Mass Effect: Andromeda Works Way Better As A Management Sim

Mass Effect: Andromeda was met with disappointment, and, in the worst parts of the internet, harassment campaigns. The game had Mass Effect in the title but it didn't quite feel one. But Mass Effect: Andromeda deserves to be remembered as more than just another hyped AAA game that failed to meet fan expectations and corporate sales goals.

After almost a year of trawling through the game's cookie-cutter planets and rote to-do lists, I've come to fall in love with Andromeda as management sim. It's first and foremost a game about cultivating a new civilisation in a distant galaxy.

Colonising it is a lot of work, a project that will span generations and which the game, knowingly or not, communicates through its understated exploration structure. There are a million things to get done, as in most role-playing games, but instead of feeling like a distraction, Andromeda elevates thankless busy work to center stage.

They call you the Pathfinder in the game, but really you're the galaxy's super, plugging leaky pipes, changing out fuses and making sure the furnace keeps running. It's a different kind of labour than most games ask you to contribute; less flashy but more soothing and dependable in its pay-off.

Everyone's always asking you for all kinds of stuff, ranging from the menial "deliver this package" to the exotically macabre "locate someone's remains and tell a loved one how they died." Even quick chats or errands can be light years out of the way.

It all adds to your overfilled schedule, but also makes you feel that much more helpful and indispensable.

Image via BioWare

Juggling these tasks and finding optimised ways to complete them is where the game ends up feeling most satisfying. Setting a waypoint marker, travelling to a planet, and speeding around in the Nomad to service broken down space gizmos or search for missing colonists becomes a ritual. Like making coffee in the morning or mailing a package at the post office, playing Mass Effect: Andromeda helps you appreciate the small wrinkles in life.

The similarities between all of these tasks let you feel good about streamlining the order and method of their completion while the minute differences help the planets always feel more granular and too big to ever know fully.

Take Voeld, the frozen celestial rock I still sometimes daydream about. Like every other planet in the cluster it's a mix of several things: gorgeous, deadly, incredibly spread out, and quietly tragic.

Andromeda is a game about finding planets for Milky Way inhabitants to settle on (whether they come as benign explorers or presumptuous imperialists is up to the player). Voeld was supposed to be one of these new homes when ships full of humans, turians, asari, and salarians first set out during the chaotic events of the original trilogy.

They titled it "Habitat 6" and selected it for colonisation because of its temperate climate and lush vegetation. By the time you arrive, however, it's a cold and desolate world where people need to take shelter deep within caves in order to survive.

A mysterious cataclysmic event from centuries ago threw off the planet's orbit and caused it to go into an ice age as it drifted away from its sun. The pockets of Angara life that remain are locked in a war with the game's main antagonists, the Khett, compounding its fate.

Image via YouTube

It was the middle of last summer during a heat wave on the East coast when I spent most of my time on the planet. I don't have air conditioning but somehow managed to forget about the sweat running down my back because of the view laid out before me. I was ploughing through the snowy expanse beneath an aurora, with wheels the size of boulders, scavenging for whatever the game told me I needed, while the space shield over the Khetts outpost glowed in the distance.

Rock monsters sometimes come tumbling over the horizon at you while you're trying to loot alien dig sites or spy on smugglers. The customisable guns are punchy, and the pop of the double-jump jetpack as you hopscotch across the tundra never gets old. For all its faults, it turns out Andromeda does third-person action and vehicle exploration well, which is partially also why I found myself dipping in and out of the game for the rest of 2017.

This is pretty much what you do on every planet in the game, at least the ones you can visit. People bumbling around futuristic IKEA colony outposts tell you about their friend who got lost, or the medical supplies that got stolen, or the data samples they always need help collecting (the Andromeda Initiative probably could have chosen some better scientists).

You then add it to your quest list, a log that by the end of the game has more in common with Microsoft Outlook than a readable plot summary. All that's left is to follow the star that appears on the minimap and waltz around scanning for the objective while occasionally looking in awe at the game's vibrant colour palette.

One mission called "Cultivation" has you searching for plant specimens that can be used for the Andromeda Initiative hydroponics program. The one you get from Voeld is named Cardacha Cthonis, an octopus plant with a big watery stem that keeps edible seeds inside. The mission yields very little experience and the doctor who sends you on it is kind of an arsehole. Most of the flowers are beautiful to look at, though.

On route to or from these locations, the hum of the Nomad's engine perfectly encapsulates the sense of control, freedom, and mundane purpose of, say, driving a car to the Lowes to buy hardware, picking up groceries for the coming week, or sitting in traffic during the morning commute to a boring job.

In Andromeda, as in real life, there's not much glory in any of these types of activities, but they do manage to elegantly fill the small voids left in day-to-day existence we might struggle with otherwise. Andromeda is both the feeling of being at work fantasizing about a vacation and being on a vacation wishing you had work to do, except made into a sci-fi game.

There's just enough that's different to make it feel like new possibilities are waiting around every corner even while you spend most of your time doing the same few actions over and over (set the waypoint, find the thing, scan the thing). It becomes an adventure in the same way going to a different supermarket on the other side of town does, even though you're still picking up the same milk, eggs and bread you always do. Andromeda's supermarkets just happen to benefit from also being in outer space.

Image via Imgur

Where the first three games were a space odyssey, Andromeda turned out to be a much more limited saga about the everyday trials and tribulations of colonizing planets millions of light years away. While the villains of Andromeda are threatening genocide, the sheer number of planets to explore and the litany of side missions and subtasks berating you every time the game is paused make that conflict with the Khett feel anything but central.

