Mass Effect: Andromeda is the followup game to Bioware’s insanely successful Mass Effect Trilogy. Bioware has a near impossible act to follow as they take their space opera epic series into new territory. And it looks like the deck is stacked against them. Between a ton of embarrassing glitches, unforgiving fans, and a plethora of other issues and “controversies” paints Mass Effect: Andromeda in an unflattering light. However, while I can say that some of these complaints are warranted, it has been blown considerably out of proportion. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good game. Not perfect, but damn good despite the rough edges. And this is coming from someone who may well be Mass Effect’s largest critic.
I say this because I was not exactly excited to play Mass Effect: Andromeda when it was first announced. After the clusterfuck that was Mass Effect 3’s ending, I was ready to write off the series for dead. And the advertising for Andromeda wasn’t the most enticing. It’s obvious that what Bioware wanted to do was distance themselves from Mass Effect 3’s ending as much as possible. In this case, a whole galaxy away.
And in many ways this was the right move. As the game starts between Mass Effect 1 and 2, we can essentially “roll back the clock” in terms of where the galaxy was left off at the end of 3, and then jumping 600 years into the future and in another galaxy assures that, whatever your choices were, they won’t be coming back to haunt you. Mass Effect: Andromeda’s main goal, it seems, is to make you fall in love with the universe once again. And it’s a goal I feel they succeed in doing, though with plenty of stumbles along the way. So let’s take a look at what I liked about the game, some things I didn’t like, and lastly a few things I hope to see in a future installment.
Right off the bat, the overall feel of the game is like that of Mass Effect 2 and the early bits of 3. Really, Andromeda feels very much like the developers took everything that was great about the original trilogy and threw it into a blender. Exploration, characters, action, it’s all there and it is glorious. While the game’s opening act can feel a bit slow, once you finally get your ship and are able to explore the Heleus Cluster things take off. And the thrill I felt when I explored the Milky Way in the original trilogy was felt here as well. And during many instances I felt giddy, as I knew that the spirit of Mass Effect was alive and well in Andromeda. It felt like reuniting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in many years.
Exploration is a major theme in Andromeda, and it has been revamped significantly from the previous games. Riding around in the Nomad, Andromeda’s updated version of the Mako from ME1, is a blast and it allows the game to showcase the beautiful worlds we have to explore. And then it throws in some exploration elements from ME2 where you can scan for minerals to get upgrades. It’s actually a fun mix of the two, seemingly disparate, forms of exploration from the previous games. And better yet, the Nomad isn’t a pain in the ass to drive!
The same goes for the game’s combat. It feels just as smooth as ME3’s combat, with some added twists. The introduction of the jump jet allows for some fun verticality to proceedings, and I found myself usually zipping about the game’s various shootouts rather than taking cover behind stuff. There’s nothing better than jumping into the air and hovering as you line up a headshot on an unsuspecting alien mook. The changes to the leveling system are also a breath of fresh air that add to making combat enjoyable.
Rather than being relegated to a single class, you are allowed to devote skill points to any and all powers and abilities from across the board. Want to be a biotic wrecking ball that then sets fire to nearby enemies? You can do that! Or do you prefer being a sniper who can summon a combat android to help take care of any stragglers? You can do that too! And the new “combat profile” system helps you come up with your own play style, yet doesn’t restrict you too much. So you can switch things up if your current loadout is getting stale.
One of the main draws of Mass Effect, however, have always been the characters. Initially, I was concerned that the game would experience “The Next Generation Effect” as I like to call it. Wherein the new characters would never be able to get out of the shadow of the icons that came before them. While I certainly like Picard, he’s no Kirk. And while I can’t say that the new characters in Andromeda avoid this problem entirely they were just as charming as the greats they’re looking to step into the shoes of.
Some will say that the voice acting is a little hammy, but I always felt that was the case even in the original trilogy. Siblings Ryder voice actors Tom Taylorson and Fryda Wolff manage to hold their own as the new hero/heroine of the series. While Taylorson doing his best Nolan North impression did kinda distract me, if only because I knew it wasn’t Nolan North, I feel it was fitting for the character. Wolff, however, had the much more daunting task of replacing the Queen of Voice Acting Jennifer Hale as the central female protagonist of the Mass Effect series. And while I can’t say she pulled it off, her work isn’t to be scoffed at either.
The same goes for the rest of the voice cast. Who manage to bring plenty of charm and likability to their characters. Stanley Townsend’s performance as Drack, in particular, stood out as one of the best. And I would be remiss if I didn’t do a shout out to the Kurgan himself Clancy Brown as Alec Ryder, who brings some much needed depth to a character many would consider to be flat. However, as the game progresses it becomes clear that Papa Ryder isn’t just a tough-as-nails N7, and Brown delivers in spades.
As I mentioned before, Mass Effect: Andromeda is rife with beautiful alien worlds to explore, and while many have been harping on the game’s janky animations, they seem to overlook the fact that this game is still stunning to behold. The first planet you arrive on after the introduction, a world humanity has been trying to colonize called Eeos, is a desert world with rocky hills and sandy dunes and it stands out as one of the most gorgeous locations in the entire game despite being a stereotypical desert planet. You also get to explore an ice planet, a mountainous world with gorgeous hot springs, a second desert planet with red vegetation, and a jungle planet ripped straight from James Cameron’s Avatar, among others. And they’re all simply amazing to explore. For the first time in a Mass Effect game, you feel like a true space explorer.
When it comes to the game’s story, however, things are a little less than stellar. It was to be expected, given the crazy epic plot that was the original trilogy, that many would find the plot to be a little lacking in punch and scope. However I feel that the downsized scope of the plot is much to the game’s benefit. While there’s still a big space army Ryder and the Andromeda Initiative have to overcome, the game is more about trying to establish a new civilization in the face of near-impossible odds, meeting new races and trying to coexist with them, and simply exploring what mysteries Andromeda has.
The game really shines in the smaller areas, side-quests in particular are some of the more enjoyable examples of the game’s story. Like Mass Effect 2, the game gives you loyalty missions for you to undertake to help your crew. Here, while some felt rather random, they were still a great window into the characters. The best one, by far, was Liam’s loyalty mission, which seemed to borrow heavily from more tongue-in-cheek sci-fi films like Guardians Of The Galaxy in terms of tone and humor. Sadly, there weren’t many instances of this during the campaign which is a shame because they were by far the most enjoyable. Which brings us to…