After the credits rolled at the end of Mass Effect 3, no one expected the franchise to really return outside of a port to the current generation of consoles. EA’s announcement of Mass Effect Andromeda at E3 2015 both surprised and elated fans. We had a long time to wait, but oh, it would be worth it. Mass Effect addicts love the franchise so much, we don’t care how long we have to wait for a new installment. We will happily wait a few years for a polished experience filled with a space opera and those BioWare character development and interactions that made the original trilogy so remarkable. It’s unfortunate that Andromeda stumbles more than it sprints in most cases.
The Andromeda Initiative is a plan the Council cooked up to send tens of thousands of eager participants from most species (human, asari, turian, krogran, and salarian) to the Andromeda galaxy to settle. The Andromeda galaxy is two million light years away, effectively making this a one way trip. They leave in the year 2185, the year Mass Effect 2 began. There are no Mass Relays in Andromeda, which seems to be just fine as everyone has ships that fly faster than light (FTL). I’m not sure why this technology existed in 2185 but was only given to the Initiative; if they had shared it then perhaps they could have deactivated the Mass Relays and stopped the Reapers from coming at all.
But I’m digressing; the tale of Andromeda takes place 634 years after the start of the second Mass Effect game where these species from the Milky Way opt to settle in a brand new galaxy. Your mission as one of the Ryder twins is to pick up the Pathfinder role your father left behind and help all of these colonists settle in this strange new world. All they know about the galaxy is that there are potentially “seven golden worlds” they could possibly inhabit, all based upon data over 600 years ago at a two-million light year delay. Things have changed, and not for the better. The Heleus cluster they chose for settlement is plagued with dark energy webbings around the systems and very hostile aliens who want to shoot first and not ask any questions. If that wasn’t bad enough, all of the planets in the cluster are inhospitable, contrary to the outdated data they gathered 600 years ago.
Of course things weren’t going to go smoothly, because it would be another Sim game without some conflict. It would be nice, though, if the conflict wasn’t so similar to one of another space opera: Halo. The planets are not viable due to ancient yet advanced alien technology left behind in Andromeda. There are vaults on each planet with the Remnant tech, and by unlocking each vault, Ryder can stop whatever atmospheric calamity is causing the un-viability. Each vault and site of this tech is also guarded by machines made from the same technology. The hostile aliens on a Milky Way murder spree are after this tech. Halo fans are probably already rolling their eyes. Those who have never played Halo may find this to be a fresh idea, but the rest of us will not be impressed. I like Halo, but I’ve already played Halo; I don’t need Mass Effect: Halo.
The plot only unravels from there as you uncover what the hostile aliens (kett) are really up to. Whether you have Halo in your repertoire or not, you will feel as though you have done this before and in better games, and it’s not only because this is yet another classic BioWare “Chosen One” story.
Even with BioWare’s classic and rather overused formula, it’s the characters that particularly shine in their games. If you talked to me in the first couple of days of playing Andromeda, I would have said that they were flat and very boring, almost very Dragon Age 2-esque. At about 20 hours in, when the loyalty missions start to open for your crew members, the characters finally start to round out. It’s also at this point that more planets open up for exploration and players can get a side questing groove on. At over 30 hours, I realized that I was having a lot of fun with the game if I only touched on the main story when I had to. There is easily hundreds of hours of exploration at your fingertips, and since the point of the Andromeda Initiative is to settle Andromeda, you can make this your real story instead of the given plot-line. Considering how cheesy the dialogue is and how lazy the writing is, this really is for the best.
A Mass of New Game Mechanics
Andromeda builds upon the RPG mechanics from past games, but not all are an improvement. The combat itself has greatly improved, and players have more freedom in battle and their skills than they’ve ever had before. Thanks to being a Pathfinder, meaning Ryder has an AI implant in their brains (yes, another similarity to Halo), players can switch the profile of Ryder at any time. The profiles are nothing new, we’ve had them since the beginning — Adept, Engineer, Explorer, Infiltrator, Sentinel, Soldier, Vanguard — but once you’ve chosen something, you’re stuck with that throughout the game. If you tried using biotics (sci-fi magic) and found you hated it, your only choice was to roll a new character. As a Pathfinder, you can learn whichever skills all across the three sectors (tech, biotics, combat) you wish. How many skills you purchase in those trees determines which profiles you unlock, and the profiles grant additional bonuses to using those particular skills. Players can then set four favorite groups consisting of one profile and three skills each to switch between whenever the situation needs.
For example, if you’re fighting Remnant, using tech powers will work the best, but when fighting the kett, you may want some biotic action, or maybe you want that extra punch in your skills that only a soldier profile can offer.
