Mass Effect Andromeda: Initiation – book review

Book provided by the publisher 

Now that everybody has finally stopped asking “what colour ending did you get?”, and talk of the extremely rocky launch for the last game has been reduced to the occasional murmur, Mass Effect fans can concentrate on salvaging the franchise’s dignity. This novel, released in November of last year, aims to offer a big ol’ helping hand with that.

There are already a load of Mass Effect books and graphic novels out there, but this is the first to be co-written by the Hugo-award-winning author N. K. Jemisin. The other author is Mac Walters, lead writer for the last few games. You can’t see the joins in the writing, which is great; though it also means that there’s no way of telling exactly how much input Walters had. Not that it necessarily matters, but if pushed, we’d say that Jemisin is likely to have been responsible for the lion’s share of the writing. The style has the smooth, easy touch of somebody comfortable with, and experienced in, writing for readers rather than players.

The story centres on Cora Harper, a side character in Andromeda. Although many people disliked her character in the game she is, in this book, a likable heroine that you’re happy to spend time with. Initiation begins with her return from her time with Talein’s Daughters, an Asari commando unit. She finds herself uncomfortable in the presence of other humans, which is only partly due to being embedded with the Asari for so long. Her life in general is directionless. The Andromeda Initiative seems to offer her that direction, though a lot will happen before she finally sets off…

Alec Ryder plays a small but important part in the story and, as such, keeps popping up now and again to keep things going. He doesn’t stick around long in the game, and it’s nice to see him get a bit more background like this. Pleasingly, his character matches the digitised version, and is even afforded a little more depth without stretching things too far.

The ‘virtual intelligence’ that plays such a critical role in the game, SAM, is essentially present here only in a cameo. However, an offshoot known as ‘SAM-E’ soon makes an appearance. SAM-E is central to the novel’s events, and is afforded just the right amount of personality. His/her/its absence from the game is explained before the book’s end and, by then, you might just wish that there was no absence to explain.

A common mistake amongst poor and lazy sci-fi stories (and therefore amongst many literary videogame adaptations) is a reliance on liberal use of silly-sounding words for technology, alien races, and so on. While Initiation casually refers to Mass Effect canon as appropriate, such terminology is never overused. It’s an excellently-written novel which understands that – no matter the genre – character, charm, and atmosphere must come above all else. It’s a tale told with intelligence and care, peppered with gentle humour.

You don’t need to have played the game (or to have read the preceding novel) to understand or appreciate Initiation. You don’t even have to be familiar with Mass Effect, although it’s strongly recommended. In fact, Mass Effect Andromeda: Initiation is much (much) more enjoyable than Mass Effect: Andromeda. A great slice of sci-fi however you look at it, this is well worth picking up for ME fans, and definitive proof that a story told in this universe without player agency can most certainly work.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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