The highly anticipated Mass Effect: Andromeda finally launched from the Milky Way Galaxy on Tuesday, March 21. Here to have a casual conversation about all of the things they loved and some of the things they didn’t are Whitney Richter, veteran N7 operative and the one responsible for sending over 50 salarian infiltrators out to save the galaxy from the Reapers, and Merrin, slightly less veteran N7 operative and the one personally responsible for romancing every single romance option available except Steve Cortez.
Be aware that while we do talk a lot about specifics of gameplay, there are only mild spoilers contained herein, which could only truly be called spoilers if you wanted to go into this game with a literally blank slate. At the time of writing, Merrin has beaten the game, but Whitney is only about 45 hours into it (yes, only 45 — this game is big; by contrast, Merrin is at 80+). Merrin wants to continue to be friends with Whitney afterward, so she chose not to spoil anything.
Part the First: Andromeda vs the Milky Way
Whitney: This is going to sound weird, but Mass Effect: Andromeda, while a very different game from the original Mass Effect trilogy, in some ways is more like the first installment than either Mass Effect 2 or 3.
Merrin: I’d agree with that statement. Mass Effect 1 felt more like you were exploring the galaxy than attempting to solve a problem, be it the Collectors or the Reapers, and I liked that this game brought that aspect back, but better.
Whitney: The scenery is gorgeous, the Nomad…while not the Mako, is certainly a drastic improvement over Mass Effect 2’s failed #$%&$%@#$ Hammerhead.
Merrin: You don’t want to look at the scenic outlook?
Whitney: The Cerberus data caches will remain forever buried on Aite. I will never achieve 100% completion for personal reasons and game play reasons. I took the terrible gameplay very personally. Stupid Hammerhead.
Merrin: I never even started that mission, so I feel ya. Also, like most organics, I did like the scenery in this game, that everywhere you went had such distinct topography. Even if the entire galaxy seemed to be using the same building material (which makes sense if they’re all building from stores stolen from the Nexus, I suppose), at least it was laid out in interesting ways and you didn’t have the same repetitive maps everywhere like in Mass Effect 1. But it was nice that the planets seemed to have some thought behind their construction and composition.
Whitney: And even better, this time Ryder’s companions take note of how terrible a driver she is. I find myself finding more ways to run the Nomad off cliffs just to see what they’ll say.
Merrin: Don’t make her turn this Nomad around! Another thing I like about the companions and their journeys in the Nomad with you is that they actually have distinct personalities that interact with each other in interesting ways. Take Liam and Vetra across a sand dune with you and they’ll start arguing halfway through about Vetra’s reasons for coming to Andromeda. Jaal at some point starts falling asleep, which Peebee makes fun of him for. It’s hilarious to see what happens with the combinations of companions you take with you, something you didn’t really see much of in the original trilogy.
Whitney: This game does a marvelous job of developing characters in context with each other; not just Ryder, which is something the original trilogy never really accomplished. We see how these characters respond to each other, where they get along and where they don’t, and it’s not up to Ryder to solve their interpersonal conflicts. They have a lot more autonomy, and therefore growth.
Merrin: Ryder’s growth makes me think of Shepard’s lack thereof, so let’s talk about how different Shepard and Ryder are as characters. Shepard seems like this larger-than-life hero of the galaxy from the outset of the game, becoming the first human Spectre pretty close to the beginning. By contrast, Ryder is forced into a role she wasn’t prepared for and doesn’t particularly know how to do, forced to prove herself over and over as she crosses the galaxy.
Whitney: And whereas Shepard was deliberately left as blank of a slate as possible so that you could roleplay her as you saw fit, Ryder is much more expressive. No matter what dialogue choices you make, at her core she’s funny, informal, and naive, and she has a much more defined relationship with her family. I don’t see this as a positive or a negative, simply something that’s very different about the two protagonists that I really appreciate. Not to mention, while Shepard’s story is the burden of the apocalypse, Ryder’s story is predicated on hope and discovery. It gives the game a very different feel, while still being recognizably Mass Effect.
Merrin: And speaking of hope and promise, no spoilers but I like that you can keep completing tasks and exploring the galaxy after you finish the endgame.
Whitney: Unlike Mass Effect 3, where you simply had to stick your fingers in your ears and imagine that the Citadel DLC is the true ending.
Merrin: Glad I’m not the only one that does that.
Part the Second: Gameplay & Mechanics
Merrin: As a relatively new gamer, my least favorite thing about the way the gameplay has changed is the absence of the power wheel. It’s pretty cool that you have access to such a variety of powers (and that there’s now a canonical reason for your player character to have so many more than your squad). Now that I’ve finally figured out how to quick change my favorites profiles, I’m actually using that mechanic, but the fact that you can’t direct where and what your squadmates use is a puzzle to me. The access to so many new powers is a bit overwhelming at times, especially when you’re just starting a new game. Also, as someone who absolutely stinks at aiming anything (I go with quantity of ammo over damage in guns), it was nice to take that breather in the middle of combat to line up a shot.
