A Requiem for Mass Effect Andromeda
Casual Continues To Have Bad Opinions
April 6, 2018 at 1:56 pm
Just one year (and some change) ago, the landscape of RPGs and video games as we know them was forever changed with the highly anticipated release of Mass Effect Andromeda. Nearly every website staffed by video game opinion writers has an 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 somehow you 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. 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 game beloved by almost nobody and a backlash so loud and tortured that Bioware/EA 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. It’s there; you don’t even need to look. 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
I love the Normandy. It is a beautiful ship and arguably the sleekest, most rough-and-tumble little vessel in the history of all various fictional Milky Ways — like one of those action movie motorcycles that can effortlessly drive straight up a skyscraper at a 90 degree angle.
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 makes you feel like a middle aged dad in a cherry red convertible.
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 a gameplay mechanic that makes sure your dad and sibling look like you makes the story more engrossing and compelling.
A Space Boat Full of Weird Friends
Fans of the original trilogy might be more attached to Tali, Wrex, and Garrus, but Andromeda incorporates the best squad elements in 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, you can spend even more quality time with each squad member through loyalty missions and an extra non-combat story mission where you connect with them like actual friends. Playing soccer with Liam! Meeting Jaal’s family! Planting flowers with Cora! Like real friends, these characters make a little bit of space for you in their lives and you get to see them in new contexts. They even send you personal emails as you get deeper and deeper into the story, full of movie recommendations and personal anecdotes to cheer you up through the hard times.
Plus, characters move across the Tempest between missions. Sometimes Jaal and Liam are hanging out, comparing notes about angaran/human insults and slang. Sometimes Gil is just picking a fight with Kallo over the intercom when you walk onto the bridge.
These dynamics didn’t just emerge fully-formed in Andromeda — they’re improvements on stuff fans liked within content in the original trilogy, including supplemental content 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 messages from Garrus after he crashes in your cabin, and drunk texts from Tali after she enables that “emergency induction port.” And most ME3 players loved seeing our beloved squadmates hanging out together and gossiping between missions.
Totally Bangable Aliens
Like all those incomprehensible twitter randos who “can’t believe” women actually want to smooch del Toro’s hot merman, developers were surprised by the immense thirst generated by the legion of Garrus shippers. 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. But unless you played a straight male character romancing a human (or asari) woman, your options for steamy makeouts were few and far between. 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.
Plus, even some of Andromeda’s harshest critics will admit that Bioware stepped up both the sensuality and execution of the game’s infamous romantic scenes. Many praise the sexiness of both Cora’s and Peebee’s romances; even Vetra gets a good makeout scene. But in my opinion, the veritable cherry on top was Jaal’s enthusiastic trip downtown on Sara Ryder — the execution of which resulted in an intimate, respectful, and even playful interaction between two young people in love. The climax of Jaal and Sara’s romance is entirely based around her pleasure — a rare feat in most media, but an even rarer one in video games.
But Sara isn’t the only character with the opportunity to get intimate 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 better cater to the fanbase)
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 its (loud, thirsty) audience a little better, and includes romances for the franchise’s very specific groups of weirdo fans. Sweet Boy? Check. (Jaal.) Hot Abs Boy? Check. (Liam.) We even finally got a Lawful Good Type A Girlfriend we could actually hook up with as a woman (Vetra) — ending Bioware’s streak of introducing soft butch girlfriends who only date men — here’s looking at you, entire Dragon Age franchise. (I’m not entirely sure about how turians feel about/inhabit gender, so this is admittedly a human-centric observation — for all I know, Vetra is as high femme as a high femme turian gets, but somehow I doubt it.)
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 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 L’il Thirsties, Bland Hotties, and Sad Boys. Finally, a charming, dashing rogue who eventually shows us a tiny glimpse of sincerity behind that swashbuckling facade!
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. But for maybe two glorious weeks before Bioware announced that ME:A wasn’t getting a sequel or any DLC, 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???
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 I’ve been trying to avoid so far. Regardless, despite Bioware’s assurances that we’ll get answers to some of these questions in the comics, I’m disappointed that we might never get answers to my elaborate chart on whether the Kett are secretly offshoots from the Prothean empire.
Some fans — you know, some among the other 8 people who love Andromeda and keep sticking up for it against all odds — claim that the incomplete elements of Andromeda are nowhere near as bad as the ones within Mass Effect 1. But I think critics are right when they respond to this claim by pointing out that Mass Effect 1 came out 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 its 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.