Mass Effect Andromeda is a difficult game to review for me. I’ve long been a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, with Mass Effect 2 being one of my all-time favourite games. Following the controversial ending to the original trilogy, it’s safe to say that Mass Effect Andromeda had big shoes to fill. And I’m sorry to say that the latest installment in the space faring, alien sexy-time simulator fails to meet the lofty expectations of long-time fans.
Andromeda is set 600 years after the events of Mass Effect 2, in an entirely new galaxy, the titular Andromeda. Following the existence threatening arrival of the Reapers (Long-time ME baddies) in the Milky Way, a coalition of scientists, engineers and homesteaders from all races gathered together to launch the Andromeda initiative. Gathering together in species specific “Arks,” thousands of life forms cryogenically freeze themselves and set off for the distant expanse of the Andromeda Galaxy, to find new worlds to settle and escape the Reapers wrath. This is where our story begins, with the player taking control of one of the Ryder twins, human pathfinders tasked with leading the human ark to its new home.
Upon arriving in the Andromeda galaxy after their 300-year space nap, Ryder (I played the male twin, so for brevity’s sake I’ll refer to Ryder as “he” from now on) awakens to total pandemonium. The human Ark is catastrophically damaged upon entering the galaxy, the initiatives leaders are killed during entry and the other Arks are nowhere to be found. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a hostile race of religious alien zealots immediately make the initiative feel very unwelcome. Left alone in a new galaxy, with limited supplies, man power and leadership, Ryder must gather together a ragtag crew of soldiers and scientists to combat this new threat, and find a new home for his people.
Mass Effect Andromeda follows a very similar gameplay pattern to the series previous installment, Mass Effect 3. As Ryder, players navigate the Galaxy map, selecting planets to explore or mine for crafting materials. The worlds of Andromeda are far larger and more varied than those of previous series installments. From the arid desert wastelands of Eos to the freezing tundra of Voeld, Andromeda offers a pleasant variety of environments to explore. Players will use the returning Mako vehicle to navigate these sizable landmasses, with most planets having environmental hazards to keep an eye on. These include radiation damage and freezing temperatures, this gives the worlds a real “untamed wilderness” feel, while simultaneously limiting your ability to explore at your own pace. The size of the planets can also severely limit your enjoyment, the landscapes are often fairly sparse and unpopulated. I found myself spending far too much time aimlessly wandering over empty ground looking for something to do, or just trying to get from A to B. Andromeda could have definitely done with more side activities and variation when it comes to its environments. While Andromeda does offer several side quests, they are often boring fetch quests, and not worth your time.
One of the Mass Effect series most defining features has always been its interaction with your crew members, and I am glad to say that this is where Andromeda shines the brightest. The team at Bioware have assembled a collection of genuinely interesting and entertaining characters, and spending time with them is always a joy. I found myself reluctant to like the characters as much as I did at first. I never thought they’d live up to series favourites like Garrus or Thane. But the game manages to flip many previous character architypes on their heads. For example, the human characters of Mass Effect have largely been considered bland and less interesting than their alien counterparts. Liam Costa, the players first recruited crew member could have easily followed this route. But due to great writing, voice acting and storytelling, this childish British soldier quickly became one of my favourite characters. Likewise, Human biotic Cora could have easily been just another Miranda Lawson clone, but through interacting with her and learning more about her backstory, she really came alive as an interesting and engaging character. A lot of criticism has been leveled at Mass Effect Andromeda for its stiff animations, particularly in its characters faces. While I can’t say that the facial animation for characters is brilliant, its far from the deal breaking fiasco it’s been made out to be. It bothered me for about five minutes and then I never thought about it again.
Bioware are clearly very aware that players would jump at the chance to interact with these new characters. From the idle chatter between characters during missions, to character specific stories and even just general chit chat while exploring your ship. The characters of Andromeda are a major highlight, and lift this game out of potential mediocrity. Ryder’s ship, the Tempest, serves as the games main hub and it where you will spend a majority of the game. Thankfully, the Tempest is a visually intriguing location, and I never felt bored exploring it. As you travel the galaxy and recruit new crew members, they will take up rooms in the tempest, providing new opportunities to interact with them, and even giving you missions. The crew also interact with each other in a fun way, making them seem less like a gallery of talking heads and more like living, breathing people. Overhearing idle chatter between characters or reading through the crew notice board almost always brought a smile to my face. Oh and in case you were wondering (and I know you were) yes; you can bang the aliens.
A major part of Andromeda’s story involves a long extinct race of advanced aliens known as “Remnants.” A large part of Andromeda’s gameplay focuses on exploring ancient Remnant ruins known as “vaults.” Every planet has a handful of these vaults, and many of the critical missions involve exploring these ancient alien structures. Unfortunately this is perhaps the weakest and most frustrating part of Andromeda. The Remnant vaults are an absolute slog. They are bland, boring and usually empty caverns made of a black onyx like material. They are populated by the same tired puzzles, repeated and uninspired enemies and repetitive gameplay. Every time I found myself having to explore a vault, I completely tuned out and stopped enjoying the game. They became an exercise in monotony and I couldn’t wait to finish them so I could get back to the good stuff. This may be more of a personal criticism, but I found the vaults and their continued unwelcome inclusion in the gameplay to nearly ruin Andromeda for me.
Combat in Mass Effect Andromeda is vastly improved from previous installments in the franchise. The addition of the jump pack brings a fun new dynamic to combat. Being able to quickly dash across the battlefield to close in on enemies, or launching into the air to get the drop on them taking cover is always a joy. Bioware have also wisely ditched the class system of previous games in favour of an all-inclusive skill tree. This was a very welcome addition. No longer do players have to decide at the start of the game what type of combatant they want to be. You can mix and match skills to suit your personal play style. From the hard hitting and durable soldier skills all the way to the flashy and dynamic biotic skills, Mass Effect Andromeda lets players experiment with their combat style.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a fun game for fans of the series or just sci-fi fans in general. While the game does not deliver the same emotional gut punches of the original trilogy, nor the same dynamic gameplay variation, it is still worth your time. If you enjoy interesting characters, exploring new worlds and a deep and rich lore, Mass Effect Andromeda will suit you just fine. Just don’t expect a masterpiece.