests that you go to Kadara to meet the traitor as he’ll consider it unlikely to be a trap.
Let me re-iterate.
The game makes you leave your current location on Elaaden to jump back in the Tempest, fly to Kadara, land in Kadara Port, go down to the Slums, then head out to the cave where you’ll confront the traitor. Each one of those points involves loading times. By the time you arrive to confront Dr. Aden, you’ve probably spent the last 5–10 minutes just trying to get there; the pacing is ruined and the emotional impact of the story is lessened every time another loading screen pops up.
My hope for Andromeda 2 is that the open world is largely done away with. We’ve already placed outposts, colonization efforts will be well under way and Andromeda should start to feel like a home. When I return to Voeld or Eos, I want to see how the outposts are expanded and hear what life is like there. What I don’t need to do is drive from one end of a desert planet to the other to find a navpoint or a shiny beacon of light (that somehow unlocks memories). If you want me to see multiple areas on a single planet, give me multiple landing zones, or even re-introduce the Kodiak that was in Mass Effect 2 & 3.
Stop Making Story Points Missable
One of my favourite parts in Mass Effect: Andromeda was the “Ryder Family Secrets” mission. Unlocking the memories (well, not the actual “light beams scattered across random worlds” part, but the actual reward from finding them) was always a treat. For series veterans it gave us some nods to old characters, and for everyone it gave the true details of how the Andromeda Initiative was formed, the circumstances surrounding Jien Garson’s death, and introduced the new, mysterious character, The Benefactor.
Not everything surrounding Garson’s death is explained and we still don’t know who The Benefactor is. These are plot points I imagine we’ll see in Andromeda 2, and if not, then I will never understand why they were even introduced in the first place.
The craziest thing about these major revelations: they’re available as a side mission to the rest of the main story. That means there will probably a vast majority of characters who think everything is hunky-dory with the origins of the Initiative. Keeping this mission optional means that if BioWare chooses to expand on this plot (and I sorely hope they do), then players who already completed the mission will have to learn about it all over again, or players who skipped it will be thrown into the middle of a story they haven’t become particularly invested in.
My other major issue with missable plot points surrounds Reyes Vidal. Reyes is a smuggler working on Kadara Port, who is later revealed to be The Charlatan. Reyes is one of only two gay male romances in Andromeda; thus if you don’t have any interest in romancing Gil, you’ll find that most of the story choices surrounding Reyes, Sloane, and the fight for Kadara Port are already decided for you.
People Don’t React to Your Actions
In Andromeda, you see and do a lot of big things. You’re the first Pathfinder in the galaxy and you’ve got a lot of work to do. Seeing as BioWare placed so much importance on your job of finding and colonizing outposts for the Initiative, it is incredibly strange to me that there are multiple instances where people don’t seem to acknowledge or care about what you’ve just accomplished.
Save for Eos, every time I would create an outpost on a world my squadmates wouldn’t even mention it. I’m not asking for tons of dialogue, but I always found it very strange that I would place an outpost (or complete a sizeable side mission) and my crew would just introduce themselves with the same platitudes, and there were no new dialogue tree options.
Yes, of course they would acknowledge major story missions, such as infiltrating the Archon’s flagship, or activating Meridian, but considering that colonizing is such a big part of a Pathfinder’s role I found it especially strange that I would hear the same lines from my crew until I finished the next priority mission.
Previous Mass Effect titles have always had your squadmates reacting to your actions throughout the game. Perhaps it was just that there were more “priority” missions that would unlock those options, but if that’s the case, I don’t understand why placing the outposts in Andromeda wasn’t a part of the main story, or at least given some extra love.
Placing outposts in Andromeda (beyond Eos) is optional, but even after completing loyalty missions the player is given only a couple of lines saying thanks (if that). One particularly confusing instance after completing Jaal’s loyalty mission — which revolves around his family — allowed me to ask him about his family via the dialogue tree. Ryder goes on to say, “So tell me about your family, do you even have one?”—this after having just spent an hour or more saving his siblings. It just seems to lack context.
Cut the Task List
I previously mentioned that perhaps more missions should be given “priority” status so that they can’t be skipped by players. Mass Effect: Andromeda also includes the opposite end of the spectrum with a slew of missions lumped under the “Additional Tasks” section.
In Andromeda, missions are divided into the following categories: Priority Ops, Allies and Relationships, Heleus Assignments, Additional Tasks, and Completed Missions. The entire Additional Tasks category should be removed. Most of the missions in this section fall under the “fetch quest” bucket and amount to little more than “go here, interact with this person/object, report back to the original person.”
Ask almost anyone who’s played Mass Effect: Andromeda and they’ll tell you there is way too much bloat. This game suffers from way too many useless side quests and the Additional Tasks section is responsible for 95 per cent of it. It clutters up your map with dozens of navpoints, all to make it seem like the planets have so much to do on them. In reality, there is just a lot of time wasted.
