Mass Effect: Andromeda Review- A Flawed but Fun Journey Across the Stars

Posted April 6, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Bioware

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Release date: March 21, 2017

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed)

The original Mass Effect trilogy introduced us to a vast galaxy shared by humans, asari, krogan, turian, salarian, and others. We followed Commander Shepard of the Normandy as he engaged these other races in a fight against the overall threat of the Reapers. 2012’s Mass Effect 3 brought an end to Shepard’s story (not without controversy, which I won’t rehash here), but the folks at Bioware felt there were still stories to be told among the stars.

Rather than remaining in the Milky Way galaxy, the developer saw fit to give us a brand new cast in a brand new setting, 600 years after the events of Mass Effect 3. This was to be a new voyage of discovery, with new races to meet and new worlds to settle and explore. And naturally, new threats arose to be dealt with. Thus, Mass Effect: Andromeda was born, and both newcomers and veterans alike could take a new journey across the stars on current consoles and PC.

Mass Effect: Andromeda places you either in the shoes of Scott Ryder or his twin sister, Sara (the first names can be changed, as in the previous games – your character will only ever be addressed as Ryder). A character creator allows you to customize your choice of Ryder sibling, and allows you to choose a starting class (which you’re not locked into, as more open up as the game progresses).

You wake up aboard the Ark Hyperion, one of several Arks that are part of the Andromeda Initiative to explore and colonize the Andromeda Galaxy. Naturally, trouble rears its head in the form of a spatial phenomenon known as the Scourge. Your father, Alec Ryder, known as the human Pathfinder (those in charge of leading their respective Arks to settle new planets called “golden worlds”) gets you through to the Nexus, a vast space station that plays a similar role to the original trilogy’s Citadel.

It’s here where you are granted the exploration vessel Tempest, who is crewed by a new set of characters, all who have their own particular specialties and loyalty missions. A voyage to the first planet Eos results in tragedy, and the Pathfinder torch is passed on to your chosen Ryder, complete with the AI augment SAM. SAM aids you in scanning your surroundings and interfacing with other technology. It’s on Eos that you pick up new crew members as well, and your adventures begin in earnest.

While there are plenty of side missions to distract you, the main story, pitting you against any enemy called the kett, can be accomplished in roughly 20 hours or so of gameplay. Just focusing on the main story will only earn you a fraction of what the game has to offer in its entirety, as doing everything can take you closer to the 60 hour mark. Across that time you’ll do combat, engage in fetch quests, and solve puzzles to the large Remnant structures found throughout the Heleus Cluster (the Remnant are basically this game’s version of the protheans).

Combat is handled fairly well, with a nice variety of guns to use. Guns can be found, bought, or crafted if you have the blueprints and the materials. Your omni-tool can be used as a melee weapon. Skill points are accrued as you complete missions, and can be assigned to three categories: Combat, Biotic, or Technician. Each category has a mix of passive and active skills. Up to three active skills can be assigned to the face buttons at a time, allowing you to string together combos and use powerful attacks or weapons like grenades or using defensive tactics like shields. Your party will always consist of yourself and two others, and you can issue simple commands to your companions via the direction buttons. fortunately, their AI is competent enough that you generally don’t need to micromanage your team. Each crew member acquires skill points and can be leveled up how you choose; however, you can’t assign their active skills (they will use their individual skills on their own).

In combat heavy areas you’ll find plenty of ammo and health crates, so resupplying isn’t an issue. The jump button (you have one this time!) activates your jetpack, adding to greater mobility. During combat you can leap out of cover and hover above an enemy for an extra vantage point. Be forewarned that this can also leave you vulnerable, so you need to be careful in how you use it. You’ll automatically go into cover if your weapon is drawn, and here some issues arise. Cover can at times be sticky, making maneuvering a bit awkward around things. Also, cover is not always guaranteed to cover you. There were times my Ryder would not get down or be behind high enough cover and would be open to being shot. This really can be an issue when your shield is gone and you need to seek cover to regenerate it. There were a couple of cheap deaths because of this, especially when dealing with bullet sponge enemies. It’s nothing game-breaking but worth mentioning. Combat can be a lot of fun once you get a good flow going, however, so that at least somewhat makes up for any cover issues.

Your jetpack will also help you to traverse across obstacles, though most of these platforming type sections will be found in Remnant ships and structures. For the most part it works, but at times it can be clumsy to use, as you need to sprint forward and then jump to reach higher platforms or those a greater distance away. Here again cheap deaths resulted when controls failed me, though fortunately the penalty for failing a jump merely reset you back on the side where you began. It is a welcome change from the original trilogy, where Shepard could be blocked by the smallest surface. It needs a couple of tweaks to become as fluid as the movement in an Assassin’s Creed game, but it is a welcome change.

