Mass Effect Andromeda isn’t quite the return for the series we all hoped for. It’s technically flawed, suffers from sections of poor writing, padded with dull and tedious side content, and lacks the subtlety of its former trilogy of titles. It’s largely been developed by a fresh set of creators, and it unfortunately feels like it. However, some excellent combat mechanics and a fascinating concept behind the story does make this adventure one worth exploring.
The arrival in the Andromeda galaxy and the events proceeding it tell a well-paced and fascinating story of survival, exploration and mystery. Indeed, the idea of leaving the behind Milky Way, many of that galaxy’s species, and the Reapers, makes this adventure feel fresh and your discoveries more intriguing. It’s a smart choice that certainly feels like a great introduction for an entirely new series of Mass Effect games and stories. However, it also raises a level of expectance and anticipation for something grander that the original trilogy offered; something more threatening than the Reapers and more fascinating that the mass relays, and Andromeda’s stand-ins for both of these don’t fill their predecessor’s shoes just yet. There’s time for this to develop further, of course, if indeed the plan for another trilogy is realised, but this potentially opening act doesn’t feel as strong.
However, the new threat in the form of the alien menace the Kett and the dark matter infecting the Helius region of the Andromeda galaxy, prove to be intimidating enough to compromise the best laid plans of the Andromeda Initiative that organised this colony mission. The Human, Asari, Salarian and Turian races each have their own ark, with other races, such as the Krogan, also joining these arks but in lesser numbers. It adds a nice slice of familiarity to the cast, helping ease you in to the new. As for the stand-in for mass relays, instead there’s ancient Remnant technology from a mysterious, advanced race that can cleanse a planet’s atmosphere, acting as a new tool and source of technological intrigue that works well within the fiction of arriving in a hostile new galaxy.
The goal of the Andromeda Initiative was to setup the first few colonies of Milky Way species in the Andromeda galaxy across seven ‘golden worlds’, that long-range scanned determined were rich with resources and fit for life. However, during the 600 plus years it took the arks to travel to this region, the worlds have been altered. The discovery of the aforementioned dark matter veins surrounding the region, the alien race the Kett, and the Remnant vaults that sit on these planets, provides a strong driving force to figure out how they’re all connected, and your struggle to overcome the challenges of this new galaxy embroils you in a well-told adventure, just one that’s on a smaller, more personal scale than the original trilogy.
While the galaxy is new and mysterious, Mass Effect Andromeda still manages to feel very familiar. Nods to previous events and characters in the series helps make this new chapter feel connected and many of the original title’s tropes are played on to make this feel like a familiar yet new beginning. There’s politics to your position within the Andromeda Initiative as Pathfinder that feels pleasantly similar to the struggle of Shepard as the first Human Spectre. Meanwhile, the Nexus – the huge hub space station where the arks are meant to rendezvous – is the Citadel in all but name. Scanning planet for resources, the Pathfinder’s personal ship, crew and land vehicle the Nomad, intense combat and copious amounts of lore to read up on and glean from dialogue, all makes Andromeda feel like any other Mass Effect title.
Where’s there’s been improvements are in the dialogue choices and the combat. You can now choose from up to four emotional responses during conversations, allowing for a much more natural flow to dialogue, although situations where you’re only provided two options that are practically identical do crop up far too often, and this element of ‘choice’ is more of an illusion than an actual dialogue tree. The combat, meanwhile, is now much more fluid, with your character taking cover automatically when you approach it, weapons and abilities hitting harder and having clear strategic uses, and ammo being strewn across battlefields ready to restock you and get you back in the fight. The upgrade tree is split between different disciplines allowing you to craft different character classes, such as a traditional soldier, biotic enhanced, tech enhanced, etc. Furthermore, you can switch between these disciplines at will, allowing you to adapt to the situation you’re in as well as find a play-style that best suits you. Finally, the jet boosters adds a nice amount of verticality to your movement during combat to allow for better tactics and a more flowing and intense set of encounters, with the enemy AI proving aggressive enough to make moving around during a fight an important strategic consideration.
However, there’s also plenty of issues that can ruin the experience for you. Humans and Asari suffer from horrendous facial animations and dead eyes that make dialogue with them distracting. Meanwhile, all characters are prone to dodgy walking animations and glitches where they reset to the ‘T’ position. There are also many instances of low frame rates and screen tearing, some truly terrible writing, poor draw distance, and characters floating in the air when you approach them. Largely these are issues with the final polish, and as such can be ignored, however, we also ran into some game-breaking bugs that prevented us talking to other characters or being able to achieve objectives within a mission. Reloading fixed these issues the majority of the time, but not always. Additionally, a lot of the side missions feel like filler, giving you dull and repetitive tasks that added little to the lore. Furthermore, tutorials only provided the briefest overview of some of the new systems and inventory management options.
Indeed, Mass Effect Andromeda has a lot of issues that can pull you out of the experience, however, when focused on the story missions it can easily immerse you in this new galaxy and the new challenges it provides. Additionally, some terrific lighting and environment textures make planets a visual treat to visit, and the voice cast does a great job, for the most part. The Multiplayer also provides a compelling, wave-based, cooperative challenge; it’s a little shallow but the intense combat makes it thrilling enough.
Despite the issues there’s still a good Mass Effect title here. There’s a lot of potential for the sequels to jump off this opening chapter in the Andromeda galaxy and build something great. Sure, the bugs and glitches are immersion breaking and disappointing, lacking that polish we expect from BioWare, but a strong story steeped in intrigue does a great job of mitigating most of the flaws.
Thanks to Xbox and EA for supporting TiX