Post Script

Legacy re­boot mode

EDGE - - PLAY -

No sin­gle fea­ture de­fines the orig­i­nal

Mass Ef­fect tril­ogy more than the abil­ity to im­port your de­ci­sions from one game to the next. The idea isn’t unique to the se­ries – it ap­pears in the Bal­dur’s Gate and Dragon Age games too – but it has spe­cific im­por­tance to Mass Ef­fect be­cause it al­lows three very dif­fer­ent games to co­here into a tan­gi­ble whole. The first Mass Ef­fect is a hy­brid RPG-shooter heavy on ex­plo­ration, the se­cond a cover shooter with a per­son­al­ityled, episodic plot struc­ture. The third builds out that shooter into a more rounded ac­tion game about deal­ing with the con­se­quences of se­ries-span­ning de­ci­sions.

Your sense of Shep­ard’s char­ac­ter, and your aware­ness of the im­por­tance of your choices, are the only rea­sons why the se­ries pos­sesses such a strong sin­gu­lar iden­tity. They’re what make Mass Ef­fect so mean­ing­ful to so many peo­ple, putting it in the un­usual po­si­tion of be­ing a game se­ries that is more ac­cu­rately judged as a whole than on the ba­sis of the strengths of one spe­cific en­try. If your favourite com­pan­ion is Wrex then you are likely not think­ing about one line of di­a­logue in Mass Ef­fect 2, but your sense of a jour­ney from Mass Ef­fect through to the tri­umphant or tragic de­noue­ment of the char­ac­ter’s arc in

Mass Ef­fect 3. The dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing an­gry about a game’s end­ing and be­ing pe­ti­tion-writ­ingly an­gry about a game’s end­ing is three full games’ worth of setup. Mass Ef­fect is a tril­ogy first, a game se­cond.

Un­til An­dromeda, that is. It’s hard to un­der­es­ti­mate just how vast a chal­lenge Bio-Ware was set­ting it­self when it de­cided to re­turn to this uni­verse. While the busi­ness case for a Mass Ef­fect se­quel is straight­for­ward, mak­ing it hap­pen while still re­spect­ing the bound­aries of the orig­i­nal fic­tion is not. Fur­ther­more, de­spite be­ing a slow-burn­ing first en­try in what has the po­ten­tial to be a new se­ries, its au­di­ence’s most re­cent mem­ory of Mass Ef­fect is the third game – an in­stal­ment de­fined by ex­plo­sive fi­nales and dra­matic pay­offs. An­dromeda is most ac­cu­rately and fairly com­pared to the first Mass Ef­fect, but re­al­is­ti­cally it has to com­pete with the mem­ory of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy as a mono­lithic whole.

This is­sue is an un­avoid­able con­se­quence of An­dromeda’s dis­tinct her­itage. The tril­ogy whose suc­cess made a se­quel in­evitable also set a high bar for player in­vest­ment that a fresh start can’t re­al­is­ti­cally match. To some ex­tent, the game’s di­vi­sive re­cep­tion can be ex­plained by the mis­match be­tween what An­dromeda sets out to do, which is to pro­vide the foun­da­tion for a new tril­ogy in this set­ting, and what it’s ex­pected to do – fol­low Mass Ef­fect 3.

But on its own mer­its, An­dromeda gets a lot right. Its RPG and com­bat sys­tems are the se­ries’ best; it’s funny, di­verse and de­tailed; and it lays the ground­work for fu­ture growth while telling a self-con­tained story with a strong end­ing. Is­sues with pac­ing and tech­ni­cal per­for­mance hold it back, but An­dromeda still amounts to a suc­cess­ful se­cond pass at the same am­bi­tions that de­fined Mass Ef­fect: char­ac­ter drama along­side ex­pan­sive sci-fi landscapes; a shooter wor­thy of the term; and a foun­da­tion of mean­ing­ful, RPG-style char­ac­ter pro­gres­sion. Yet there’s a sense that it’s no longer enough to ‘just’ be a good first Mass Ef­fect game, and that feel­ing has the power to gen­er­ate a back­lash.

The fu­ture of the se­ries feels un­cer­tain. It would be a shame if Ry­der were de­nied the same process of it­er­a­tion and im­prove­ment that cre­ated such strong sen­ti­ment around Shep­ard’s tril­ogy, but An­dromeda’s core fun­da­men­tals are strong enough that it doesn’t re­quire the kind of top-down re­think Mass Ef­fect 2 im­posed on the orig­i­nal game. It fol­lows a sim­i­lar course, and busily stores your choices for fu­ture games. Yet the real ques­tion is whether this un­cer­tain start means BioWare will ever get to use them.

An­dromeda’s nar­ra­tive is self-con­tained, but it es­tab­lishes ideas that have the po­ten­tial to pay off in a few games’ time

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