The Remnant structures also contain the game’s biggest puzzles. You’ll need to scan for glyphs and then engage in a Sudoku-like puzzle to activate consoles. Failure to do so correctly brings you under attack by Remnant forces. The puzzles aren’t overly difficult, but can require some trial and error in their solution. Enryption keys can be found and used instead of making an attempt or if you’re having too much difficulty, however, they can be hard to find in themselves. Solving the Remnant puzzles forms a key to aiding in your settling of the planets in the Heleus Cluster. The more Remnant facilities you activate, the greater the amount of worlds you can occupy and awaken colonists on your Ark and the Nexus. Completing these and Strike Missions (some of which can be played via the multiplayer, others you can send out teams to accomplish for you) grant you Andromeda Viability Points (AVP). These points are used to awaken certain pods at any given time. These pods in turn can provide perks (a mining pod can provide a continuous stream of valuable ore, a military pod can hunt down supplies). These perks can come in handy when acquiring materials for research or building new weapons to aid in your fight against the kett.

Aside from weapons and armor, you can also craft attachments to your Nomad. The Nomad is your surface vehicle, similar to the Mako in the original trilogy but easier to operate. Adding things like extra shielding and suspension makes exploring hostile worlds a bit nicer, since exploring many of them outside the Nomad can prove to be fatal in a hurry. Your Nomad isn’t armed, but can certainly plow through an enemy’s defenses if you equip it properly. In most cases, combat will force you to either run or exit the Nomad and exchange gunfire. You need to make sure to keep an eye on your life support and return to the Nomad before it gets too low, or it will not end well for you.

As in past titles, you’ll be able to romance your fellow crew members. Not all are available to each Ryder, discovering that requires conversation. Most conversation wheels give you up to four options, giving you an emotional, logical, or practical response. Responses allow more of a nuance than the old Paragon/Renegade system, giving you more shades of grey in dealing with others. Loyalty missions are key to winning others over, but they’re not as important here in completing the main story as they were in the trilogy. Choices do figure into the endings, but it seems to be more of who shows up for the final battle rather than the farther reaching consequences of the older titles. Despite that, the choices aren’t easy to make, and you may have to go the extra mile to soothe some ruffled feathers. Be warned that sex scenes are a bit more R rated in this game, though not quite as explicit as those found in The Witcher III. The game does offer up some interesting conversations, such as with one of your crew-mates aboard the Tempest named Suvi. Her musings on faith are something not often tackled in games, and it was a nice inclusion here.

The multiplayer in Mass Effect: Andromeda is nicely done and a lot of fun to play. You can choose from Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Random difficulties, depending on your skill level. In part, it’s set up as a Horde mode, where you and three companions need to ward off waves of enemies. Mixed in are objectives, like hacking data points or deactivating devices. There are seven rounds in total, with the seventh having you and your companions retreat to an extraction point. Progression is handled nicely, and doing multiplayer matches can earn you AVP, which can carry over to the single player mode. It’s a nice touch to have each mode impact the other, giving you a nice sense of the overall universe. Multiplayer allows you to create alien characters, which let you play with abilities you don’t have in the campaign.

For the most part, Mass Effect: Andromeda works well, but some technical issues do raise their heads to dampen the overall experience a bit. Environments look great and are nicely detailed, but some facial animations leave a lot to be desired. From bad lip sync to just horrendous facial models, things can be jarring enough to break immersion. Patches are in the works to correct this, but for now some cases are quite noticeable compared to earlier games. Those who place more emphasis on graphics and how a game looks will be more affected by this. Those who enjoy the gameplay will be less bothered. They don’t break the game (like some hyperbolic individuals on the internet have claimed) but they can be a little distracting. Fortunately, the voice acting is fairly good, so once you get used to the faces it ceases to be a real issue. More of an issue is the pop in and bleeding through other characters and environments, and the occasional lag that can be experienced. One planet had issues triggering the ability to leave, and I did have the game crash completely, causing me to restart my Xbox. These technical issues give the feeling that the game needed a bit more polish. Again, patches are said to be on the way, but the game as it is at launch is flawed enough to hold it back from being as excellent as it could be.

In all, Mass Effect: Andromeda proves to be a worthy entry into the franchise. The main story is nicely told, and has enough of a satisfying conclusion while leaving room enough for a sequel (and the inevitable DLC). While it would have been nice to meet more than two new races and retread things with ancient alien technology, the Andromeda galaxy is still an engaging place to explore, with plenty of side missions to keep you occupied after the credits for the main story have rolled. The new characters are nicely done and feel different enough from the old cast, all while feeling somewhat familiar as we engage with the races we’ve come to know and love. The multiplayer is fun and engaging, and has an impact on the single player, making it worth diving into at least once or twice. Sadly, some technical issues and poor animations arise in spots, marring the overall journey and holding it back from being what it could have been. Hopefully, future patches will rectify this. It’s a flawed but fun journey across the stars, and it will be interesting to see where Bioware takes us next in the franchise.

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus