Personally I feel this season has been pretty poor, but there is definitely a lot of potential in this game
Positives: First of all, the zidane campaign was great in my opinion. It gave us something to do and something to aim for. Also events like Clair de lune, LLR and colosseum made it easier by giving players to those who didn’t complete it by then
Gauntlets: I really liked the gauntlets like scream, Boxing Day and thanksgiving. The ovr cap was good and the rewards were satisfactory for the time.
Events: LNY was probably my favourite event. Opening those lantern packs was the best part of the event. Tots was great in resources but 42 days was too much of a wait. Wt was good but the rewards were never worth playing for, I mostly just played h2h for “fun”
Negatives: Here comes the real deal, let’s start with the side of EA
First of all, I don’t want to offend Antwan but Amt had experience with the community and the game before he was appointed. Antwan came into the job not knowing much about fifa mobile and not knowing the community at all.
Incompetency: Lets just say that EA are a multi billionaire company and they can’t manage to have slightly decent servers and also they can’t manage to ban cheaters quick enough either. One cheater went live on Facebook and showed himself cheating in POTM, this should be an absolute humiliation to them, literally showing their incompetency live to users. Also it took months to ban the h2h cheater “karapence” who disconnected every opponent who was better than him, in order to get top 10.
Events: “Copy and paste” We’ve been hearing this all year long, from the start of Clair de lune to the end. Skill games, skill games, skill games. No change in format as they said it “adds dev time”
Icons: The ones hurt most by the sbc icons are users who run themed squads. Ea could release a bunch of icons in a month and you possibly couldn’t be able to get them all at once. Everyone would’ve preferred icons tradeable so they can buy whoever they want, whenever they want.
110 ovr unlock and perks: I feel perks could’ve been used for resources instead of taking it all the way to 400 chem. Imagine that even with a fully linked base team you can’t even reach more than like 200 chem. No chemistry or even 100 chem would have been fine. 110 ovr was completely unnecessary. 100 ovr is fine and shouldn’t be changed
Sorry for the long post.
Thank you if you took time of your day to read this. I have quit the game now but if it improves in the future some day(I hope) I will come back. Have a good day
While an incredibly young industry compared to its contemporaries, gaming quickly rose as a popular storytelling medium in the mid-2010’s. Games from the past decade such as 2013’s BioShock: Infinite
and 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
have been commercial juggernauts that entered the pop culture mainstream while also serving as icons for the industry’s presentation and narrative potential. Creativity in this arena is not limited to the linear storylines and cramped corridors of the modern shooter however, as open world role-playing games began to tell popular, engaging stories in their own unique way. Bethesda Softworks stands as an industry kingpin in this regard with 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
and 2015’s Fallout 4
. These games don’t tell a traditional story, rather engaging the player in the game’s universe through environmental storytelling and thorough worldbuilding, yet are ultimately thorough enough to derive satisfaction from while catering to a mass audience.
Despite these advancements, these games are far from flawless. The concept of “Ludonarrative Dissonance,” the conflict between a game's narrative told through story and the narrative told through gameplay
, rose to the forefront as a key issue in gaming narratives around this time. In Uncharted
, Nathan Drake is a carefree go-lucky adventurer in cutscenes and a pinpoint marksman who murders by the dozens in gameplay. In BioShock Infinite
, well-developed themes that tackle the concept of rebirth, power, and the morality of violence against “lessers” are repeatedly undercut but constant shooting galleries and excessive violence. These games contain player protagonists who are grounded to earth in the stories they tell, yet possess abilities far beyond some of the most talented special forces operatives in militaries the world over.
Also becoming a common complaint with gamers is a majority of protagonists being “The One,” a character often burdened with unique trauma or origins that always differentiates the player character from NPC’s. Bethesda’s entries into the Fallout
series are almost always centered around protagonists who are sole survivors of their time period or vault. All of these games also struggle with coordinating the way their stories are presented with the realities of the gameplay they provide. To the “Sole Survivor” of Fallout 4
, searching for their lost son is their reason for embarking on their journey. Yet despite this importance, the player will spend countless hours rummaging through abandoned houses and completing menial tasks for strangers.
