The Ties That Bind
ME:A is turning out to be one of the best games this year. When you cut out the bullshit complaints and rose tinted glasses (I went back and played ME 1-3 again – MEA is far superior in pretty much every way, except the mystery. More on that later.) it is a very well done game. The pacing for completionists works well – periods of intense action, followed by periods of conversation / relaxation – and you can jump in and out of each part at your own leisure. I prefer to do big sweeps of each (finish colonizing a planet, check in with my entire team, check in on the Nexus, back to my team, go to next planet) but I could easily do all of that in a short one hour play through in much smaller chunks. The game gives you the freedom to enjoy and explore at your own pace. There is no imminent or pending threat that would cause you to do otherwise, like in previous ME titles. Something happened on the weekend in game that made me love it even more. I am going to reveal it without revealing any plot twists, but there may be tiny spoilers if you can read between the lines and it could impact your decision making if you have this top of mind on this specific planet. That is my gentle spoiler alert, and I will have a nice picture next before explaining the gaming event.
Something happened on Kadara – well, two things, that made me nod my head in appreciation of great storytelling AND forced me to make unclear choices. First – heading into a conversation I finally had an “a-ha” moment where I was able to tie in a couple major plot arcs before it was fully revealed to me. I had sorted out a mystery that was, in many ways, right in front of me many times before that I didn’t quite connect with. Having that moment where it became clear made me smile and enjoy that this game has that much more to offer. I was finally getting ahead of the game, thinking about it, sorting through the mysteries before they were presented to me. When it was revealed in game I wasn’t surprised (and had a dialog option to indicate so, so it felt good doing that) but then I was forced to make two decisions quickly without having time to think them through. There are some “quick-time” moments where it gives you an option to do something with a fast timer – it is a yes/no option. I didn’t have time to fully think through the decision but i went with my gut. Before I had the chance to really reflect on that decision ANOTHER quick-time game play option came up and I quickly made a second choice. After they happened and the resulting effect of my choices were clear (which also would have been clear if I had had time to pause and think through) I felt guilt about the first and uncertainty about the second – I felt I had made two mistakes. They were mistakes I couldn’t go back on though, and my choices were mine – I would have to live with them. Maybe for years, if ME:A spawns sequels.
Of course, I COULD have loaded a previously saved game and made the other choice(s). I actually sat there and thought about it. I even went into spoiler territory to read on google what choice others made, but in the end I appreciated that I made those decisions and I should live with them and see what happens – preserve the game experience for myself. Not many times in many games do your choices matter. In Mass Effect Andromeda they do, and that is what makes it wonderful. The downside is that I am 60 hours into the game, and this really is the first time I was fully caught off guard. A few more of these moments would really enshrine the game as a RPG masterpiece. Perhaps if they had a few more of these kinds of moments earlier on in the game more people would have appreciated them before their reviews. I am being hard on it though, I didn’t get a single moment like this in Fallout 4, or other massive RPGs I have played. The expectation is just much higher, I suspect.
For every complaint I have read about the game there is such an easy counterpoint. I think the game is worse for people who were in love with ME 1-3 (which I was) because you are carrying the weight of 10 years of connecting to a title with 10 hours of a new launch. Yes, Garrus was my bestie too. In ME1 he was bland and mostly forgettable. In ME2 he got a cool scar and was a familiar face, and by ME3, after five years, two expansions, and 27 DLC packs with the Turian all I wanted was for him to have a safe and happy life in the Milky Way. It took years to forge that digital relationship, over hours of gaming, small talk, loyalty missions and what not. There is no way you can achieve this with new characters on a quick play though race to the end. I know I will have my ME fan card pulled for this, but the companion characters in ME:A are fantastic – better than the original ones in many ways, except the familiarity. That will come with playing through a trilogy. Vetra ME:A outshines Garrus ME1 in every way on a one to one, game to game, Turian to Turian comparison.
There are/were some problems with Andromeda, specifically the pacing – I think they could have introduced the Kett and the action in a far more suspenseful, memorable way, but compared to the amazing galaxy there is to explore and the story elements starting to shine through we have an RPG that is the tops in the series to date. I thought I was a fanboy before, but this game is just an entirely better experience than what came before.