The original Mass Effect trilogy came as something of a surprise from BioWare who continued to evolve the games over the course of six years as the titles were released. While Shepard’s journey may have come to an end five years ago, there is still a universe of content that the developer has a chance to delve into and they have begun with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Set apart from the original trilogy, does this new adventure lead the series to fresh territory?
With the Milky Way set behind them, Mass Effect: Andromeda is quick to mention that this is an entirely new system for the players to explore. Sent forth on Arks the main races of the Citadel have traveled six hundred years in cryo-sleep hoping to awaken in the Andromeda galaxy with pre-selected “golden worlds” being areas that they can settle down and begin life anew. Taking on the role of Ryder, the female or male pair of children to humanity’s Pathfinder, things quickly go south as soon as the Ark arrives in the galaxy.
After a series of disasters leave you an orphan and the new human Pathfinder, things only get worse as all pre-established worlds have become unlivable during the journey leaving the Nexus, an orbiting space station meant to serve as a hub for the settling effort, with a severe lack of resources, numerous people still frozen due to a lack of resources, and enough problems that there have already been fractions that have left the group as renegades. To top it all off, the human’s ark has been the only one to reach the Nexus so far with the fate of the Turian, Salarian, and Asari arks unknown.
It isn’t long before Ryder learns of ways to begin fixing the planets that have fallen into unlivable conditions but almost every step forward for survival brings with it more questions as to what happened since they began their journey. With a villainous alien race making Andromeda its home and an immediate threat to those from the Milky Way, Ryder’s hopes of a golden future is far darker and much more dangerous than any would have expected.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is quick to move away from the familiar aspects of the series by leaving almost every trace of the original trilogy behind. Outside of the rare mention of an element of the past games and of course the fact that the alien races traveling from the Milky Way remain the same, almost every aspect of the game delivers a new storyline that is completely unattached to the original trilogy meaning it is highly inviting to newcomers.
That being said, it wouldn’t have hurt to probably borrow a few aspects of the original trilogy here as Mass Effect: Andromeda’s storyline tends to be a real drag. Not only do the majority of the characters that you meet, including many of your rather predictable and lackluster crewmembers, feel rather stiffly done but they are highly generic when you interact with them. This is partially due to the fact every crewmember is handed to you within a short period of time and also that the Paragon and Renegade systems have been removed entirely and instead players are given various dialogue choices that fall into certain categories such as passionate, intellectual, etc.
Most of the conversation choices during interactions end up being between two of these categories with there being almost no difference between the outcomes. In fact when what appeared to be a pivotal moment in the game’s story that starts with outrage from a crewmember quickly dwindles to nothing as if he didn’t care at all. Moments where these tonal shifts happen are far too frequent throughout the storyline and it leads to many characters falling flat. In fact, even the relationship elements are lackluster as players are literally shown options to immediately try and romance certain characters right off the bat and sure while it doesn’t end up being that easy, the way it is handled is as generic as the rest of the dialogue elements in the game.
Outside of the poorly handled characters and their interactions, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s core storyline also has a number of missteps. The storyline begins to develop quickly once you manage to reach a certain point in the game but prior to that point almost everything feels like busywork that is meant to discourage the player from even continuing on with the story. These initial hours are one of the biggest hurdles to overcome before the game opens up more and offers an intriguing storyline to hook you into continuing but prepare to be discouraged before the story makes significant improvements.
Although the characters may be a bit lacking one place that Mass Effect: Andromeda pulls through strongly is in its exploration and combat mechanics. In fact, it appears that the developers have looked at what has worked in the past and what hasn’t and have managed to find a very satisfying combination of mechanics to bring forth from the past trilogy in these elements. The first thing players will notice is different is that they now have the ability to apply skill points to any of the three class tiers, allowing them to choose from a mix of biotic, tech, and combat styled skills to best fit their playstyle. To make things even better, there are various “profiles” that will be unlocked by applying enough points to certain styles and these profiles can be changed at any time with each one offering different boosts.
Through this upgraded customization system players will also find that combat is also far faster paced and fluid than before. Part of this is due to the fact that players are now equipped with a jetpack that Ryder to dodge enemy attacks and duck behind cover faster, double jump around an environment to find a useful vantage point, and even hover while aiming to target a stubborn AI that won’t leave its cover. The only downside to the jetpack is the fact that the game does feature a number of platforming areas that tend to slow things down more than anything else and there are more than a few areas that can leave the player stuck in the level geometry if they try to get too adventurous while exploring a planet.
Mass Effect: Andromeda relies quite heavily on planet exploration for the bulk of its content as players will find a number of worlds that they can explore in the new Nomad vehicle that serves as a faster form of travel and a way to shield your crew from some of the harsher environments that are either too cold, radioactive, or hot for regular human travel. By exploring these planets and completing various quests while also unlocking “Remnant” vaults players will need to help each planet grow in viability so the surviving members of the Nexus can begin to set down outposts.
This does mean that there are quite a lot of side-quests to take on but very rarely do these tasks feel overwhelming in nature despite how many there are to take on. This wealth of side content is surprisingly well varied with various bits of lore about the core planets also being revealed as you explore and complete certain missions, some of which can be rather surprising in nature since a few tend to rely on the player’s scanning ability to track down hidden parts of a quest.
It is interesting to note that this game does feature a rather extensive multiplayer mode that you can dabble in as well. Though players can earn various side-bonuses by sending AI teams out to take on missions that last for hours at a time for small rewards, various APEX missions as they are called drop the player into a wave based multiplayer mode that can be played outside of the main game as well. These modes are quite fun when played in small bursts though it is clear that they are meant to be played with friends more than with random players as certain stages can be quite troublesome without a tightly focused team.
While the combat and exploration mechanics in Mass Effect: Andromeda have been improved, there is an unfortunately high number of bugs accompanying both features. As mentioned briefly, exploring on foot can be troublesome with various glitches either sticking Ryder into a level or falling entirely through the floor and needing to be respawned. Even the Nomad, as nimble as it can be at times, has a tendency to get spawned inside of the ground or an object if you happen to drive off a cliff with it, forcing the player to leave the planet. As for the combat, the main issue tends to be ally AI as they tend to be incredible dull when certain skills are used. While certain ally skills can easily be seen as working in combat, the number of times I witnessed an ally firing a special move directly into their own cover or a random rock nowhere near an enemy made me lose count.
Visuals & Audio
Since exploration is such a huge element in Andromeda it is a good thing that BioWare have managed to craft gorgeous looking worlds and cities for the player to travel through. Though two of the planets do happen to be desert worlds, they are varied enough to stand out and considering the amount of variety and attention to detail in these worlds, you’ll be more than happy to see what each one has to offer. Unfortunately even post-patch the same cannot be said for many of the characters. While the designs for the alien creatures remain fairly interesting in nature, facial animations and designs are still quite unfortunate to look at times.
While a few animations did improve post-release these issues appear far too often and considering the number of times I’ve ran into characters in default T style poses, there are various load issues with crew models as well. The voice work for the characters in this entry does stand out as being quite exceptional which is a nice touch even though some of the actual characters fall a bit flat in the development department.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is clearly a title that wants to set itself apart from the original trilogy and while it does serve as a decent enough entry into a new galaxy for players to explore, it is also one that is plagued with various issues and lacks a decent supporting cast to hold up the mysterious storyline that they are attempting to tell here. Fans of the series will be delighted with the new combat and exploration mechanics and with so many new worlds to enjoy you can easily sink hours into exploring a new area by losing track of time but be prepared for the various aforementioned issues to rear their head far too often and damper the experience.