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Same Shit, Different Galaxy: Motherboard's 'Mass Effect: Andromeda' Review

TFW you sleep for 600 years then wake up in an extragalactic dark energy landfill.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is, in the immortal words of the Beastie Boys, intergalactic; planetary. Set for release on Tuesday, the newest installment of BioWare's planet-hopping RPG follows a bunch of restless Milky Way residents who travel to the galaxy next door in spacefaring Arks, hoping to colonize Andromeda's potentially habitable "golden worlds." Ryder, the successor to the original trilogy's Shepard, is among the 20,000 hopeful pioneers aboard the Ark-Hyperion.


But as Ryder soon discovers, Andromeda is kind of a dump. There's dark energy lying around everywhere, and the planets either electrocute or irradiate people to death. Plus, the galaxy is already inhabited by a super-hostile alien species called the kett, with whom the Milky Way gang immediately and effortlessly spark a war.

The colonizers may as well have spared themselves the 600-plus years in cryosleep and stuck around to help Shepard liberate the Milky Way from the Reapers (the Ark-Hyperion peaced out on the galaxy in the year 2185, between Mass Effect 2 and 3 in the timeline ).

Either way, they would have ended up fighting a malevolent force bent on using forgotten technology to achieve dominance over a galactic system.

This sense of "same shit, different galaxy" is both a strength and drawback for Andromeda. The game offers the Tempest as the new Normandy, the Nexus as the new Citadel, and the Nomad as the new Mako. Ryder's squad is mostly made up of Milky Way natives—human, asari, turian, and krogan—with only one Andromedan member to add some extragalactic flavor. Even the animation, which has generated some heated criticism this week, reinforces the visual style of previous Mass Effect games, which makes the experience like slipping into a warm, comfortable bath of nostalgia.

But these parallel tropes don't work as well in Andromeda, mostly because it's weird to be the invader in a Mass Effect game. While Shepard was tasked with uniting civilizations to defend their home worlds, Ryder is barging in to settle a bunch of galactic outsiders on Andromeda's prime real estate.

Read More: Themes of War and Refugees in 'Mass Effect' Are More Relevant Than Ever

It is a far less heroic position to fight from, and those optics are not helped by the constant lack of self-awareness from Team Milky Way. In the first battle against the kett, Ryder's squad mates keep asking, "what did we ever do to them?"—after showing up on the planet out of nowhere and opening fire on its residents. Perhaps those colonial undercurrents are explored or addressed towards the climax of Andromeda, or maybe the kett are so diabolically evil that it doesn't matter. But in the introductory paces, it just feels icky.

The upside of turning up in a brand new galaxy, however, is the adventure of exploring the hell out of it. Andromeda is a more open world than the original trilogy, so if you get sick of shooting up kett soldiers, you can wander around dramatic extraterrestrial landscapes or seduce your badass squadmates. You're the Pathfinder, after all, so go find yourself some dope-ass paths.

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