Is it nostalgia after only six years?

I’ve played video games for a long time. Not that I’m setting any records or anything, but the first games I ever played were on Atari 2600 and Intellivision. The Atari was destroyed in late 1986 for certain aquatic reasons, and the Intellivision was my cousin’s while we lived in their basement for a while. After that came the NES, and that’s all I had until I was able to get a job and save up enough for a PlayStation 2.

Despite the console beginnings, though, my true gaming love was the PC. Believe it or not, that started with a TRS-80 Model 4, and Horse Race. Sure, the 486 with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Microsoft Flight Simulator 4 blew that thing out of the water, but that TRS-80 was the beginning. At this point I don’t even know how many PC games I’ve played, and I’ve probably forgotten the titles of more games than I remember. And, while Wolfenstein 3D and Doom still hold a special place in my memory, and the Half-Life games took my enjoyment of PC gaming to the next level, it wasn’t until Mass Effect that I realized how much I loved gaming.

Mass Effect appeared when I was in grad school. It just so happened that I was focusing on 3D graphics and dataset visualization when Mass Effect was ported to PC and released in mid-2008. The graphics were somewhat janky and the controls were a bit of a mess, but it was the story that drew me in. Story and character development were front and center, and I thought Mass Effect delivered that in spades. To date I have spent hundreds of hours playing each game in the Mass Effect trilogy and, after attending the midnight launches of Mass Effect 2 and 3, I can confidently count 2 as my favorite, especially with the improvements introduced in the Legendary Edition. However, the fact remains that Mass Effect 3 is an 11-year-old game, which doesn’t line up with the title of this post.

The year 2017 promised a fourth major entry in the Mass Effect franchise: Andromeda. Reviewers were pretty down on it at the beginning and, like a silly fan, I did the midnight launch on EA Origin for this one as well. The experience was different this time, though. There were no familiar characters, different combat mechanics, and a story that didn’t quite feel whole. But, despite this, I pushed through it and finished the game. Somehow, I didn’t find any of the characters all that memorable. Who can forget the first time they met Liara T’Soni in that cave? Battling Sovereign’s forces while climbing up the side of the tower in the Citadel? Getting killed ten minutes into Mass Effect 2, only to be resurrected by the organization you were fighting back in the first game that happened to be run by Martin Sheen? Encountering the Collectors and raiding their base near the galactic core, only to discover and fight the human Reaper? Seeing the Citadel fill with refugees while the situation at Huerta Memorial Hospital continuously deteriorated? Punching out Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani because you were sick and tired of her snide insinuations/disingenuous assertions/tabloid journalism? Stabbing Kai Leng in the gut with your omni-blade for Thane? What is there to remember from Mass Effect: Andromeda? Quite literally forgettable.

The year 2017 also brought a new intellectual property from Guerilla Games called Horizon Zero Dawn. A former coworker and I were debating which one to get and, because I game on PC, I didn’t have much choice in the matter: Horizon Zero Dawn was a PlayStation 4 exclusive and I didn’t have one of those. We decided that he’d get Horizon Zero Dawn and I’d get Mass Effect: Andromeda. He seemed to enjoy Horizon thoroughly, whereas I was left with a robust “meh” feeling. Along came 2020 and Horizon Zero Dawn was released for PC, so I immediately jumped on it, fired it up, and was absolutely blown away. That feeling I’d gotten with the first Mass Effect had returned, to an extent, but with spectacular graphics and a decent keyboard & mouse control scheme.

Unlike Mass Effect: Andromeda, I’ve replayed Horizon Zero Dawn 4 times as of Tuesday of this week. The story and characters are engaging. The New Game+ mode makes you feel utterly invincible. Yes, some of the face modeling behaves kind of janky with people seeming to move their mouths quite a bit more than necessary for certain words, but that’s a small price to pay for the story, cinematics, and gameplay.

Just for kicks, though, I launched Mass Effect: Andromeda last night and my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. It was as if I’d gone from a triple-A game (which, to be fair, HZD actually is) to something I’d developed during my graduate courses back in 2007. ME:A felt lifeless, like going through the motions with muscle memory.

So … where does the nostalgia come in? Maybe it’s the feeling of anticipation before launching ME:A for the first time … or maybe it’s more like regret. Regret that I didn’t snag a PlayStation 4 and a copy of Horizon Zero Dawn instead of loading up Origin. If I could go back and do it again, or if I could give advice to my past self, I’d know exactly what not to choose this time around.