Mass Effect Andromeda: A bewildering voyage into deep space

With space exploration, it takes precise coordination and a little luck for everything to go right. Unfortunately, it seems BioWare may have forgotten the crucial details that made the original trilogy wildly popular when shooting for the stars and beyond in the series latest installment. Mass Effect Andromeda is the fourth title in BioWare’s space RPG franchise. With a butchered character creation, a muted soundtrack, poorly executed introduction into our protagonist story, Andromeda leaves several difficult hurdles for the player to get through before falling in love with the game again, or for the first time.

Houston, we have a problem

After investing many hours into Mass Effect Andromeda, in its scope and ambition, it is a good game but requires the player to overlook some ongoing issues throughout the single-player campaign. The story truly does get better the further you progress, but it is rather difficult to get to that when the opening gameplay leaves you disinterested or detached by key outcomes early on that should invoke a sense of investigation and concern. Fans of the franchise will instantly be thrown off due to BioWare diminishing features that made an immediate impact in the original series. The rough start does more to push you away instead of engaging you further into the story. For the uninitiated you take the role of one of two twins; Sarah or Scott Ryder, both children of former N7 military operative Alec Ryder, a Pathfinder on the human Ark Hyperion. The Pathfinder is a leader of sorts charting new galaxies for discovery so that humanity and other spacefaring races can find new worlds to cohabitate. At this point someone would say: ok great! You sold me on choosing one of two characters, which have ties to a father charting new territory in a distant galaxy. Unfortunately for BioWare, this is where they fail, because they forgot about their strength in the details.

Full disclosure when I played the original Mass Effect I created a female character. I went down the path of a renegade which was one of the most satisfying experiences I can remember from a game. From a story perspective, I wanted to create a female hero that portrayed the future of all ethnicities, fully amalgamated into one. She was a reflection of the unity our race has finally come to accept and embrace. The creative freedom that BioWare provided made it easy for the player to put together a Sheppard that would resonate. I was eager to play the game again, this time creating a male Sheppard who was more to my likeness, skin tone etc. since I wanted a different perspective and new experiences. From the opening music to the introduction, choosing my service history, combat skill tree, background development; this all gave me a sense of ownership. Each part of the customized character process leads me further down the rabbit hole of excitement and concern for the Sheppard I was crafting. Strengthening my investment in preparation for the choices I was going to make in an unknown fantasy world. The Immersion was remarkable. I have not played a single mission, yet I was already deeply invested; BioWare had me hooked. There was so much freedom to develop your character facial features, it was established early on that everything mattered.

One of the most rewarding gaming experiences in recent memory began with creating your own hero

Now in Mass Effect Andromeda, the customization is a shell of itself. The breakdown is as follows: You choose either a male or female Ryder who service history states they are mildly trained in combat, youthful in appearance. But the faces you pick from in building your created player look like seasoned veterans. Granted not every selection should be that of someone as young as the Ryder twins but consistency in storytelling is everything.

The next issue that goes even deeper is the lack of variety within the character editor, all from a company that understands and promotes heterogeneity. It is something that BioWare proudly pushes to the conscious forefront, so why provide a facial editor so mediocre to your diverse and loyal audience? Misguided attempts at  diversity through customization go beyond BioWare, but it seems troubling that in 2017 creating a character of African-American or African descent seems difficult to pull off; especially when it comes to hairstyles. Equal representation might not be entirely possible, but you can invest some money on more than two and a half hairstyles for black characters. Not only BioWare, but it’s time to put multiple gaming companies on notice, it’s 2017. It is inconceivable that there are only technically three legitimate Hairstyles for Black created characters to choose from. One of those three, the hair is balding with patches of hair missing, yet there is a bevy of other hairstyles for anyone with coarse/fine hair to choose.

How? Who or what is this, why are various black hairstyles non-existent. Its 2017…when will it stop?

At this point what gives? BioWare is the same franchise that made it its business to add a female Sheppard in the box art. Broadcasting fem shep all through the marketing campaign, showcasing its stance on recognizing the female gamer. BioWare has also wanted to retract from the typical over-sexualize female character tropes in the series, and beyond as well as become a studio that is more inclusive in its storytelling. Allowing the player to have options in their relationship opportunities, so no one feels restrained to forced heterosexual storylines. However, they still can’t figure out more than three black hairstyles or integrate more than one Black character face model into their game design, giving everyone more options? Come on BioWare you’re better than that. Again Not only are the selections to choose from limited when creating a hairstyle and skin tone, but the story enforces that your Pathfinder is possibly jovial even inexperienced yet the bulk of character models a player can choose from, look the opposite.

