Video Games

Mass Effect: Andromeda – Thoughts on Game Informer cover story

I’ve read the article a couple times now and thought I’d share my thoughts. If you’re not familiar with it, you can find much of what it contains here. Special thanks to @the3rdwalker for mailing me his copy.

The Premise

TL;DR version. Five ships carrying a shitload of Humans, Asari, Turians and Salarians venture out on a 600 year one-way journey to the Andromeda galaxy in the hopes of establishing a new civilization. As a player, you take control of the human Pathfinder. You and your team are tasked with exploring, exploring, and more exploring. Your goal, along with the Pathfinders from the other races, is to find worlds suitable for colonization.

The Andromeda Initiative departs around the time of Mass Effect 2, so  the events of Mass Effect 3 have not taken place and the Reapers are still mostly unheard of. The journey to Andromeda takes six hundred years, so whatever went down in the Milky Way is ancient history no one knows about or ever will because there’s no practical means of communication.

Andromeda severs itself very cleanly from the original trilogy while retaining the core races and technology we’re familiar with. I like it.

What I’m not so thrilled about is the apparent lack of other races, particularly as it relates to multiplayer. Volus, Krogan, and Vorcha are so damn fun. Geth Trooper saw me through my solo Platinum extraction. And Quarians… well Quarians are kind of bland actually, but it’s impossible to imagine the single player without them.

The Story

There’s great potential, but I remain mostly skeptical. We play the role of either Scott or Sarah Ryder, twin siblings who are the children of the human Pathfinder. At some point early in the game, we are forced to take up our father’s mantle for reasons. As a Pathfinder, we are explorer, scientist, soldier, and diplomat, waking up after a 600 year nap and trying to work with a small team to chart the uncharted and find a new home for humanity. That’s about as fertile ground for storytelling as you cold possibly have. What worries me is the debacle of Mass Effect 3’s ending and the mass exodus of writing talent from BioWare deep into Andromeda’s development. We shall see.

I like that they’re bringing loyalty missions back. That was one of my favorite aspects of Mass Effect 2 because it played in to what the series does best:  interesting characters and relationships. I also like that BioWare seems to recognize that it’s the characters that are the heart and soul of Mass Effect.

The setting is important. But it’s the characters that people love. It’s the characters that people remember…that’s really where it needs to start.-Mac Walters, Creative Director

The Setting

The possibilities are limitless. Andromeda is far larger than the Milky Way and we know very little about it, giving BioWare free reign to do whatever they want. A galaxy however, is not really a setting, it’s a container. The setting is wherever your character is or has been. It’s the people and objects you interact with along with the lore, science, politics, etc. that provide context.

The Tempest

The Tempest is your ship, and it’s probably the environment you’re going to spend the most time in. Visually, it hearkens back to the Normandy, but “it’s smaller and more intimate”. Not sure what to make of that; guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  The fact that they’ve eliminated loading screens, allowing you to move seamlessly throughout the ship is a huge upgrade. There is also a Pathfinder’s quarters which we’ll hopefully be able to customize. I’m actually more interested in that than character customization, which was apparently a major focus.

The Nomad

I’m in the camp of players that enjoyed driving around in the Mako, exploring the surfaces of exotic planets, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the Nomad. I’m not quite sure why they decided to make it a completely unarmed vehicle, but the more important thing is how it feels to drive. I’m quite pleased with how much attention they’ve given to improving that experience. One thing that really stood out to me was them talking about using the Nomad to traverse planets in a reasonable amount of time, and needing to give it a commensurate feeling of speed. Sounds like this could be a lot of fun.

The Planets

The bulk of our time in the single player will likely be spent exploring planets.

This spirit of exploration is the core of what makes Mass Effect Andromeda different from its predecessors. -Game Informer

Planets feature wide-open maps peppered with colonies, ruins, minerals, and other points of interest to investigate. -Game Informer

I’m cool with that. More than cool actually. I’m the kind of player that enjoys investigating every nook and cranny of the virtual places I visit. That is, as long as these places have a story to tell. I was never interested in No Man’s Sky because there just didn’t seem to be a story there. Anyway, I think this is going to be right up my ally and it sounds like they’ve really made the effort to do it right.

