Nearly every website staffed by video game opinion writers has a Mass Effect: Andromeda Take dissecting What Went Wrong but this, friends, is not That Take. Today I celebrate the achievements of Mass Effect: Andromeda: a game with ample room for fans to cultivate inane lore fan theories; a game where the token hot alien babe species confronts the politics of their genderless society head-on; a game with Extremely Bangable NPCs, sick outfits, and grandfatherly Krogans; and a game I selfishly treasure because its final, flawed product seems completely designed for a Bad Opinion-Haver like me.
But Before We Get Started…
If you somehow avoided the Mass Effect: Andromeda fallout, let me get you up to speed. Unfortunately for everybody involved, Andromeda didn’t live up to fans’ lofty expectations — you know, the same fans who have been continuously seething about Mass Effect 3 since February 2012 (despite a free extended cut add-on and the extremely fanservice-heavy Citadel DLC). Many journalists felt that no game could have lived up to the expectations fans had pinned on Andromeda, least of all a game so badly marred by development setbacks, hardware challenges, and internal politics.
The end result was a backlash so loud and tortured that Bioware/EA apparently quietly dissolved the studio that created this cursed entertainment property. Any planned DLC was cancelled and Andromeda quietly faded from the pop culture zeitgeist.
A lot of Andromeda criticism is completely valid — but in the interest of producing the Andromeda-Positive Content I Crave, I urge you to just google “Mass Effect: Andromeda” for that criticism. But again: this is not that critical hot take — this is a loving and warm embrace of an admittedly flawed product’s shining qualities. In short: I warned you, so don’t @ me.
Before Andromeda came out, I wrote about all my hopes and dreams for this next chapter in my favorite franchise of all time. To my astonishment and delight, many of my dreams came true. For starters, those terrible space overalls didn’t follow the denizens of the Milky Way into Helius. Goodbye, Shepard’s cargo pants! Hello, Ryder’s kickass moto jacket — a jacket I spent literal weeks scouring the internet for and could have purchased, had the greater fandom loved Andromeda enough to prompt the production of high quality fan merch. (Thanks a lot, haters!!!)
The Tempest Tho
Look: no one is saying that the Normandy isn’t literally the best fictional spaceship of all time, least of all me.
But I mean, the Tempest, tho.
Sure, it’s compact and lacks four interior cells’ worth of loading screens, but it comfortably houses your beloved Tempest Fam and looks like something from an old Sky Mall that you’d actually want to buy.
A Family That Looks Like You
Dragon Age 2 introduced Bioware fans to the concept of having a family that looks like you. In DA2, various aspects of your character’s Look influence the appearance of your mom, siblings, and uncle, including your protagonist’s skin color.
Because families — the ones who raised you and the ones you make for yourself — are a huge part of Andromeda’s story, having characters who are supposed to be related actually look related makes the whole game more engrossing (and, naturally, representative) from the start.
A Space Boat Full of Weird Friends
Fans of the original trilogy might be more attached to Tali, Wrex, and Garrus, but everybody aboard the Tempest is lovely and the best moments in Andromeda are the ones we spend getting to know them.
Thankfully, Andromeda incorporates the best squad elements from the original series to make your crew feel dynamic and alive — to make the world around you feel like it keeps on going, even when your character is out of earshot.
For starters, characters move across the Tempest between missions. Sometimes Jaal and Liam are hanging out, comparing notes about angaran/human insults. Sometimes Gil is just picking a fight with Kallo over the intercom when you walk onto the bridge.
You can also get to know the core Tempest squad through both loyalty missions and extra non-combat story missions: Playing soccer with Liam! Meeting Jaal’s family! Planting flowers with Cora! Plus, the farther you get into the Andromeda‘s main questline, the more personal emails you get from your team. It’s like real friendship!!! (but with 100% fewer hangouts cancelled at the last minute due to mutual millennial FOMO).
These dynamics didn’t just emerge fully-formed in Andromeda — they’re improvements on popular extra features from the original trilogy, like DLC and tie-in mobile games. Fans loved the additional “hangout” missions within ME3’s Citadel DLC and wanted more moments like those within the base game. Folks who downloaded the free Mass Effect 3: Datapad app loved getting sweet texts from Garrus on their actual phones. We wanted to spend more time with friendly space weirdos and Bioware gave us tried and tested ways to do it.
Totally Bangable Aliens
According to an urban legend I can’t seem to substantiate with real evidence despite my thorough Googling, Bioware initially reacted to Garrus Thirst the same way dudes on twitter reacted to women reacting to the Shape of Water Butt Mermaid: with denial, then skepticism, then a slow concession that maybe a devoted & loving cryptid boyfriend might just be what women really want.
