Mass Effect Andromeda Review

The worst thing about Mass Effect: Andromeda is that it has to be compared to its predecessors, and while the game takes a step in the right direction to continuing the franchise, if you were hoping for the strong, unique story of previous games, you might be disappointed.

 

Now let me clarify, Andromeda is not a bad game by any stretch. It has some great open world segments, interesting squad mates, and a refined combat system that gives you a lot of options while fighting enemies. Now, I am a huge fan of this series, ever since Mass Effect 2 basically got me back into playing video games regularly, so I may be a bit more willing to overlook some flaws then others might. But since this is a Mass Effect game, I also feel that I, unfairly to the game, must hold it to the same standards as the Shepard trilogy, and it just can’t compete in that respect.

Before I move on, though, just a quick description of how I played my game: Male Ryder, Insanity difficulty, mostly charm and casual answers when prompted, and finished with about 90% of side quests completed. Tried to start a second playthrough as Female Ryder, but the Prologue mission refused to function correctly.

Story (No major story spoilers past the two/three hour mark)

If a friend is trying to convince you to play a Mass Effect game, he/she will usually try to convince you based on its excellent story (whether they make any mention of ME3’s ending is a whole different story). This is certainly why I became attached to the series, and its massive, galaxy-reaching plot that still was able to focus on individual characters and their motivations. Andromeda starts off promising enough, with your character, part of a 100,000 strong group of Council-race settlers (and Krogan), coming to Andromeda from the Milky Way after 600 years of cryo-sleep. Unfortunately, the plan to settle on per-determined ‘golden worlds’ has failed spectacularly, thanks to some weird artificial cloud thing that has destroyed the ecosystems of nearly every planet in the cluster. After your father, the ‘Pathfinder’ who is responsible for exploring and maintaining the colonies in Andromeda, dies, you assume his mantle and work to find ways to fix these planets with mysterious technology left behind by some long extinct alien race. Along the way, you make friends, kill some aliens, and discover all that this galaxy has to offer.

Now if that description sounds a little familiar, I can’t really blame you. Ryder, who thanks to an AI embedded in their head can access the tech left behind, feels more similar to ME1’s Shepard than probably intended. It’s kinda a let-down that despite five years of development and a whole new galaxy, Bioware stuck to “ancient aliens with technology only the hero can use” story structure of the first Mass Effect game. Now as the story progresses, some aspects do differentiate it from ME1, but with a base like that, it’s not too hard to figure out where the story is going. The major villains of the game, the Kett, don’t stand out at first either, but hidden away in side-missions are a couple of beats that does set up stories for other outings, whether it be DLC or a new trilogy. And that’s the key takeaway, because while the original trilogy used its three outings to reach a satisfying conclusion, Andromeda only has the one game so far, so perhaps story lines that seem to end without much fanfare can be discussed and revisited later, if Bioware decides to make other games.

But if the main story is somewhat of a letdown, the new characters you meet take add quite a lot to proceedings. Bioware once again gives us NPCs and teammates with unique stories and backgrounds to make them more than just assistance in combat. There’s guys like Drack, an 1000-year-old Krogan who acts like on old grandpa, and Peebee, an asari with a quick mouth and commitment issues. Through these characters, we learn about Andromeda and all that’s happened while you were still asleep (The ‘base’ that each of the colony ships were supposed to rendezvous at, The Nexus, arrived and woke up its colonists about a year before your character got there.), even if it does still feel like exposition dumping, but since this game could be the introduction of new fans to the Mass Effect series, I don’t think it’s that unnecessary. Each one gets their own loyalty mission, which end up being some of the best missions of the game (I especially enjoyed Liam’s, where the ship your fighting on keeps having its artificial gravity flipped so you end up fighting on the ceiling), all of which help you link into what drives them and gives you the personality you don’t get from just talking to them on your ship.

Also outside of the main story are some rather, I think, important side-quests that actually work to fill in the blanks of some mysteries the main story doesn’t spend its time on. Some of these feel so important, I don’t think that a second game could theoretically continue unless you find and complete these missions, so I highly recommend looking for those when they pop up on your map. The storytelling merits of the other side missions and tasks don’t really contribute much other than world-building for the planets you land on, letting you know the struggles a new colony faces or helping you run into people that have connections to old Mass Effect series characters (and there are plenty of characters who show up that just so happen to have some relationship with an original trilogy character).

