In contrast, Andromeda feels a little more personal and self-contained. As one of the twentysomething Ryder twins (above), you're out to find your dad and somehow settle an entirely new galaxy. And then a few laborious hours of generic third-person shooting and an overlong vehicle segment later, Andromeda reveals its hand and shows what the game is really about. Rather than appeasing the Space United Nations, you're dealing with interpersonal conflicts. There are larger implications from your actions though. Will your first outpost on an alien world be a research facility focusing on science? Or is setting up a military to help guard against the Kett, your cannon fodder for the game, more your style?
Kill everyone, obviously.
Timothy J. Seppala
Jerk. See, I picked science because (at least in video games) I'm idealistic and want to show the galaxy that we don't always need to pull a gun to get a point across. That choice is already bearing fruit. Those narrative themes work for me; establishing an identity for the human race and settling worlds is kind of my jam. But Andromeda has other story ideas in mind too. Like the Kett leader who's a religious fanatic and effectively turns the game's new alien race into zombies. I could not care less for this. I'm guessing at some point I'll have to put my terraforming efforts and search for Dad aside and kill him. My hangup is that it's a generic sci-fi trope, and one that's been done many times over in other games. 'Sup, Halo?
More damning than that, Andromeda is doing a poor job of getting new players up to speed with the galaxy's goings-on. The story takes place 600 years adjacent to the original trilogy, but (spoiler) there are some returning names. Words like "genophage" and "geth" are peppered casually throughout conversations with no real explanation for what they are. Or when they are detailed it feels shoehorned in, like half-assed fan service.
In Andromeda your ship's pilot is a Salarian.
To your larger point, what I've always loved about the series is its absurdly detailed world building. At the risk of oversimplifying, the Salarians and Krogan hate each other because the former used genetic engineering to reduce the latter's population. Krogan are a race that thrives on war and conflict, so in the interest of the greater good a vast majority of the race was sterilized with the genophage. In Mass Effect 3 I reversed that, and Mordin Solus, my crew's Salarian scientist, sacrificed his life doing so. The Krogan/Salarian relationship was one of many like it, and they were all incredibly well done.
That is what I'm missing from Andromeda: The sense of a living, complex universe.
Timothy J. Seppala
See, I thought it was just me.
One of my other gripes is that in the Shepard games, story and character development we not only delivered via exposition dumps or conversations but also peppered into combat. Picking my two squadmates before going planetside was dictated as much by who I wanted to learn more about as it was by their combat abilities. They'd chatter among themselves during quiet moments, and, in a firefight, I could use space magic to lift an enemy off the ground and have one squadmate slam him back into it while another sniped from a distance.
As far as I can tell, that isn't the case here. I spent the majority of my time on Havarl, the fourth planet, with two lockjawed squadmates. And aside from ordering my Krogan, Drack, to move to one position and Jaal the Angaran to another, there isn't much by way of tactics. It feels like a huge step backward both for gameplay and narrative reasons. In Andromeda I can sub in basically any squadmate and the sortie will feel the same. The combat is fine (aside from the finicky cover system), but it definitely doesn't feel like Mass Effect.
"The combat is fine" sums up my feelings as well. I actually enjoy the shooty-shooty-bang-bang portions of Andromeda so far, though I've played more-enthralling action games already this year. Of course, I'm not comparing Andromeda to the teamwork mechanics of previous games.
As for the narrative -- I love the idea of colonizing a new galaxy for the human race. That's an incredible premise for a video game, though it definitely has been done before. With such a pure sci-fi premise, Andromeda has to nail its storytelling arcs and build believable, complex characters and relationships; otherwise, the entire game becomes bland. Unfortunately, the details are precisely where the story falls apart for me. I don't care much about my crewmates yet, partially because I can hardly see their faces while I'm talking with them, and the story beats don't always align with the personality choices I make.
At one point, I land on an alien planet for the first time and instruct my crew to be vigilant yet respectful. "We're the aliens here," I say around bubblegum-pink lip gloss (Chenault is very on trend). A handful of minutes later, I'm pumping a horde of strange creatures full of lead and lasers, and my squadmates are telling me to shoot any other aliens that I see on sight, in a "give 'em hell, kid" kind of way. The transition from cautious explorer to violent conqueror is whiplash-inducing.