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We’re about fifteen hours into the Mass Effect: Andromeda single player gameplay, and have some thoughts on the journey thus far. Andromeda is clearly a step away from its predecessors, and offers a new look that still feels like a Mass Effect game, even as it handles very differently.

WARNING: There are spoilers ahead through the first two key story missions (Eos, and the second Vault).

A New Facet

Much of the original trilogy was focused on combat–be you fighting the Geth in the original, the Collectors in Mass Effect 2, or Reaper ground forces in Mass Effect 3. Combat was a key piece of the gameplay and narrative, and kept the story action packed and action focused. Andromeda, however, changes the tone, stepping away from a focus on the fight and combat and replacing those goals with exploration and puzzle solving. Combat is still present, but feels less essential in Andromeda than it did in the original trilogy.

From its initial marketing, Mass Effect: Andromeda pushed the idea of open world exploration. True, it is possible to main line the key story missions and push through directly, but much of the breadth of Andromeda is missed without the completion of at least some of the side quests. Side quests provide XP and unlock new resources for the Nexus,–the hub of the Initiative–as well as new research projects and potential upgrades to weapons and armor. It also develops the Andromeda galaxy and the planets that make up the Helius cluster, providing the player with access to a wider galaxy to invest in an explore.

From a gameplay perspective, combat is still present with some upgrades, like jumping and automatically ducking into cover. They’ve streamlined the technical skills and weapon sets, making it easier for players to switch between gear and fight however they want to in the field. However, compared to the trilogy, the moments of combat feel fewer amidst the time spent traversing the terrain in the Nomad or scouring through Vaults. Combat takes a back seat to the exploration aspect, and really combing through the terrain is rewarded with AVP (Andromeda Viability Points), which help develop the Nexus and the new outposts Ryder sets up.

This shift in game play may be off putting to some players, especially as the sudden expansive world can feel distracting and overwhelming out the gate (see Dragon Age: Inquisition and the Hinterlands). Many players who expected a lot of fast-paced combat may be surprised by the slower narrative turns enabled by the focus on exploration, especially as it may take hours to progress through a main mission. However, even with these changes, Andromeda still feels like a Mass Effect game: there are familiar faces, familiar Council space issues and feuds to resolve, and the look and feel of the game echos that of the Mass Effect trilogy. Though the focus has changed, the core values of space exploration, the questions around AI, and of cooperation still run true through this newest installment.

Though Andromeda may not fit the more impatient player, it provides a different perspective on a universe known and loved by many. It may no longer be Shepard’s story, but Ryder’s story seems just as interesting, with that much more to explore.

A New Team

With a new game comes a new squad, and Andromeda’s holds promise. Down to a six man team to pick from, Andromeda features the humans Liam and Cora, the turian Vetra, the krogan Drak, the asari Peebee, and the anggara Jaal. They are as diverse in personality as they are in species, and it’s been interesting navigating a team that doesn’t see eye to eye on how the Initiative–and the Pathfinder–should proceed.

A few characters in particular stood out in our first handful of hours: Drak feels like an older, more grumpy version of Wrex, while Vetra reflects a cunning flexibility not seen in our interactions with turians previously. Liam’s overflowing optimism leaves us wondering how he’ll manage failure, and Cora’s resentment towards Ryder is palpable even as they try to work through their issues. Even the Initiative leadership is colorful, featuring the salarian and Acting Director, Tann; the human Colonial Affairs Administrator, Addison; and the krogan Superintendent, Kesh. Kesh is the level head of the group, and a direct balance to the political machinations of Tann and the paranoia of Addison. What stands out across the board, however, is how poorly these people get along.

In the original trilogy, the fight against the Reapers united Shepard’s team against a common enemy. When that didn’t work, Shepard’s charisma and leadership skills usually brought the malcontents into line. Andromeda’s Ryder lacks Shepard’s history and charisma, and is often overshadowed by their crew. The team outright bickers, bursting into arguments and even going so far as to cut Ryder off. Where Shepard brought a long, decorated military history to the table, Ryder has barely an Alliance record, and no leadership experience to speak of. The strong personalities on both Ryder’s team and the Nexus make navigating conversations interesting, and demand that you invest in their characters if you wish to unlock loyalty missions and/or try to build a sense of camaraderie.

The characters of Andromeda are both like and unlike their predecessors, bringing new interactions all their own to the table. From trying to deal with Cora’s issues around Ryder being promoted to Pathfinder over her, to engaging with Jaal’s direct, expressive nature, the cast keeps players on their toes and promises a new band of personalities for them to enjoy getting to know.

A New Hero

Ryder is no Shepard. Shepard was an N7, a decorated soldier with command experience; Ryder is a green recruit with a brief history with the Alliance that was ended with their father’s dishonorable discharge. Where Shepard brought a history of competence, Ryder is left floundering in the dark, and it’s wonderful.

The Ryder twins are in their early 20s when Andromeda starts, green as could be and struggling to keep pace with their N7, Pathfinder father, Alec. When he unexpectedly falls saving his child, he passes the Pathfinder title onto them, rather than his second,–and assumed successor–Cora. Cora has had training, has worked with Asari commandos before she worked with Alec, and is one of the most powerful human biotics we’ve met. She has the credentials and history to back her fit for the Pathfinder role–something Ryder sorely lacks. Ryder’s transition to Pathfinder is marked by a great deal of doubt and disbelief in their capabilities and Alec’s decision, especially as they attempt to coerce help out of the Initiative leaders and are met with firm disapproval. Ryder’s unexpected–and frankly, unwarranted–promotion also skews their relationship with their crew, as not everyone is on board. Cora in particular, harbors confusion and resentment, having expected to be lifted up instead of stuck looking after a less qualified commanding officer.

Where Shepard could shout down a room and bring order with a glance, Ryder flounders to corral their teammates, especially when tensions are running high. Not everyone gets along, and Ryder lacks the confidence (both in themself, and from their teammates) to bring everyone to heel. It is frustrating and awkward to watch, and that’s part of why it’s so enjoyable. There’s a clear delineation between Shepard and Ryder, between the decorated hero and the new recruit who is trying to make the best of it. Shepard was seasoned where Ryder is naive, and it shows in the way Ryder’s received and how their interactions are responded too. Ryder’s attempts at offering help and ‘saving the galaxy’ are taken for arrogance, lacking the weight to back up the offers with viable evidence that they can get the job done, where the same claims from Shepard were received with mostly positive responses. There is another great meta post that highlights this difference on Reddit, specifically in regards to Alec Ryder and his offspring: an N7 and the green recruit struggling in his wake.

Ryder is no Shepard, and that’s part of why we enjoy them so much. It’s a new challenge and a new story to be told, where we have to earn the trust and belief that we’ll get the job done as we progress through the game. We’re starting from the ground up in Andromeda and the change of pace from the days of Shepard is a delightful new perspective that sets a completely different tone for the path ahead.

Fifteen hours has barely scratched the surface of Andromeda’s vast galaxy. We’re just getting to know our squadmates, and have only touched a corner of the Helius cluster we get to explore. The game is vast, and I hope we don’t get lost along the way, but we’re excited by what we’ve seen thus far, and can’t wait to delve deeper into the new worlds Bioware has provided for us.

 

 

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