Trial by fire – First (spoilerfree!) impressions of Mass Effect Andromeda
Last Wednesday, in the late evening it was finally time – the play first trial from Origin Access went online and opened up for 10 hours of game play. I jumped right into it and finally reached the gated story content last night. (with about two hours to spare for exploration.)
So my first verdict? I really like it. There is things that need to be criticised (like there always are) and things that should really be fixed. But I am going to focus on the positive aspects because if you want to see what people criticise you get literally steamrolled by complaints on the net anyways. And though I agree with quite some of them, but not with the current tone and aggressiveness the fandom shows – keep that shit away from me. (In general: If all you do is complain non stop – just stop playing? If something is bad: criticise it. If you can look past it and enjoy other aspects of the game: do so. If not – move on!)
Back to the game. The character creation was (very!) limited, (definitely worth of improvement!) but not overly bothersome for me because I was basically immediately happy with my character. You get to also set if your Shepard was male or female, pick your basic training and, if you want to, customise your sibling and off you go. You get thrown into the story without further ado.
You are immediately expected to find your bearings as “Ryder”, decide if you care or don’t about certain people without having much to go on. The game lets you set the tone of what your relationships with other members of your family are. It let’s you decide what kind of person you are (logical, emotional/emphatic, casual or professional) and it keeps track of your decisions and your choice of tone. I only tired backtracking a little bit to see how noticeable the differences are and there is quite some variety. Not just in what you say but in how people react to you. While Inquisition gave you options and the answer of your companions mostly stayed the same, regardless of what you pick, Andromeda is more nuanced. It is actually quite easy to put people off, to step on someone’s toes and alienate them. I appreciate the nuances there.
The story immediately goes places. The prologue is in a typical Bioware fashion, quite linear but it sets the rest of the game up nicely. When the open play started the conspiracy theorist in me woke up and I am questioning literally every little thing at the moment. It probably isn’t as deep as I make it at some points, but boy the possibilities!
Combat might be the game’s hidden jewel, it’s strength among sadly rather clunky UI mechanics. It’s very fluent, fast paced and completely up to you in terms of how you want to tackle it. Want to snipe things off from the distance and keep everyone away? Sure think. Want to smash physically into your enemies and punch them in the face? Go for it. Want to be a pure biotic? Never has that been easier. Want to rain death from above? Easy as pie! Want to become a stealth ninja with a huge sword or even a hammer? It is possible! And the best part: Want to do all this with the same character, depending on what fight you are in? You can. The combat system is more flexible than ever before and at the same time more nuanced than before. You can change builds and loadouts in an instant, make use of different passives or bonus stats that you find especially useful only to swap them out again something different when the enemy calls for it. The skill points and combat role system looks almost deceptively simple at first, then might become overwhelming once you realise the scope of it. Then it becomes a brilliant tool to make your character’s fighting style your own. I am deeply impressed by this system. Because most of all? It is super fun!
Another core strength is the writing and directing so far. Voice acting has always been one of Bioware’s strengths so I had high expectations. They were met and surpassed. The voice acting is superb and it feels much more natural and better flowing than Inquisition did. Gone are the awkward pauses that make conversations between more people feel unnatural. Laughter and amusement in voices actually sounds natural and fits the mood of the scenes. The most positive thing I noticed was the squad mate dialogue when you are out in the field. While Inquisition had long bouts of silence (even if it was’t the famous bug) your squad mates talk. A lot. About things you see, things you find, each other, the weather… whatever. And they do so in a way that feels pretty natural. Certain things you do triggers responses from them that feel not forced at all.
Which brings me to the companions. I have met five out of the six squad mates so far and I love every single one of them. They just… fit? So does the crew on your ship or even the NPCs on the nexus. They feel so much like actual characters. I am almost sick of comparing everything to Inquisition, but it is the closes I can compare things to given it’s the most recent game from Bioware. Inquisition, for all it’s faults, had really well written, lovable companions that made much of the rather annoying game play things worthwhile by their writing alone. Some even call the companions the single redeeming thing of that game. (I still enjoyed game play and parts of the story, so I am not in that camp, but I get where they are coming from.)
Andromeda’s companions/npcs/interactions so far? Are better. It took me exactly one tour of the ship and one to two conversations with my crew to get a sense of “we’re in this together”, to feel like this can become a group that can do great things together. There is animosities between some of them, there are friendships (like in real life, the queer people of the crew flock together and I love it!) and there is an overall willingness to get to know each other that feels very pleasant for the player in my opinion.
Which brings me to the overall tone of the game: It is quite different and yet not completely when compared to the original trilogy. It’s hard to put my finger on it. It is less “end of everything” than the older games and more like a group of young people going “hell yeah, we can do it!” Everyone is stumbling around in the dark, but deciding that together it might not be as scary as it seems. And you feel like you are on the edge, on the bring of something new and extraordinary that is just out there and all you have to do is go out and reach for it. And you get to help people, everything you do is new, confusing but so very important. If Mass Effect 2 and 3 often felt like “what if I fail, what if I do this wrong, make the wrong choice?” Andromeda constantly asks “what if! What if this is your chance to save everyone? What if this is the first step towards something greater?” There is doom and dread waiting in the wings, but there is also this tiny, every enthusiastic spark of hope. Combined with wide eyed, almost child like wonder at the unknown. It feels more like exploring the unknown than fighting of the bad guys. And every time something goes right and you bring your group a step forward there is this sense of relief for my Ryder. It’s subtle, but I feel this is, so far, the key difference between Andromeda and the original trilogy.