These games are just examples, any half-decent fan of games can recognize the tropes from a mile away and can think of countless other examples. Certain games have tried their hand at fixing these issues to varying degrees of effect, but the average gamer simply ignores these issues as the cost of doing business to the point of becoming desensitized to it. There does exist a game, a forgotten entry into an otherwise notable series, that made attacking this common narrative failure head-on its priority and found decent success in doing so. A series in which narrative is the calling card, not an additional feature, and that previously leaned into these narrative tropes as the core of its foundation. While far from perfect, this game stands as one of gaming’s most impressive forays into tackling this narrative obstacle that plagues an entire medium, while correcting many fundamental narrative issues of its predecessors. Despite this it stands forgotten today, only escaping obscurity on rare occasions as a pariah, a meme, or a universally agreed-upon symbol of failure.
That series is Mass Effect
, and that game is Mass Effect: Andromeda.
After the release of Mass Effect 3: Citadel on February 21st, 2013, the Mass Effect
series officially entered purgatory. Such a concept is rare in an industry where a series almost never ends on its own terms, often rather falling into obscurity through poor installments or corporate mismanagement. The power of a name-brand IP is simply too valuable to pass up in an industry with such ridiculous overhead, and BioWare’s parent company Electronic Arts was not going to let such a series go to waste. With BioWare Edmonton focused on Mass Effect’s
fantasy companion Dragon Age: Inquisition
and eventually the much-maligned Anthem
, the foremost pioneer of the modern AAA singleplayer ARPG had officially moved on. As a result the future of Mass Effect
was placed into the hands of the young BioWare Montreal, created in 2009 as a support studio for Mass Effect 2
and eventually tasked with Mass Effect 3
’s multiplayer component and the story-lacking Omega
downloadable content pack.
Upon becoming the new caretakers of Mass Effect
, BioWare brought in new staff to bring Montreal’s capacity up to around 150 employees
, a 600% increase from its initial complement and three times the amount Montreal carried during the development of Mass Effect 3
. A few of these new employees were transfers from Edmonton, such as general manager Aaryn Flynn and the infamous Mac Walters
, lead writer for Mass Effect 3
. More notable was who wasn’t coming over, such as creative director Casey Hudson and Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for Mass Effect 1&2
. This meant that what pedigree BioWare Montreal had consisted entirely of gameplay and combat, an issue for a series in which narrative and character development had always been the premier focus.
Any attempt to try and retread the beat-by-beat of Mass Effect’s
original trilogy would only look ridiculous in comparison, Montreal producing Mega Bloks to Edmonton’s Lego’s. This meant dropping the Reapers, the Citadel, the Milky Way, and more in an attempt to carry over the essence of what made Mass Effect
so special while creating a future of their own. From this Mass Effect: Andromeda was born, and like the Andromeda Initiative, BioWare Montreal was about to embark on a 2.5 million light-year leap of faith.
ESTABLISHING THE ANTI-SHEPARD
By far the most daunting task in continuing the Mass Effect
series would be replacing Commander Shepard, the iconic player character and legendary figure both in-universe and in the gaming industry. Unusual for player protagonists in video games, Shepard is a character in their own right and operates both as an extension of the player and an individual with their own personality, the two rarely conflicting. Alongside Shepard’s immense popularity with fans, they’re also a legendary figure within the canon of the universe. Not only do both MaleShep
look like the dictionary definition of badass, but they’re also one of the most proficient soldiers in the Systems Alliance armed forces. Shepard is one of the few individuals who have earned the fabled N7 proficiency level
and is the first human Spectre, making him/her a hero of humanity. Attempting to recreate or one-up the idea of Shepard would be impossible, so BioWare Montreal took Andromeda’s player character in a much different direction. From this, the twins Scott and Sara Ryder were born. Note: Due to Reddit’s 40k character limit, I will restrict examples to those from the opening sequences of each game. This does not mean that they are necessarily the only examples, but rather an individual point that sets the tone for the rest of each game. Backstory Mass Effect 1
begins with Shepard at age 29 and already a notable Alliance figure (famous or infamous depending on the player’s background choice of Sole Survivor, War Hero, or Ruthless). While not to the extent of the later games, by this point Shepard is a celebrity to the public and has rapidly risen through the Alliance ranks, even catching the eye of the human ambassador to the Council, Donnel Udina. Shepard has already been through much in their life, especially with the Colonist or Earthborn background, and their personality reflects that. Shepard is hardened, mature, and resolute, brimming with experience and has gained the respect of their fellow soldiers and subordinates by default. The player doesn’t join at the beginning of Shepard’s journey, rather being thrusted in right before the apex.