After the credits roll, the game sends players back to their ship to attend to all the work that's still unfinished. For all the hemming and hawing about stopping the megalomaniacle Khett or finding the secret, alien-made utopia hidden somewhere in the Helios clust, it's these loose ends where the game succeeds most.

Understandably, making sure terraforming gizmos were working correctly and mining weirdly named minerals was not the mission most players had in mind when they signed up for the game, but the game nails this management loop with admirable efficiency. Completing missions to make your colonisation efforts more sustainable earns points that can be invested to reap daily rewards like blueprints for better armour, upgrades to the Nomad, and cheaper prices for commodities at trading posts.

You can also go shoot stuff in the online cooperative mode, building out other characters and their skill trees in exchange for more money and materials to outfit your main character with stronger equipment to make maintenance runs on hostile planet surfaces that much easier.

Image via YouTube 

When I first started the game I rolled my eyes at this bloated spreadsheet, like a more complicated version of the stickers a parent might award a child to make doing chores seem fun. The upshot of these baroque RPG systems, however, is that they give you endless reasons to explore the star system, either on foot or by ship. Voeld, as well as the shimmering jungles on Havarl and the brutal, sun-baked surface of Elaaden, are all worth the countless visits it will take to sort out their myriad problems. The fights with giant robot artifacts on the latter two alone warrant an extra trip.

These places, like the galaxy they call home, feel lived in, even if they're sparse and mostly unpopulated. They're welcoming not in the spending a month at your grandmother's bungalow during the summer kind of way but rather like when you rent a shorehouse for a week and fill it with your favourite junk food.

The furniture is all beachy and generic. A sign saying something like "Sandy Toes And Salty Kisses" hangs inexplicably by the entrance way and yet it feels immediately yours. At just about any time in Andromeda you can go to just about any part of it and scan something, shoot something, or flirt with someone.

The stuff you get will disappear into a crowded inventory or the words spoken will quickly be forgotten, like most conversations we ever have. Almost every time you come back, however, they will still be something else for you to go do, a few more mindless jobs to complete for perfect NPC strangers.

If you want to save the galaxy, there's no better games than the original Mass Effect trilogy. But if you want to actually live in it and come to know it intimately, you have to toil in Mass Effect: Andromeda.  


Comments

    I only just started this game two weeks ago, by glob it's a beautiful game. I was always hesitant because of the backlash it received, however I'm genuinely having fun with it. Yes, it is quite disappointing if you expected a game like the original trilogy, but I've been given time to expect something else. Even if the rushed dialogue and inorganic delivery by Ryder leaves much to be desired. They made a very rash and reactionary decision with the development team in the aftermath of the backlash against the game. This game deserves a sequel and I hope we get it even if it's later rather than sooner, I have no doubt that a sequel has the potential to be genuinely great.

    Last edited 11/01/18 7:09 pm

    Not a bad article. A bit longwinded like the game.

    Tons of potential & flashes of brilliance overshadowed by failed overall execution due to a deluded thin-skinned publisher and developer. Played it a second time recently, several months after completing my only playthrough, to make sure I wasn't being unfairly harsh, but unfortunately I was right the first time. Bland main storyline completely buried under tons of insignificant side-quests.

    It was a brand new game in a brand new galaxy. It was supposed to blow us away the same way Mass Effect 1 did when it introduced us to a vast galaxy of countless possibilities. Instead we get:

    - only 2 new alien species that bring nothing new to the table. Angara are a mix of Asari/Salarian (perfumed weaklings), and the Kett are Andromeda's Collectors. Remnant don't exactly count, but if they did they'd be Andromeda's Geth.

    - boring squadmates that I found a chore talking to and which I avoided talking to unless I had to. Skipped Liam's loyalty mission entirely.

    - bland & lazy copy/paste world design (Kadara is a replica of Eos with more vegetation, Elaaden is a fully barren replica of Eos, and Voeld is an ice version of Elaaden; that's 4 out of 5 planets we get to explore), and we spend too little time on the only potentially awesome locations we visit like Meridian, that asteroid and Peebee's loyalty planet.

    - a game world riddled with boring, mind-numbing fetch quests that amount to a big fat zero. 80% of my play session was wasted running around incompetent people, and only 20% playing the main story which only consisted of chasing after the avatar of Andromeda's Harbinger.

    - painfully forgettable soundtrack. From the moment you fire up Mass Effect 1, you can't help but notice how awesome the music sounds, even the understated atmospheric tracks. In Andromeda your reaction is like "was there even music?" That's what happens when you hire a useless no-name composer as opposed to an established bada$$ team of Jack Wall & Sam Hulick.

    - an awfully limited 3-power loadout that completely ruined the fun of combat. Jumping around like a juiced-up froggy gets old quickly when the weaponry sucks a$$ and your powers are feeble at best.

    - an uninspired main storyline that seemed to finish shortly after it started because, as I mentioned above, it only gave a handful of narrative checkpoints to work towards and then it was a straight run to the finale.

    They were supposed to take everything Mass Effect 1 did for the franchise and make it bigger & better. Instead they fell flat on their faces and ragequit because they couldn't handle the criticism, hence "deluded & thin-skinned publisher and developer".

    "Boohoo they hated our game so now we'll punish them by pulling the plug on their beloved Quarians, and if they wanna find out what happened they have to buy our crappy book that will come out over a year later."

    I had a bad feeling about Andromeda long before it came out, but I gave Bioware the benefit of the doubt and preordered the deluxe version. I thought "it's a new Mass Effect game, how bad could it be?". IF a new ME game is ever released, it won't be for at least 5 years from now so it's safe to say Andromeda was the last Bioware game I'll ever buy. Preordering it was a gesture of good faith and I regretted it dearly. Never making the mistake of trusting Bioware again.

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