As a huge fan of the original Mass Effect trilogy, Mass Effect: Andromeda has left me feeling deeply conflicted. The list of complaints I have about the game is lengthy, and it seems to be a step backwards for the series, but I still don’t think it’s an irredeemably bad game. Far from it.
I enjoyed Andromeda, but I struggled at times to love it. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it for fans of the series, but my recommendation is going to come with more caveats than I expected going in
Here’s the basic premise. In between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, when the return of the Reapers was an observable fact but there was not yet any kind of actionable plan for surviving their arrival, the council decides to ship a shed load aliens from various species off into the depths of space, in cryo-sleep, on a one way trip to the Andromeda Galaxy. The idea seemed to be that these robots are capable of destroying all sentient life in the galaxy, but can’t be bothered to check for life on the next galaxy over.
All of these alien species agree to go on the Andromeda mission knowing they’ll never be able to return to their old lives and will need to establish a new civilisation in an unexplored region of space. The fact they can never return conveniently sidesteps having to have any one Mass Effect 3 ending be considered canon, because apparently the galaxy-altering neon lights only affected that small corner of space.
You play as one half of a sibling duo, a brother and sister who share the surname Ryder, as your mostly human ark is unexpectedly awoken. You’re crowned pathfinder, a fancy mystical way of saying “person who has to find us a new planet to settle down on”, and off you go to explore for hospitable new homes for humanity.
The opening hours of Andromeda are painfully slow. The first few hours focus heavily on tutorials and exploration of interpersonal relationships that existed before the start of the game. Where the original trilogy started our playable protagonist as a lone wolf so that every character interaction could grow with the player, Andromeda tries to drop players into existing relationships they did not build and expects them to instantly connect in a way that Ididn’t.
Throw in a shifted focus from world saving drama to exploration and relationship building, and you end up with a Mass Effect game whose opening hours just fail to find any kind of solid hook to pull players along.
These issues all alleviate over time, but they do make the game’s opening hours somewhat painful to work through.
The first few hours focus heavily on tutorials and exploration of interpersonal relationships that existed before the start of the game.
Once I got through the slow, meandering opening, I got to tackle Andromeda’s next issue, it’s convoluted mess of a menu UI. Commonly needed menu commands are buried several sub-menus deep, including menus designed for switching out your character build in the heat of battle. Weapons picked up during missions can’t simply be equipped, I had to go and find a weapon terminal to equip a gun I had literally just picked up. Menus are cluttered with extraneous data that makes finding what you’re looking for a slow process, and it’s at times tough to tell what of value you have at your disposal.
Andromeda also brings back planet scanning, which wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t a 10-15 second wait to hop between planets. Sitting and mindlessly scanning can be enjoyable, but notable pauses between opportunities to do so makes the process feel a lot more drawn out than it perhaps needed to.
Then there’s the issues with combat. Where in past Mass Effect games you were able to control your party members to a degree in combat, pulling up a command wheel to trigger team member abilities at will and combo them reliably with your own skills, in Andromeda you have next to no control over your party. This not only felt limiting in combat, it also prevented reliable ability combo-ing, as you now have to wait for a team member to use an ability on their own and try to react fast enough to combo on the fly. This took a lot of the feeling of control out of combat encounters.
The old Mass Effect upgrade system has also been overhauled to something designed to give more flexibility in combat, but that unfortunately has the side effect of making the player character feel a little less committed to and personalised. Rather than picking a set class like Vanguard or Soldier and upgrading skills unique to them, you now pump skill points into combat, tech and biotics skill trees. The more points you place in each, the more skill classes open up to you which can be swapped between on the fly. The idea is that by pumping points into, for example, combat and biotics, you could switch from Soldier, to Adept, to Vanguard as the situation dictated, assuming you had the required baseline skill investments.
I would have liked seeing enough crafted linear environments to keep me invested a little more closely in progression.
While in practice the ability to switch skills on the fly was a practical improvement, I felt less like my Ryder was the committed, specialised character that my Shepard was. Shepard picked a speciality and stuck with it. Ryder just kind of does everything pretty well, and somehow felt less special for it.