Whitney: I really miss the ability to control your squad, because it makes the way you play and evolve your own skills much more limited. A lot of the skills are designed around teamwork, which you can’t utilize in the single player if you can’t direct your squad. I have never once in any of the previous games allowed my team to think for themselves, because I’m smarter than they are. But since I am now forced to rely on them, I avoid speccing for things like combos and team play because I can’t count on it, which is really disappointing. It means single player and multiplayer are two very different games.
Merrin: But! Individual cooldowns are back, so you at least can create your own combos, given the proper loadout. I’m not sure what the thought process was there, except that after 70+ hours now of playing without the power wheel, I feel more prepared to think quickly on my feet for multi, which I never really got into in the previous games.
Whitney: You can really see the effects of Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer on Andromeda. They took a lot of the gameplay that evolved from that and incorporated it here, making it faster and more fluid. Despite the lack of synergy with your own team, on the whole, the power evolutions are much more interesting in this game than in ME3, and require a lot more thought. You no longer have the no-brainer choice of choosing power damage over weapon damage on a power kit. Now you have much harder choices to make that can change the way you play, which is a good thing. And thank you, Krogan Warlord for giving us the krogan hammer in Andromeda!
Merrin: I LOVE THAT HAMMER SO MUCH. Also faster and more fluid: the galaxy map. While I agree with Bioware that the map is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s totally rad that you can look out a window of the Tempest and see whatever you’re hovering above outside, swooping around the galaxy gives me vertigo and takes forever. Like literally forever, I aged years.
Whitney: That is something that clearly someone put a lot of love and time into, but no question it’s tedious and makes an already tedious experience (jumping back and forth between fetch quests most inefficiently) even more tedious. It’s one of the many, many signs that this game didn’t have enough time in development. If you see those animations once, they’re beautiful. By the tenth time you want to stab someone. The fact that Bioware immediately addressed it with the 1.05 patch, which focused on the hottest damage control and stability issues, says a lot. But if you don’t get time to playtest your game, you don’t realize what works in theory but not in practice. Which is probably also why the user interface is absolutely wretched. I spend more time in this game trying to read the screen and figure out what the hell I am supposed to do next than I do actually playing the game. Conveyance and telegraphing need a lot of work.
Merrin: I find the way the game separates out the missions and tasks to be frustrating. You’ve got some things on a planet that will show up under the galaxy missions, but sometimes they’ll be under tasks, and highlighting them for completion doesn’t always make them show up on the map.
Whitney: It’s like Bioware looked at the XBox One user interface and thought it was a good idea. (Bioware, no.)
Merrin: Let’s use this as an opportunity to talk about the glitches, because I’d like to recount again the tale of the time I fell through the floor that didn’t load. One minute I was walking up the stairs to the conference room to take a very important vid call because I am very important, and the next I was flapping around in space, ponytail all askew, being told I was “leaving the mission area.”
Whitney: And let’s not forget the time my fiancé and I learned the hard way that you shouldn’t claim Apex mission rewards if you don’t have inventory space, because your precious guns simply disappear into the ether. Or the time I wandered off without finishing a random encounter that wasn’t on my map or in my journal, and as a result I had a permanent reminder in my HUD that I needed to talk to some survivors.
Merrin: Slightly more hilarious were the fiends that would fall daintily from the skies of Kadara and sit primly while I murdered their faces. They’d roar but they wouldn’t move. I almost felt bad.
Whitney: The one thing I never thought to be concerned about was basic mechanics, which is why I’m so floored that so many of the glitches and problems in this game are a failure of Game Design 101. These problems are not high-level design problems. It’s like failing to properly light a scene in a movie. That should never happen, because we’ve done it so much it’s just a basic tenet of movie-making. The flaws in this game are frustrating, distracting, and impede your enjoyment of both gameplay and story, and they are the kinds of mistakes and oversights that should never have slipped the net. I’m hopeful, however, that based on the drastic improvements already made by the 1.05 patch that future patches will solve a lot of these issues. For instance, I was sure that no solution would be created to correct the distraction that is Addison’s face, yet patch 1.05 not only included a serviceable bandaid fix for her dead eyes, but also addressed her clown makeup. I guess Bioware didn’t enjoy suffering the brunt of the many memes her face spawned.
Merrin: It didn’t help that one of her first lines in a one-on-one conversation was “my face is tired” prompting me to scream “your face sure is SOMETHING” at my TV. And we should probably mention the thing that a very vocal group of critics are upset about in this game that I don’t know a patch can fix: the facial animations. I’ll admit, I pretty much only play Bioware games and Minecraft. The facial animations in Andromeda are definitely better than the block heads in Minecraft. So basically, I didn’t have a lot of complaints? The only thing I really noticed about the facial animations is that they made all of the asari have round butter faces. I didn’t understand that change.
Whitney: I think it’s called We Needed a Longer Production Cycle So There Could Be More Than One Asari Face Model.
Merrin: OH, that old saw.