Scott and Sara meanwhile begin Andromeda
22 years old and wildly inexperienced, youth everpresent in their dialogue and mannerisms. Right from the beginning the player learns they had begun very quiet Alliance careers which saw little to no action, Sara in peacekeeping and Scott a Mass Relay guard, before their father’s illegal Artificial Intelligence research blacklisted all three from the Alliance. This time around the player isn’t filling the shoes of a legend who’s already made a name for themselves, rather starting from the top in building a budding hero. Design
If there’s one term to describe how many games fall flat in developing a down-to-earth player character, it’s “words are cheap.” A writing team can say as many humanizing things as they want about the playable character but it won’t mean jack if everything about said character’s design contradicts it. Even if we may not be aware of it, factors such as attractiveness, body type, and voice acting play a large role in our perception of a character.
In order to combat this, Ryder was designed to subvert the image of a heroic character. An archetypal heroic male character will stand strong, muscular, but most importantly tall. The standard hero will usually have a height equivalent to nine times the length of their head, meant to contrast with an average person whose height would be equal to seven and a half heads. In direct comparison the differences between the stature of Shepard and Ryder are apparent.*
Shepard looks larger than life while Ryder could be indistinguishable from an NPC. While it detracts from the “power fantasy” aspect of many RPG’s, it grounds Ryder as a human character who makes mistakes, is inexperienced, and has a lot to learn.
Attractiveness also plays a role in how the average person sees other people, another stark contrast exploited between the original trilogy and Andromeda
. MaleShep’s default appearance was based off of Dutch male model Mark Vanderloo
, a mainstay on all-time hottest male models lists in various publications such as People. And while FemShep did not have a default appearance until Mass Effect 3, and even then was not based off of a specific model, it was chosen through a BioWare Facebook fanvote in which fans could vote on one of six appearances that would become the default appearance of FemShep in marketing and in-game.
I shouldn’t have to tell you that “being a source of attainable beauty” was most likely not one of the leading arguments for the eventual winner.
The default appearances for both Scott and Sara are far more realistic than were for Shepard. While still being no doubt attractive, Scott
in-game appearances are more subdued than Shepard’s and are more in-line with an average attractive person than an international supermodel. This is more important for developing Sara’s character in the eyes of the player, as studies often show that women’s appearance matters more for their perceived legitimacy
, although the character creator limits the difference in perception to the player’s alone.
*Note: this has nothing to do with numerical height i.e. feet and inches, rather solely having to do with proportions. This image was taken from a thread attempting to portray this design choice in a negative light. Voice Acting
A staple of Mass Effect
has always been outstanding VA work and that general concept continues here. Important secondary characters seem to be more hit or miss, such as the entire Nexus leadership group, but everyone on the Tempest gives a good performance, especially Ryder’s. The most important part of Ryder’s voice is the distinct lack of assertiveness and stoicism, appropriate given Ryder’s age and experience. It’s a stark departure from Shepard, always cool under fire and with a voice timbre that would fit in delivering Shakespearean monologues on stage. Let’s listen to the difference between Shepard’s response to being made Spectre and Ryder’s response to being made Pathfinder (a parallel that Andromeda
repeatedly attempts to beat you over the head with) Mass Effect 1 Andromeda
Mark Meer’s performance exudes sheer confidence and determination. It’s a fair approach to the situation, not only because Shepard’s entirely correct but also because he has the resume to back it up. Shepard is an established hero of the Alliance and a formidable soldier, why not him for the first human Spectre?
