Opinion – Mass Effect Andromeda: What Could Have Been?

BioWare’s latest RPG epic Mass Effect Andromeda has been out for about three weeks. If you are reading this, you are probably aware of the splash-turned tsunami of memes and articles mocking the animations and opening act that people were able to access before the game launched.

Are the animations rough? Yeah, sometimes they are. Is the opening act of the game slow? Sure, but most RPGs do take some time to build up momentum. Just look back to 2007’s original Mass Effect for proof of that.

I’m not here to harp about these flaws. They have been written about in many previews, reviews, and opinion pieces. What I want to talk about is the sense of urgency, or lack thereof, in the game. Full disclosure: I’m not very far in the game. I’m still working on learning some of the new systems, and getting used to some of the unwieldy menus that fill the game. As of this writing, I just found out about the APEX HQ that lets you manage your strike teams on the go! It’s a neat app with some nice functionality. If you haven’t heard of it and are playing Mass Effect Andromeda, check it out. So this doesn’t contain spoilers for Andromeda, beyond how the game opens, but spoilers for the original trilogy are fair game, so be warned!

Mass Effect Andromeda (I will abbreviate ME:A from here on) starts in 2185 between the second and third Mass Effect game. In Mass Effect 2, Shepherd is killed and revived by the shadow organization Cerberus. Throughout the game Shepherd is working with Cerberus, and its leader, the Illusive Man, is the only person that seems to understand and be preparing for the Reaper invasion. In Mass Effect 3, Earth and the Citadel Council don’t seem to take the Reaper threat seriously until it’s happening. They then turn to Shepherd, asking for his/her help.

In the opening cut scene, we see humans en route to the Human Ark, the ship that will freeze its crew for 600 years and wake mission critical staff once they get to the new Galaxy. The game’s intro narration states, “Each bold leap forward was achieved by those willing to do anything to attain it. We are, all of us, leaving behind families, homes — the very birthplace of our species. Some for discovery, to see the unknown — others for a new start. But today, whatever our reasons, we take the first steps toward a new future for humanity. Today, we begin to make our dream reality. ”

MEAintro

This seems like a way to try to inspire the player with hope, like the way space travel is in our real lives. Imagine the inspiration when we first landed on the moon. That’s all well and good, but as a huge fan of the original trilogy, things are about to get very dire for all the advanced races of the Milky Way. I’ve read many reviews and watched videos of people’s thoughts about ME:A, and people generally don’t seem to be too attached to the characters. Players do not seem to care about them as much as in other Mass Effect games. I think this casual “we are going to Andromeda for funsies” attitude in the introduction to ME:A is the cause for the lack of interest in the characters.

Personally, I don’t think the Andromeda Initiative was started for “funsies,” since the Illusive Man is the only person that we know for sure to take Shepherd seriously. I can guess that maybe he had something to do with the initiative. Maybe, some other people took Shepherd seriously too, and maybe it gets revealed later in the game, since during character creation you can pick the gender of Shepherd. I’m looking forward to hear what people say about Shepherd in ME:A.

Next, let’s look at what the ships going to Andromeda are called. They are called arks. Personally, when I hear the word “ark” I think of the Biblical account of Noah’s Ark. In that story, the ark saves Noah and his family, and all the animals from the cataclysm that was the great flood. Note the word “cataclysm.” I would, without a doubt, classify the Reaper invasion, with intent to destroy all the sentient, technologically advanced races, a cataclysmic event. They could have called the cryo ships anything, but they purposely chose the word ark.

Own the Mass Effect Trilogy Today (backwards compatible on Xbox One/360)

Returning back to the intro, ME:A is setting out to be like Star Trek, going to Andromeda specifically to seek out the unknown. This could have been fine if it happened before Mass Effect 1, but we know the Andromeda Initiative was set between the second and third games. Fans of the trilogy and BioWare know the Reaper invasion is imminent. Why not capitalize on that? The Reaper invasion should have began right as the human ark is about to depart for Andromeda. The ark is spared, but the crew who haven’t entered cryo sleep must continue on their mission to Andromeda, because for all they knew, there was nothing that could be done to stop the Reapers. They are the last remnant of humanity. If they are lost or destroyed, the races could very well be extinct.

mass_effect_3end

This would have immediately raised the stakes for the game. You HAVE to find something or everyone is doomed. Having the golden worlds start off virtually uninhabitable would have been another quick punch to the gut, but in the game, as it is, it just comes off as merely an inconvenience. Sure, it is 600 years later. Everyone they knew is likely dead from old age, except for maybe some Asari and Krogan. However, seeing a large scale invasion with seemingly no way to stop it, and not just people you know being gone, but possibly everyone, and then having to deliver that news to the Nexus and the other arks. We know that something happens at the end of Mass Effect 3 and I guess the Reapers get stopped. The ending of Mass Effect 3 is such a disappointment that it feels like there was no resolution to the game at all, and there is even less of a conclusion if you hold to the Indoctrination theory. I personally subscribe to it because it makes much more sense if that craziness of an ending is the last fragments of thoughts of a dying, or near death Shepherd.

Returning to ME:A, I think this high stakes intro would have been a great way to amp up the beginning of the game, help players form an emotional bond with the characters almost immediately, and provide a sense of urgency. I feel like the game desperately needs this. Do I hate the game? No, not at all. I purchased the deluxe edition of the game for PC and PS4, and I play the game every chance I get. My thoughts here are in response to some of the negative things that I’ve read and heard about the story and new characters. Maybe some of the things I brought up will be confirmed or debunked by the game once I get there. Maybe they are going to bring their characters the dire news of the Reaper invasion in the next game, if there is an ark that left during the invasion. I can’t wait to get deeper into this game and I am eagerly anticipating any single player DLC and sequels to the game.

 

David Duncan is the co-founder of Synthaholics Podcast. You can catch him on Twitter.

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