Before I started my replay of the original Mass Effect series, I played through Mass Effect: Andromeda. The main reason I did was because it was the only Mass Effect title which you could play on a PC using a controller without a third-party mod. I knew vaguely of the hilariously bad launch for the game, but I also knew that BioWare took steps to fix it before stopping support for the game entirely. After the patch, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a much better game than it was. However, animation glitches and bugs were not the only problem. Compared to the originals, the narrative has potential, but the execution failed to deliver on it.
At the risk of massive understatement, the development of Mass Effect: Andromeda was rushed and flawed. The team did their best with what they had, and there are flashes of greatness in this game. Sometimes, it’s a small thing, like how a character walking on sand leaves footprints. Other times, it’s something bigger, like the entire open world map sprawled out before us from a mountain peak. This could have been a beautiful game. Yet, thanks to wonky animations and conversation mechanics, the game stumbled hard.
Naturally, BioWare issued a patch, after which Mass Effect: Andromeda became a much better game. Yet, shortly after they ended all work on the franchise in favor of (the also poorly-received) Anthem. Still, the game is worth playing but one must manage their expectations. We’ll talk about the good and the bad in Mass Effect: Andromeda, with plenty of story spoilers.
What Mass Effect: Andromeda Has Going For It After the Patch
Image via BioWare
Firstly, after the patch, many of the hilariously bad animation glitches and gameplay bugs are fixed. There are still some in the game, unfortunately, but nothing that a player can’t look past. (There are also a lot of third-party mods that fix everything from remaining bugs or glitches to completely retexturing characters.) For all its flaws, it’s still everything you love about a Mass Effect game.
You have to walk around and talk to people, as well as eavesdropping on conversations. Your companions are more active, walking around the ship at times and talking with each other. Driving is back in the game, and developers made the brilliant choice to add banter between your companions as you drive. (Though, this is sometimes interrupted by pre-programmed interjections to call players’ attention to something that is usually very obvious.)
Most of the time, combat is a delight. The changes made to how you use powers is a big one. Gone are character classes, where a player would work with about a half-dozen powers the entire game. Here, players can choose three different powers from the three disciplines of previous games: biotics, tech, and combat. These are saved as “profiles” that correspond to the old classes. You can switch between them, even mid-fight. It works even better in multiplayer.
Finally, you can just see the ambition of this game. With not a lot of time nor support, the developers tried to make the most expansive and detailed Mass Effect story yet. It’s reminiscent of Mass Effect 1 in that way. However, unlike that game, it didn’t have the support from players and the company to grow into anything more.
The Story of Mass Effect: Andromeda Is Genuinely Interesting, If Not the Characters
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The story is also much better than people give it credit for. A group of 100,000 people took for the Andromeda Galaxy in between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. 600 years later, they arrive to find the galaxy in a much different state then their sci-fi-magic scans of the galaxy from when they left. There is a dark energy anomaly that renders worlds inhospitable to life. However, there is ancient alien technology that can counteract these effects with sci-fi-magic terraforming. Perhaps, you can sense what the problem with the story was.
There are a lot of new concepts in this game, but many of them are framed in such a way that they seem like pale imitations of the original trilogy’s story. The Remnant or Jardaan are akin to the Protheans of this “cycle.” There are the kett, a species that are identical like the geth but created from other beings like the Collectors. There is the “Andromeda Initiative” at the “Nexus,” which are obviously the Council and the Citadel. The player character is “the Pathfinder,” a special operative who is essentially above the law that must solve the biggest problems in the galaxy. Even the ship, the Tempest is just the Normandy SR-1 with a new hairdo.
The companions also, sometimes, feel like pale imitations of other Mass Effect characters. Still, they are interesting enough characters who grew on me over time. Perhaps the biggest improvement is one of the story differences. Instead of fighting against everyone to prevent the destruction of everything, the Pathfinder fights to build a future for the transplanted species and your native friends you make along the way.
Where Mass Effect: Andromeda Still Falls Short After the Patch
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The flaws in the story mentioned above are all a bit nit-picky. If you go into the story cold, as I did, it does capture your imagination. The premise is magnificent. Yet, due to the earlier games, fan expectations are high and often the story fails to meet them. There are only two new species, the friendly locals and the bad guys. In short, the game never quite reaches its own potential.
There are still some glitches, bugs, and truly ludicrous animations. After the first patch for Mass Effect: Andromeda support for the game came to an end. Still, for PC players, third-party mods exist to fix almost all of these. Even without the help of a mod, the game is still fun to play and provides a lot of opportunity to explore alien worlds.
Another problem is that there is too much going on in moments. For example, early in the game you have to go from one location to another. Your companions are programmed to have a conversation with you while you do. But, there are other people around who are also having conversations. Thus, you end up with a jumble of people talking, sometimes missing important game information. I respect the ambition that went into this. The side-conversations are one of my favorite bits of Mass Effect games. Yet, in this game we get a bit too much of that good thing.
The final problem comes with how much of the story and characters seems drawn from the original trilogy. Done right, it could have made this feel like a natural successor to the other games. Yet, because so much new and original story seems to be deliberately being held back, it ends up hurting the game.
After Mass Effect: Andromeda It Will Take More Than a Patch to Fix the Franchise
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The saddest thing about Mass Effect: Andromeda, even after the patch, is that the studio lost faith in it. Yes, this is a flawed start to a new franchise and, if no new Mass Effect games come, the title that killed it. However, on the other hand, things could really only improve. It seems clear to me that the storytellers here are deliberately holding back information and ideas in the story. Perhaps, at the time, a sequel seemed inevitable and they wanted to “save” the good stuff. Yet, this is proof of why that’s a bad idea.
For all of the mechanics problems, players would have stuck with the game if the story delivered on its potential. Yet, for as expansive as this universe is, nothing changes. You are supposed to be building a new society, but it never feels that way. The most interesting narrative side missions just go “on hold” after you progress to a certain point. The storylines remain unresolved in any meaningful way. These were meant to be threads picked up in the sequel, but it’s likely no sequel to this game will ever come. It’s still fun to do, but it’s a bummer that the only ending we’ll get is the one we make up in our heads.
Personally? I’m game for a sequel, but I imagine this opinion is in the minority. The Mass Effect series is a remarkable accomplishment, even bringing in people who don’t typically play video games. Yet, it remains an open question if the Mass Effect franchise will ever come back.
What do you think? Did you play Mass Effect: Andromeda after the patch? Do you think it should get a sequel? If not, how would you reboot/continue the Mass Effect franchise? Tell us in the comments below.
Featured image via BioWare
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.