Mass Effect: Andromeda Review
When Mass Effect launched nearly a decade ago, it quickly cemented itself as one of the jewels in the Bioware crown. Always intended as an epic trilogy, there were novels, comic books, clothing lines, and of course the three huge games that sold millions of copies. The saga ended in the less than successful ending of Mass Effect 3 and at that point many people thought the franchise had run its course. That is until, five years later, we have Mass Effect: Andromeda.
In Andromeda, you play as one of two Ryder siblings as part of the Andromeda Initiative. This, you learn soon into the game, was a collective escape plan formed by Milky Way races in response to the threat posed by Shepherd’s Reapers from the first two Mass Effect games. Your dad Alec Ryder, a former N7 badass, is in the employ of the Andromeda Initiative as the Pathfinder or a chief scout sort of person and you tag along casually for the ride. At around the time of the second Mass Effect game, thousands of settlers froze themselves onboard massive ships called Arks and set out on a 600 year journey to our nearest galaxy Andromeda. As you might expect your arrival is met with sudden disaster, the death of key leaders of the initiative, and a long term task list to fix everything. It also means that everything considered canon up until Mass Effect 2 is a part of Andromeda’s rich backstory.
From the get go it is clear that Mass Effect: Andromeda owes more to Bioware’s most recent game Dragon Age Inquisition than it does the Mass Effect series. The good and the bad game mechanics of Inquisition pretty much copy straight over to Andromeda. That swamped feeling of being thrown dozens of disconnected side quests brought me back. The ‘why am I taking to this blank cutout character again?’ (looking at you Liam). As did the ‘what was happening in the main quest again?’ feeling after driving around for a few hours helping a growing rebellion on an ice planet. The open world is formulaic. Everything is spread out and the terrain vacant apart from the occasional resource node. Progress means filling up that map with waypoint markers to one trip quest or returning to a part of an earlier area that was blocked off. The Nomad, the all-terrain vehicle that helps you get around these massive empty spaces, is at first infuriating and later just frustrating. The fast travel system soon becomes a habitual need. It is almost like they learnt the lessons of Dragon Age Inquisition too late in Andromeda's development lifecycle to change from the unsuccesful and have ploughed on.
Unlike Dragon Age Inquisition, Mass Effect Andromeda’s combat is fun, diverse, and intense. Even on normal I found myself having to respect its cover shooter credentials. As I leveled up the core mechanics remained a challenge and the enemy scaling kept me honest. Even with a character in the high twenties in rank there were creatures that punch hard enough to knock me over. The gunplay is satisfying and the weapons are varied, and as with the previous games, exceedingly well designed. Throw in weapon crafting, unique consumables, and three radically different skill sets and match that with similarly changeable enemy types and you have the cocktail recipe for the best gameplay of the entire series bar none. Considering Mass Effect 3 was exclusively praised for the feel of its combat that is no mean feat. As with all things Mass Effect Andromeda it’s not all rainbows. One annoying and visible grey cloud is an attachable cover system that often lets you down as you attempt to stick to it. Just as you hit 10% health you dive for cover only to be left standing out in the middle of a shooting alley. Throw in what is an army of bugs and glitches that make all the good things seem irrelevant. There is nothing quite like being killed by an enemy inside a wall or battling an infinite spawn point in a crucial mission to brighten your day.
Role playing games are meant to offer a little more meat on the bone that your regular ten-a-penny rails shooter. That's just what they do. So part of me enjoys just drifting into the background of the story as long as it is not padding and fluff. Bioware has worked hard to replace infamous bucketload of Dragon Age fetch quests with missions that are more narrated, substantial and less lazy. The effort is clear. However, in both Dragon Age and now Andromeda, Bioware leaves you lacking context for your actions and with a constant feeling of being off piste. Not enough is done to connect the dots and make grabbing a datapad for a guy seem like something the main character would actually spend time and resources doing. The old Mass Effect's loyalty missions were great at this but in Andromeda these reduce to tasks for a crew I could care less about. Conversations are often forced or clearly fulfilling a need. Match this boring incessant pushiness with blank and passionless facial animations and you have much of the dialogue. The vague presence of box ticking is also a worry.
The surprisingly fun multiplayer is an expanded version of that seen in the previous Mass Effect game and indeed Dragon Age Inquisition. Both these were more popular than anyone imagined. Essentially a slapped on horde mode with the occasional objective; the draw is unlocking weapons and equipment, playing coop with your buddies online, and trying to beat one of the devilishly hard gold rated missions. Playing some of the missions do unlock resource craps in the main game. Before you can even get close to that hardest difficulty you need to level up your online characters and gather resources such as single use rocket launcher ammo. The whole thing is a grind and microtransactions are conveniently there to shorten the route should you deserve. Everything can be unlocked using game currency you raise from winning missions and getting high scores.
It often seems a cop out to say that a game is one for fans only but in this case it is very true. Mass Effect fans will peer past the faults and shortcomings and find a story that they can enjoy and gameplay that really delivers. Other gamers attracted to a blockbuster release will be rightly upset that the game is a let down in many ways.
Solid role playing experience with a compelling story
Stellar gameplay with loads of replay value
Excellent voice acting
Impressive lighting and texture system
Forgetable characters with dead dialogue
Animations are a generation behind and noticably bad
Open world is vast and empty