It isn’t about finding a handful of mineral nodes or nearly identical outposts; the team wants players to be pulled in several equally tempting directions. -Game Informer

There are combat-related encounters, puzzle-related encounters, narrative-related encounters, and a lot of things will happen that add more depth to the critical path. -Mike Gamble, Producer

I might need to invest in the extended power train warranty for my Nomad.

Gameplay

By all accounts, Andromeda takes the over the shoulder shooter formula we’ve come to love and makes it more fluid than ever. It’s hard to judge from watching videos, but I can’t imagine BioWare stumbling on such a foundational aspect of the game. There are however, some small changes that I think are fantastic.

Individual power cooldowns should add a lot more diversity to gameplay. In ME3, there were a lot of powers I never used because it meant not having access to something else. The potential to quickly prime and detonate your own combos should also be a lot of fun. (Yes, power combos are returning—woohoo!)

Sticky cover is no longer a thing. Thank the gods. That’s all I have to say about that.

We get jetpacks! It’s not clear to me if this is just a single player feature, or if it extends across all multiplayer characters. It is intended to make combat more dynamic and add a vertical dimension to gameplay. Sounds good to me; I can’t think of reason why this would be bad.

Destructible cover is being introduced. In general, I like destructibility, but if it extends to multiplayer, I think it might become real frustrating real fast. Late in a match, when shit hits the fan, is when you most need cover. If it all got destroyed earlier in the game, that’s going to make things extremely difficult. In the single player, you’re constantly moving forward into new areas, so not a problem. I’m reserving judgment on this one.

There is no more class system in single player. Essentially, you can reallocate points aboard the Tempest whenever and however you like. I guess this is good? There’s something to be said for picking a class and figuring out how to succeed with what you’ve got, but then again, it’s annoying to get 10 hours into a game only to decide you don’t want to be an Infiltrator.

The Paragon/Renegade system is no more. Good riddance I say. There were a number of times that my desire to be max Paragon influenced the choices I made. It was never a huge issue for me, but I’m glad to be able to play true to my heart without worrying about how it’s going to impact a stat.

There is going to be a crafting system. Meh. Very few games implement crafting systems well. I seriously doubt Andromeda will be one them.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer returns, and in much the same form we remember, which is outstanding because ME3 is my favorite multiplayer game ever. It is squad based co-op versus waves of enemies with various mission objectives. Also returning are equipment packs and the card-based economy. In addition to being able to select map, enemy, and difficulty, we will also be able to select modifiers like lower health or increased damage. Modifiers that increase difficulty will increase the reward and vice versa for modifiers that decrease difficulty. Modifiers can also be stacked, opening up a huge range of gameplay variation. This all sounds amazingly good. My biggest fear was that Andromeda would mess with the basic formula of ME3’s multiplayer and in so doing, fuck it up.

Some other changes include alterations to the prestige/promote mechanic to add more longevity. A third currency which can be used to bypass RNG and purchase gear directly from a rotating subset on sale. And an effort to promote more dynamic play, i.e., less camping. (Looking at you Platinum on Firebase Giant.)

Conclusion

I find myself much more hopeful than before the Game Informer article that I’m really going to enjoy Mass Effect: Andromeda. I don’t expect the story and characters to stack up to the original trilogy, but I think this will be a game I can happily sink hundreds of hours into.

//Familiar things that are returning: Incinerate, Shockwave, Singularity, Avenger assault rifle, Black Widow sniper rifle, multi-layered defenses (health, armor, shield, barrier).

///Andromeda is not being developed with the intention of building a trilogy around the Ryder twins. I think this is probably for the best. BioWare need to reestablish trust that they can provide a satisfying conclusion to a story.

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