Ten years ago, way back in 2007 we met Commander Shepard and embarked on a quest to save the Milky Way. By March 6th of 2012, when Mass Effect 3 was released, we would’ve spent a full five years in Mass Effect’s sci-fi universe trying to foil the Reapers plans to destroy the Milky Way Galaxy. Now we jump forward to today, in 2017 we’re hot off the release of Mass Effect Andromeda, which promised to deliver a new story with new characters in the unfamiliar Andromeda Galaxy. Reviews for Andromeda were divided, while most negative reviews spawned from a slew of horrid technical issues, I noted in my own review which you can read here, that I didn’t think some more polish and a fixed framerate could save the game for me. When compared to its predecessors, Mass Effect Andromeda feels milquetoast and uncompelling.
It may go without saying but expect mild spoilers for the Mass Effect series from here on out.
…still here? Great!
Where we stand now the future of the Mass Effect series is uncertain. While it’s probably safe to say that Andromeda was a commercial success, EA can’t avoid the less than stellar response to the fourth installment. Kotaku even reported that four unnamed sources close to Mass Effect developer Bioware confirmed that the studio would be putting the series on hiatus. With some time to breath in the franchise’s future, it seems like the next installment might not necessarily be a direct continuation of Andromeda.
While pretending that Andromeda never happened might be a confusing move, it might be for the best. “Why?”, you ask? Well, to explain that let’s start with the things that didn’t work in Andromeda.
Moving to another galaxy was a bold, understandable move. A jump into a new galaxy removed not only by millions of light years from our original setting but by 600 years made it clear that the story of Commander Shepard was over. Bioware’s prospect of a strange new world fails to deliver though, early hours show off strange rock formations and electrical storms, but just as quickly as things seem new and diffrent, you’re whisked off to a planet that might as well be Arizona. Beyond the boring planet design, Andromeda’s new races (the whopping two of them that exist) are painted pretty black and white. Here are the guys who shoot at you, here are the guys that shoot with you.
A few hours in it’s up to your Ryder twin of choice to establish first contact with the new friendly species known as the Angara, what should be a critical moment that Star Trek could be proud of is diffused in five minutes when a piece of tech immediately allows you to understand one another.
A new setting had promise. Instead, Andromeda gives us a galaxy that feels too similar to what we’ve already seen. As a result, the whole stranger in a strange land thing doesn’t work. We see more of the races we’ve already grown accustomed to that have arrived before us and already established a life. Ryder and company don’t feel like a discovery crew, considering Humans, Krogan, and Turians are already hanging out on these so called foreign planets.
Mass Effect Andromeda traded in Shepard, the blank slate protagonist that the player essentially built, for the Ryder twins. At the start of the game you pick which you’ll play as, Scott or Sarah, the remaining Ryder sibling will spend the bulk of the game trapped in their cryo pod. The Ryder twins don’t feel like the character Shepard was, in part, I think because they lack the totally clean template that Shepard has. Both Scott and Sarah Ryder come off as snarky assholes the majority of the time. Not to say that I didn’t make my Shepard occasionally snarky, but Ryder feels too fleshed out by the developers. I can admit this might be a pro for some players, for me, however, I liked that Shepard was who I made him.
The rest of the crew is nothing special. The reason the original Mass Effect trilogy had me so invested was I cared about the cast. The crew of the Tempest checks all the boxes, Turian, Krogan, Asari, but none of them leave a lasting impression in the way that characters like Garus and Dr. Mordin did. The best part of going on a mission with impossible odds is when the cast makes you care about them making it out alive. By the end of Andromeda, the crew still felt like strangers that I didn’t care about.
So what’s next:
You’ve heard me complain enough, so let’s get to the point. Where does Mass Effect go from here? I personally think the answer is pretty simple, back to the Milky Way. The ending of Mass Effect 3 is reviled by many, I personally think it’s fine. I mean, it’s about the journey after all and Shepard and company had one hell of a journey. No matter how you Mass Effect 3 ended fo you, it had some big impacts on the Milky Way. the biggest of which was that the Mass Relays no longer worked. Basically, everyone was isolated to whatever system they were in when the Reapers attacked. Even if we jumped forward in time and the relays were repaired, I’d love to see how that period of isolation affected the galaxy.
Beyond the relays, other events impacted the galaxy in a huge way, like Mordin curing the genophage. For those unfamiliar, the Krogan from Mass Effect had been plagued by the genophage making their females infertile. Mordin Solus takes it upon himself to cure the genophage in ME3. How would an increased Krogan population affect the balance of power in the Milky Way?
We need to bring back the Spectres. Early on is the first Mass Effect game, Shepard is made the first human Spectre. Specters are a big deal, they’re essentially soldiers of varying races hand picked by the citadel council to help provide galactic stability, galactic peacekeepers if you will. In Andromeda, you’re a Pathfinder, a human joined with an AI set with finding a new home for your species. On paper the whole thing is pretty cool, what isn’t cool is how Ryder becomes one. When your father, the real Pathfinder is killed at the games start he passes the AI to you, completely ignoring the chain of command. Being a Spectre felt cool because Shepard had earned it, being the Pathfinder feels cheap, and also Ryder is sort of a jerk about the whole thing.
Leaving the Milky Way felt like a cop out. Mass Effect ran away from dangling plot threads that stood to change the universe in a big way. Shepard’s story is over but that doesn’t mean the Milky Way’s is as well. In a best case scenario, I’d hope Andromeda could sort out its issues and give us a stellar follow-up. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to heading back to a familiar galaxy though.
It looks like Bioware will be taking a break from the series either way so only time will tell. It’s worth noting that my opinions on the direction Mass Effect should take may not align with yours, so let me know in the comments. Mass Effect is a great series that I hope will see a bright future.