But that progression took A While and in the original Mass Effect trilogy, fans like me were grateful for the opportunity to not only chastely hug Garrus after a bottle of wine, but to also tango with him on the Citadel. Unless you played a straight male character romancing a human (or asari) woman, your options for steamy makeouts were few and far between. We took what we could get, is all I am saying. Mass Effect fans may never know what turian butts look like, but Andromeda gave us angaran butts — a letdown, but at least Bioware is listening.
In Andromeda, Bioware stepped up both the sensuality and execution of the game’s infamous romantic scenes. Even Vetra gets a good makeout scene! Turians! making! out! with! you!! What a time to be alive! And in a scene where Sara and Jaal spend some quality time alone at the beach, Andromeda presents players with an intimate, sensual interlude focused entirely on its female protagonist’s pleasure — unlike pretty much all media since the actual dawn of media.
But Sara isn’t the only one who gets to spend quality time with Jaal. After fans pointed out Scott Ryder’s lack of male squad member romance options, Bioware patched Jaal’s character to open up his romance. (I mean — if you’re gonna hook up with an alien who just made first contact with your planet, does gender even matter at that point?) Kudos to Bioware for taking a step back from that weird and arbitrary line in the sand and making things right.
Finally, A Han Solo Type (and other romance options that will make you feel Seen)
I’m not going to claim that Bioware knows What People Who Date Men Want or anything, but they’re certainly closer now than they were ten years ago. Andromeda knows who you are and what you like, you predictable weirdo. Sweet Boy? Check. (Jaal.) Hot Abs Boy? Check. (Liam.) We even finally got a Lawful Good Type A Soft Butch Dinosaur Girlfriend, thus ending Bioware’s streak of introducing soft butch girlfriends who only date men (here’s looking at you, entire Dragon Age franchise).
Plus, Andromeda is the first Bioware game where your boyfriend introduces you to his mom and she sends you a series of sweet but slightly intrusive emails about your species’ mating habits.
And furthermore: bless our hometown hero, the Austin-based writer who crafted Reyes Vidal. A sizeable percentage of all nerds who date men love a good Han Solo Type in a sci-fi property, but for years, Bioware has been giving us a whole bunch of Bland Hotties, Sad Boys, and L’il Thirsties. But through Reyes, femme & queer fans alike can pursue a charming rogue who would definitely steal your sick Space Ride if ever given the opportunity.
New Galaxy, New Mysteries
Andromeda leaves fans with more questions than answers — a common aspect of any first installment in a series, but a letdown in a standalone game. For two glorious weeks before Bioware announced that Andromeda wasn’t getting a sequel, my brain buzzed with elaborate fan theories. Did Cerberus sabotage the Initiative? Is Cora linked to the Illusive Man? What happened to the Quarian Arc, and did they leave after the Reaper invasion? Will they bring word of that calamity back to the scattered and fragmented Milky Way residents in Andromeda? Will we ever see the Kett homeworld? Explore Meridian? Fight the Elaaden worm? Will we ever get an elcor squadmate??? I just have so much to unpack, nobody to unpack it with, and no way to confirm how right I am about all this nonsense.
The obvious downside here is that you can’t ask yourself these questions without grappling with the incomplete or troubling elements within Andromeda’s rushed narrative — a task that is out of the scope of this article! Go literally anywhere else!!
Regardless, despite Bioware’s assurances that we’ll get answers to some of these questions in the comics, I’m disappointed that I’ll probably never get to validate my elaborate chart about whether the Kett are somehow a distant offshoot of the Prothean empire at the height of its sprawl.
Some fans believe that the incomplete elements of Andromeda are nowhere near as bad as the ones within Mass Effect 1. But as sad as I am to admit it, I think critics are right when they pointing out that Bioware released Mass Effect 1 in 2007. Storytelling and gameplay development have come a long way in the intervening decade.
At the same time, I think fans — especially gamers — have a tendency to hurl ferocious indignation at anything that fails to meet their expectations. Every game that isn’t as good as its E3 trailer means the studio is trying to steal your money through DLC. EA blackmailed Bioware into creating Anthem, which will be a 100-hour Destiny clone comprised entirely of lootboxes. Etcetera. A lot of this criticism is valid, but is so surrounded in vitriol and sometimes bafflingly personal cruelty that it’s hard to sort out what is feedback and what is just “in short: nerds mad” venting.
It’s hard to play something as anticipated as Andromeda without infusing it with all the hopes, dreams, and meaning you drew from the original trilogy, but despite the overabundance of desert planets and tired faces, it can offer you something the original can’t: an entire new galaxy full of Sweet Boys and spiky girlfriends and queer friend families trying to survive in space. And if those things appeal to you, despite the howling of the greater internet, you’ll probably have a pretty good time.
Edit: This article was updated to correct a couple of factual inaccuracies — and who am I kidding, to correct some weak Jokes — in September 2018.