When I said my farewells to the original Mass Effect Trilogy I found myself wondering what the future would hold for the franchise. Would we see Shepard returning? Would we find ourselves in a new galaxy? Fast forward a few years and I finally got the answers with Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Mass Effect: Andromeda sees players exploring a brand new galaxy (yip, you guessed it, the Andromeda Galaxy), making new friends (and enemies), flying a brand new ship and making out with a whole new host of aliens.
The story begins, between the events of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 , as the Citadel Council decides to send massive space-faring arks each filled with 20 000 colonists as part of the Andromeda Initiative to the Andromeda galaxy in search of a new home. Players take on the role of one of the Ryder twins who as a Pathfinder is tasked with leading this mission. It is a role that Ryder finds thrust upon him and, with no training or experience, he needs to prove himself to his squad and those in the Initiative. Where Shepard was viewed as a hero, it is refreshing playing a character whose actions are continually questioned and who needs to prove themselves time and again. The game makes it quite clear that the future of the colonists and the Initiative as a whole rests on your shoulders, and it’s a weight I felt throughout my play through.
Now, this sounds much easier than it turns out as a strange phenomenon called the Scourge threatens to derail the search for a new home, and as one would expect things get even worse as a new alien race called the Kett starts attacking the newly constructed colonies. Toss in strange alien technologies and you have a story that feels strangely familiar yet still manages to grab your attention and surprise you every now and then.
Straight off the bat, I found myself confused as to why BioWare only introduced two new alien races, the above mentioned Kett and the Angara. It’s made all the more obvious by the lack of franchise staple races such as the Elcor, Drell, and Volus. And while I do understand that Andromeda’s main focus is on finding a new home for species that form part of the Citadel Council this does make the Andromeda galaxy seem a bit empty and not as diverse as the Milky Way.
That said, the characters and species that are found in Andromeda are as interesting as they were in the previous games. BioWare does manage to mix up the roles one would traditionally associate with some of the species, such as having a Salarian as your pilot, a race which has tended to take on a more scientific role in past games.
Your squad, while not as diverse as I would have liked, is made up of an interesting bunch of characters with fairly deep back stories. And although I found the writing and voice acting to fluctuate between great and oh no please stop it, I quickly noticed that tended to spend most of my time learning and discovering more about the people and places around me by chatting up a storm or reading about the lore of the universe. If there is one thing BioWare can do it is create unique and interesting universes filled with attention-grabbing stories.
Much has been said about the poor character animations, and while much of it is true, I never found myself being bothered too much by it. Sure, it is distracting when you converse with a character and their eyes jot around erratically as if they were on some kind of space drug, but as I played it started to bothered me less and less as I progressed. What concerned me more was the pop in and slow down I experienced during my play through, and while not game breaking I found it being more distracting than the bad animations.
As the Pathfinder, you will be spending a lot of time exploring various planets, scanning (so much scanning) various objects, conversing with loads of characters and, of course, shooting stuff. Getting Ryder to new planets is the job of the Tempest, a shiny new highly advanced spaceship. This is where you will learn more about your squad, do research and development and basically road trip across the Andromeda galaxy. Once you get to planets it’s time to grab your squad and jump into your new transport vehicle dubbed the Nomad. Now, while the Nomad handles a million times better than the original Mako, I did find its two driving modes to feel a bit redundant. You see the Nomad has two modes when traversing the difficult terrain the Andromeda universe throws at you. The first is a standard mode that enables the Nomad to travel at decent speeds, however, when switching to all terrain 6 wheel drive mode the vehicle’s speed reduces dramatically. Why BioWare couldn’t just give the Nomad one mode with a decent speed and off-road capabilities are beyond me as continually switching between modes can become tedious.
While exploring these planets Ryder and his squad will inevitably encounter all sorts of dangers, from killer fauna (is there any other kind in space?) to Kett patrols. Combat introduces two new changes, a new automatic cover mechanic and my personal favourite, the jump pack. The addition of the new jump pack makes combat feel a whole lot more dynamic, as players really need to keep moving to stay alive. The jump pack gives Ryder the ability to, for the first time in the franchise, jump, hover and dodge (something the magnificent Sheperd strangely wasn’t capable of). On the other hand, the new cover system which sees Ryder automatically taking cover when standing next to an object seemed to fail me at the most critical moments. Luckily, using the new jump pack mechanic became my go-to method for avoiding enemy fire which meant I didn’t have to use the cover mechanic as much. Ryder and his squad mates also have access to a slew of abilities which are unlocked by investing skill points into a skill tree.
What distinguishes the Mass Effect: Andromeda class system from the previous games in the franchise is its flexibility. Ryder isn’t restricted to one specific class but can instead choose from a variety of combat, tech and Biotic skills. Complementing this are profiles which give Ryder bonuses depending on how he spends his skill points. Your squad, on the other hand, is not as flexible, as players are not able to equip them with gear. It’s a feature I sorely missed. You are, however, able to level up their various abilities which help customise them to your play style.
Another new mechanic Mass Effect: Andromeda introduces is the ability to research, develop and craft new equipment and upgrades. It’s a feature that can look daunting at first as there are quite a few options and materials to gather, but once I figured it out it became an integral part of my play through.
Is Mass Effect: Andromeda everything I hoped for? Well, I would say not entirely. While I did find myself quickly becoming engrossed in the game’s narrative, and being completely drawn into the myriad of side quests and loyalty missions, there were a few moments that made me cringe. It’s a game that can look gorgeous the one moment and less so the next. The performance issues do hurt the experience a bit, but the improved combat, expansive world and interesting characters made the experience worth it.
In the end, Mass Effect: Andromeda, much like the galaxy it takes place in, is filled with both good and bad elements. If you enjoyed the original trilogy you need to give Ryder and his new squad a chance.