Tom Taylorson on the other hand portrays a Ryder who is unsure about being granted so much responsibility, reinforcing the facts of Ryder’s background to that point. Players had just finished the opening level on Habitat 7, one of the more difficult tutorial levels in games. It’s not necessarily because of the intelligence of the AI but Ryder’s lack of competence. With no skill points invested yet, Ryder has only the weakest intro power (I always play as an Adept, so I started with the basic version of Throw: an essentially pointless power without Pull or Singularity to prime biotic combos) and any sustained fire from his assault rifle has to be kept in bursts to stay on target. He’s young, an Alliance reject, and most likely had never seen live combat to the intensity of the opening level on Habitat 7, if it all. By all means it should not be him inheriting the mantle, but it is. Presentation
Another well-executed aspect of Ryder’s character is the way the player is introduced to the initial conflict of the game. When Andromeda
was announced in a trailer at E3 2015
, it was immediately assumed that the then-unnamed N7 operative initially shown would be the playable character. A completely fair assessment of course, given that it’s a designation shared with Shepard, but much discussion and confusion arose when it was stated by BioWare that the character shown was not the main character. The fundamental idea of N7, both in-universe and among Mass Effect fans, is that of utmost strength and talent. How could we possibly not play as an N7 operative if he’d be the most talented soldier in the game?
Like the idea of N7, the opening ten minutes of Andromeda
borrows directly from the original trilogy while turning the very core of the concept on it’s head. Both Andromeda
and Mass Effect 1
begin the same way: character creation -> background explanation (though this is still done in the character creator of ME1) -> introduction to main character as they walk through a ship to the bridge. It’s a great way to introduce the surroundings and establish characters, but there’s one key difference in the way the protagonist is framed between the two. Mass Effect 1 Andromeda
As the camera follows Shepard on the Normandy, he commands respect from everyone he encounters, equally from his status as ranking officer to everyone except Captain Anderson (and Nihlus as he is not a member of the Alliance obviously) as well as his reputation. The situation is calm, under control, and ends upon arrival to the bridge with a classic “hero shot”, a shot framed upwards toward the character to give off a feeling of power as he looks majestically off into the distance.
When Ryder arrives at the Hyperion’s bridge, he’s at the exact opposite of the totem pole. He’s not acknowledged by any of the crewmen, frantically scurrying around trying to handle the situation, and Captain Dunn doesn’t even seem aware of his presence. Then, Alec Ryder emerges from stage left and is the subject of the exact same shot reserved for Shepard from ME1, only this time Ryder Sr. is looking out at impending catastrophe instead of a positive test. The way Cora responds to either Ryder speaks volumes: she disagrees immediately with Ryder Jr.’s statement of the situation (and makes it known) whereas immediately snaps to attention when Ryder Sr. speaks to her in the same resolute timbre that Shepard would have. Make no mistake, we would be playing as Alec Ryder instead of Scott had he not perished on Habitat 7.
INTEGRATING RPG PROGRESSION AND NARRATIVE
Making out Ryder to be a dope isn’t just an attempt to humanize them, but rather to reconcile the very nature of a role-playing game with progressive skill trees. Ludonarrative dissonance isn’t an issue that only pertains to thematic difference between narrative and gameplay, but also how a character is presented in both narrative and gameplay. This is perhaps the biggest narrative issue that RPG’s, and specifically the Mass Effect
trilogy, struggle with to the point that it is merely handwaved by players as “the way it is”.
In Mass Effect 1
, we’ve already established that Shepard is one of the most talented soldiers in the Systems Alliance. So why is it that when we gain control of Shepard they don’t have any basic skills that would imply that? Upon landing on Eden Prime, an Adept Shepard (noted to be one of the most powerful human biotics, who can spike higher with their L3 implant than the more powerful L2’s as equipped by soldiers such as Kaidan Alenko)
does not have any advanced talents at their disposal. They cannot produce a Lift or Singularity, can’t sustain pistol fire for more than a few consecutive shots without becoming wildly inaccurate, and cannot encase themselves in a mass effect Barrier, all standard biotic and combat abilities that Shepard’s lesser enemies have. As a player, we understand that this is simply the nature of an RPG. In-universe, it’s laughable.
This is where Andromeda’s
choice of an inexperienced protagonist reconciles this issue with it’s narrative. Ryder has innate potential as a soldier, being the child of an N7 operative and having been taught tactics and combat by their father using many of the same concepts, but cannot display this yet due to their complete inexperience in live-fire situations. As the player engages in combat encounters and gains experience points, they advance along with Ryder as their combat experience combined with their training enables them to become a better soldier.
