Mass Effect has from its conception, always been an action soap opera set in space. It is a prime example of a galaxy that is both rich in lore and deep. Its world building stands up there with other space-faring franchises with many races populating the galaxy, engaged in space politics, alliances, wars, betrayals and other.
Bioware is known for making complex worlds that contain all the above and the games usually have a quality standard that the fans are accustomed to. Their worlds often emphasize choices and their consequences, and that promise kept fans coming back to the original Mass Effect trilogy because of its larger than life overarching story. The original trilogy is mostly etched in our minds as a great sci-fi story and experience. The ending was a bit bittersweet and it divided the community in a love it or hate it kind of deal. I can't help but wonder if Andromeda would have been a very different game if that ending was received with acclaim and if we would stick a bit more in the familiar old galaxy. Instead, Bioware decided to wipe 80% of the established board and start fairly fresh. Let's see how they did.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available for purchase at Amazon for $54,52.
The story, although it offers a new setting and a different set of characters – when you put it on paper you'll find a familiar thing going on. You are a member of an elite organization, tasked with fixing a space station wrought with political problems and finding more about a mysterious and evil alien threat while exploring the ruins of a long dead civilization. In its essence, it is the same story from the original trilogy. Don't get me wrong, generally speaking, this is the premise of every other game out there but I expected a bit different direction this time around with a new and mysterious galaxy being in the title of the game and all.
But a bit clarification on the story. The story starts in between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, where the citadel races decided to colonize another galaxy in a strategy called the Andromeda Initiative. Every race sends Ark ships full of colonists on a 600-year long journey to Andromeda galaxy where together they are tasked to construct a Nexus space station that is essentially another Citadel of the original trilogy. From there they are tasked with finding habitable planets for them to settle on. Leaders of each race are called pathfinders. And your father is one such man. Alec Ryder bites the dust early on and appoints on of his children, Sara or Scott Ryder as his successor and you pick your playable character out of the two. The other sibling is not swiftly killed off and continues to feature in the story. You can customize the appearance of both siblings but I found the character creator really disappointing with less options than the original Mass Effect. Even when you think you created a good looking character, the weird facial animations will throw all your efforts through the window, so I opted for the default appearance as I'm sure a lot of people will.You will spend most of the game repairing extensive damage to the Nexus and terraforming planets as well as dealing with said alien villain. Side quests are often multi-layered and offer interesting stories but they offer nothing new gameplay-wise.
The story choices make a return but there are few that really matter. The system is a bit less black and white than the previous paragon and renegade system but often not for the better. I recently played Horizon Zero Dawn where your dialogue options had no effect on the outcome of the mission, story or NPC disposition toward you, and I often felt like that here. This is especially evident if you played Mass Effect 3 fairly recently as that game, at least seemingly had some pretty heavy decisions imposed on you. The beginning of the game, with your character being the manager of the Andromeda initiative crisis, dealing with the shortage of resources, colonists still being frozen, the arks missing and such, offered exciting possibilities of making hard decisions that impact the entire mission. The game tries hard to make your decisions seem hard but in the end, it all boils down to you fixing everything and tying it in a neat bow.
I won't delve deep into the supporting cast and let you discover them on your own. They seem a bit one dimensional in the beginning but each of them has a deep backstory for you to explore and you get to know what makes them tick. I found them interesting but I only wished that more alien races were explored as a part of the team. This is also a problem of the entire game as it offers next to none new races, which is really disappointing considering that the game takes place in a whole new galaxy.
Mass Effect Andromeda is more open in every sense of the word than previous entries in the franchise. Everything from your character to the worlds on offer. Your ship, the Tempest is your main means of getting around the galaxy, which you do, once again, by navigating a virtual galaxy map. There are 4 fully explorable, huge, open world areas and a bunch of smaller ones to explore, be it either your ship or mission exclusive areas. The main areas, you'll spend most of the time in are very different from one another and offer unique gameplay elements and hazards for you to contend with. Sure, there are a lot of empty spaces but the worlds feel believable and are still packed with enough content to encourage exploration. An all-terrain vehicle makes a return from the original Mass Effect and it is called the Nomad. This time around, as opposed to the first game's Mako, you don't feel like you are driving across a trampoline in a weightless car as the Nomad feels much tighter and is more fun to drive around.