By the endgame, you do get the feeling that Bioware wants there to be sequels, since its far more linear than any of the previous games. There aren’t many branching paths that don’t seem to have huge consequences, so the hope would be that the later games use those innocuous ones you make, from main or side quests, to make its story stronger. But a single game should be able to exist on its own, so I don’t need huge branching paths to get me invested in a story, but it does likely reduce my desire to replay the story all over again to see the different ways the story can go. Even though its tonally lighter than the original trilogy, that doesn’t inherently mean its worse than that narrative, but yes, it doesn’t compare to that story so far.

Gameplay

The Mass Effect series has always had a weird relationship with its’ RPG elements, going from a full commitment in ME1, to the expense of combat, to basically abandoning it in the second game, to letting you customize your guns a bit in ME3. Andromeda seems to have finally found the mixture that works, with enemies dropping loot like armor, weapons, upgrades, and junk to sell in good ratios, and introducing a crafting system. While it can all seem overwhelming at first, I found how useful it was to spend research points (acquired by scanning tech you find throughout the worlds) on blueprints and then collecting the necessary resources to make more powerful armor sets and add modifications to my guns. Since I was playing on the highest difficulty, it became very apparent how important it was to make sure the armor I had complimented my play-style, but on lower difficulties using the stuff you find on the ground and in crates doesn’t appear to be that detrimental to combat. Unfortunately, your Ryder is the only one who benefits from this equipment management, as your squadmates cannot change out their armors or weapons. This seems like an odd step back from ME1 or other Bioware games like Dragon Age Inquisition.

Andromeda does improve on its dialogue system, though, by replacing the good-in-theory but bad-in-practice Paragon/Renegade system with a more nuanced system. You now pick between emotional, logical, professional, and casual responses, helping my Ryder be a little more nuanced than Shepard was. This shift also helps make some of the choices I mentioned previously require more contemplation before I answered. Choices are no longer blatantly marked as good or evil, so there were some genuinely tough decisions I had to make. I didn’t have to worry about only choosing good options so my character could unlock special dialogue options further in the game. I took each decision on its own merits, weighing the potential risk and opportunities presented, and tried to decide who I would piss off the least or most with my actions.

Like the other games, Andromeda allows you to scan planets from your ship, the Tempest, for resources and experience. It’s just as tedious as previous games, and unfortunately you can’t land on planets for one-off missions, so you’re restricted to the six-or-seven major open world planets for major explorations. Thankfully, you’re ground vehicle, the Nomad, handles so much better than the Mako, with switchable gears for traveling up mountains vs going fast in open areas. You’re free to basically abandon main objectives and just travel all over the map if you want, completing side missions and rooting out enemy factions to increase each planet’s viability for the colonists still stuck in cryo sleep.

After doing enough side missions, you can place an outpost there, but other than offering up some more side missions, they don’t really affect your game by the end of the story. Maybe this is another thing Bioware is going to expand upon in a sequel, but for now, they’re basically in-game trophies of your accomplishments. Increasing Andromeda’s viability allows you to choose certain colonists to wake up first as well, each set of which gives you bonuses for increased XP, resource drops, or better prices at stores. Its a cute mechanic that helps chart your progress, but as far as I can tell, doesn’t impact your endgame as greatly as, say, ME3’s galactic readiness system did.

Combat

A lot of press has gone into how you’re free to play however you want, and they’re not wrong. Like previous games, you can equip four types of weapons; pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles, and have three hot-keyed powers; from combat, tech, and biotic skill trees, at any one time. Each weapon and each power has their own unique advantage, complimented by a selected profile which gives bonuses based on style of play.  There is, however, no restrictions on what guns you can use or what powers you can put skill points in, so you can mix and match each of these to your liking. You can additionally have up to four pre-made sets of powers and a profile set up to be switched at a moment’s notice, based on the type of enemy your fighting. Facing a bunch of Remnant robots? Switch to your Engineer profile and hit them with Overloads and a Sentry Turret. Power combos also provide new ways to work your powers off each other, dealing extra damage from you and your squad.

That is, at least in theory, how it should work. But, maybe because of my playstyle, I stuck to a Charge/Nova combo that allowed me to regain my shields everytime I hit my enemies,  and eventually allowed me to be invincible during the recharge time. You die pretty quickly on Insanity, so I didn’t have the time to try and test other styles before I beat the game. Afterwards, I switched to a lower difficulty and did experiment more, and I saw the practicality of such a system. My team was generally made up of the krogan tank and one of the two biotic characters to set up biotic combos, but no one really stands out in combat since you can’t control their power attacks like in the Shepard trilogy.