Implementation of this idea goes further than simply coordinating Ryder’s own progress with the player’s. Ryder’s experiences in combat allows the player to upgrade their abilities at will, specializing in abilities that won’t necessarily be learned through simple exercises. (i.e. a Vanguard prioritizing in Combat and Biotic abilities can put experience points into Overload, a completely unrelated Tech-based power) This is where the introduction of SAM, an Artificial Intelligence each Pathfinder has implanted, allows for both elevated gameplay and better combat-narrative integration.
UTILIZING FREE-FORM GAMEPLAY THROUGH SAM
One of Mass Effect’s
greatest successes in the original trilogy was both the quality and quantity of it’s party members. Reaching a number as high as twelve in Mass Effect 2
, each party member is a unique character in and of themselves and offers fascinating perspectives on the game’s universe while also usually providing unique combat applications. With such a breadth of squadmates to choose from, you should be able to rotate between them as you see fit to get the maximum amount of dialogue and character development from them, but unfortunately the nature of Mass Effect’s
gameplay loop restricts this.
The core tenet of Mass Effect’s
combat philosophy is its rock-paper-scissors formula of applying unique powers in the fields of Combat, Tech, or Biotics. The player can choose a class that focuses on one of these specialties or a weaker combination of two, but never all three. These powers are more than mere eye candy; they affect how the player and their squad take down various enemies. High-level enemies with kinetic shields have an initial health bar that is resistant or invulnerable to slow-firing weapons, combat powers, and biotic abilities but is vulnerable to tech abilities such as Overload or rapid-fire weapons such as submachine guns. Enemies that utilize Armor meanwhile are resistant against tech and biotic powers, yet are susceptible to both high-capacity and high-damage weapons as well as combat powers such as Concussive Shot.
This matters because a player on high difficulty levels will find themselves running with the same squadmates throughout the game due to necessary powers complementing their class, even if it might detract from the narrative of certain missions. This is essentially damning during some of Mass Effect 2’s
loyalty missions, a popular narrative mechanic brought back in Andromeda
, in which a character will be required for their story leaving only one party member choice for the player. In the loyalty mission A House Divided
, Legion is a required party member whose powers lie solely in the tech arena. This means that an Engineer Shepard playing on higher difficulties will be forced to bring along a character like Garrus, whose Concussive Shot and Armor-Piercing Ammo will be critical for dispatching the Armor of Geth Primes. However, this means that the player will not be able to bring Tali as a party member, who has a wealth of unique dialogue from her people’s complicated history with the geth, because all three’s focus on tech leaves them lacking in the other two arenas. Mass Effect: Andromeda’s
solution is to put more gameplay focus on Ryder instead of their squadmates, but how to do this without retconning the nature of Mass Effect’s
SAM, or Simulated Adaptive Matrix, is an in-universe artificial intelligence implanted in Ryder’s head which allowed BioWare Montreal to correct these common complaints of the original Mass Effect
trilogy without breaking the universe’s internal canon. Through SAM, Pathfinders in the Andromeda Initiative can utilize unique profiles, changing even during combat, that allow them power and recharge boosts on specific talents. There are seven profiles to choose from, the six classes from the original Mass Effect
trilogy and a seventh named “Explorer” that gives boosts in all three arenas. Profiles allow a player to be able to bring up various power combinations to deal with specific arenas without restriction. For example, an Engineer profile that focuses on tech bonuses does not restrict the player from having one or two biotic powers equipped additionally.
For the player, the aid of an AI allows them to add points in skill trees that belong to any of the three power arenas and to use them simultaneously. As an Adept who enjoyed exploiting biotic combos with powers such as Lift/Pull and then Throw/Warp, I always had to make sure I carried a tech-focused squadmate in the original trilogy for their use of Overload on enemies with kinetic shields, one of the most common high-level enemy types in the game. In Andromeda
, I can still focus on biotic powers while also being able to put points into Overload, allowing Ryder to be equipped to handle most common enemies themselves.
