Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda

Let’s get this out the way: I am a Mass Effect fan. I am a BioWare fan. The games this studio make speak to me. The stories they create, the characters they introduce, the game mechanics they implement fit extremely well in how I like to play video games. I was a latecomer to the Mass Effect trilogy. I got on the bandwagon after I played Dragon Age: Inquisition. Yet, I hold the original trilogy in a high regard with all its triumphs and faults. Yes, it has faults, let’s not ascend it to sainthood.

Let’s get another thing out of the way: being a fan of something doesn’t mean that magically pink sunglasses appear over your eyes, and you are completely oblivious about things that went wrong. Undeniably, things went wrong with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Long development, new engine, new team, all these reasons can be used as a justification. However, let’s also be honest, if the game came out without technical issues that it had, none of us would even feature these aspects of its game development in the discussion. If everything went right, these problems would have been overcome with triumph, if things went wrong, they would become the excuses, and they did. Understandable, yet possibly avoidable. Do these problems overweigh the good that is in the game? Well, I won’t hold you in suspense, I think, no, they don’t. There is a lot to enjoy in Mass Effect: Andromeda, despite its shortcomings.

It is really a great shame, that the discussion around Mass Effect: Andromeda became about technical issues and BioWare’s attempt to fix them to appease the fans. It is really their fault and EA’s, the publisher, that the game was released, frankly, unpolished with quality varying so drastically between various levels of the game. Yes, the good old discussion about unfinished games being released with first day/first week/first month patches that essentially add what should have been already in the game. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t like to talk about it, yet I can’t avoid it. Not long ago, BioWare announced their plan for patching and changing content for the game, including improved animations and update to character conversations, particularly with now infamous Hainly Abrams. I sincerely applaud them for trying to fix the issues and I honestly believe they will address the majority, if not all technical problems. Just take a look at the latest 1.05 patch that has improved the look of the eyes (among other things) for human and asari characters significantly. However, pretending that BioWare didn’t know about at least some these problems would be frankly naive. Now we can just wonder, if the conversations would have been different, if they had pushed their release date to address these issues.

With this unfortunate discussion of technical problems out the way, I really want to focus on the game itself: the good, the bad, and the rest of it. This will be a long one, so for the your convenience , I have structured it by topics, so feel free to ignore something that doesn’t interest you. There are no spoilers in this review.

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: EA
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: Xbox One and PC
Release Date: Available Now

The Premise

In year 2185 (after Mass Effect 2 but before Mass Effect 3), an organisation called the Andromeda Initiative goes on a voyage beyond the old and the familiar of the Milky Way Galaxy: to the Andromeda Galaxy. Five Milky Way races – the humans, asari, krogans, turians and salarians – initially undertake the journey, with the possibility of other races, like the quarians joining them later on. The first ship to depart to Andromeda is the Nexus, a seat of their new government, a big hub ship, which is this game’s equivalent of the Citadel. Four arks, designated to the four Council races (turians, asari, salarians and humans) depart later, each headed by a Pathfinder, whose job is to find habitable worlds in Andromeda to colonise. You play as Sara or Scott Ryder (first names can be changed), children of the human ark’s Pathfinder. Whoever you choose, your other twin sister or brother are still alive in the game, although conveniently non-present for the majority of it. 

As soon as you arrive to the Heleus Cluster in Andromeda, things take a turn for the worst. The golden worlds that you were hoping to colonise, are non-viable. The Nexus and the other three arks are mysteriously missing. You soon take on the role of a Pathfinder, seemingly the Initiative’s last hope to survive in this unknown and dangerous new galaxy. Oh, and then you get a new version of Normady, called the Tempest and a crew of your own. Spoilers, some of those crew are very much bangable.

The Universe

If you are worried that this game doesn’t feel like Mass Effect, don’t. There is a lot of old, familiar and cozy in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Starting from the races and their squabbles, that they took with them to Andromeda despite wanting a new start, ending with guns and a new Mako, which is now called the Nomad and is actually fun.