Part the Third: Multiplayer vs Single Player
Merrin: I have played exactly 2 hours of multiplayer with Whitney and don’t have a whole lot to say about multi in general, so I’m going to turn most of this discussion over to her.
Whitney: I may have logged over 1,000 hours in Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer and met my future husband there, so I have Feelings and Expectations about multi that are perhaps much greater than the Feelings and Expectations I had for single-player. And after spending close to 15 hours in the multiplayer, the consensus is….the game took a giant step to the left from its predecessor.
In some ways it moved forwards, in others it inexplicably moved backwards. For instance, the kits in many ways are much improved. There is more differentiation between them, the skill sets work together in new ways and do a lot more to encourage team play. However, individually, it feels a lot harder to get anything done. The verticality that the jump jets offer is a lot of fun, and there are some vast improvements in maneuverability. However, staple moves from ME3, like grabs, are missing. There are also many, many inexplicable balancing issues that need to be addressed that make the game feel like it took a big step backwards. Things that ME3 had already corrected, like moving enemy spawns away from objectives, are back for some reason.
Part the Last: Romance & Story
Whitney: I’ll admit I was a little worried when I played through the first part of the trial, because if there is one thing Bioware does right, it’s characters. However no one leapt out at me the first couple of hours aside from Ryder herself, who is an absolute treasure. But once you start to meet up with more of your crew, the game really starts to hit its stride and my fears went away. There’s a lot to love here. It makes it really hard to pick who to bang.
Merrin: Listen, I thought I was going to have trouble picking who to bang, and then Jaal started talking about how deep his feelings are and how difficult he found it to talk about some things, and I was hopelessly lost. About your team, I had the same thoughts. Cora just wasn’t interesting to me during the preview and I was worried about spending an entire game with her. By the time I finished her loyalty mission though? I was literally crying about how much I loved her. (I have a lot of feelings.)
Whitney: I never really connected to Cora; however, after finishing her loyalty mission I was far more satisfied with the direction her character went than I was expecting to be. Of the humans, I latched onto Liam almost immediately, thinking to myself, “I’d love to just have a beer with this dude.” Then five minutes later he offered me a beer. Jaal is another character that I found myself liking quite a bit more than I was expecting. While he could have easily been another ‘woe unto me and my people’ character along the lines of Javik, he instead has offered a great deal of depth, compassion, and humor.
Merrin: Oh, you mean Jaal Ama Darav, aforementioned love of my Sara’s life?
Whitney: You know, I heard there is a threesome in the game, and I want it to be Liam and Jaal so badly it HURTS.
Merrin: Giiiiirl, you and me both. I don’t really want to get into what romances are available for which character because I feel like that delves into spoiler territory (other than my Jaal spoiler above), but do want to mention that the romance options are wide and varied and include same sex options for both Ryders. I like that the romance dialogue option is available for almost everyone, giving you the opportunity to test the waters. I also like that the romance feels more organic and much less formulaic than in the original trilogy. Instead of having preordained romantic scenes with the person you’ve flirted with the most, the loyalty missions become a part of your romance options with your crew and each is tailored to their particular interests, desires, or needs. Plus! They’ve introduced casual sex onto the Tempest, which is a mechanic that I felt was sorely lacking.
Whitney: I can’t wait to see how more of the romances unfold. It’s both exciting and intimidating that 30 hours in you still feel like you are only scratching the surface. I usually don’t attach high hopes to story in a Bioware game, because characters have always been their forte while the narrative is usually flawed and/or forgettable. But so far I’m overall pleasantly surprised. It’s more interesting than I expected, though also in some ways very familiar and safe. At this stage of the game I question whether we really need a good vs. evil trope to contend with, when exploring a new galaxy could easily bring enough adventure in and of itself. It’s like my big qualm with the rebooted Star Trek films: why does there always have to be a villain? Why can’t the conflict come out of the discovery of the unknown?
Merrin: Personally, I like that there’s an overarching story to play, and something that connects the planets you’re exploring. It also (NO SPOILERS) leaves the plot open for future installments. I know that I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who’s already achieved endgame, but I found that storyline satisfying to play. It felt like it had stakes, but nothing so high as the apocalypse scenario that Shepard dealt with. I think maybe “found family of friends tool around the galaxy clearing outposts for development” isn’t really a game fit for the Mass Effect universe.
The thing that bothered me about the story on the planets really harkens back to gameplay a bit. I got kind of annoyed just happening across tiny skirmish after tiny skirmish as I was clearing these maps. I missed the mission storylines of the original trilogy just a bit.
It was also nice to see how the choices you made throughout the game affected endgame, and that’s all I’m going to say about that for fear of spoiling anyone.
Thanks for eavesdropping on our conversation, but we’d like to hear from you! How far have you gotten already? Do you like rushing through new games to find out what happens (like Merrin) or are you more interested in savoring your first playthrough (like Whitney)? What hilarious glitches have you seen? Do you miss the power wheel? Who did you choose to romance? Leave comments below!
Whitney and Merrin plan to post a follow up review as the patches continue to roll out, so stay tuned in a couple of months for an update!