Mass Effect Andromeda is the spinoff/continuation of the beloved sci-fi series Mass Effect and takes us in a whole new direction: to a new galaxy. The Mass Effect trilogy were three of my all time favourite games. The focus on creating lovable and relatable characters for your crew members greatly increased immersion and raised the stakes in the conclusion of the games. The series is not without its faults however. The bafflingly bad ending to Mass Effect 3 still lingers and upon replay the core gameplay has not aged very well, especially for the first game. Andromeda gives Bioware the chance to take the series in a new direction in gameplay and by escaping the mistakes of the past.
Story is the most important aspect of the Mass Effect series and Andromeda tells an engaging and interesting one. The “Andromeda Initiative” is a private organisation with the goal of traveling across deep space to colonize the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy. In previous games, traveling across the galaxy was achieved using the Mass Relays positioned around the Milky Way. This time around cryo-sleep is required as the journey would take over 600 years. This aspect ties nicely into the gameplay as it means planets need to be deemed viable before thousands of people who need food and water wake up. Upon arrival in Andromeda’s Heleus cluster the player discovers that nothing was as promised. Specially selected “golden worlds” that would be suitable for colonization are now in ruin, leaving you to figure out how to survive.
The premise here is an interesting one and I don’t think many games have explored the idea of being a colonizer previously. Instead of the spy missions being assigned to Commander Shepard, the Ryder’s have more pressing and natural assignments of finding a place to live for all the species who have made the trip. I played the game as Scott Ryder and his character feels more relatable than Commander Shepard was. Shepard was already an established military man when we are introduced to him whereas Ryder has the role of Pathfinder thrust onto him, and in turn the player, while being relatively inexperienced.
As always in the Mass Effect series, the voice acting is superb and really brings the characters to life. I have a feeling that they may have been going for a Nathan Drake vibe with his character as his voice actor sounds distinctly like Nolan North. What I would recommend doing is customising the default character models for both Scott and Sarah Ryder. As is they just feel so bland. The character customiser allows plenty of options to breathe some life into the characters and I grew very attached to my Ryders even though Sarah looks identical to my copilot (whoops).
The crew members are again one of the highlights of the game. There’s a wide range of characters and I would say that while the loyalty missions for your crew are not quite as good as they have been previously, they are still some of the better moments in this game. In the the previous games they did have multiple games to establish underlying storylines but that doesn’t change the fact that they feel underwhelming here in comparison. A fantastic addition in Andromeda is loads more banter between your squad mates. A decent portion of your time will be driving around the new open areas on the planets and Bioware have used this time to further establish their characters. Different squad mates will have different conversations and react differently to each other. Lines were rarely repeated in my playthrough and it helps the player learn things about the character that are not normally revealed through the conversation wheel interactions.
There are story issues though. The main threat in the game borrows heavily from previous Mass Effect entries and the main driving force assisting your settlement efforts does seem very convenient. These issues don’t ruin the experience by any means but it feels like Bioware are afraid to take risks and stick to their established formula too rigidly.
Overall the new enemies are enjoyable to fight and make for good opponents even if they aren’t exactly inspired. The conclusion is very satisfying and I would recommend playing this game for the story. It is something we haven’t really seen before and the smaller personal moments with your crew are great.
Gameplay has changed drastically from previous games in the series. Due to colonisation theme, there has been a switch to a more open world format with a greater emphasis on driving and exploring the maps of each habitable planet. Driving hasn’t worked previously in the series with the Mako driving sections being painful in the first game. Thankfully the new Nomad buggy controls like an actual car and has an off-road function to navigate up steep slopes. Each open world map has plenty of enemy outposts and caves to explore but taking these out just feels like busywork and isn’t central to the story. Still, it’s better than exploring empty planets like in Mass Effect 1.