Combat and class system also received much care and refinement. Classes are nonexisting and you can mix and mash various abilities to your liking, even completely change them mid combat. This flexible system enables you to create your own class and more deeply explore how to fit them together into a deadly combination. It felt much like an MMO, with me trying to set up my powers and abilities to synergize with one another for quick enemy dispatching. The system and the entire game in turn only gets better as you progress through the game and unlock more abilities. It would be only natural for the same system to apply to weapons, but you can only change your loadout at specified stations and it unnecessarily limits what could have been a perfect system. Shooting itself feels more responsive, impactful and is much more fun. Cover is no longer emphasized as much, as your character is much more mobile thanks to his jump jets and faster movement that encourage flanking enemies and switching your position more often. In that regard, the new, wider camera angle also helps with better visibility of your surroundings.
Not all is great, as the context of the positives above is often a miss. Most of the missions are once again, like an MMO, useless fetch and kill quests that don't mix well with the overall narrative. But whereas in games like Skyrim, you had memes of your character pausing for quiet quest while the world hangs in the balance, at least the quiet quests were interesting. Here they feel bland. There are a lot of side quests and you will occasionally find those that are interesting in their premise and will keep your interest throughout.But more often they start promising but quickly devolve into mindlessness of fetching stuff on three different parts of the map with little to no payoff.
Main story missions are little more thought out and offer interesting things to do, advancing the narrative. But I found myself doing them in increments out of fear that I'll be left with sub-par fetch quests for the remainder of my time with the game. As thing get progressively harder, a huge emphasis is put on crafting your own gear but instead of required materials waiting on the end of interesting missions, they are hidden behind boring scanning of planets, objects, and mining using Ryders omni-tool or the Nomad. Given the importance of this system, you'd think that the UI and inventory would be optimized for it, but you'd be wrong. They often feel overcrowded and needlessly complicated. There are also numerous side activities in establishing outposts, scanning for memories, exploring vaults which help with immersion and are often more interesting as you can do them at your own pace while doing something else.
I see Mass Effect series as a single player experience and have no tolerance toward multiplayer that is there for its own sake. So in Andromeda, you once again have multiplayer similar to that of Mass Effect 3, with cooperative 4 player horde mode that is nothing special. The game even offers you to earn multiplayer rewards from singleplayer by sending out teams to do missions. They have real-time timers and can take a while but they are ideal for those who are multiplayer shy.
Graphics and sound
Good things first. The game looks great. The environments, especially, are immersive, believable with sharp textures and great lighting system. Worlds are diverse, beautiful and invite exploration.Sounds and voice acting are superb and help immersion greatly. The music keeps the great Mass Effect feel of the previous games.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of technical problems. Slow texture loading, framerate drops even in non-crowded areas, clipping of characters, dialogue overlapping, twitchy character animations, weird facial animations and other. Nothing that broke my game or my experience with it, but it never got better, making the game feel unpolished and like it would certainly benefit from a bit longer bug testing and repair. These problems are easily fixable with patches and it is no surprise that Bioware is already working on them, considering numerous problem reports across all platforms.
I didn't expect another Mass Effect game after the third one and would be satisfied if there weren't one. With Andromeda, it feels like the developers had the same mindset when developing the game. They improved upon the visuals and refined the gameplay, but in the creative department storywise, they just didn't have enough inspiration to fill the huge world with meaningful stories and things to do and the resorted to falling back on established threads of previous games. This is further bogged down by persistent technical difficulties that plague the game. They didn't ruin my experience with the game but were very noticeable and they certainly lowered the final score. All in all, technical difficulties can be fixed with patches while core gameplay mechanics can't, and we are in luck that those mechanics are really good, as is the entire game, if you can suffer through its problems.
|+ Great combat||– Mediocre story|
|+ Lots of content||– Technical issues|
|+ Interesting characters||– Boring side quests|
|+ Great visuals|