This is a spoiler-free article, so feel free to read on.
At 36 hours I completed the main story of Mass Effect: Andromeda. This is worth nothing because I very rarely finish any game. It’s widely known in dev circles that most people who buy a game will never finish it, and I am definitely in that category. It’s a testament to how much I ended up liking the characters and world that it compelled me to keep going and see it through to the end.
It’s also worth noting that your experience of the game largely depends on the dialog choices you make. We no longer have the blunt-force Paragon/Renegade moral choices of previous Mass Effect games, but instead your responses are nuanced to personality: logical, emotional, casual, professional, and of course the inevitable romance options.
In my playthrough Ryder was kind, helpful and sympathetic, and that is one of the things that kept me engaged. As a result the story was largely about hope, cooperation and understanding, and bold determination to meet challenges.
All along the way my journey in MEA was a story of optimism, but optimism born from making difficult choices in a harsh reality. As a player you are presented with choices that will give you quick benefits for morally questionable actions, or deferred gratification for long-term growth. I always chose the latter, and as a result friendships and alliances grew strong and healthy.
This theme is what kept me engaged, to the point that any technical issues — and there are plenty — were completely overshadowed by my emotional involvement. Much like we had to do in video games of previous years, the world was so tantalizing that my own imagination could smooth over any visual crudeness.
That’s not to say everything is wonderful. Many of the side-quests don’t ever come to a satisfying conclusion, but just end without feeling like they are connected to the rest of the world. Several times I wasn’t even sure that a quest was over because the conclusion was so anticlimactic. That’s to be expected, but it did feel odd.
However there are also small touches that work well. The new vehicle is quite fun to zoom around in, particularly after a few upgrades. As is to be expected in a more action-focussed game, the Nomad is unlike the Mako of ME1. This thing can move. And you can get some pretty snazzy paint jobs.
In the end, my enjoyment subverted my original intention of these articles to track changes in the game as patches come out. Despite the fact that I have completed the story I am still at only 66% completion so I can go back and still have plenty to do, and there should be more good character moments with loyalty mission so I expect I’ll return to it.
It’s been a genuine pleasant surprise, and cements even more my feeling that one needs to take both gaming press and the reaction of the meme-hungry Internet masses with a few dozen grains of salt. Being willing to accept a game on it’s own terms and let it show you what it is ends up being a richer experience all around.