FBT wishes ‘destroy Andromeda’ had been an option at the end of Mass Effect 3
Sometime between Mass Effects 2 and 3, several ‘ark ships’ depart on a one-way trip to Andromeda. But after a 600-year voyage, a disaster costs us our ‘pathfinder’ - the survey specialist who claims new planets - and the system turns out to be hostile and dangerous, not the ‘golden world’ we were promised. Up steps one of Pathfinder’s off-spring to lead the rag-tag crew to a new home. But all I can think is ‘Wonder what Shep is doing’ because unlike the plot, ME:A doesn’t break new ground, it just reminds you of better ME moments.
Once our ship has reached the Nexus, a mini-citadel for the various Arks that launched, we find it barely hanging on; it’s become a powder-keg of tension as the inhabitants went stir-crazy waiting to get onto a planet. As the other arks are still AWOL, it falls on us to get the Nexus shipshape and the inhabitants a home. We’ve got dozens of planets to explore and at first it’s exciting. But we’re rarely doing Neil Armstrong impressions. Most of the time Nexus scouts already tried to settle the planets and it turns out an ancient civilisation of Poundland Protheans did all the hard work (most of the missions are restarting their old machinery). I’m less Pathfinder and more path-follower.
Adding to our woes, the ‘kett’ rock up. An invading force which takes entire populations never to be seen again, they’re hilariously cliched (the boss wears a cape) and look like a mix between Saint’s Row’s Zinyak and those aliens from Galaxy Quest – you can’t take them seriously as what amounts to fun-size Reapers. There's also the annoying, characterless Remnant, hostile Geth-a-like tech left behind by pretend Protheans who also caused ‘The Scourge’, a dark energy fallout from a bomb, trapping us here. So we’ve got not-Reapers, not-Geth and not-Protheans. All we need now is a not-Shepard.
Stand up Pathfinder Ryder. And … sit down again. Scott or Sara, you can pick either Ryder (the other one joins in later) but it doesn’t matter, they’re as middle-of-the-road as it’s possible to make a hero. The Pathfinder has an element of Spectre-like adulation but it’s undeserved; they blandly defuse problems and just bum about - this is supposed to be an adventurer, a heroic leader yet if they make a movie, you can picture Owen Wilson as the lead. There’s some commentary about trying to live up to Dad’s legacy, but there’s a problem with that – Dad chose this area, put everyone in hibernation for 600 years and is then shocked to find its all changed? Well, yeah? We picked the wrong family to follow. Shep felt the pressures of command but was outwardly a decisive, natural leader and you got behind them; Ryder just acts like he’s got a bong hidden in his quarters. It would have been better to play as Dad for a while, build up and get to know the Ryder twins then chose one to play once he pops off; one naturally Renegade, the other Paragon in nature. But no. We don’t even get Paragon vs Renegade, which really has more relevance here than it did on the Normandy; conquering or colonising, displacing or bonding with locals, do we make this an exploration or an invasion? None of that happens; choice is the one thing they don’t bring from ME?
The squad-mates we get are equally second-rate. Cora the explorer, our second in command is supposed to be an Asari-trained Commando but rather than dangerous or cool she’s a brittle character missing Ash’s warmth. There’s Liam, a too-cool dude who sleeps on a sofa he sneaked onto the ship. Idiot. We have a Wrex-lite Krogan and a female Garrus, who behave exactly like their epic counterparts. We’d already had those squad mates, it just invites comparisons. And then there’s ‘Peebee’ an Asari adventurer who comes across like Annie from the 80’s musical. She’s a romance option which feels off given her prepubescent look and attitude; she’s hardly the coquettish Liara or the experienced, older-woman fantasy of Samara and Benezia. It would have been far more interesting to deal with a bratty teen Asari growing into herself rather than this ‘carefree’ annoyance with sub-Joker comments. As an afterthought, there is one local that joins the crew, Darav, the only interesting one out the lot - and a Javik replacement, given to pointing out how idiotic and naïve humans are. We know. Our first contact with his species is epically fumbled; it should be a startling, amazing moment but no - the crew makes jokes like a new fricking species isn’t a big thing and Ryder saunters out to meet them in his off-duty attire, which in my case is a Blasto vest and some Beats. Just checking, you’re Scott Ryder, son of the Pathfinder, right? We didn’t accidently thaw Shaun Ryder?
The ship’s pilot is a Salarian and actually one of the better characters, while our Dr Chakwas is an Asari who’s been around the block – why are the two best characters non-squad mates? I’d take the doc over sofa-boy any day. Can’t romance her either, so if you’re into Asari it’s baby Peebee or nothing. Romance is odd. Luckily for our drippy hero, it seems the name Pathfinder opens a lot of legs. I get locked into romances without even realising that’s where the convo was headed, while twice I was just talking to crew members and got a variation of ‘I have a boyfriend’. I wasn’t asking. Seems like everyone on the Ark was a nympho. Guess that’s one way to colonise quick and the romances are the one time ME:A doesn't follow ME - instead it goes for Witcher 'adult' scenes which feel a little gratuitous.