The Andromeda Galaxy itself does feel alien, but not quite enough. I guess a door is a door no matter which galaxy you are in. The game also introduces three new alien races, angara, the synthetic mysterious remnant and kett, of which kett are this game’s baddies. Why do all aliens look kind of human? I don’t really have an answer (and clearly neither does Bioware), but it does make it easier to sex them up, however, and that satisfies me. 

The complaint that I hear often is that there should have been more new aliens. While a part of me agrees, I also think Bioware made a right call by limiting it to three. The story is very closely weaved with the history of the three races and their ultimate relationship with one another in the past and going further.  Adding more players to the list, would detract from the main narrative of the game, watering it down with additional stories that this game really doesn’t need. Also, while some of us are very much familiar with the Milky Way races, newcomers to Mass Effect have to acclimatised themselves to. The Genophage might be an old story for some, but someone else might need to understand why krogans like bashing salarians so much. Mass Effect: Andromeda was designed to appeal to the newcomers too, and seven alien races is plenty to get your head around. 

The Story

I really enjoyed the main story of Mass Effect: Andromeda, however, it is very different in tone to the original trilogy. Some of it for the best, some of it, possibly not. The stakes of this story are much lower than in the original Mass Effects. That’s fine. Frankly, I never understood why Shepard took his or her sweet time galavanting around the Milky Way, while reapers were busy obliterating everything in their sight on Earth. I mean, I was happy to save those ten people on that random planet, but surely millions on Earth are more of a priority? In Mass Effect: Andromeda it is completely plausible that Ryder can spend awhile solving one planet’s problems before dealing with the overall issues of the Heleus Cluster. Now, that doesn’t really justify the time my Ryder spent putting those three probes on the opposite sides of the planet (maybe, someone less busy could do that?), but that’s another story. 

In tone Mass Effect: Andromeda is more of a b-style sci-fi. It is goofy, funny, at times awkward, but also sometimes serious. You and your team are on a space journey, mostly just having fun shooting kett in a face and exploring the unknown. Sometimes, you are faced with tough decisions, but mostly it is about messing around in space in a high-tech ship. You will either enjoy this new direction or will yearn for more of the original trilogy’s darker, all or death tone. 

However, what works against this new direction is the pacing of the story. That’s a general open world games’ problem. I have yet to see an open world game that strikes a perfect balance between questing, exploring and the main story. I am still very divided on this point, actually. I really enjoyed exploring Andromeda’s planets, however they are also the reason for desyncing the pace of the main story plot, and the main quests are generally superior to every other piece of content in the game. 

To me Mass Effect: Andromeda is a lot like Avengers: Age of Ultron (stick with me, I will explain). There are things that both properties do excellently (Mjolnir scene and Liam’s loyalty mission, for example). There are good twists on established characters and stereotypes that feel like a breath of fresh air (Hawkeye and Drack). There are missed opportunities (Ultron and the kett), and things that went wrong that were really a shame but technical (or life) circumstances worked against them (Black Widow and Andromeda’s animations). However, the biggest mistake that both properties make is to spend too much of its time setting up future instalments of the story (seriously, the Thor bath scene?). It seems like all I did in Andromeda is to discover mysteries, which will be solved either in DLC or future Mass Effect games. Some of the mysteries, are big universal questions, akin to the reapers and protheans of the first Mass Effects. These I can see being left unanswered for future games. However, there are also smaller mysteries, seemingly perfectly set up for DLC content, but annoyingly left hanging in the air after the completion of the main game. Ryder’s family secrets, for one. I loved that whole quest line, which then ended with two questions, and I really wish at least one of those would have been resolved in the main game. I could name more smaller mysteries left dangling like a carrot in front of me at the end of the game, but they are more on the spoiler side. Similarly with decisions that you make while playing the main campaign. Their impact rarely feels immediate, but looks like it can have significant repercussions in future games.

Ryder and The Dialogue Wheel

Ryder is younger and less experienced than Shepard was, and that shows. Ryder is also less of the blank slate that Shepard. Both brother and sister have their own backstories and personalities. While watching my husband play the game as Scott, I heard his character say different things compared to what my Sara said in the same scene. While, they weren’t significantly different, it is still nice to see that protagonists are not clones of themselves, just with different genders. 

