Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Genre: RPG, Third-Person Shooter
ESRB: M for Mature
Mass Effect: Andromeda launched on March 28th, 2017, a date that is just over five years from when Mass Effect 3 hit store shelves on March 6th, 2012. In that time, fans have longed for a return to what made the franchise great: a rich, expansive sci-fi universe filled with exploration, player choice, good dialogue, and tight combat. As someone who was incredibly disappointed with how the original Mass Effect trilogy ended, alot was riding on this release from Bioware to prove that they had learned from the mistakes of the past and would make ME: Andromeda a new high bar in game design. No matter where players stood in regards to the ending of ME 3, Bioware had alot to prove with the first Mass Effect title to release on current-gen consoles.
Let me just start off by saying that Bioware clearly wants Mass Effect: Andromeda to be The Witcher 3 in space. I say this because the game is not shy of using foul language including the f-word, and several key romances in the game end with a sex scene, complete with full nudity for both characters, even if these scenes are tamer than Geralt’s exploits. The game is violent, but there is never any gore that is explicitly shown. Characters get shot, or punched, or slashed in the face; visible scratches or scars may show, but again, nothing too explicit. The game earns its M rating mostly from the language and the explicit sex scenes. Religion is handled in a mature way in this game as Ryder can engage in conversation with a certain crew member about how to balance the pursuit of science with a belief in a higher power. This conversation can go in interesting directions and can come up again over the course of the story depending on the dialogue choices players choose to make.
I will admit that going into this review, I was still feeling a slight sting from how my Shepard met his demise in horrible fashion at the end of Mass Effect 3. However, I gave ME: Andromeda the benefit of the doubt. After all, the game technically starts with the Andromeda Initiative launching sometime after the events of ME 2. Fast forward six hundred years into the future and players find themselves assuming control of Scott or Sara Ryder, siblings and children of human Pathfinder Alec Ryder, who has been tasked with finding habitable worlds within the Andromeda Galaxy. After a freak accident on what was supposed to be humanity’s new home, the group is attacked by Andromeda’s new big bad, the Kett—a race of aliens who vaguely resemble the Collectors from ME 2. From here, Scott or Sara Ryder become a Pathfinder themselves as they set out in the human ark, Hyperion, a Citadel-like space station housing most of the Milky Way races, to look for new worlds that could be their new home. Along the way, players will unravel the mysteries surrounding a new ancient machine race known as the Remnant; their technology could be the secret to colonizing the various planets and worlds found in Andromeda.
While the basic plot of the game is interesting, and I did enjoy the hints that the overall story arc ties back into the originals in a huge way, the game falls flat in just about every other aspect. Gone are the multifaceted and ever-evolving squadmates of the original trilogy as once again we can recruit a Krogan, a Turian, an Asari, two humans, and only one new race, the Angara. The Angara are natives to the Andromeda galaxy and do not trust the Milky Way species upon first meeting them due to their less than civil relations with the Kett.
While this game is a soft reboot of sorts for the franchise, it is disappointing that with a whole new galaxy to explore, Bioware is only able to come up with a whopping TWO new alien races. Few of the characters stand out in any meaningful way, as the Krogan, Drack, just feels like an older version of Grunt, while Vetra is just female Garrus. The only character that truly brought any interesting moments to the table is Jaal, the new Angaran squadmate, though even he feels like a copy-paste of Javik from ME 3. If I recall, I think he even makes a similar comment about throwing someone out the airlock. Both have a Jamaican accent and both are highly distrusting of the crew at first until they get to know you. PeeBee is my favorite squadmate as she was very different from most of the other Asari you encounter in the game. Like Liara T’Soni before her, PeeBee is obsessed with science and ancient technology, specifically Remnant tech, which she lovingly refers to as Rem Tech.
Though the overall plot is fairly strong while the squadmates are lacking, Bioware really dropped the ball on the loyalty missions this time around. When I first heard that the loyalty missions were going to be spread out over multiple locations and missions in ME: Andromeda, I thought that it would be an improvement over how they worked in ME 2. Unfortunately, most of these missions boil down to flying from planet to planet and talking to a single NPC, then waiting to complete another quest before one of your squad mates emails you with an update to the mission. From there it is lather, rinse, repeat until players can engage in the final segment of these loyalty missions which are where the game really shines, offering significant insight into the backstories of each member of the squad and their overall motivations in Andromeda.
