- Developer: Bioware
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release Date: March 21st 2017 (NA) March 23rd 2017 (EU)
- Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
- Playtime: 53 hours
- Acquisition: Reviewer purchased copy
Any new entry to a popular series is always going to come under scrutiny. Sometimes the new game rises to the occasion, even under the critical eye of decade-long fans, like Link’s latest outing in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Other times, the end product can be a huge disappointment. Mass Effect Andromeda comes somewhere in the middle.
Welcome to the New World
Anyone familiar with the Mass Effect games knows that they all took place in our very own Milky Way galaxy. Andromeda has taken a leap in time and space, occurring not only 600 light years away but also 600 years in the future.
This has given Bioware a chance to re-design everything, from environments to wildlife to alien species. As the Pathfinder, the one tasked with scouting out and settling new worlds for the Milky Way travelers, you have to explore ‘Golden Worlds’ and see if they’re livable.
Each of the main planets that you can set outposts on is unique, with different environmental challenges and diverse landscapes. In order to make the planets habitable, they have to be terraformed. This process consists of activating ancient alien monoliths to reveal entrances that can initiate the terraforming. Although this can get a little tiresome, narratively it’s a smart gimmick that really makes the player feel they’re fundamental in establishing a foothold in this new home.
Meeting the Locals
Harval, a lush jungle world with dangerous predators and ancient ruins, is particularly stunning, and probably the most different from other planets in the Mass Effect series. The aliens that inhabit it, the Angara, are newcomers to the franchise.
Their intriguing design and fascinating culture definitely add a new dimension to the game, but it’s disappointing that they’re the only natives you encounter during the experience. Bioware has definitely missed a trick here, as one of the best aspects of the previous games was getting to know the several unique species that we shared the galaxy with.
Another new species, the Kett, serve as the main antagonistic force of the game. Arriving in Andromeda not long before Ryder and their intergalactic entourage, the Kett have been causing trouble ever since. Shallowly explored, the Kett’s main function is as grunts with guns.
One of the best things in Mass Effect Andromeda is the combat. The addition of the jump jets adds verticality to any fight, giving the player more choice when handling each encounter. Players can also change their profile and switch their power wheel at any point – even mid-fight. This allows players not to be tied down to a path when it comes to biotic or combat skills.
Fights are at their best when you’ve found the most effective combinations against certain enemy types, tailoring your skills and powers to quickly dispatch any foe. In comparison, Ryder’s companions feel sadly lacking. Players can no longer control or direct teammate powers, removing the co-ordinated attacks that could be performed in previous games. Control over teammates extends only to prompting them to attack a certain enemy or moving to certain points.
The crafting system is extensive and a little overwhelming. The list of the different types of weapons and weapon upgrades is long indeed.
Ryder’s scanner is an intriguing addition, and Bioware has thought carefully about its uses beyond scanning the local flora and fauna. Various side quests involve scanning minerals and plants on different planets for research purposes, but you can also use the scanner to learn more about alien technology, different species, and mysterious objects. There’s even an instance where you can investigate a murder by scanning the environment for clues.
When landing on one of the four main planets, the map is immediately inundated with icons. These often signal quest markers and items of interest, and there’s almost too many to sift through.
For the most part, the side quests and storylines on the periphery of the main narrative are bland and repetitive. However, there are a few truly interesting quests that help flesh out this new galaxy that Bioware is building.
Along with some key story moments, these side quests involve ambiguous moral decisions that provide some challenge for the player. The writing begins to interrogate the issue of colonizing an alien galaxy, like with these morally gray decisions. However, it never seems to fully explore the interesting concerns raised with things like first contact, rushing through them instead.
…And Getting It On
Forging relationships was always a mainstay of the Mass Effect series. These could be platonic or, more notoriously, romantic. Although the crew in Andromeda only features one new alien with your Angaran squadmate Jaal, they’re still a diverse and entertaining bunch.
Exploring your ship in between missions means frequently coming across candid encounters between the crew. By leaving these moments uninterrupted, or by interacting with each member individually, players will gradually build relationships and increase their understanding of these new team members.
The human crew members are perhaps the least interesting. Thankfully, teammates like the Asari Peebee, the Turian Vetra, and the Krogan Drack add color and character to your roster. There are plenty of romantic entanglements to pursue, from the casual to the complex. Although some may feel more superficially written than others, the bonds created with this crew form a close and cohesive team, with enough moments of endearing humor thrown in to balance the charming with the emotional.
As a fresh start, Andromeda isn’t a disjointed disappointment. Ryder and Co feel like for the most part opportunistic newbies, ready to make their mark. This fits with the game, especially after the original trilogy where Shepard and their team were established names in the universe already. Donning the N7 armor felt like stepping into a character that was already a fully formed hero. With Ryder, you feel like you’re discovering their limits alongside them.
The emphasis on exploration and discovery featured in the pre-launch trailers never feels fully realized. There are glimmers of this frontier spirit conjured in early footage throughout the game, but despite the size of Andromeda, it doesn’t always have the matching depth.
The controversial animations can be off-putting, with awkward facial expressions and simplistic NPC design. There were some other glitches, like sound cuts and dialogue overlays, but none that actually impeded the playing of the game. But it is disappointing to see these mistakes after waiting five years, and from a project with the weight of a major developer behind it.
It’s an entertaining, occasionally funny, occasionally emotional space adventure. It may not necessarily be a worthy addition to the series, but it is a brave take on the familiar formula. For fans of the series, it does feel like coming home, and for newcomers, it’s a great introduction. Despite providing an enjoyable and dynamic experience, Bioware didn’t quite manage to push the envelope enough when it came to the promising premise.