I’ve been concerned about Mass Effect: Andromeda for some time now. Every single reveal, trailer or gameplay demo left me scratching my head wondering why the hell I wasn’t feeling the hype. After all, Mass Effect 2 is probably one of my favourite games of all time, and as a whole I think the trilogy is one of gaming’s best. I also had concerns that Andromeda would be take too much from Bioware’s last big title, Dragon Age: Inquisition, a decent enough game with tedious exploration and repetitive quests. I never completely wrote it off however and was keen to finally find out how the game actually plays. Thanks to the 10 hour trial available on PC through Origin Access, I’ve confirmed some of my worries, dismissed others, and even gained entirely new ones.
After a very brief introduction into what the Andromeda Initiative actually is, the Ark Hyperion arrives in Andromeda itself with a pulsing thud as “600 years later” appears along the bottom of the screen. It’s abrupt, but drives home how sudden and bizarre it would be for those in cryo-sleep. You wake up, as either Sarah or Scott Ryder, you briefly meet your dad Alec, and after some complications arise, you’re sent down to explore a nearby planet, one of seven planned habitats for the Initiative. I was able to explore a few different areas during my playthrough, some small and linear, others were more open which allowed me to experiment a little with the combat. Speaking of which, the combat feels great, similar to Mass Effect 3 but with the added mobility of a jet pack. You can jump up quite high and then hover in place, a great technique to utilise when your enemies are cowering behind cover.
In was during one of the less hectic moments between battles that I noticed that these characters like to talk. A lot. And it’s not riveting stuff either. Whether it’s cracking lame jokes as they walk around, or shouting inane quips during combat like “I think I pissed that one off. Maybe it’s cause I shot him in the face!”, someone’s almost always talking. I’d be happy to write this off as being unique to the introductory mission, but some of IGN’s coverage of later areas suggests otherwise.
Now I’m going to talk spoilers. This mission ends with your father, Alec Ryder, an apparently famous Pathfinder, dying in order to ensure your own survival. The scene itself is fairly contrived but what’s worse is that it failed to elicit an emotional response. I mean, the guy had been on screen for all of five minutes then carks it and I’m supposed to care? The way this whole sequence is presented just makes me wonder why have a twin/father at all? Why not just start the game as the Pathfinder, arriving in a brand new galaxy free of any ties to the Milky Way. I don’t want any baggage haunting me, I want the focus to be on the new planets, new stories, new characters. Not my cold, distant and then promptly dead dad.
Despite what I said about the effectiveness of the “600 years later” opening, I think the game could’ve done with 20 minutes of gameplay set before you leave for Andromeda. Give me a chance to learn about the Arks, the Initiative’s leadership, your father, your twin, what Pathfinding actually involves and what makes it so important so that when we fast forward 600 years and everything goes to shit, it actually means something. As it is right now, we’re dropped into a completely alien place with our loved ones in mortal danger, and, much like FFXV, we’re expected to care.
My lack of emotional response to Daddy Ryder’s demise got me thinking about other games that open with a character’s family member dying. The Last of Us is what immediately came to mind. Now there’s a game that is set on making you cry in its opening 20 minutes. It’s entirely possible to make the player feel strong emotions with very little setup, it just takes some solid writing, believable performances and a steady direction, everything Mass Effect: Andromeda’s opening hours seems to be missing.
Perhaps this doesn’t phase you, perhaps you just wanna go on a space adventure, shoot some bad guys and colonise the hell out of Andromeda. I’m sure you’ll have a blast. As for me, if I’m going to be trekking across vast deserts scanning for research, gathering resources and setting up outposts I’m going to need decent characters and an interesting story to motivate me. In this department, there is definitely cause for concern. Not to mention the plethora of bizarre animations, bugs, atrocious dialogue and just plain strange direction that has been clipped out and spread all over the net already. Anyone hoping for an imminent fix-all patch is set to be disappointed after Andromeda’s Lead Designer tweeted the following:
Hey folks, the live support team just confirmed for me: the day 1 patch IS included in the early access build on both Xbox and PC. pic.twitter.com/1OnlHV1osX
— Ian Soon Frazier (@tibermoon) March 16, 2017
Of course, there’s only so much one can glean from a game’s first few hours. Maybe the Kett, the first hostile race you come across, will be more than zealous clones, maybe whatever secrets Alec is hiding from his children will be worth uncovering, perhaps everyone on the human Ark is, in fact, a robot, explaining the rather unsettling facial animations.
Whatever the case, we won’t have to wait long to find out, Mass Effect: Andromeda releases at midnight on the 23rd of March.
(comparison gif source is this xletalis video on YouTube)