The past few weeks have been chock full of games that take up dozens of hours to complete. Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, Nier: Automata: all of the games stacked up from the past six months take oodles of time and effort, and I haven’t played any of them. I also haven’t played Mass Effect: Andromeda, but by golly that hasn’t kept me from absorbing an immense amount of information about it from Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media platform I engage in. I mean, you can’t even buy my industrial-grade MDMA on the dark web without running smack dab into listicles that tell me eight more tips for making the aliens love me.
I thought that I would share some of the knowledge that I have learned about Mass Effect: Andromeda with you so that I won’t have to suffer alone.
I had been stumbling through life thinking that making games was pretty hard to do. I’ve tried my hand at smaller things, and as a person working on projects alone I’ve always found it fairly difficult, if manageable, to make games. However, in the wake of Andromeda’s release, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who have patiently explained how easy it is to make a open-worldy role-playing game with a number of different mechanics and narrative pathways. Apparently you can just slam buttons in Unity to produce a fully-fledged, wonderful experience that’s loved by millions of people, and it’s pretty messed up (in my opinion) that the Andromeda team chose to take another route.
Way back when the first game in the Mass Effect franchise first launched, many people said that they hated the little space buggy that that game forces you to zip around in. Now, years later, the team at Bioware thought that we might be ready for it again. They thought we had grown up a little bit. They thought that a world of horrible traffic and nightmare crashes would get us ready for smooth sailing on new planets. They were wrong. Everyone in the Mass Effect player base hates driving cars in the games. Even in a post The Fast and the Furious world in which we all associate cars with family, people hate the space buggy. Think about that.
I’ve been reading and talking about games for a long time now, and about once a week I am forced to encounter a written or verbal treatise about “sweet graphics” and how “wicked good” the visuals of the newest blockbuster game are. I like games that look good. I like looking at these sweet, sweet videogames. Mass Effect: Andromeda finally delivered what so many people had been talking about for so long: realistic faces. People in this game look like people do in real life, and by that I mean they look, in turn, like stoic silly putty and goofy assholes. People make the worst possible faces all the time. The other guy I saw a dude with a haircut that I can only describe as “chicken hair” and a face permanently squished up like a prep school jerk from a 1980s film. That guy exists, he’s out there running around, and for some reason people think that the wide-eyed and wide-mouthed stares of Andromeda are somehow beyond the pale of day-to-day human relations. [Note: I, too, am a victim of sometimes-chicken hair, and I speak as a person with that affliction, not as a critic. I don’t have prep school face, though.]
This is completely true. The companions of the original Mass Effect trilogy had basically the same amount of screen time as Tony Soprano (from the hit HBO show The Sopranos), and because of that it is hard to imagine starting over with some new randos who we are all supposed to love and talk to the same as we did those other people. I mean, Garrus Vakarian is a cultural icon. You’re telling me that Joe Spaceship is supposed to replace my best space friend? Not on your life. Honestly, I have no idea how anyone solves this problem. Maybe every single character could have been the descendant of one of those original companions? Then you could do some future seances, talk to your old buds, and then you could probably do some other stuff with them. The kind of stuff that would never be allowed in our galaxy, but in Andromeda it would be totally fine because there’s no rules.
It seems like I run into some existential threat every time I try to play a space game about space people doing space things. It used to be the Reapers, but now there’s probably some Dark Monsters with Bad Energy who do Rude Things in this new space place, and I just get so tired of it. Why can’t I just go through pharmacy school and work a nine-to-five in New CVS? This is an old argument, but you’d think that the popularity of things like the Citadel DLC from Mass Effect 3 would allow us to start thinking about doing things in these games that isn’t just shooting enemies, colonizing new galaxies, and rolling around in a low-gravity golf cart. Let me manage a night club. What if I got to be the armory guy, and I developed a grudge against some alien, and I gave them a faulty weapon that got them killed? I mean, make me live with some guilt!
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.