When it comes to writing, character development, and world building, there are few developers in the west that can compete with BioWare. Originally a company founded by two M.D.s for the purpose of developing medical software for hospitals, they would eventually become famous first for their lauded Baldur’s Gate series, and then for the groundbreaking Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The latter made great strides in storytelling, player choice, and even in LGBTQ recognition. BioWare would then follow up with a trio of original properties. First was the wuxia-inspired cult action RPG Jade Empire. Later, there would be the dark fantasy and deconstructor fleet known as Dragon Age. And in between those two, was Mass Effect.
The first Mass Effect, for all of its flaws (and it did have them), was a massive step forward in the areas of characterization and story. Creating a completely original Space Opera universe, filled with unique alien races, it explored subjects from transhumanism to sexuality to politics and foreign relations. The sense of scale it simulated (even if it wasn’t quite as big as first suggested) was absolutely staggering to first time players. And the characters it introduced became instant classics, from the gruff Krogan mercenary Urdnot Wrex to the shy, yet intelligent Asari scientist Liara T’soni.
Because of the sheer quality of the first game, it was no surprise how fond players would become of the universe, and how attached to the characters they would become. This was a great reaction, but it also had its dark side. There’s a fine line between being a super fan and being obsessed, and Bioware faithful are nothing if they are not obsessed. This would eventually culminate in the extreme reaction to the ending of Mass Effect 3, with a backlash so venomous that it eventually forced Bioware to actually change the ending.
Years later, we now have a new Mass Effect game taking place in another part of the universe, with new characters and new worlds and a new story that starts from scratch. A fresh start for this storied franchise.
Then the compilations of animation glitches started to appear on YouTube and then… Well, we’ll get to that.
What Is It?
Mass Effect: Andromeda is the new installment (and fourth overall) in the internationally popular Mass Effect series. Far from the apocalyptic war with the Reapers in the Milky Way galaxy, this game involves a generation ship of Human pioneers seeking to colonize new worlds in the Andromeda Galaxy. You yourself play one of the Ryder twins, the son/daughter of a storied explorer and programmer who developed one of the first AI. You yourself are the Pathfinder, the leader of this group of colonists in charge of running operations and acting as a diplomat for humanity and the Andromeda Initiative.
Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men can and will go awry, and your case is no exception. Almost immediately you must deal with hazards such as a dark matter storm surrounding the Andromeda Galaxy called ‘The Scourge,’ as well as hostile aliens known as the Kett. Even worse, the so-called ‘Golden Worlds’ set for colonization turn out to not be so Golden after all, and you essentially must start your colonization efforts from square one. Even the Nexus, the hub for all of the other colonists (both human and otherwise) is fast running out of resources and on the verge of yet ANOTHER mutiny (yeah, there’s some backstory here).
There are other plot points as well, but I won’t spoil them. However, you will meet up with a new alien species: the felinioid/reptoid Angara. The Angara have been victims of the imperialist Kett (mentioned earlier) for almost a century and have been fighting a one-sided battle with them for decades, with little knowledge of where they come from or why they exist to make the Angara’s lives a living hell.
Of course, many of the old alien species make a return. There are Asari on board your generation ship from the beginning, and later you will meet up with the familiar Turians, Salarians and Krogan on the Nexus. Quarians, strangely enough, are absent (for now). In fact, the very first Krogan you meet is an unveiled female, quite a big difference from the gravely voiced Urdnot Wrex. Very quickly, you will gather a crew of faithful around yourself. And, just like in the first Mass Effect, you will become attached to some of them very fast.
You will discover, as you explore various planets for colonization, that there are more mysteries than just the Kett involved. Some of these planets have extremely hazardous weather, which you quickly discover is not natural. This will eventually culminate in discovering some ancient technology guarded by ‘The Remnant’, various models of robots who jealously guard these ruins with a shoot to kill modus operandi. Exploring these ruins will often require taking out herds of pissed off robots before fiddling with the ancient tech, which includes its own set of hazards.
