Mass Effect: Andromeda released last week and while I haven’t yet had the chance to play it for myself, it seems to be an intensely polarising experience, with some critics and fans outright hating it due to the lacklustre animations or boring side quests, while others love it purely because it scratches that particular Sci-Fi itch. My anticipation for the game had been growing as the release drew near, and even though my excitement was almost tangible, it was accompanied by a healthy dose of scepticism. BioWare do not seem to be the studio that they once were. The studio that brought us some of my favourite RPG’s in Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect. Indeed, the red flag has been raised during the development of Mass Effect: Andromeda, most notably due to some high profile departures from the studio, which affected their previous game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and which seems to be affecting Mass Effect.
One of the many criticisms I have been seeing since the review embargo lifted on Andromeda is the forgettable side missions, repetitive fetch quests and indeed even some of the characters and world building are cited as being subpar. The reason I believe BioWare are becoming a shell of the studio they once were is the departure of senior staff, the most notable in this case being Casey Hudson, who directed the original trilogy of Mass Effect games, and who left BioWare in 2014. From what I’ve gathered, the combat and exploration in Andromeda are fantastic, which I am happy about, but the combat is not what gets me excited about Mass Effect. The foundation of Mass Effect is the characters and the world building; it’s what made Mass Effect 2 one of the best games of the last generation, in my opinion. The characters then lent themselves seamlessly to interesting missions and, in the case of Mass Effect, loyalty missions which affected how your squad felt about you, and in turn how the main quest played out.
Take for instance The Witcher 3, a game which many will swear by as the greatest RPG, if not one of the greatest games, of all time. So revered is the Witcher 3 that it has become a benchmark on which to judge other Role-Playing experiences. In fact, there is a similarity between my experience with the Witcher and Mass Effect franchises in that the first time I played them was the third instalment in both series of games. I played Mass Effect 3 for the first time on the PlayStation 3, and I became engrossed. I had to find out more about this universe and so I bought the full trilogy on the Xbox 360. The way in which my decisions carried through from each game was something I had never seen done before, and indeed my second playthrough of Mass Effect 3 was immeasurably more enjoyable as I knew who each character was, and I felt a connection to them. However, having played The Witcher 3, I felt no need to go back and play through the first two games as I believe the narrative was so masterfully crafted and executed that it catered for new players. While I concede that I was confused by some of the more in depth lore, a quick visit to the codex was more than sufficient.
From well-established franchises to brand new IP’s, I believe the timing of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s release may well have been a hindrance to the game’s critical success. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is an early frontrunner for Game of the Year, and Horizon: Zero Dawn both released in the weeks preceding Mass Effect: Andromeda. While I do believe that each game should be judged on its own merits, releasing an RPG in the same lifetime as The Witcher 3 is bound to draw comparisons, while releasing directly after strong titles such as Zelda and Horizon didn’t help. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is considered by many as the greatest game of all time, and judging by the plethora of 10/10 reviews, Breath of the Wild is surely of the same calibre. While Horizon: Zero Dawn may not be of the same prestige as Zelda, the freedom and scope of the world combined with interesting characters and variety in quests makes for a truly breath-taking experience.
However, the reason I compare games of this genre to The Witcher 3 is not just because it is a fantastic RPG in its own right, but it also has some of the best value for money and replayability of any modern video game. Even the mini card game, Gwent, offers more enjoyment than some full price releases, while the game’s two traditional story expansions provided players with upwards of 60 hours’ worth of new content for half the price of the full game. The game even had 16 pieces of free DLC, which offered quests, character outfits and new beards for Geralt. The decisions players made as Geralt carried vast consequences across the world and the story of The Witcher 3, something which can also be said of the original Mass Effect games, however poorly the ending of Mass Effect 3 was executed.
It worried me when it was announced that Mass Effect: Andromeda was scrapping the Paragon/Renegade system, which allowed one to personalise their Shepard, making him/her seem more real. Mass Effect: Andromeda also removed the ability to have a set class, instead offering the player access to whatever class they want, whenever they want. While this could be interpreted as a positive, it removes some of the replayability of the game, as there is no incentive for me to start a new game with a new class and go down the respective Paragon/Renegade options I didn’t choose my first time around. Nonetheless, over the next few weeks I will no doubt be delving back into the world of Mass Effect as I still feel a strong connection to the franchise, and I hope that the long journey to Andromeda becomes a learning curve for the developers.