The major addition to combat is Ryder’s jetpack, which allows him/her to boost away quickly or jump up to new vantage points. This adds a new dimension to combat and affords you new ways of fighting the usual mix of enemy mooks, equipped with either shields or armor to make your life more difficult. Story missions levels are now designed with this tool in mind, providing multiple places to hide from enemies and plan your moves. Even if it doesn’t have much use in random enemy encounters while free-roaming, its a good addition to the refined combat of this game.

Graphics and Technical Issues

I played this game on PS4, and when it wanted to look pretty, it looked damn pretty. Each planet’s unique environment, from the sandy dunes of Elaaden to the dark jungle of Havarl, is rendered beautifully and made each one stand out from the others. Looking out from the deck of my ship lets you get view of whatever planet or object your orbiting, and they still look good from there. Even when you do encounter the same type of environment (**cough** Remnant vaults **cough**), they still look beautiful when its running well.

Well, now that all the good stuff out of the way, lets ruin it by talking about all the glitches, bugs, and things that legitimately made me mad. Sometimes when the Nomad starts going too fast, the game stops for like 2 seconds to load up the next section of the map, making me fret that the game is about to crash on me. While it never did that, I still had to deal with doors not opening, enemies getting stuck in places I couldn’t kill, and entire rooms disappearing off my ship. But the worst thing was the multiple times I couldn’t complete missions and quests, including a loyalty mission, because for some reason it wouldn’t trigger the last conversation meant to finish it. Sometimes, even if they did get completed, the accompanying trophy wouldn’t pop, meaning I’d have to restart said loyalty mission, and even one main quest, over again to have it count. And as I alluded to at the top, when I tried to start a second playthrough, I couldn’t pull up my scanner to complete the prologue, and all of my previous playthrough missions were still marked as completed, so I guess the game just decided I didn’t have to do anything. It feels like Bioware was forced to rush get this out by the end of the quarter, with the assumption that they can always patch it later, but this hurts the day-one players like me who are ready to invest their time into the game.

As for the much maligned facial animations, they never really bothered me. Sure, there are moments where a character’s eyes look dead, but unless you use mo-cap technology, you’re probably not going to get each one of the 700 characters you talk to to have perfect animations (unless you work at CD Projekt Red). Walking animations do look weird, however, especially when sprinting in civilian clothes, which makes you look like your trying to sit down in a chair while still moving forward. It’s incredible that the last coat of polish hasn’t been applied to such a huge game, with such a huge marketing campaign behind it, but I guess this probably explains why Bioware held back gameplay footage and in-person demos for as long as possible.

Multiplayer

If you remember Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer, you’re basically already prepped for Andromeda‘s. You choose a character with pre-decided powers, and customize them further by choosing their guns and damage/experience boosters. You can be any of the friendly races, including the new Angaran alien, where you and a team of three others engage play togther in horde mode against one of three enemy faction types. Each wave has different objectives, whether it be survive, uploading data, assassinating key enemies, etc… for a total of seven waves till extraction. Its repetitive, but fun, and if Bioware offers up weekly challenges like they did with ME3, I’ll probably still log in for a couple of matches a month from now.

Multiplayer does require some sense of the map to know where ammo boxes and health canisters are, so it may take a while to get the hang of it. You can choose to fight with three different difficulty, with I believe a fourth, ultra difficulty being added into the game in the future. You can get new characters and weapons through loot boxes, with credits you earn from either beating missions or micro transactions, because those are never leaving AAA games no matter how much you don’t like it. Unlike ME3, though, this mode doesn’t have a direct affect on Andromeda‘s story, but you can choose to send a team of bots do go do certain APEX missions for you to win guns and equipment you can use in the main game. Oddly enough, the only times this game crashed on me was during the multiplayer, so that’s a problem that should be fixed as quickly as possible. Ultimately, the multiplayer is there if you want it, but no one’s forcing you to play it.

Final Thoughts

Mass Effect Andromeda is a good start for the series moving forward, provided it takes the storytelling groundwork and uses it to tell diverse stories to separate it from direct comparisons to the Shepard trilogy. It’s a game with good writing, as evidenced by its characters, but not necessarily a good story. The diversity of combat is a welcome refinement of past games, though, and doesn’t need much improvement unless Bioware was open to letting you equip your squadmates too. Hopefully patches can clean up most of the numerous bugs and glitches, which do hurt its overall presentation  significantly. It may not carry the initial power of ME1 or the narrative stakes of ME2 and 3, but Mass Effect Andromeda is still a good game that deserves your attention.

 

 

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