The ability to jump and boost in combat, however, is nothing but a delight. It’s fun as hell, and I want to be able to do cool space boost jumps in every shooter from now on.
Another fairly major change that makes a big difference to the flow of combat and exploration is the shift from intricately-crafted corridor environments to a wider selection of far wider and more open spaces. This makes sense from a narrative perspective, you’re exploring largely unexplored worlds looking for places not yet occupied to settle a colony, and for the most part it works in practice. These new environments often feel less tightly designed for set piece moments, but they do offer more freedom regarding how to approach challenges. Overall, it feels like a positive change for me.
The shift from direct, save the world corridors to sprawling, explorative, open environments spread across the galaxy does its job in many ways. It gives Andromeda a unique tone for the series, one more positive and optimistic than previous games, but I would have liked seeing enough crafted linear environments to keep me invested a little more closely in progression.
The multiplayer is basically Mass Effect 3’s with open environments and cool space jumps. It’s still a lot of fun. It’s fun in a lot of the same ways the ME3 multiplayer was, and that’s all I really have to say on it.
Shifting focus over to the characters and dialogue, probably the most important part of a new Bioware game for myself and many others, the scope for character investment across the whole game is possibly the best the series has had. While I hated many of them when they were first introduced, finding them either actively irritating or simply unengaging, by the end of my time playing Andromeda I had grown to love several of the core cast.
The rest of the crew in Andromeda feel more like they’ve lived nuanced lives outside of their in-game archetype bio than previous entries in the series. Where I could explain Tali or Wrex in the original trilogy with a quick character bio about their role in the team, Andromeda’s cast feel harder to pin down with a single sentence descriptor.
Loyalty missions for characters also shift their focus somewhat away from grand world changing dramatic missions towards things more personal and mundane. It might be platonically meeting a team member’s family over dinner or hanging out together for the day, but often it’s these more relatable and personally important moments in loyalty missions that do the best job of building a believable bind between the cast.
The morality system also seems to have been tweaked in relation to the cast of characters in your team. Where I vividly remember in Mass Effect 2 and 3 points where a single tough decision would turn a character forever entirely against me, Andromeda made me feel like I could disagree here and there with a character and, while it might strain a relationship, it was always recoverable over time.
Of note, the default Ryder model looks really weird and janky in conversations, but by creating my own non-default fem Ryder I was able to sidestep that issue. The game was still littered with bugs and odd visual details that honestly just felt rushed out the door, but the fem Ryder facial animation issues were avoidable at least.
Also, some of the writing for NPCs is cringeworthy as all hell. A great example of a minor NPC whose dialogue was distractingly poor was an NPC who on your first conversation tells you she’s a trans woman, she left the galaxy to avoid her old name, then proceeds to tell you that name she fled the galaxy to avoid hearing again in future. That interaction summed up a lot of minor NPCs to me. Exposition, forced in at the expense of quality or detail.
The romance options in Andromeda seem to be heavily skewed toward giving straight men hot alien women to bang. Men looking for women have the most options, followed by women looking for men, followed by gay women, followed lastly by gay men. There also seems to be a discrepancy in the length, detail and amount shown as you go down that list. Many of the gay male romance scenes cut quickly to black far sooner than those for men seeking women.
While Andromeda is lacking some of the overall urgency of previous Mass Effect games, it makes up for that somewhat with the increase in scope and detail to the world. It’s certainly lacking polish, and several areas of the game feel like steps backwards for the series, but there is stuff to love.
It’s not my favourite game ever by a long stretch, but it’s still a very enjoyable one. I’ll probably play it again down the line, but not until I’ve replayed the original trilogy. Damn Andromeda made me want to go back to the original games. What I wouldn’t give for a trilogy re-release.
Platform: PC [Reviewed]/PlayStation 4/Xbox One
Release date: Out Now
- Increased relationship nuance
- Improved morality system
- Characters end up incredibly lovable
- Painfully slow start
- Combat takes mechanical steps backwards
7/10 (But one of those really good 7/10’s I wish I could score higher but know I really can’t, like No More Heroes).