Running an Adept profile with the powers Lift/Overload/Throw allows Ryder to handle any enemies with one or multiple of health, barrier, and shield bars. However, this still leaves Ryder susceptible to Armor focused enemies, in which two button clicks (without ever leaving gameplay for the pause menu) allows them to switch over to a Soldier profile focused on combat powers. My Soldier profile uses the powers Concussive Shot/Flak Cannon/Omni-Grenade, which dispatches large armored enemies with relative ease. This gameplay feature is somewhat offset by all powers beginning with a full cooldown upon a Profile change, but tactical planning and creative use of cover can allow Ryder to survive this brief period and continue the engagement.
The renewed focus on the player allows Mass Effect
to finally shake all remnants of BioWare’s turn-based roots in favor of fully realized real-time combat. The surprise of coming across a substantial sub-boss or boss in the original trilogy would be negated by accessing the power menu, allowing the player time to think and plot out the best course of action with gameplay frozen in time. In Andromeda
, the player is forced to think on their feet which increases the potential for failure but also increases critical thinking and satisfaction upon dispatching a talented foe. It also allows for free use of squadmates, as their powers and abilities are now relegated to support instead of becoming crucial for certain combat applications. This is key with the introduction of the Angaran, Jaal Ama Darav, the only squadmate native to the Heleus Cluster. With two of Andromeda’s
main open worlds taking place on Angaran civilized worlds, having Jaal in Ryder’s shore party offers a wealth of insight into the worlds of Voeld and Havarl, as well as offering unique dialogue and paths for many side effects regarding the Roekarr and Resistance, two Angaran factions in Andromeda. In the original formula of Mass Effect
player classes, Jaal would be a redundant squadmate for many Soldier and Infiltrator Ryder builds with his focus on combat and tech powers. With the revamped Andromeda system however, the player deals with few negative consequences in gameplay with his inclusion as a possible permanent fixture.
RECONCILING THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN MAIN AND SIDE QUESTS
Another oft-criticized aspect of the original Mass Effect
trilogy is the dissonance between the importance of the main quests and the abundance of side quests that all demanded Shepard’s attention. All three games have main plot lines that, according to the story as it’s told to the player, will have dire consequences if Shepard does not pursue them as fast as possible. This is at odds with the very nature of a non-linear RPG like Mass Effect
, which contains a wealth of side quests that levels up the player character and offers insight into the narrative. This is especially present in Mass Effect 2
, where the Collectors attack human colonies left and right yet story-progressing missions are incentivized to be held off so that Shepard can attend to the loyalty missions of their squadmates, all of which are crucial to getting the best ending. This is another narrative pitfall of almost every open-world role-playing game on the market that Andromeda
As Pathfinder of the Andromeda Initiative, Ryder’s purpose in the Heleus Cluster is to complete missions and objectives that raise the potential for habitability on individual worlds. There are three open worlds for Ryder to roam around in at the beginning of the game in which the main quest is
to complete side quests that contribute to creation of settlements. These side quests range from thoroughly developed combat engagements to fetch quests that bring the player to previously unexplored parts of the map, and usually contribute to planetary viability with some correlation to the quality of the mission structure. A player who has no interest in fetch quests can still reach a suitable planetary viability number for story progression, yet a completionist is accurately rewarded for doing side quests by increasing loot and bonuses that come with a highly-viable planet.
Around 15-30 hours into the game this pretense falls as the true main quest becomes apparent, but the player character will not have sufficient XP to reach a baseline-acceptable quality of powers for Ryder. Players who wish to pursue the main quest are free to do so and continue progressing the story and unlocking of worlds, but are also free to continue improving planetary viability as the importance of the main quest does not truly override Ryder’s importance as Pathfinder. Sure, a Ryder concerned for the struggles of the Angaran people may feel that this takes precedence, but this is a subjective opinion and contrasts with the stated goals of a Pathfinder. Nonetheless, the freedom to complete side quests at will is a breath of fresh air in a genre where any time spent on incredible side stories means guilt for not progressing the main story.