The dialogue wheel is also an improvement, as Mass Effect: Andromeda left Paragon and Renegade choices in the Milky Way. I suspect I am in a minority on this, but I never played as fully Renegade. I wished I could play as a mixture of good and bad, but that would limit my story options. Therefore, while playing the original trilogy I never felt like I was role-playing. I mostly felt that I needed a setting that would automatically default to a Paragon dialogue options and give me more time to snack during the cut scenes, instead of mashing the same button. Whereas, dialogue options in Mass Effect: Andromeda made more sense to me. I got to decide whether the situation warranted a  professional response or a casual one. I chose whether to react logically or let Ryder’s feelings guide them. These choices also further developed Ryder’s character as well. I recommend reading Lexi’s report on Ryder to get a better impression of what others thought about your leading style.

The Characters

I really love my wonderful crew of nerds. Except for Liam. He can go back to Milky Way. One day Bioware will get a black male character right, today is not that day. He is better than Jacob (whose name took me several weeks to remember, which shows how much I cared), but Liam is still fairly uninteresting compared to the rest of the crew. His loyalty mission and bromance with Jaal were his only saving grace. That is not to say that all human characters are universally uninteresting. A certain someone called Reyes definitely deserves a promotion to squadmate in future content. Other than that, Drack gets a top spot on the pedestal for being the best grumpy old krogan, closely followed by the most beautiful alien ever Vetra and an angaran newbie Jaal, who knows how to please a woman. I also have a lot of time for the remaining crew, and from the NPCs outside the Tempest, Kesh and Kandros can take a cookie too.

The characters also have depth and feel a lot more like alive beings. They all have their own personalities, but none of them were severely over the top or exaggerated. This time round, some of the races have also been presented from a different point of view. Yes, Drack likes to smash and shoot things like any krogan, but he also has a softer side, which is instantly endearing. Peebee likes exploring unknown ancient races just as much as a certain asari doctor we knew, yet she is very different to any other asari we have met before. 

Equally, your relationships with the characters are deeper. If the character starts of by hating you, this is not immediately a lost cause. There is enough time left for you to redeem yourself. Also characters have life and relationships beyond that time when Ryder comes to chat with them on the Tempest. Some of them like each other, while others they barely tolerate. They move around the Tempest and other hub areas in the game, chatting to each other and commenting on the events gone by. You can hear some truly witty and funny banter while you drive around in the Nomad. I only wish that the game prioritised this banter over SAM (your A.I.) telling me that temperature is falling… yet again. Seriously, SAM, I can see a temperature reading in the left bottom corner. And, yes, I know I can mine minerals here, thanks… 

Also find all the memory triggers, that is all.

The Romance

Mass Effect: Andromeda has truly earned its ‘M’ rating. When you expect your screen to fade to black, it fades to soft-core porn instead. I approve. 

There are plenty of romance options available in the game, from casual to serious relationships. Personally, I managed to hook up with three different characters before settling with my darling, the most I have been able to do in a BioWare game. Not all romance content is equally spread. There is some unbalance, especially for the male options for Scott Ryder. However, BioWare again promised to rectify that in the future patches. Even so, BioWare’s games still offer the most variety in terms of types and diversity of romances than most other games out there.

Also let’s mention how important consent is — and that characters ask, before jumping your bones, if that is in fact something you would want to do. Which is great.

The Quests and The Exploration

The main story quests are really good and so are the loyalty missions for your squadmates. This time round, loyalty missions are also little story arcs on their own and will require completing several smaller quests to trigger. Every planet you can roam around, also has its own story arc, the quality of which varies. I really enjoyed Kadara’s and Eladeen’s stories, while others were on a less interesting side. I would also recommend finding all the missing arks, and classify the rest of the quests as ‘side quests’.

