You would be hard pressed to find two Bioware fans that agreed on which of their games is the most iconic, but you can bet that Mass Effect would be high on both of their lists. One of their most well known series, the Mass Effect franchise has been heralded for both intensive gameplay and immersive, complex story writing.
As is the case for all Bioware games, the choices you make impact the story as it unfolds. Your actions in the game determine who lives and who dies in a very literal sense, and they aren’t isolated to just one game in the series. Decisions in the first Mass Effect have a heavy impact on Mass Effect 3, and that intelligent writing is part of why the series is so beloved.
Mass Effect 3 was the end of that particular story and fans were excited to see what the next had to offer in Mass Effect: Andromeda. And it’s also why so many were disappointed with the final product.
To understand the fan backlash to Mass Effect: Andromeda you have to understand the culture of the fan following. Some people may have disagreements about where it could have been improved on, but overall the original Mass Effect series is considered one of the best game series of all time. The world-building was mind-blowing and the level of interaction you had within that world was unparalleled.
In essence, it’s a hard act to follow. Fans went into Mass Effect: Andromeda expecting it to be as amazing, as the conclusion of a beloved series. And simply put, that’s an unrealistic expectation. But let’s start with the inarguable successes.
The character creator has evolved significantly from Mass Effect 3, giving you access to a broad range of custom alterations. You can change standard features like skin tone, hair color and eye color, as well as advanced tweaks like nose size and position, the thickness of your character’s lips and how sharp their jawline is. A favorite feature is the improved selection of hair styles, a complaint long-standing enough to have become a gag within the fan community.
Furthermore, the graphics in Mass Effect: Andromeda are gorgeous. Little things like the wind blowing through your character’s hair to the way your movements impact the sand or plant life around you as you run and jump around the landscape show the amount of detail that went into Andromeda’s creation.
The main criticisms of the game come in the area players expect Bioware to be at its strongest: writing. It’s true that at first blush the story here isn’t as strong as the original trilogy, but how could it be? It’s still setting up its world and introducing us to new trials and tribulations. Instead of a pre-established culture, one is being built by the settlers here. Andromeda needs a second game before we can really get a feel for how the writing is going to treat this new setting.
The array of character companions were also a source of contention. Immediately there was backlash over the issue of same-sex romances in the game, something that had been a staple in every Mass Effect game before. If you chose to play as the female twin, Sara Ryder, you had two female romance options within your companion group. But if you played as the male twin, Scott Ryder, you had no same-sex romances at all within your group of playable companions. The only two options were side characters, and their scenes combined amounted to less screen time than any one primary romance option in the game. Bioware later corrected this issue by including a male romance option for Jaal, one of your alien companions.
In the end there was plenty to improve on in Andromeda, something Bioware has typically done in its follow-up games. Look at the maneuverability of the mako in the first Mass Effect game compared to its utility later on in the series. The cancellation of story-related DLCs was also a major blow, and releasing novelizations of the Quarian expedition in lieu of playable content wasn’t their smartest move.
But the vitriolic, immediate and unforgiving wave of negativity that came after the game’s release feels more like a retaliation against Andromeda for not living up to the legacy of Mass Effect 3 than it is about Andromeda itself.
Should you play Mass Effect: Andromeda? A lot of reviews will tell you no. If you’re looking for a game that will keep pace with Mass Effect 3, you’ll be disappointed. But if you play it as a fresh story placed in the same world and enjoy the idea of exploring a brand new galaxy, you should have a good time. At the very least you should play the game before you decide it isn’t worth picking up. The Mass Effect legacy’s earned that much.