FAILURES IN APPLICATION
Despite all this, the reception of Andromeda
ranged from mixed to negative upon its release. Widely mocked by fans, general gamers, and critics alike, Andromeda
placed the Mass Effect
series into an indefinite purgatory at EA. BioWare Montreal was shuttered upon release, a majority of its employees laid off with the rest relegated to support roles on Anthem
and The Old Republic
. Planned downloadable content involving a Quarian Ark was relegated to a plotline in a tie-in novel, and the series has been on hiatus with no confirmed reports of a future in either a sequel to Andromeda
, the original trilogy, or a remasteremake. While an inordinate amount of criticism was unduly placed on tertiary features such as facial animations or galaxy map loading screens, the amount to which Andromeda
became a laughing stock required deeper issues within the intrinsic design of the game itself. Let’s take a look at where some of these well-meant features fell flat. THEMATIC DISSONANCE BETWEEN STORY AND GAMEPLAY
does get credit for reconciling the importance of main and side quests, it still fails to attack the core of what makes ludonarrative dissonance such an issue in games: the thematic applications. This is an aspect of the original Mass Effect
trilogy that is far superior. The core motif of the trilogy as told to us by the ME3 ending, the nature of conflict between organics and synthetics, can be seen in all three games through the eyes of the Quarian/Geth War. Sub-themes of transhumanism and artificial intelligence have both sides offered up and explored (before
the final fifteen minutes contrary to popular belief in missions like A House Divided
and Priority: Rannoch
), leading to a semi-legitimacy in the Reaper’s main goal of cyclical extinction. Another primary storyline of the trilogy, the genophage and it’s ethical consequences, is explored through both gameplay and story equally. Old Blood
, Mordin’s loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2
, contrasts the Salarian STG’s theoretical prediction model of what a modern Krogan empire might
do with the realities of their attempt to defend against it. The Genophage was meant to keep the Krogan’s violent ways from spreading throughout the galaxy, yet Shepard has to continuously fight them as their impending doom and lack of hope leads them to selling themselves into mercenary service. Hope, as Shepard tells the Catalyst in the final moments of Mass Effect 3
, is one of the defining characteristics of organic life. Thus, the genophage unintentionally cements the Krogan’s status as the violent killing machines the STG was attempting to prevent.
None of this deft application of themes is found in Andromeda
. The Kett, the main enemy type of Andromeda
, offers little more than a faceless baddie for Ryder to mow down endlessly without intruding into the player's conscience. Upon reveal of the kett’s true nature as repurposed Angaran’s there is potential to explore the ethics of the war against the kett. However, Andromeda
states repeatedly to the player in no uncertain terms that no aspect of the Angara remains in their new Kett DNA and that Ryder is free to continue gunning them down by the dozens.
Other themes such as exploration and new beginnings either only work on through metacommentary on the state of BioWare Montreal or surface-level concepts. The Archon is mostly a one-note baddie, a departure from the original trilogy in which arguably the most popular ending is a concept shared with Mass Effect 1’s
villain. Consequences are also nowhere to be seen, although that’s a harder point to definitively argue since the ending clearly implies a willingness to continue the story in future installments like prior games in the series.
Regardless, very little of the themes that Andromeda
tries to explore come through in gameplay. Sure, the core idea of the game is exploration and the open-world and use of the Nomad allows for seeing the worlds of Heleus, but nothing hits you with the same weight as what players experienced in the original Mass Effect
trilogy. This is the key issue which plagues other strong titles such as Uncharted
, and because Andromeda
does a good job at subverting the smaller characteristics of the issue does not mean it gets credit for the whole. ONE-NOTE CHARACTERS AND DOWNPLAYED STAKES
A Mass Effect
game is absolutely nothing without strong characters, and Andromeda
falls short in this regard. While many characters have unique personality traits and identifiers the player can associate them with, this is commonly mistaken for good character development. Jaal is an outlier in this regard, offering a complete and satisfying arc from beginning to end covering his acceptance of his people’s origins and fate with the kett as well as adapting to new life in Heleus. The rest of the Tempest crew varies from boring to aggressively unlikable and many don’t change all that much throughout the course of the game. Nakmor Drack gets by on his likability, but characters like Liam and Cora are beyond annoying and offer little insight into the overall Mass Effect
universe that made characters like Javik or Ashley bearable.