As with previous games in the series, planet scanning and navigating different systems is a pure slog. It wasn’t until the recent title update that fixed the wonky character animations that I was able to skip a rather lengthy scene of my ship, the Tempest, flying from one planet to the next. This completely took me out of the game as it felt like just another long load screen. I would much rather have the elevator rides from ME 1 back instead of the snail’s pace at which players navigate between planets and star systems. Planet scanning from the galaxy offers absolutely nothing new and is almost identical to how it works in the previous games. In short, it still feels pointless and boring. However, the new ground vehicle, the Nomad, is a vast improvement over the Mako tank from ME 1. Criterion Games, popular for their racing titles, helped Bioware develop the controls and mechanics of the Nomad. Over the course of the game, players can upgrade not only weapons, but the Nomad as well. This can be incredibly useful as putting more speed, better traction, and/or more armor into the Nomad can mean the difference between a two minute drive across a world or a twenty minute one.
Combat is perhaps the most wishy-washy aspect of ME: Andromeda. On the one hand, the new jump jets offer expanded mobility options and the new profile system allows players to mix and match classes and play styles on the fly by changing from a sniper focus to one with an affinity for biotics. On the other hand, completely unreliable AI means that some encounters will have enemies practically standing out in the open soaking in bullets until they finally die, while others will have enemies flank and outright demolish you. Sadly, this makes cover completely useless. It is better to just dash around with jump jets and use more of a melee focused approach in combat for most encounters with standard troops. Bosses and mechs will require use of both cover and these new mobility options. The most glaring flaw in the combat design though, is Bioware’s puzzling decision to remove the option to queue up attacks and abilities for allies and for Ryder. No longer can players tactically pause combat and select the specific biotic or tech attack for a given situation. Only three abilities can be equipped at once, which means players will need to dive in and out of menus repeatedly between battles instead of being able to use all of their abilities in the heat of combat.
Dialogue, once Mass Effect’s strong suit, is hit or miss here in most cases. It feels more fleshed out in the late game than it ever did when starting this grand expedition in Andromeda. Most character’s body language and lip movements do not match with the words they are saying, and oftentimes voices cut out or characters disappear completely during cut-scenes. The now infamous “My face is tired” line hearkens back to the superbly written line in Destiny which goes “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.” This kind of writing is what we are dealing with here after three previous games in the franchise and a five year gap between entries in the series. I understand that writers come and go over the years but there was a certain bar of quality in writing that was set by ME 2 and even some parts of ME 3 that Bioware is nowhere near reaching with this entry.
Gameplay issues aside, the most frustrating thing for me with any game is having to reload a save or go back and complete maybe an hour of gameplay due to technical issues that the developer failed to iron out before launch. This is the fourth Mass Effect game Bioware has made and it manages to feel like the first game they’ve ever done due to a lack of polish. For example, there were at least three occasions where a character would get knocked out during a firefight and the game would not let me revive them. Action RPG logic dictates that this is OK as said squadmate should auto-revive once combat has concluded. That did not happen here. So I thought,”I’ll just return to my ship, that way after I talk to the squadmate they will obviously be revived and usable again.” No such luck. The icon showing that they were downed was still there and they were frozen in place. I also could not simply replace them with another squadmate. The only way to fix this issue was to reload an earlier save from before that fight and hope that they didn’t die in combat on my next attempt.
This is unacceptable for a game in 2017 to force me to reload a save because a mechanic as simple as reviving a squadmate is fundamentally broken. This was never an issue in any of the previous entries, as I have admittedly completed those games at least 20 times each. In fact, I can’t think of any technical hiccups that forced me to reload a save during my time with ME 1, 2, and 3. However, these issues are plentiful here, and I do not understand this magnitude of regression. There were also times when I would load a save and the game would freeze and just hang on the load screen without ever actually taking me into the game itself. Again, I had to conduct a hard reset to reload an earlier save, losing hours of progress in the process, due to this issue. While I admire that Bioware has already chosen to address some of these shortcomings in its latest patch I simply do not understand how the game made it to launch in the state that it was in.
Despite all the complaints that I have levied against ME: Andromeda it isn’t a terrible game by any means. However, its not a very good one either. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all is that ME: Andromeda is embarrassingly average. To the point that at times, I felt like I was playing The Technomancer instead, complete with all of its own technical issues. I at least see where Spiders was going with The Technomancer while I have no idea what Bioware was thinking while clearly rushing ME: Andromeda out the door.
Fans of Mass Effect and those who enjoy the game’s combat and multiplayer, which is a carbon copy of ME 3’s multiplayer, may find some fun to be had here. However, for players like me who always loved the well-written squad dialogue and backstories and how everything tied together into one neat package, it is best to steer clear of this one. If ME: Andromeda had launched back when the first Mass Effect did in 2007, I would probably view it as a much better game, but gaming and technology have changed so much over the last decade that Mass Effect has become engulfed in the shadows of its former glory and it is unclear at this point if it can ever rise to the heights of success it once achieved.
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