Legacy reboot mode
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