Combat has a few more tweaks than the just the profile system. Ryder now automatically takes cover behind crates and walls when her weapon is drawn. I don’t need to paint a picture of how helpful this is while running with low health. Characters also have the ability to jump high and hover with jump packs as well as dash. Combat is faster, there are more strategic options to attacks, and there’s a new platforming element to both combat and exploration, not to mention how much a well-timed jump or dash can literally save your ass.
The Mako has returned in the form of the Nomad, and this one is actually fun to drive. It’s not invincible, but you’ll never have to worry about flipping it into lava. I’m a self-professed terrible driver in games, and I haven’t crashed the Nomad yet. I’ve even tried. A few times I sailed it off a cliff or got it blown up because I really wanted to run over these kett shooting at me. Considering how many times I flipped a Mako into a careening death or couldn’t get the darn thing to climb this one stupid cliff, I’m more than fine killing the Nomad with my own arrogance. You can also upgrade the Nomad to improve the shocks, boost, or shielding to really run over kett and outlaws in style.
The character interactions have changed up a bit as well. The dialogue choices are no longer neutral, paragon, or renegade, but far more grey. Players can have four different types of responses with characters: professional, casual, logical, or emotional. Playing with these response types shapes Ryder’s personality a bit more than simply choosing all blue or all red responses. The choices Ryder makes don’t fall under either of these four types either, making it not entirely obvious how your choices will reflect upon the other NPCs. Thus, leading to variations on the overall experience and endings.
Massive Technical Meltdowns
Several .gifs, videos, and images are circulating showing off Mass Effect Andromeda at its visual worst, and I’m sad to say that none of them are exaggerated. The facial animations are not as awful as they were in Assassin’s Creed Unity, but they’re fairly bad. Whenever Sara smiles, I cringe. When she walks downstairs, I wonder if the animators know how humans move. The amount of texture pop-in makes the original Mass Effect look graphically brilliant. The single-player suffers badly from frame-rate drops, especially during heavy combat sequences and driving the Nomad. I’ve been killed too many times because the lag dragged Ryder into painfully slow movement or locked her in place while everyone else shoots at leisure. Occasionally Ryder is locked in place so badly, all I can do is restart the game and lose any unsaved progress. Since you can’t manually save during a mission and the auto-saving checkpoints are far and few between, just imagine how delightful this was.
Not even the cutscenes were safe. In the image above, Jaal suddenly became a conjoined twin in the middle of the cutscene. He had one frozen version of himself and he moved around within his second image. It was horrifying. The fact that he was shirtless made it weirder. Several times, other cutscenes were lacking a character entirely. The camera would turn to a missing character, other characters would address that person, but no answer, oral or subtitle, was ever given. I had to reload auto-saves just so I could understand what in the world was going on.
Effective Use of Multiplayer
Yet somehow, I didn’t experience an ounce of lag in the multiplayer. The multiplayer was a big surprise in ME3, and BioWare decided that since it isn’t broke, why fix it. The multiplayer portion once again pits teams of players against AI hordes in various missions. The difficulty of the missions changes the strength of the enemies, the number of enemies, and the number of waves the team has to complete before extraction.
Once again, this portion of the game fits in with the overall story of the single-player. As the Initiative settles new worlds, Strike Teams can be sent in to clear out kett and raiders, gather intel, and various other assignments to help out the Pathfinder behind the scenes. Some of these missions Ryder can dole out to the Strike Teams, and others players can take on for themselves to complete. None of the multiplayer is required to complete the game or get a “best” ending either, but participating in Strike Team missions does reap other rewards for the single-player, such as crafting materials and blueprints.
Be prepared in the multiplayer for once again an extensive use of the Rube Goldberg machine. It’s not half as abusive as the single-player missions can be (if I listed out everything I had to do to unlock one door in a story mission, you wouldn’t believe me), but it will induce an eye roll or two.
BioWare obviously had some lofty goals when building Andromeda. They wanted to go above and beyond what they created with the original trilogy and create an open world experience set in the Mass Effect universe that fans would love to play around in. Also, since it is Mass Effect, they knew they had to write an epic space story to fit into the open world. Perhaps they piled on a bit too much to try to fit it all and the kitchen sink into one well-executed package. Perhaps they tried too hard to please all people.
With the vast love of the Mass Effect series, Andromeda was never going to make people 100% happy, the same way the ME3 ending didn’t make people happy. The BioWare team put so many great things in place, but the main story, the characters, and most of the writing keep the game from being great. Sadly, technical mess keeps it from being good.
Mass Effect: Andromeda review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.