The planets are full of side quests, a truly overwhelming amount of things to do. If you enjoy exploring the planets, then those quests will guide you around it, helping you to discover hidden caves and outposts as well as learn smaller stories about the planets and how people live there. These stories, while not majorly important, add more dimensions to the world. However, again, not all of them are worth spending your time on. The quantity has overtaken the quality in this case.  Some of them will expand into something bigger and more exciting, but others will remain your trusty old fetch quests, and at first glance it is hard to tell one from the other.

The quest organisation in the menus at the beginning is quite confusing. However, after I progressed further into the game, it actually started making sense to me. There is a main folder for the main story missions, a separate folder for relationships (where you will find loyalty missions), a folder for less fetch quest-like mission around planets, the Tempest and the Nexus, and finally a ‘tasks’ folder, the truly pure fetch quests. The quests also show up on the maps and can be triggered by directly selecting them there. This is a bit convoluted, but with the amount of things to do, I started appreciating this strange filing system.

The Combat

I love Mass Effect: Andromeda’s combat. The variety of guns and abilities along with the verticality of movement, thanks to your trusty jet pack, makes fighting incredibly fun. The cover mechanic has become automated, meaning that sometimes Ryder will go into cover whereas other times they ignore a clear barrier in front of them, I barely used cover at all. The ability to traverse a fighting field easily, and jump pretty much anywhere I wanted in combination with certain abilities, just made cover completely useless to me. Why would I sit in one place occasionally taking pot shots at the enemy, when I could flank them and shoot at them while hovering in the air? 

Another major change in this game is that your character is no longer locked in a particular profile, and can switch between all abilities on the go. This takes a bit of getting used, especially since I was more familiar with some skills trees (for example, biotic) than others (combat). However, once I let go of old Mass Effect habits and started experimenting with ability combos and different profiles, I never looked back. There are new abilities in this game, along with updated abilities that we are familiar with from the previous trilogy. Using a combination of pull and throw to pick up two smaller kett to then lob them through the air into a bigger kett never became boring. The abilities now also have clear markings showing which can be used as a primer and which could be used as an explosive, making it easier to create satisfying combos. I would highly recommend testing abilities in multiplayer, as the characters there have a set of three abilities preassigned for them to work well together. I wish I would have done that earlier because when I finally figured out which favourite (combination of profiles and abilities) I preferred to use for certain combat situations, I only had a few main story missions left.

The squadmate and enemy AI is fairly average. I left my companions mostly to their own devices during a fight. They wouldn’t die too often but neither did I count on them to help me in any significant way. I miss having an option to tell my squad what to do (beyond ‘attack this guy’ command). This option was particularly missed, since I was spoilt by Dragon Age: Inquisition, where I could even play as my squadmates, if I wished to.

Ryder’s customisation was quite good, with plenty of armour, weapons and augmentations available to craft for juicy stat boosts. However, almost nothing can be customised for your squad beyond skill point allocation. All squadmates use the same guns and wear one set of armour or clothes. There is a side of me that spent at least 10 hours alone on crafting armour, weapons and then colour coordinating them for my character and squad in Dragon Age: Inquisition, that was thankful that I could spend my time elsewhere in Mass Effect: Andromeda. However, there is also a part of me that missed the option.

The Multiplayer

In Mass Effect: Andromeda multiplayer, you team with with three other players to survive waves of enemies, complete a series of objective and, after wave seven, extract from the map. There is a really good variety of characters from the beginning, and more can be unlocked through loot boxes. There is a selection of those boxes available at the start (those who played Mass Effect and Dragon Age games before will find some extra boxes) and more boxes can be purchased with in game currency or micro-transactions. Personally, I never felt like I needed to spend extra money on loot boxes as I was able to get a loot box just from the money I earned after each game.

The multiplayer doesn’t really have any effect on the single player, which is good, however, there is a connection. As Ryder you can use a terminal on the Tempest to send a team (separate to multiplayer characters) on missions earning resources in game. However, some of these missions can also be played in multiplayer. Access from the single player can also be completely ignored, without any repercussions, by accessing multiplayer straight from the main menu.  