Progress continues in one department, but we’re still stuck on the Afro in the other.

This oversight immediately takes me out of the story before I have an opportunity to care. In no point in the original Mass Effect trilogy did I see the default Commander Sheppard as my character because BioWare did such a masterful job in allowing me to craft a Sheppard (in my case a female and later a black male) of my own. Andromeda is not that game; instead, I feel forced to choose a default character which is not how Mass Effect was ever intended. If you play the single-player campaign, you’re then pulled out again based on the writing, and the tone, when your Ryder responds to or question various events. Although I do not agree with the need to remove the hardline dialogue tree, I can understand the company’s decision as in real life there are more levels of gray than yes or no. Within that exchange, though, the proper tone needs to be distinguished, which again is painstakingly lost, especially early on. The original series made the player want to replay the game often because there were consequences for every action, where this regrettably has not invoked that emotion just yet.

Another writing flaw that takes away from enjoying the game is this overuse of calling Alec or Sarah Ryder a Pathfinder. Referring to them as a pathfinder ad nauseam seems to be forced rather than suggested. In the original Trilogy, the first game did inform you of being a Spectre, which is an important theme but you was always first Commander Sheppard, Human Spectre second. The choices you made will reflect on you as well as humanity as a whole (until you play Mass Effect 2 and realize Commander Sheppard is just a space cop with jurisdiction in one small part of the universe. No one cares who you are in another system). Nevertheless, In Andromeda, there is an obsession in reminding the player you are a Pathfinder. The word itself throughout the story is painstakingly overused. Regularly being called a Pathfinder at every turn. As if you are magically special in the Andromeda galaxy, even the choices presented to your Ryder are confusing in their overlap, further more the dialogue wheel can be conflicting in choice selection. Possibly to invoke the idea of being a leader or an eager student, which is not a problem if BioWare provides tone, but all lines of dialogue at this point feel the same. There is no distinction in what is appropriate for the flow of conversation. You couple this sub-par writing, forced dialogue, lack of investment in your Ryder looking like you and you’re left with Bioware peeling away all the feelings that were conjured up in the original trilogy. All the things that made you want to get lost in a galaxy far away.

Hey! You’re a pathfinder now! I know… how you think I made these rocks float

The last part, unfortunately, that MEA has missed the mark on is the music. Not because the soundtrack is not great, it’s just muted for vast portions of the game leaving each world to look beautiful but not have its personal audio identity standout. Music matters and the music in Mass Effect creates a remarkable atmosphere, one that you feel as if you were on each world looking for resources, fighting an unknown enemy. Every Mass Effect soundtrack BioWare produced I purchased because it summoned emotion reminding me of my character choices as if I was on Noveria or marooned on an uncharted world. Audio and Artwork at its finest to create a sense of voyage. Andromeda has some excellent textures and world designs, but by consistently disrupting my immersion, silencing the audio atmosphere, it becomes just another beautiful looking planet.

It’s all quite exquisite, but I need more cowbell

Overall everything in Mass Effect Andromeda is not world ending, as the multiplayer combat system are fluid and fast paced. BioWare will continue to implement new features, adding stages so their PvE component can have longevity, again the story does take the player on a voyage, but early on there is too much immersion breaking for the casually invested to want to be apart of. A loyalist of the series may endure, though begrudgingly appreciative as there are many missed opportunities to present the dialogue and game in a better way. Although Andromeda has flaws, it is still worth the purchase if you’re a fan of RPG’s or space stories, even though the facial animation in the cut scenes may not be able to be fixed immediately, there are other features that the developers can rebuild during the life-cycle of the game. Many can probably get over the created player being lackluster as opting for the default Ryder seems to work. Personally, I cannot because a part of the mass appeal for Mass Effect resides in the option to customize your character. This game is not Zelda, Final Fantasy or the Witcher where you cannot change your character’s appearance. In ME you are the director and creator of your story so you cannot lessen the freedom of selection/ options. Thankfully BioWare does listen to their supporters. There is still enough good in this game, to dismiss the notion that it is a complete failure. Let’s just hope the changes BioWare needs to address come sooner than later otherwise they’ll need more than a Mass Relay to get back home.

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