Andromeda, the elphant in the room
I feel that I have to write something about this game because the weeks before release have been very painful for me, and the weeks after are only slightly better. I don’t think I’ve ever been as disappointed by the video game reporting industry, except for that one time where Jessica Chobot actually made it in a video game. I feel that much of what has been written about Mass Effect, even the lukewarm critiques, are a sort of reaction to what has been published on Rock Paper, Shotgun (I won’t link it because fuck it) and I feel that video game magazines and youtubers have kind of built on that narrative of a mediocre/straight out bad game for fear of the alt-right hysteria or for fear of being told they were paid by EA, etc. Heck, Video Game Sophistry even made something up about the game not giving them a mystical experience… for fuck sake, if you need that, go to church! Unrealistic expectations might have also played a part in what happened, but mostly as fuel.
Short disclaimer: I have no audience to lose, I don’t really give a shit about trolls, I don’t make money out of this, so it’s not a problem to say what I really think about this game. I’m not objective, I don’t pretend to be.
So, Andromeda is fucking good. Someone have to bring reality back and say it. It’s an astonishingly good game and I will stretch it to say that for me it was the best one of the series. I’m enthusiastic of the game and I so wish that I could forget I played to play it again with a fresh perspective, because it was an amazing experience. Playing this game was a trip into the unknown and I was ready for disappointment at any corner, because I was still burnt after ME3 finale. Yet, Andromeda always delivered and didn’t manage to disappoint me even if I was prepared for it. I will break down the most important features of the game and explain what makes it special (and I will also address the bugs and animations and flaws).
Ryder is what sold the game for me. Although the twins looked kind of dumb in the trailers, I really enjoyed how the protagonist evolved and developed during my playthrough and how organic it all felt. Lady Insanity commented how she felt that the protagonist was incoherent in their behaviour, but that’s the whole point, in my opinion. In real life we are not always professional or casual, emotional or rational. We change depending on the context. This dialogue system delivered for us the chance of giving realistic, natural responses to the conversations, choosing the tone of you reply based on what was happening. It allowed for a far more nuanced character and it is not coherent because we are not.
Also, while Commander Shepard was already a hero when we starded the trilogy, Ryder is a noob, literally. The twins have had their first work experience, barely, then got sucked up into their father’s crazy project and didn’t even have a chance to prove themselves. It is realistic that they start as clumsy and awkward and end up badass. I noticed that during the scenes that happen in the first two planets or so, they are a bit like a fish out of water, then they slowly become more and more confident, and this explodes during the last part of the game where Ryder is simple badassery brought to life.
Finally, a thing that I enjoyed although I haven’t experienced it directly, is that female and male Ryder are two distinct characters. They are not, like Shepard was, a reflection of each other. They are different and it shows a bit in some dialogues and in their relationship with their dad. It gives them a depth that few protagonists have.
Story and companions
I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible so this part will necessarily be brief. I really enjoyed that the conflicts between your team mates are solved without egoistical showoffs and you don’t actually get to chose who to piss off to the point that they abandon you. It seemed to me a more mature way of handling conflicts and more natural. Also, the characters are good, they bring the story together, they have interesting points of view and are actually well inserted in the bigger picture. The quotes of pop culture movies were priceless and fanservice was luckily tasteful.
I loved how your family’s story intermingle with the main arc and how you get to understand the reasons for new game mechanics and for the set up of the main story. I was afraid that the Andromeda Initiative wouldn’t be narratively consistent with the original trilogy because we know this game was sort of an afterthought and they had to wrap up the ending of ME3 and at the same time explain this new universe, but I think they did it in a satisfying way.
I loved the ending, it was epic, intense, fulfilling.
I know there was a huge controversy on the facial animations of this game and I won’t go into that because I want to see if and how they fix it before judging it, I’ll just say that it wasn’t gamebreaking for me, I actually found it funny and awkward. I agree that it shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place because criticism was expressed long before release and Bioware knew, I think they could have dealt with it in a better way. At the same time, this game is so huge that I can forgive these glitches. It’s up to you and how much time you have to make yourself feel bad about this stuff, really. I don’t have any and I prefer to enjoy the game.
On the other hand, the worlds of this game are so beautiful, the galaxy map so breathtaking, that I instantly forgot about animations and Asari copy-pasted faces (they are, but I think it’s because of game weight issues — I repeat: this game is huge). Also, the game has to be well optimised, because I played at ultra setting with a laptop that shouldn’t be able to run it smoothly and I was able to do that with minimum lag during some cutscenes.
About the character creation I think it could be improved, I’m sure it will be modded to death and it will become eventually useful. I’m very pale and I had a hard time creating a pale Ryder that didn’t have also fair eyebrows and that had a face similar to mine. On the other hand, I appreciate the effort in making more realistic and diverse faces and — finally — the bouncy hairstyles. There was some serious effort put into hairstyles this time. One thing that bugs me is the creation of the Mass Effect Archives, which is a great idea in theory, but it doesn’t exactly coexist well with the fact that all the faces look basically the same.
Gameplay, interface and technical stuff
Much has been said on how satisfying the combat is, and I can confirm it. I have a few issues, though, that I wish that were addressed and I will list them, instead of praising the gameplay, since that seems to be the only thing that has actually been appreciated.
The first is with saves: they get corrupted sometimes, and I really, really miss my quicksave button and the ability to save during priority missions. The second is crafting. It’s a system that I love and I have yet to master it, but I wish that the tutorial on that was more user friendly because it gets overwhelming at first. The third one is the quest log, it’s a bit buggy and I think it’s one of the first thing that will be patched.
On Bioware’s attitude
What I did appreciate, as usual, is that Bioware’s attitude is always open to feedback from its fanbase and it shows. In my opinion this game is so great because it’s heavily based on the feedback they received for the previous installments and it shows that they were able to put together all the elements that we loved from the previos episodes.
Nevertheless, I have to say that the devs’ attitude has been a bit naif. If you haven’t noticed, the video game community has become particularly toxic in the last few years, and I think that Bioware exposed the game to too much early criticism that poisoned the game reception unnecessarily. And “we are listening, we will fix things” is not exactly the right answer to an angry entitled mob of customers hyped by propaganda. They could and should have anticipated this.
On the community, a final note
It’s ok to be disappointed in a game and everyone is entitled to an opinion, I get this. What I don’t get is the time, effort, and sick satisfaction people today get in bashing whatever and whoever is different from them. Bioware has always been a progressive company and has always pushed themes like inclusion of diversities, feminism and such. They sometimes got it wrong, but I appreciate how they still try. What I fear is that they are under attack because of that and that this will affect the appreciation of a game that really deserves more and is far superior to titles like Fallout 4 which got a better reception despite its glaring flaws (I enjoyed it and I love the franchise, but it wasn’t as good, sorry).
I am pretty sure that the whole Andromeda affair is a child of the toxic atmosphere we are subject to, from the crazy politics we had last year, to the rejection of social justice and inclusiveness. We are living that every day in every industry and I get it, it’s harsh. I don’t judge it, not anymore.
What I would like to say is that this is the right time to go back to being decent and stop harrassing people online for them being different from us, or we risk sinking in a very dark age for our culture and society. Let’s just go back to having fun with videogames, to enjoying things, it’s not too late.