There’s a great image from last year, when the internet was flipping out over No Man’s Sky.
It was seven simple words: “I do not know what I want.”
It wasn’t an actual review, but a Chrome extension parodying the people who spend tens, even hundreds of hours playing a game only to bitch about it afterwards.
I’ve often wondered: how do you play a game for so long without enjoying it? Wouldn’t you just quit?
It wasn’t until I came close to the end of Mass Effect: Andromeda, that I realised I was exactly one of these people. According to the game, I’ve completed 70% of the content, made every planet I could 100% viable, reached level 43, and spent 45 hours being the galaxy’s errand girl.
And I had complaints for almost 45 hours straight. The opening level, as Patricia noted in her review, was far too convoluted for its own good. And it also served as an opportunity to lay all of Andromeda‘s RPG systems on you at once, which immediately highlighted one of the game’s major flaws.
For a game that comes after The Witcher 3, previous Mass Effect games, and countless other major RPGs that have taken different approaches to inventory and quest management, Andromeda seems to have learned nothing.
You can’t sort items. Game options, graphics and video settings are on a separate page to the main menus. Opening chests and containers brings the game to a halt. Some doors take around three or more seconds to open. Why? Are the doors on Kadara Port harder to hack, or made of weaker materials than those on the Nexus or Aya?
One of the biggest gripes: a single button press gets me into my journal or menu, but it can take several button presses to get back into the action. Two buttons back, that’s acceptable. But if you’re going into your journal, and you’re tracking a quest that happens to be a task instead of a priority mission, you’ll have to hit back multiple times.
And don’t get me started on those bloody planet transitions.
Enjoy the view, because you’ll get a lot more of it than you’d like
Most of these gripes come up pretty quickly. But as I was hopping from one planet to another to mop up a side quest or two, I realised it wasn’t stopping me from completing the majority of Andromeda‘s content.
And it’s not because Andromeda is clever about collating a bunch of quests on the same moon. The next step for a quest often doesn’t trigger until you finish another mission or leave another planet. Or – and this is the worst – answer your email.
Why can’t your omni-tool handle email? It’s somehow capable of hacking into Remnant technology, but SAM can’t rig a plug-in for Outlook or Gmail? How the hell does that make sense? Is forcing the player through multiple unskippable cutscenes and loading screens really a better player experience when you could just have an extra tab in the in-game menu for the player to read a few lines of text?
If you’re starting an Andromeda playthrough now, you won’t have to deal with some of that. The latest patch at least lets you skip autopilot sequences in the galaxy map – but not when landing or leaving a planet – and the human characters have gotten new shaders for their eyes, making them a little less mannequin-like.
I fortunately didn’t have to deal with most of the jankier animations, although there was one fun moment in the prologue where Ryder got stuck going down a set of stairs and began sinking slowly into the earth. And there was another fun bug where I went to mine some minerals in the Nomad, only for the Nomad to immediately disappear.
You don’t have to look hard to find things to complain about.
But still, I mainlined my way through the majority of the game. Moving house helped: when you don’t have internet, your options are a lot more limited than you think, especially with some singleplayer games that crack the shits when they can’t authenticate online. But even still, I think I would have grumbled my way through Andromeda nonetheless.
The whole experience reminded me of Pokemon GO. When that launched, you would never for a second stop and tell someone that it was a “good” game, at least by any traditional metric. People had to buy multiple battery packs just to get through a single day’s play. The game was frequently buggy. Gyms barely worked, if at all.
But being broken doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. And I’ve kept asking myself that question with Andromeda: am I actually having fun? If I finish the majority of the game’s content, surely I’m having a good time?
Or am I really just punishing myself, and just enjoying the feeling of being angry?
Maybe it’s partially because all that time is spent searching. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending 45 hours looking for something in Andromeda that will match up to what I loved from the Mass Effect series is. Maybe Kadara Port will live up to the kind of environments I remember exploring from Mass Effect 2. Maybe the ending will make up for all of the time I’ve spent backtracking, cleaning up loyalty quests, watching unskippable transitions.
Maybe this is what it’s like to spend hundreds, even thousands, of hours on a game that you don’t like.
I still wouldn’t recommend Andromeda to anyone else. But maybe, just maybe, I had fun. If not with the game itself, then certainly the journey. It wasn’t the journey I signed up for, but then you never really know what you’ll find in space.