Is Mass Effect: Andromeda’s New Dialogue System Better?
This article was originally published on April 6.
Spoiler warning: We discuss some minor plot points that occur during the first half of the game. Read at your own discretion.
The original Mass Effect trilogy put us in the shoes of the revered Commander Shepard, giving us agency in making decisions for this hero through a binary morality system categorized as paragon and renegade. With Mass Effect: Andromeda, the newest installment in the series, BioWare introduces us to a new hero and a revamped dialogue system that is meant to be less restrictive and more open-ended.
Is this new system effective? How does it change the Mass Effect experience this time around? Editors Joe Juba and Elise Favis discuss its ups and downs.
Elise: I’ve been enjoying my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda so far, despite it being rough around the edges. I was intrigued to hear that BioWare was ditching paragon and renegade, thinking it could be an interesting step toward more realistic conversations with weighty decisions that are morally gray. Unfortunately, my time with the game so far has left me feeling deceived by the dialogue options. Whether I choose to be professional, casual, logical, or emotional, I don’t feel like I have as much say in Ryder’s personality, who remains hopeful and optimistic regardless of my choices. What are your thoughts, Joe? Do you think BioWare did a good job with this new system?
Joe: I do, generally. I agree that those four types of responses don’t always feel completely distinct, but I think the line separating the professional/logical and casual/emotional responses is clear enough, amounting to more lighthearted responses versus more serious ones. I rarely even paid attention to how my responses were classified – I chose the dialogue I liked, and according to the stats the game tracks, I leaned heavily toward the professional/logical side. And I think that ultimately did a lot to shape my perception of Ryder as a committed representative of humanity who isn’t afraid of negative consequences in service to the greater good. Plus, I find the less defined options more believable and interesting than the simplified “good versus bad” that characterized the paragon and renegade choices in the original trilogy.
E: I think BioWare made the right choice to ditch paragon and renegade, but this new system still has its flaws. This is partly because, in the original trilogy, Shepard had a more extreme moral flexibility that Ryder doesn’t have. With Ryder, you are embodying a character that is a hopeful pioneer, and who already has an established backstory. With Shepard, you had a say in their history which can help you shape who you want them to be and how you want them perceived. Without that, Ryder feels more like an established character who doesn’t change all that drastically personality-wise outside of small iterations. For example, if I wanted to be a jerk to someone, the closest thing I can do is be a tad colder and act more formal. Even when I have the rare chance to have input on Ryder’s history, such as whether they were close to their father, no matter what dialogue option I choose, other characters respond by saying he was distant.
I think the original trilogy was so unique because it gave you the ability to make your Shepard. Commander Shepard is a character we all know, but our perception of Shepard is different from one player to the next. Ryder doesn’t yet have that same impact on me. It’s not to say that a binary morality system is better, but the current options also don’t feel distinct enough to me, failing to be as sophisticated as they seem on the surface.
However, one thing that works well for me so far, is that weighty decisions during certain side-quests and in the main storyline are morally gray, like choosing the fate of a prisoner who is accused of murder. One option doesn’t always necessarily feel noble or right over the other.
J: I think that’s a fair characterization of the choices, but those options really did not work for me, because the game doesn’t show you the consequences of your actions in any significant way. I won’t spoil any details for people who are still playing, but you aren’t faced with any “Save Ashley or save Kaidan” moments. Yes, the game lets you choose the prisoner’s fate, but doesn’t give you any notable rewards or feedback – I just ran into the guy later on another planet and was like, “Oh, he’s here now, I guess.”
Maybe BioWare was just skittish about going too far into the concepts of choice and consequence because A) future Andromeda games haven’t been confirmed, so the team doesn’t know if the choices will carry over, and B) because the culmination of players’ choices in Mass Effect 3 left many feeling like the promises regarding the impact of their decisions went unfulfilled. Whatever the reason, I think Andromeda wastes a lot of opportunities in this area.
To me, it boils down to this: Whether the options are morally gray or good-versus-evil, I don’t enjoy making decisions just for the thrill of choosing between options. I don’t think any player does; what we really want when we say “I like choice” is “I like seeing the impact my choices have,” and that’s where I think Andromeda drops the ball. Have you been satisfied with how the game has responded to your choices?
E: I agree wholeheartedly. The impact of those decisions is what’s most important, but it’s hard for me to say if I’ve felt they are effective thus far. I’m about 25 hours in, and so I haven’t seen the full scope of the consequences to my actions. I did, however, enjoy the fact that choosing what kind of outpost I have on Eos affects those on the Nexus and spurred a protest. That was a neat way to demonstrate how my actions change or mold the world around me. It nonetheless remains to be seen whether how I dealt with the protesters has any overall effect on the story. Still, seeing the reaction from those protesters and knowing that I was responsible on some level, left me with a tinge of guilt and empathy.
I think some actions that have had the least impact on me are the Impulse Actions, which are prompts that appear during cutscenes to give you more agency. These are similar to the paragon and renegade “interrupt” moments from the trilogy but without that binary morality system. I just find their placement odd at times or seemingly inconsequential. When meeting Peebee for the first time, she pounces at you and one of the actions is to gently move her off of you. It’s more silly than anything else, which is fine, but it doesn’t add anything meaningful to the scene. These actions feel half-baked, and in a world like Mass Effect, there are so many opportunities to make interesting impulsive moments so it seems unfortunate.
J: For sure. Those impulse options surface so rarely and have so little impact that they feel like afterthoughts. And while comparisons to the original games are inevitable for all of the things we’re talking about (the trilogy did set certain expectations), I don’t think Andromeda’s inability to measure up can be characterized as a failure. A disappointment? Sure. But I still enjoyed the way Ryder’s character develops, I liked the conversations with my crew, and I weighed my decisions carefully. Even if the dialogue and the game’s responses to your choices don’t feel as dynamic, I still think Andromeda creates an interesting world with good characters that feels unmistakably “Mass Effect.”
E: Even though the dialogue system doesn’t always work for me, I appreciate BioWare’s attempt to bring something fresh. Moving away from paragon and renegade was a smart choice, especially when other RPGs like The Witcher 3 are weaving choice and consequence into the experience in unique and sophisticated ways. Andromeda has its share of ambitions, and even if some of the mechanics don’t always hit the mark, there is still plenty to enjoy. Andromeda continues the legacy of the trilogy with its incredible world-building and fantastic characters, and I’m looking forward to continuing my playthrough.