We’re also supported by a god-bothering scientist and have a commando team to do … stuff. No idea what, it’s the multiplayer mode but in single-player, it’s the trading sub-game in AC Black Flag. Finally, we’re accompanied by the voice of ‘SAM’, a male EDI who controls everything and is linked to the Pathfinder. Whereas EDI had that voice and her curiosity, SAM is a know-it-all (even in a new galaxy) and about as compelling as that voice telling you ‘unexpected item in bagging area’.
It’s also needlessly complex and over engineered. When Shep said “I should go” there was nothing stopping them. In ME:A there’s so much fiddling and viewing and clicking and choosing and researching and - I’m supposed to be exploring the star system not the menu system. Ryder has more choices than planets to tinker with making it slower to get going than in ME1 where you’d spend hours tidying up everyone’s lockers.
Even when you do get out into the great unknown, SAM is badgering you about this and that while the game helpfully tells you stuff like ‘press <down> to slow the mako’ endlessly. Another problem dragging the game down is the number of places you knock about. In ME, the Normandy was your centre, in ME:A you start aboard the Hyperion – the ark ship – then transfer to the Nexus, the mini-Citadel, and finally get your Normandy-lite, the Tempest. And then spend forever staring at the backside of the new Mako. You’re just lacking that grounding, that place to strike from.
There are tons of planets to explore and each looks beautiful but there’s nothing on them. And why do we plant a flag on one tiny speck of land then have to move onto the next planet? There’s entire continents being ignored yet I’m being pestered to provide space for all the colonists. ME:A isn’t sure if it’s like the original trilogy where you had some freedom but focus, or Skyrim in Space and everything cancels everything out being so epic but empty.
The fights themselves aren’t much but Pathfinder and the others have a mini jetpack to scramble about with (which means watching squad mates leaping like they’re on a trampoline as they try to follow) and you can use it to pause in mid-air to fire over cover, but the biggest leap is you don’t control squad mates as you did in ME. No control wheel - which is a massive trampoline backwards. Take Cora – a honed, precision killer. What does she do? Charges into a huge group of bad guys and gets overwhelmed - and the others aren’t any better, having panic attacks or choosing your gun muzzle as a good spot to stand. I thought we left that kind of follower idiocy back in the Goldeneye era? Get out the way.
It’s also repetitive. Rather than constant kett, why not have individual villains dedicated to each system which we chose to bargain with or beat up, apex predators, hell even a Thresher Maw if pressed, instead of always arguing with the kett over it? We tangle a little bit with a Cerberus-style group who want to drive all not-them folks out of the system but otherwise, it’s the kett and they’re just an annoyance when we could be doing so much more.
It’s also hard to believe. Why the citadel races would go for this when the milky way is still half undiscovered is one thing, but four huge ark ships plus a mini citadel have embarked on this venture, which happened just after the Reapers were exposed? Isn’t that precisely when you’d not spend trillions sending folks to a new galaxy? It’s semi-explained in a side-mission which ultimately makes Pathfinder Dad an even bigger coward and idiot; plus, the revelation isn’t explored in a way that lets it resonate. It’s a half-baked attempt to separate ME:A from ME but that doesn’t ring true when ME:A seems unwilling to break away, and the twist is hidden in a side-mission you’ll almost certainly not bother doing - it feels like a cheat. Plus, who's smart idea was it to fill a ship with Krogans? They're still dying at this point, not too smart for a colonisation is it. Bet it was Dad again.
If you’re going to call this ME then go all the way. Imagine the possibilities; it’s not an ‘ark’ it’s a refugee ship running from a Reaper. It reaches a Relay just as Shep’s Catalyst choice hits, sending us and the Reaper millions of miles into uncharted territory. Shep’s choices then affect the entire game – if they chose destroy, then the ship and it’s AI are dead, leaving you to rebuild from scratch. If they choose symbiosis then we have to deal with having circuits and full-realised AI – and a cautiously friendly Reaper as a huge side-kick! And if they chose control, the Reaper has Shep’s personality; a Renegade Reaper that can’t be trusted would be awesome. Okay, drop the Reaper idea but at least by having ME's impact feed in, ME:A would be an adventure in its own right but still explore the repercussions of your Shep’s actions. That’s a Mass Effect game. That would have been amazing. You can’t simultaneously ignore and rely on past triumphs. Hell, let's just pick up where the Normandy crashed and play as your grieving lover dealing with your choice. Anything but this load of empty space.
Like space, the entire game is a vacuum; it has its moments, looks good and plays really well. If it was only brave enough to drop the ME adulation and dig into what colonising a new star system would really be like, you’d have something. Even when we colonise the first planet it’s not celebrated – we just leave. Epic, memorable moment there. ME:A is scared of its own potential and intimidated by the original trilogy - it'[s so vacuous you just lose interest, kinda just stop playing and forget about it. It’s so bland I Rage Quit out of indifference. The best I can say about ME:A is it’s not a bad game, just a bad Mass Effect game.
2017 | Developer, BioWare | Publisher Electronic Arts
platforms; Win/Origin | PS4 | XO