The multiplayer is surprisingly tough, and it will take some time and leveling up a character before you can move on to higher difficulties. Yet, if you like Andromeda’s combat, you will like the multiplayer, and being able to team up with buddies to shoot things in the face is always a fun great bonus.

This is Mass Effect
Characters have their own lives and are more complex
Combat is great
Story, while generally good, has a weird pacing
Still too much fetch questing
Lack of customization for the squad

I loved playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. That doesn’t mean there weren’t things that annoyed me or frustrated me at times. However, after crossing the finish line, I am still eager to play more and, let’s be honest here, will buy and play through every piece of DLC that Bioware will eventually release for it. 

If you are still undecided about playing Andromeda, here is what I suggest. Leave it for now. Have a break from all massive open world games that dominated the scene lately. Then, in the eventual gaming lull of the summer, after several more Andromeda patches, sit down and give this game some proper time. There is so much to enjoy there and have fun with. And, until then, you can play some multiplayer, because it is pretty great!  

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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Comments

  1. This was a really, really great review. You backed up your point of view very well and relayed your experience in a way that made me think about my own reaction to the game. You were more forgiving than I would have been…but I think you were ultimately more fair than I would have been too. I’m glad you got to review this one.

    Also congrats on writing a behemoth review. Now I’m not the only one making the editors earn their space bucks.

    I think it is the weakest ME game to date. But it was not nearly as bad as people make it seem either. It was not a chore to finish or I would not have completed all of the content. It felt rushed but I still had a lot of fun with it too and I have enough fond memories to make me open to DLC and a sequel.

    Here are a few of my thoughts on MEA: (Possible Slight Spoilers!)

    Right there with you on Liam. He is the worst.

    I loathe the entire human cast (on and off ship) with the exception of Gil Brodie whose late game storyline made me smile and Reyes who I snogged as Sara until I decided to go full on Peebee. Compared to Peebee, Drack, Vorn and the rest of the alien cast the humans come across as dull. Some of that is the poor voice performances (looking at you Cora!) but all too often the writing, plot and pacing. The fact they did next to nothing with Lexi (Natalie Dormer) does piss me off though. Jaal…I think I dislike him because I dislike the Angara as a whole. They are so bland.

    The Kett incorporate the DNA of thousands of species…and have nothing to show for it. No cool powers or abilities. No interesting physiology. Nothing. The coolest stuff they do is because of tech not their own innate abilities.

    I wish the core performances had as much life as the banter did…because the banter in MEA is the best the series has ever had.

    Romance bummed me out because only a couple of them are fully developed like you said. Compared to the last Dragon Age it was a disappointment.

    The UI is the worst. You found some things to love but I hated it. Organization and sorting could and has been done far better by many of Biowares peers and even by Bioware themselves. Too many menus, an awkward crafting setup…bleh all of that could and should have been much more intuitive, fast and accessible.

    The quality of the main worlds bugged me too. The games best quests and content are almost all found on Elaaden, Kadara and Havarl (even if that world is tiny). Eos and Voeld are snooze fests. But all of them except Havarl suffer from the same problem: repetition. Not just the fetch quests, but facing the same enemies, in the same buildings, over and over again. Huge worlds but lacking unique content to make them distinct beyond temperature all too often. Few cool set pieces to be found anywhere. Reusing wildlife was weird too when some creatures appear on planets with totally different climates. The Remnant don’t help since they are the most boring robot enemies in the galaxy. Just big drones with guns. And the fact they reused the same big Remnant on every planet did not help either.

    Multiplayer is great fun but lacks the cool enemies to fight that ME3 had.

    What really bugged me was not the animation or issues with visuals. It was the background scripting errors and bugs. I’ve got 4 quests preventing me from having 100% in game completion because MEA hates when you trigger things in a way it does not like. The EA MEA help section has threads with 700+ respondents all posting the same issues. Hell the improved shield generator crafting quest has close to 2500 people asking for a fix right now. And encouraging people to use a phone app that does not allow you to take credit for achievements/trophies is just cruel.

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