Future Andromeda entries should try to select a small handful of tasks and bump them up to Heleus Assignments. In particular, I’m thinking of “Path of a Hero,” in which Ryder gets interviewed by journalist Keri T’Vessa, or “Earn Your Badge,” which involves the Heskaarl challenges.
All in all, players can see Additional Tasks for what they are: a waste of time. Not every mission needs to be equal, but respecting the player’s time by providing quality over quantity is a step toward making your game feel that much more polished.
The Good Stuff
Since Mass Effect 2, the series has always delivered with a set of flagship missions surrounding your ship’s squadmates. For the most part, Andromeda doesn’t disappoint in this regard. However, I would like to see all the loyalty missions affect certain choices or story outcomes by the end game — Cora’s obviously having the biggest impact on the story in Andromeda, whereas I didn’t think Liam’s really affected much.
I’d also love to see loyalty missions (or something close it) for other ship members, such as Lexi, Kallo or Gil. I can already envision a mission where some engineering parts are stolen from Gil and he joins the crew as they get them back. He may not fight, but he’d tag along and be present during the entire mission. Integration like this would go a long way to making the non-squad crew members feel like a bigger part of the team.
My favourite loyalty missions: Cora, Drack, and Peebee. Yes, Peebee, even after spending so much time running around the galaxy collecting RemTech. The actual mission was a lot of fun.
Strong Emotional Choices
Over the course of the Mass Effect series, I’ve always chosen to romance a partner. In the original trilogy, my male Shepard romanced Liara, then Miranda, and finally Kaidan. I weaved together a tale of a soldier struggling to find his sexuality to make sense of the fact that my character had been unable to be gay in the first two games. Mass Effect: Andromeda feels like the first time that the romances actually feature major emotional choices that go beyond just having sex with a character.
I mentioned earlier that I chose to romance Gil Brodie, the engineer aboard the Tempest. While I felt that this romance was especially slow to start, it presents major emotional choices for Ryder to decide. In particular, when Gil’s friend Jill (yes, Gil, Jill — it’s terrible they have such similar names, but oh well) asks if he’d be willing to father a child for her, he turns to you to ask if you want to both be fathers to the child. That’s right, in the middle of this space opera, you’re also given the opportunity to start a family.
I know many people haven’t liked that this is the central tenet that Gil’s romance centres on, but I for one, love it. My only hope is that by now choosing to have kids with Gil, this plot point carries over to Andromeda 2 in a major way. Unlike the original trilogy where it was impossible to romance the same character through all three games, I want to be able to commit to Gil and my family for the rest of the Andromeda series. BioWare, you’ve introduced a really great, emotionally impactful story arc. Please don’t take it away from me.
In previous entries in the series I primarily stuck with the soldier class — yes, I know what you’re thinking, one of Mass Effect’s unique features is biotics. I just never got into it, sorry. That said, I was a big fan of the ability to invest skill points in any category (Combat, Biotics, Tech) and to change my skill profile on the fly, based on how I’d used those points. As a result, I was able to experiment with a couple of lower level biotic powers, and really dig into being a Vanguard and upping my sniper capabilities.
Combat in the game felt great and being able to use the jetpack was a lot of fun. My only hope for the next installment is for slightly more varied kett. When I think back to enemies like Banshees, we didn’t really see anything that creative and interesting to fight in Andromeda; hopefully next time around.
I think my favourite surprise of the game was the epilogue. When the credits started to roll I thought my Andromeda journey had drawn to a close. Quickly I was thrust into making more decisions (that I’m sure will affect the next game) and visibly saw the results of my final fight. My team celebrated, discussed how it felt to finally have a home, and in the case of my in-game partner Gil, we briefly discussed raising our children (baby names) and what our next journey together will be.
The epilogue feels like BioWare learned from the feedback they received at the end of Mass Effect 3. No, I’m not talking about the “ending” ending. One of the other major points of fan feedback was about the fact that you were thrown straight into the final battle and you never got a chance to say goodbye to your crew or your love interest. Here, we get to see all of the characters we’ve gotten to know over the course of our journey, and not only that, but some meaningful conversations happen.
Oh, and then there’s the distress call from the Quarian ark. That was amazing and I can’t wait to see what BioWare does with that in the next game.
Mass Effect: Andromeda had the unfortunate luck of coming out in one of the strongest months in recent gaming memory. It suffered from numerous bugs and a strange review embargo that allowed people to focus in on the weakest parts of the game. That said, I still love this game. The upcoming improvements that BioWare have announced are sure to make it even better — by no means do I think this is an early access title.
If the next entry in Andromeda can streamline it’s missions and focus more on momentum to make it’s story impactful, then I think a lot of what drags Andromeda down can be forgiven. After all, BioWare had the incredibly difficult task of following up the previous trilogy and letting the player colonize a new galaxy.
If the fruits of your labour in Andromeda can be visibly seen in Andromeda 2 then I believe the open world of the first game will not necessarily be poor game design; it will have been part of the narrative. And with so many narrative threads left open for exploration, who knows what the rest of Andromeda may have in store.