Additionally, the side effect of streamlining an open-world level design with a story required of a Mass Effect
game is one that has small or unimportant stakes. The overarching Reaper narrative of the original Mass Effect
trilogy made them the page-turners of video games; every second you aren’t playing them is an additional second you’ll have to wait to find out what happens next. There’s just not that same sense of urgency in Andromeda
, making it easier for the game’s driving force to fizzle out for the player once they entire their 40th, 50th, 60th etc. hour in a playthrough.
As a result, the Tempest feels like the kids table at Thanksgiving as compared to the Normandy down the hall where all the adults sit. Whether or not it’s fair to compare the two is irrelevant as Andromeda
is ostensibly a Mass Effect
did not release in a vacuum, and to assume so would be analyzing it on incorrect information. It’s still no doubt worthy of the name, but is hard to not be seen as falling flat in light of its predecessors. RPG’S AS A POWER FANTASY
While there is a subsection of dedicated gamers that favor story-gameplay integration, there is a much larger group of casual gamers who enjoy games in the RPG genre for their status as power fantasies, thematic cohesion be damned. Commander Shepard in the original Mass Effect
trilogy barely resonated as an issue with RPG structure to many, rather seen as a vehicle for wish fulfillment. No doubt aided by a complex character creator and wealth of dialogue options that enable deep immersive role-playing, the average person doesn’t want to go to a whole new galaxy in a vast science fiction universe to play as someone who is, well, average. As an avid reader and contributor to Mass Effect
discussion boards, many people pine for the return of the badass Commander Shepard who could rally any soldier to his side through charisma and the disposal of the dopey Scott/Sara Ryder who can’t even command respect in post-mission debriefs. While this line of thinking could inhibit the potential of gaming as a narrative vehicle, gaming is
at its core a commercial medium. Unlike books or movies which can be made for pennies, any AAA game requires a multi-million dollar investment even to begin with. As a result, catering to the common denominator becomes more and more important the wider the scope of a game is.
SAM is another pervasive issue in regards to this as a side effect of its overall intentions. While SAM provides an in-universe reason for someone other than “the ultimate badass” being the playable character, it undercuts this same idea by acting as a deus ex machina. One of the core ideas behind Ryder not being “the One” is because his status on the Pathfinder team is really only because of nepotism, many traits of being an N7 operative might be genetic, sure, but Ryder is supposed to be someone who rises to challenge because of his situation, not regardless of. Instead, SAM becomes an all-encompassing “this is why Ryder is able to do these extraordinary things” regarding the Remnant and Ryder’s combat capabilities. Furthermore, there isn’t enough work done to separate the idea of SAM and Ryder in the eyes of the other characters in Andromeda
and Ryder loses the aspects of what makes him a relatively ordinary individual. As a result, many of the archetypal qualities that make player characters unoriginal still apply while also undercutting the power fantasies that make those same protagonists popular.
CONCLUSION Mass Effect: Andromeda
is often painted as the image of failure in the video game industry, an icon of what happens when you attempt to extract more life out of a series or IP when there's none left. This couldn't be more incorrect. It's a continuation of the Mass Effect
series that builds on the foundation of what made its predecessors unique and special to so many people, while attempting to correct certain pitfalls that kept those same extraordinary games from reaching their true potential.
Any discussion about this game is often surface-level, arguments in favor of it from a game design or metanarrative perspective often dismissed with wisecracks relating to "mY fAcE iS tIrEd" or the uncanny valley of it's Day 1 facial animations. It's because of this deeply-rooted meme status of Andromeda
that people refuse to delve deeper into what it did right, likely stemming from a common fallacy of modern game criticism where nitpicking tertiary elements counts as insightful analysis.
There is plenty to learn from Andromeda
, both as a guideline for improving the way narrative in games are handled as well as the improved execution of role-playing elements within a story. No game is perfect, Andromeda
and the Mass Effect
series far from exempt in this regard, but that doesn't mean that there aren't positive elements to that which we've dismissed. Scott and Sara Ryder, along with SAM and the story of Andromeda
, are a pillar in which the future of video games as a storytelling medium can be built upon. And for that, BioWare Montreal has been successful in leaving their mark on a series that many people hold near and dear to their hearts.