This one is spoiler-free, so read on gentle viewers.
According to my latest save file I’m 26 hours into the game and 46% completed the story. I had fully intended these articles to happen a little more frequently as I progress, but against all expectations the game got its hooks into me.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the animation jank. I touched on this before so I don’t want to belabour the point. We’ve all seen the gifs. We know the jank is real. We will probably never know the reasons the game was released in this state, but as always it has everything to do with time and budget constraints, and not “incompetence” on the part of developers.
After having spent a considerable amount of time with it now, I almost feel that the game is a victim of its long development cycle. If this game had been released 5 years ago, we wouldn’t have had nearly the uproar over the animations that we’ve seen. ME:A presentation as a whole feels a bit like a relic of the past, like the game fell out of a time hole from the early 2000’s. That doesn’t excuse the bugs, but I have to say that being aware of the issues going in has allowed me to dismiss it and move on. Ultimately the animation jank became a minor tarnish in a much larger game, easily overlooked.
Now to the more important part: the story.
I’ll preface this by saying that prior to this I held no great affection for the previous Mass Effect games. I played ME1 but didn’t finish it, played ME2 all the way and quite enjoyed it, and never touched ME3 due to the cloud of fan backlash that lay over it (which I may go back and revisit after this). Many reviewers have complained that the story just wasn’t grabbing them like the original Mass Effect; that it feels like a pale imitation, trying to recapture the essence of the previous games and never quite hitting the mark.
I suspect the difference is much like the rift between fans of the original Star Trek and the new “Kelvin timeline” of the modern films. There is a tonal shift that doesn’t click with fans of the original. As a lifelong Star Wars fan I can totally empathize with being thrown off by such a shift.
Coming at it from the perspective of someone not really attached to the previous games, I’m finding it to be wholly engaging and endearing. No question it takes a while to find its feet — getting this story going is like pushing a car out of the mud — but once it does I’m finding myself more & more invested in this world and these characters.
The biggest reason that it keeps pulling me back is I genuinely *like* the character of Ryder (Karen in my case). She feels well-rounded, hopeful yet struggling with a world she doesn’t quite understand. There is nothing that turns me off a game like a protagonist I can’t empathize with. I still struggle trying to play the otherwise excellent Witcher 3 because I just don’t like Geralt as person. However Ryder and her interactions with her crew & the world feel real, a mix of confusion, resolve, and complex emotions. Conflicts feel justified. Friendships feel genuine.
That’s not to say all of the characters are fantastic or well-rounded. Like any sci-fi franchise, ME:A has it’s share of tired tropes. The main villain is a forgettable amalgam of mustache-twirling evil, and some of your crew (mostly the dudebros) are as thin and forgettable as vaseline on white bread. Those things don’t detract from the game at all, thankfully. The Big Bad simply becomes the motivating force, and the forgettable crewmates are easily avoided in favor of the colourful and interesting ones (Vetra and Drack are my usual picks).
Mostly it’s the small interjections that work very well. The game is definitely more action-focused than previous titles, so some of the characterizations are delivered through small snippets of dialog. These are lines that either work or don’t based on their delivery, and thankfully the voice actor for Ryder (Fryda Wolff in the case of female Ryder) is spot-on. At one point in a side mission (no spoilers) she finds out she’s been double crossed by both sides and exclaims “Is *everyone* on this planet a lying asshole?” with such exasperation and conviction I genuinely laughed out loud.
Now that I’m at the half-way mark I may break for a bit and wait for the next big patch to drop so I can start making comparisons, but it’s going to be difficult to stay away now that I’m so invested in the story. I have yet to dive into multiplayer but I’m intrigued how it’s integrated into the Strike Team missions in the main game, so maybe that will be something to tide me over.
With all the bad press and negativity surrounding the game I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I am. There is definitely room for it to fall off the rails in the second half, but at the moment, assuming one can overlook the sub-par animation, I’m finding it a game worth my time.