Library Days 006: Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda has gotten a real terrible rap. I’m not entirely certain why; but maybe I’m biased because I didn’t much care for Mass Effect 3. Sure I loved the game mechanics, but the story, especially the final choice and its consequences, left me massively dissatisfied, and prompted a fan backlash so strong that fans constructed the elaborate and much more fulfilling “Indoctrination Theory” to make sense of their disappointment. I know these feelings well, I constructed my own, similar theory about Metal Gear Solid V‘s flawed ending, where I posited (but never shared) a belief that Venom Snake is a fugue state/alter personality of Big Boss’ to help make sense of how thoroughly diminished he was by the coma from Ground Zeroes.

Neither here nor there when it comes to Mass Effect Andromeda, a game that I played about 5 hours of, and found immensely more satisfying for both its scaled back narrative, and more nuanced social dynamics.

In some ways, Mass Effect Andromeda is the first true game that I’ve given the Library Days treatment. I was so pulled in by other games that I was sucked in and completed them a la a traditional review. With a new job, and getting ready to go back to school in the fall, I fell behind on both my play and Library Days journalling, but was actually playing the games in the manner that I had originally intended. Playing a bit, and then returning them early.

Mass Effect Andromeda surprised me in how much I liked it after the negative press. By the time I played it, Bioware had already patched at least some of the problems with the facial animation, and I found that I liked the initial cast of characters, even if I was grossed out by some early in-game nepotism that thrust you into the driver’s seat for leading your crew that could have been handled in a way that was more egalitarian or interesting than your dad just deciding you were suddenly the boss.

In Mass Effect Andromeda, you play as a Pathfinder, the leader of a colony ship of humans searching for a new home in the Andromeda galaxy after six hundred years asleep during transit from the Milky Way to a system that was supposed to have a new Earth-like paradise. Upon arriving, you find the planet’s environment corrupted, and your ship is smacked around by dark energy emanating from installations near the planet.

Mass Effect Andromeda takes the gameplay of Mass Effect 3 one step further towards an action game by making the action elements more dynamic (adding context sensitive cover, and a jump and dash mechanic) while keeping leveling RPG elements and character choice dynamics. Gone are the Renegade and Paragon options, replaced with options for responses based on earnest emotion, sarcasm, pragmatism, and uhh, was there a fourth? I can’t remember, I do remember liking the system a lot more having it not be based on whether your decisions pushed you towards one of two ethical extremes.

Perhaps one reason I like Mass Effect Andromeda more than its predecessor is that I had relatively low expectations. I had no expectation, for instance, that Andromeda be up to the level of the exceptional Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, which is a truly exceptional entry in the action RPG genre. What I actually expected was more of a tech demo for what Bioware is capable of using the current gen hardware, and the game doesn’t disappoint in that respect, with its sweeping alien environments and internal politics.

Mass Effect Andromeda is definitely a game that I would play again, though I probably would put other material ahead of it in terms of priority; a good rainy day purchase that I might wait on until the price is an easy buy.

Mass Effect Andromeda isn’t the only piece of media out there about human colony ships:

The Book of the Long Sun, by Gene Wolfe – The second series in Wolfe’s Sun Saga (following the Book of the New Sun series, the novel The Urth of the New Sun, and preceding The Book of the Short Sun series) takes place entirely inside a colony ship, where the people have reverted to superstitious beliefs about the world around them, induced by the creators of the ship. When one priest has a vision from outside of the pantheon of gods, he sparks a major change that has consequences for the entire society.

Pandorum (film, 2009) – The crew of a colony ship wakes up midflight to discover a message that the Earth has been destroyed, and they are the last hope of humanity. However, things aren’t what they seem, and the question of what’s real and what’s a hallucination from being cooped up on the ship reigns in this slightly silly mindbender.

Battlestar Galactica (TV show, original, 1978, and reboot, 2004) – After robots called Cylons, who once served humanity, rise up and destroy the human home planet, the remaining human population searches for a new home while trying to outrun their robotic pursuers.

Xenoblade Chronicles X – This Wii-U video game takes place after a colony ship crash lands on a new planet, Pandora, after the destruction of Earth. It features exploration of large environments and encounters with new races, as well as the continuing conflict with the aliens who destroyed Earth.

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