Each planet has sidequests and miscellaneous tasks to complete that help raise the planet’s viability rating. The self contained sidequests feel significant to each planet’s storyline but there are too many quests that involve zipping back and forth between solar systems just to talk to someone or take out a few enemies.
As with any Mass Effect game, talking to your crew and other NPCs is integral to the Andromeda experience. In this installment they have altered the conversation wheel by removing the obvious paragon (blue) and renegade (red) options. These options limited player choice as you had to either be a good guy or a bad guy. It was black or white and there was no point of being in the middle as it would reduce your conversation options. In Andromeda there are more questionable decisions where you don’t always know what the best decision is which makes for a better system in my opinion.
Combat has been improved dramatically and there is more choice than ever when creating your character. Instead of a rigid class system you are free to choose whichever abilities you want to use and you unlock “profiles” which give you stat boosts according to the skills you chose. Some abilities will now “prime” enemies allowing combos to do additional damage. These are great changes to the system and the new dash and jump abilities mean traditional cover shooting is reduced and replaced by free flowing combat depending on what abilities you chose.
There are several factions that you will be fighting along the way. Each faction has a few different units that are all pretty fun to fight against and there is a mini-boss enemy for each too. These guys are visually impressive but can be frustrating to fight as some of them have one hit kill moves. Admittedly they have to be very close to you but battles can be very frantic and it can be annoying when they teleport behind you and you get one shot.
I especially appreciate that if you aren’t paying attention and choose your skills wisely you can make combinations that actually make you worse. I learnt this early on after creating a build that used my shields as ammo for my abilities but I didn’t think to pick an ability that regains my shields. Thankfully you can respec your abilities on your ship for a fee but for one mission I really shot myself in the foot. I think this system makes you think about the upgrades you pick and the pros and cons of each one.
The game can be beautiful at times. Driving around in your rover looking at the backdrops usually looks great. I found the facial animations to be pretty good for the most part, even before the patch that fixed issues with them. Unfortunately, there are many, many other visual bugs within this game. Long pauses when initiating conversations, the rest of your ship not loading when walking out of the cockpit of the Tempest and NPCs sliding out of place in conversations are just some of the visual bugs that I have encountered during my playthrough.
This is just anecdotal but it feels like the introduction of a sprint button and dash button means that you move faster than the game can load. It often triggers the conversation pauses and pop-in. The game has been out for several weeks now and these issues should really still not be in the game to such an extent. I find it offensive that games are released in such broken states these days. This isn’t an issue with crashing servers due to high player counts; it is just poor quality assurance.
Co-op multiplayer returns from Mass Effect 3 in much the same way. It is essentially a “horde” mode with extra objectives to mix it up now and then. The combo priming system shines in multiplayer and it is great fun to play with friends. The difficulty ramps up dramatically on the gold maps and I definitely recommend finding three other friends and using voice chat for the best experience. It is a fun little distraction and there are plans to add extra content but it is ultimately pretty shallow. Playing with different classes is fun but I can only play the same few levels for so long before it just feels repetitive.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a difficult game to score. On one hand I find the overall premise, characters and gameplay to be great. It extends the universe, introduces new lore that I appreciate and the move to an open world style does suit this type of game. On the other hand, story aspects feel recycled and convenient and the game is a buggy mess. There is a lot of value in this game; I’ve played the game for 58 hours to be at about 95% completion and I have enjoyed my time with the game. The rest of the content though feels like filler tasks to pad out each planet’s content that doesn’t affect the story and just feel like mindless busy work. I did all of these quests on the first couple of planets while watching Netflix and they were fine but by themselves they would be dull.
I would say that if you are a big fan of the Mass Effect series you will be happy with Andromeda. If you appreciate the lore and smaller character details there is a lot here that you will like. I fall in this category. If you rush through the main quest without focusing on the loyalty side quests you may find yourself underwhelmed. Its the finer details that make this game and if you can look through its shortcomings you can find a great experience here. I know that I’m already excited to keep exploring this new galaxy.