On the surface, it felt like the stars were aligned to make Mass Effect Andromeda one of my most anticipated games in a very long time. I absolutely love the original trilogy, and the idea that this was going to be a "Dragon Age Inquisition" in space captured my imagination. The problem is, the execution feels rushed, and in the end what I had hoped would be a spectacular game simply has to settle for being a pretty good one.
Mass Effect Andromeda gets off to an interesting start by putting in a galaxy far away from the established story of Shepard. The events there can take place without directly impacting what happens out in Andromeda, which I think was a very smart move. It gives this title a sense of independence, with the occasional nod to the original trilogy here and there, but giving Andromeda an opportunity to spread its wings and fly.
Riding aboard one of several vessels being sent to try and establish a new home world and help various races grow beyond the borders of their own galaxy, something goes predictably wrong as Ryder and company encounter a planet that proves to be the first of many surprises. What had been targeted as a possibly perfect world for habitation turns out to be more of a threat than expected. This leads our protagonist down a series of challenges that do a nice job of starting narrow in scope while steadily widening.
This is essentially the same formula that worked so well for Dragon Age Inquisition - so why does it struggle to resonate with Andromeda? Well, for me the heart of it lies in the characters and the expanding narrative. In Inquisition as the scope of the story expanded, I became more invested in both the characters and new discoveries. In theory this should have worked very well with Andromeda as you are not confined to a single fantasy world, but whatever kinds of worlds the developers wished to craft. To that end, Andromeda does paint some beautiful space scenery and come up with some interesting environments on worlds that allow you to creatively explore more as you progress through the campaign.
Take the first world you try to inhabit for example. There are radiation levels that need dealing with. Early on you can venture out into the radiation for short periods of time without too much trouble, but the radiation becomes thicker and more dangerous in zones that you are clearly meant to come back and explore later. The story assists this gameplay mechanic well enough by stating that you have begun to rid the air of radiation, but it peels back gradually over time. In other words: come back when you're bigger and better. Makes sense.
Unfortunately what starts as an interesting plight - the attempt to settle a new world with a cast of characters who have a variety of reasons for wanting to come all of this way - never really finds its footing in the grand scheme of things. Some of the most interesting stories about willingness for such a dramatic relocation come from side NPC's. That's not to say the entire crew is a miss, but I felt there could have been more diversity and some more effort put into why they are there. Dialog us generally well voice-acted, but many of the lines are throwaway. There is just a lot of pointless conversation that doesn't add up to anything. One aspect of Andromeda I did like was Ryder's slightly snarky personality. Shepard was of course what you made of him or her in the prior trilogy, but there was always a dark seriousness to the majority of his interactions. You again have choices from a conversation wheel to work with, but Ryder has a number of more flippant responses, and I usually chose those. You want to imprint your own personality on the character, but the framework here is in place to make the two stars of the series similar yet distinct from one another, which I could appreciate.
Instead Andromeda is mostly focused on exploration and settlement. This is an interesting enough premise - in truth it serves as the foundation for a good many space operas. However, Andromeda's narrative starts to take a backseat to the doing and shows less of an interest in why you should be doing this in the first place. The Mass Effect series is known for some pretty memorable characters, but my top five to ten probably don't include anyone from this title.
Luckily, the actual sense of exploration here is fun. This is very open world gameplay, with lots of things to do while you travel about these new worlds. Combat is faster than ever, with jet packs adding a vertical aspect to the series that it has previously lacked. Weapons and leveling up are pretty streamlined, with skill points going into one of several categories, and then moving down paths that branch in only two directions. Weapons can have modifiers attached to them that help to tweak their base statistics. It is a fine line between wanting more depth for your combat options and having to micromanage things. I think by and large Andromeda does a pretty good job with this, though I am certain some will bemoan the lack of depth in the progression. It could be just a little deeper, but I think it is pretty balanced.
Now, let's talk about the presentation. I mentioned the solid voice acting (for the most part), and the soundtrack is good (though not as fantastic as the second Mass Effect title). I touched on some of the nice environments too, and to that end Mass Effect generally looks pretty good when you're looking at the world through the cockpit of the ship or when there is plenty of action. Gameplay moves crisply, the environments often look cool and you can tell that the engine used here was built with shooters in mind. However, all Mass Effects seem to have some stiff animations when it comes to walking and certain subsets of movement, and that is still the case here. Worse are the facial models. Look, I know that this has been the source of a lot of jeering on the internet, and rightfully so. It was not a deal-breaker for me, and I know Bioware plans to release more updates to try and address the issue, but there is some seriously odd behavior in those facial ticks and it can be distracting. Perhaps if the story was good enough to completely pull me in, I wouldn't sit around taking note of those animations, but unfortunately that doesn't happen - so notice the facial animations I must.
One of the most pleasant surprises for me when Mass Effect 3 released was the online play. I'm pleased to say that the same wave-based squad versus AI gameplay is back and smoother than before in Andromeda. I like that you can also send AI strike teams in (not terribly unlike the map missions of Inquisition, but with a little more strategy behind these) to earn some rewards as well. Sure, I imagine no one buys Mass Effect for the multiplayer, but it is a nice diversion from the single player campaign as well.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a disappointment to me, there is no getting around that. I had high hopes for the continuation of one of my absolute favorite gaming franchises of the last console generation. However, despite its flaws, there is a perfectly solid, enjoyable game here. It might not live up to its namesake completely, but the foundation is here for better things from Bioware in future Mass Effect offerings. Andromeda feels a little rushed, and there is no getting around that, but overall I enjoyed myself more often than not.
Sony PlayStation 4
Microsoft Xbox One
Article by Nick