Why Should I Care?
Honestly, if you’ve loved Mass Effect up to this point, you really won’t need that much convincing. All of the things you’ve grown to love about the franchise, from the epic storytelling, to world building and character development are here and in spades. If this is your first time playing a Mass Effect title, this will be a good jumping off point as it’s a brand new start to a new story arc in the game’s universe. The combat has been perfected and finessed, and is probably the best it has been in the franchise’s history. The exploration is now no longer as linear as in the past, with big open planets to explore at your leisure.
Of course, you will have to deal with local hazards, and that’s not just hostile aliens. Cold, heat, radiation, etc. are all constant threats. You also don’t want to piss off the wildlife, either. Fortunately, you’ll be able to explore many of these planets in your armored vehicle, the Nomad. This vehicle operates somewhat similar to the Mako from the original Mass Effect, except it has no weapons. It does, however, have better traction and all-terrain features that will make it easier to get up the sides of hazardous mountains and crags. It also has mining features that will allow you to extract precious materials from the planets you explore and colonize.
Colonization and planet development are also major features of your experience. Each planet you discover will require a team of colonists for the purpose of research and resource gathering, or military buildup and guarding from the Kett. These colonies will provide you with precious resources that will not only allow you to research and craft new weapons, armor, etc. but will also allow you to improve the Nexus and the Andromeda Initiative themselves. Over time, you will be able to wake up more and more colonists from cryogenic sleep to join the rest of the colonists in their endeavor. This in turn will provide you more personnel for the sake research, military and economic power.
And then, of course, there are your party members. This eccentric yet fun group of individuals range from the female Turian rogue Vetra Nyx, the bubbly and free-spirited Asari explorer PeeBee, the grizzled Krogan merc veteran Draks, to the earnest and charming Angara resistance fighter Jaal (who has already become a fan favorite due to his deep voice, lion-like features and lack of a nudity taboo). These characters and more will join you on your missions. You’ll grow fond of them quickly, and you’ll want them to like you. Each have different personalities and goals, but each will grow to respect you as long as you respect them. Aid them in their personal endeavors, and they will become your best friend, and in some cases even love you.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Look, I’m going to just go ahead and say this right up front: The hullabaloo about the facial animations is WAY overblown. Yes, this game is unpolished in some places, and yes some of the characters’ faces look tired and generic at times. But the numerous compilations that cherry-pick certain glitches and bugs, some of which are in no way universal for every format or playthrough, have managed to create a vicious and bloody outcry that has sadly stained this game’s reputation even before it was released (and in some cases it suckered some game journalists as well).
The internet has this strange way of making itself into a giant game of telephone. What starts out as “This game has some bugs and lacks some polish,” with time and ol’ fashioned internet hate eventually morphs into “SJW Beta Cucks ruined face animations with Feminism, BITCHES MUST DIE!”. It eventually got to the point that both actual and suspected Bioware developers and animators began receiving death threats from angry basement dwellers pissed that their polygonal waifus looked ‘autistic.’ This doesn’t disregard the fact that yes, the original product DOES lack polish in some areas. And yes, with some characters the facial animations are quite noticeable. Bioware, for their part, are releasing several patches to fix various animation glitches (at the time of this writing, Bioware has already released the first patch, fixing many of the facial animation glitches).
Everything else, however, is of the quality you would expect of a Mass Effect game. The writing and characters are amazing. The combat is extremely enjoyable, the graphics are gorgeous, and the plot is gripping. You will begin to feel the solidarity among these pioneers, exploring uncharted territory for the sake of their respective species. Come what may, they will thrive and chart a new course in their history, finding new friends and worlds along the way, and learning just a little bit more about this vast and hazardous universe.
And if they’re lucky? They’ll find purpose. And love.
(Of course, Source Filmmaker will eventually take care of the dirty details.)