By Courtney Kratz, Staff Writer
With the release of Andromeda, BioWare launches yet another ambitious title in the much-loved “Mass Effect game series. Set in the unexplored Andromeda galaxy, the player character, either the male or female Ryder twin, begins a pioneering mission to explore a new galaxy and find a home world for humanity.
As a much-anticipated title in the action-role-playing game (action-RPG) franchise, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” had a surprisingly contentious release. The game received scathing criticism prior to launch, particularly for its facial animations. The subsequent witch hunt for the BioWare developers at fault led to the sexual harassment of a female developer on Twitter, revealing the largely political motivations of a small portion of the fanbase and their desire to criticize the game for its progressive tendencies. While reviews have been mixed, many of the more critical voices are part of an ongoing legacy of hate towards “Mass Effect 3,” an otherwise critically acclaimed game reduced to the last 15 minutes of narrative content that failed to meet some fans’ unrealistic expectations.
Now that much of the original hate has died down, players have been given the chance to truly engage with what BioWare has been working on for the last five years. Introducing the player character, Ryder, in the shadow of Commander Shepard was an immense challenge that the developers managed to handle surprisingly well. Ryder is a well-acted and likeable underdog thrust into the role of Pathfinder, leader of the human arc responsible for exploring future home worlds.
This adventure is much more than exploration, and combat becomes the game’s most notable selling point. “Andromeda’s” combat is energetic, fast-paced and mobile. The new combat system is complimented by a flexible set of skill trees, which challenge traditional class-based RPGs. The player can pick from a variety of skills under the categories of tech, biotic and combat. Though players can only equip three skills at a time, they can change configuration and class profile in combat after a brief cooldown. This sandbox approach to character-building and tactics offers a new and refreshing facelift to “Mass Effect’s” combat system.
The graphics in “Andromeda” are next generation, using the Frostbite 3 engine’s breathtaking ability to render dangerous, colorful worlds in vivid detail. While graphics and design create a stellar science fiction atmosphere, the soundtrack was hardly memorable compared to the work of award-winning composers featured in the original trilogy.
While BioWare has successfully released a game true to its story-driven predecessors, they played it a bit safe, building almost exclusively off an existing galaxy despite introducing a completely new one over 2.5 million light years away. “Andromeda” successfully maintains the nostalgia of the previous games, but a new galaxy should also be an opportunity for BioWare to expand on its lore rather than rehash old galactic conflicts.
“Andromeda” also marks a continued, and often stumbling, effort to include women, people of color and LGBTQ characters. While BioWare has certainly made mistakes in how they handle minority characters, the developers have frequently attempted to reconcile these misrepresentations, and the attempt at inclusivity alone is more than can be said of most companies in the video game industry.
Multiple racial backgrounds are well represented on Ryder’s ship, the Tempest, and its crew make up some of Ryder’s closest companions. Characters carry much of the story content, and some of my best moments so far have been when engaging with “Andromeda’s” new cast. With vast personalities and sexualities, BioWare offers an inclusive, diverse set of companions to accompany Ryder on her journey across the galaxy. While BioWare has always been relatively inclusive with its romance options, the disproportionate number of lesbian romance options over gay options speaks to the fetishizing of lesbians and BioWare’s tendency to cater to its straight male player-base, despite claims to the contrary.
BioWare has maintained inclusivity in other areas, however, and I was pleasantly surprised at the number of non-white characters within the game. Many of Ryder’s companions and the non-player characters in the game’s general populous are people of color. Many of the authority figures within the game, from the Arc Hyperion captain to the leader of Ryder’s first colony, are people of color, a feature that is glaringly apparent considering most video games are populated by identical white man soldiers.
While certain areas could use some work, “Andromeda” is a mostly successful installment in the “Mass Effect” series. The game is incredibly immersive, and the role-playing elements do justice to the developers’ skill within the genre. The game is rife with morally gray decisions, and the overall narrative is impressively branching. “Mass Effect” has, and continues to be, one of the most well-constructed and evocative universes in the video game industry. BioWare’s focus on narrative, characters and overall writing quality is unrivaled.
Though rough around the edges, “Andromeda” is truly an original, exciting space opera adventure. The Ryder twins and their new squad of companions are young and untested pioneers of diverse origins in a brand-new galaxy ready to be explored by new and returning players of the “Mass Effect” series.