Mass Effect: Andromeda has better shooting than banging

In a reversal of the original trilogy's strengths, stomping on aliens is now better than making out with them.

Launching a biotic charge in mid-air. The hefty swing of a krogan hammer, or the lighter lunge of an asari sword. Jump-jetting over enemies hiding in cover to shoot them straight down the spinal cord. Watching Drack barrel past, bellowing with blood rage. Seeing Jaal decloak out of nowhere to take down an enemy from behind. There's a lot of fun to be had in Mass Effect: Andromeda's combat.

It feels exactly like the (excellent) multiplayer, which does mean we've lost the ability to pause before issuing commands and teammates can't be controlled quite as finely. Plus, there's no slowdown sniper-scope superpower any more. But still, Andromeda's combat gets a thumbs up. Shame that's not the reason we're playing it though, right?

Over the last decade or so videogames have been slowly learning how much players invest into their characters' relationships. I'm not just talking about the BioWare sex scenes here, but all the relationships we have in games like these. In the Mass Effect series Garrus was our best bro before he was potentially more than that, and the entire story of Mass Effect 2 is about becoming the space captain parent of an unruly extended family. The Normandy wasn't just our space house, it was our space home. (Excuse me, I just made myself space vomit.)

Even compared to the first Mass Effect, Andromeda's flirting feels jarring, never flows naturally out of conversations.

Part of what makes roleplaying games such a fascinating genre is that they have room to engage with this stuff. They're not just about the adventure but the shopping trip beforehand, the travel on the way, and the downtime at the inn afterward. We have time to bond with our adopted daughter in The Witcher 3, add a personalized new wing to our fortress in Pillars of Eternity, get to know the ghoul samurai who joins our squad in Shadowrun: Hong Kong. RPGs have room for domesticity, and they've begun embracing that. Perfunctory as they are, even Skyrim's marriages and adoptions are important to players who want to roleplay finding a place in that world.

But Mass Effect: Andromeda doesn't do domesticity well. The flirting dialogue is the game's most stilted, and given the roughness of the rest of Andromeda's writing that's saying something. Even compared to the first Mass Effect, Andromeda's flirting feels jarring, never flows naturally out of conversations. You can repeat the same line at Peebee about how you like it when she comes onto you as much as you like, no matter how serious the situation. Sara Ryder's attempts to hit on Suvi are deliberately awkward, but instead of cringing at the characters I was cringing at the writers, and the desperation of the attempts to sound like Firefly.

The banter always races to the punchline like a greyhound after a rabbit.

There's a forced chumminess to Andromeda. The banter always races to the punchline like a greyhound after a rabbit. Ryder's dead father and comatose sibling are quickly forgotten whenever there's an excuse for a laugh. Everything happens so fast—Peebee literally leaps on you the first time you meet her, and though conversations suggest she's uninterested in attachments, during crewmate banter other characters immediately know her full name and personal details. Jaal the angaran is an unknown quantity, a whole new species, but he'll chat about where he hangs out on the Nexus with the crew before you've even had time to take him there. Andromeda slows down space travel, but rushes through bonding.

And the sex scenes themselves? They're actually OK. There's a noticeable improvement in the way characters look, the lightbulbs in their mouths turning off and the animations less robotic. Some scenes fade to tasteful black while others are distinctly R-rated—nobody gets it on in their weird space underwear on the Tempest. If you choose to romance Cora, she actually tells SAM to turn himself off for the duration, answering the question of whether your personal AI implant is silently watching everything you do. Since nobody else brings it up apparently he's still cognizant when you get horizontal with everyone else, though.

It's become a cliché that the Mass Effect games are really about kissing aliens, that we're scribbling fan art of our favorite characters for our private Tumblrs. While there's obviously a lot more to them than that, the ways that Andromeda succeeds are almost all to do with its action, and not the bedroom kind. It's a really solid multiplayer shooter but if you want to spend quality time connecting with its characters that has to happen outside the game, and we've already got Overwatch for that.

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