It’s been a busy couple of months in the gaming world. We’ve seen the arrival of some highly anticipated titles, including Resident Evil 7, Horizon Zero Dawn, and of course the launch of the Nintendo Switch and its newest Zelda title, Breath of the Wild. Mass Effect: Andromeda certainly had its own eager fanbase awaiting its release; was it worth the wait?
Mass Effect: Andromeda kicks off in the year 2185. Mankind, aided by the discovery of ridiculously advanced alien technology on Mars, enjoys a quantum leap in technological abilities that makes interstellar travel a breeze. They soon explore the far reaches of the Milky Way, encountering new alien races and making their mark in the Universe.
A new initiative is created: one that focuses aggressively on exploration and discovery. Codenamed the “Andromeda Initiative”, the goal is to transport tens of thousands of explorers over 2 million light years away to the distant Andromeda galaxy. Scans and reports show 7 viable planets that could support life, optimistically called “Golden Planets”. You play one of the fraternal Ryder twins; an ingenious method that BioWare used to integrate the male/female lead option. As the Pathfinder, your role is to lead the missions to settle and colonize these worlds. Of course, the early scenes showcase a series of unfortunate events that immediately puts the future of the initiative in jeopardy, so it’s up to you and your crew to explore the mysteries of this new galaxy and create a safe habitat for the explorers still sleeping in a cryogenic state. That, or they all die and it’s pretty much your fault.
If you’re familiar with BioWare’s work you know that there’s a major focus on dialogue and character interaction throughout the course of your adventures. Mass Effect: Andromeda is no different, except the early hours of the game seem a bit forced. There are connections and relationships that simply don’t have enough time to bear much fruit, which results in a lack of care when things go wrong.
Still, once the story picks up, BioWare effectively captures the imagination and encourages your continued exploration of this vast and mysterious galaxy. Relationships are nurtured, side-quests are pursued, relationships are formed, sexy times are had…everything that you would expect and then some.
It has been mentioned before, and I would echo the sentiment that despite the vast new galaxy you’re given to explore, Andromeda doesn’t really rock the boat when it comes to new alien races. This could have been a great opportunity to paint an entirely new universe, with creatures and humanoids as varied as the original trilogy had to offer. So, it’s a little disappointing when in the end you’re left with pretty much the same palette of races as before, with a couple minor tweaks.
Of course, no colonizing mission is complete without being able to shoot things in the face, which is where Andromeda takes some marked departures from its predecessors. The combat certainly feels more fluid: with the aid of your jump-jet you’re able to leap into the air, hover if you want to, or even dodge to either side with lightning quickness. This allows you to close distance between yourself and enemies fairly quickly, or to create distance if needed.
The combat is centered around a 3rd person view, aiming with L2 and firing with R2. There’s a weapon-wheel that you use to cycle through your arsenal, as well as shoulder buttons that control various special attacks depending on how you build your character. Probably the most frustrating element of combat was the “automatic cover” system. You will likely find it’s not nearly automatic enough for your tastes, and may find yourself on the wrong end of a laser blast as a result.
Still, frustrations around the cover system aside, the combat is very fast and fulfilling when pulled off properly. Early on you unlock “profiles”, different genetic builds controlled by a supercomputer transferred directly into your brain. You can opt to build a psychic powerhouse that tosses enemies around like rag dolls, or an unstoppable tank of a human that mows down their enemies without mercy. There’s a pretty wide gamut of builds you can pursue, and various talent trees you can invest points in.
While Andromeda does give more freedom with general movement, the fast-paced combat does have some restrictions that can be particularly frustrating. You may clear a camp of hostile aliens and score an awesome new weapon, but you won’t be able to equip it until you go to a forward base and change your “loadout”. This forces you to be a bit more strategic in your weapon selection, sure, but I feel as though combat and exploration would be more exciting if you had a bit more liberty in changing out your weaponry.
Speaking of weaponry, the crafting and modification system is…intense.
Crafting options are divided into three galaxies, and within those three galaxies are options to craft weaponry, armor or augmentations. Unlocking blueprints requires constant scanning of new technologies with your omni-tool, which is activated by pressing down on the directional pad. The more you explore and discover, the more points you earn and blueprints you can uncover. Of course, you also need materials. Many of the best weapons are buried within this crafting system so it would benefit you greatly to get a good handle on it early on.
Before wrapping up I have to address what was probably the most surprising element of Andromeda: graphical bugs. In the opening hour alone I counted 3 fairly major mishaps in cutscenes, including characters appearing or disappearing out of thin air, coming up through a floor or otherwise acting strange. The worlds themselves are large and exciting to explore, though they also fall into fairly typical classifications: desert planet, jungle planet, ice planet, etc. In the face of otherwise impressive graphics otherwise, the numerous bugs I encountered during the cutscenes turned out to be more disappointing than anything.
Overall, Mass Effect: Andromeda is fast paced and fun, but is peppered with enough inconveniences and frustrations that it detracts from an otherwise great experience. In the end, BioWare’s latest title is a victim of its own success – subjected to intense scrutiny by a fervent and excited fanbase that was ultimately let down by the final product.