The original Mass Effect set the bar for space exploration in games, being able to hop on many worlds and roam around in the Mako to find items, enemies and more. This is the first game in the series since then to offer any real exploration, but it makes up for it in spades.
While being restricted to five worlds to explore, the size and detail of each is incredible – and it’s a delight to hop into the Nomad and drive around these rich and beautiful places. There is so much going on here that it could easily take 100 hours to see and do everything there is, putting it comfortably on par with other RPG series like Fallout.
Each world offers something different, and creates a different atmosphere – which gives incredibly variety to the exploration. Some worlds will have kett enemies, some Remnant, some raiders, some the main enemies will be the local fauna. Each offers a different challenge and makes fights interesting.
Fighting animals that appear on each world make the worlds seem more real, but there are issues with them spawning over and over again in the same places which can get tiresome. There is also a distinct lack of variety in these types of enemies particularly, making it generally a case of wearing down a heavy armoured opponent bit by bit – which doesn’t make for the best gameplay.
What the game does so well in terms of building a universe to explore is diminished slightly by the story elements they’ve used to fill it. Mass Effect’s lore is almost unrivalled in games, as Bioware managed to build a convincing, compelling and massively complex universe in the original trilogy with so much depth to explore. Andromeda does little to further this, relying mostly on existing lore and the basic premises introduced in this game.
The fact that only two new races are included, the friendly angara and enemy kett, is a bit weak when you consider there are as many as ten in the original galaxy. Only the angara are really “discoverable”, as you can befriend their race and work with them to quash rebels, restore worlds and defeat the kett. Their race is interesting and a real addition to the series – but their backstory isn’t explored in great detail and neither is their relations with the rest of the galaxy.
Your squadmates too are maybe a little less interesting than in the original series. Some characters are great additions, with Peebee and Jaal being stand-outs that introduce something new to the mix – the rest seem mostly replacements of previous Mass Effect characters, just without the same charm.
As the Milky Way species have just landed in Andromeda, perhaps it’s natural that there isn’t much to the galaxy to discover off the bat – but there’s a lot of missed potential in the races that are brought back out of cryo throughout the game. These would have been able to bridge the gap between the old trilogy and this one much more cleanly, but all we have is fleeting references to what have gone before.
In terms of building a universe, Bioware have made incredible places but not filled them with life – which is perhaps indicative of a focus on the technical side of the game rather than the story through development. However, what they did right they got superbly right, and perhaps as good as any game before it – which means that any sequel can easily expand on the new galaxy’s potential.
In many ways, conversations were the most defining feature of Mass Effect, as you chat with other characters about the world and events in which they find themselves, and learn about the deep culture going on around the game.
In Andromeda, the presentation of these conversations is extremely scaled back. More-or-less all conversations beforehand existed as a cutscened discussion, where the player can choose multiple branching options that take the conversation in a different path. Here, most of these conversations exist as the gameplay essentially freezes – with the conversation taking place between two static characters and limited interaction with it.
This makes it far less engaging and far less exciting to learn about the new world that Andromeda represents, and degrades what was once a defining piece of Mass Effect’s appeal to an aside.
There are further problems with conversations that have been fixed since launch, namely not being able to skip lines of dialogue (useful if you’ve accidentally chosen the same option again) or more annoyingly being able to be attacked by enemies while in conversation, without the ability to fight back. Having to replay a conversation, multiple times in some cases, just because the game doesn’t freeze while you talk to someone, is immensely frustrating and ruins the immersion in the game.
The writing of these dialogue points is still very good, and I think for the most part the banter between Ryder and their squadmates is stronger than ever and much more realistic. There is, however, a distinct lack of flair to some points though – with important mission dialogue and discussions with random characters being far less detailed or emphatic. Mass Effect was often billed as a space opera, with overly dramatic features that made the game slightly wackier but all the richer for it; this game eschews this for a slightly more rounded and by-the-book game, which is still immersive, but perhaps not as memorable.
Sadly, it seems that the game’s signature piece of conversations was a victim of other priorities in the development of Mass Effect: Andromeda, and while still capturing the essence of what made it so good – it lacks the skill and delight that made it really stick as one of the best gaming experiences around.
While I’ve not delved too deeply into the multiplayer, it does seem as though it’s a rehash of Mass Effect 3 – which is in itself no bad thing.
The maps seem good, with the same size as in the previous game and a design more suited to the different gameplay styles that combat changes have allowed. They also seem more open, which make it harder to hunker down and defend points – adding an increased challenge to things.
They’ve also notably made each game shorter, with only seven rounds of combat before completing a mission rather than eleven. I think this is a good move and will make gameplay less repetitive, and will make it easier on any difficulty to complete a mission in a relatively reasonable time.
Despite doing a good job with the multiplayer, there does seem to be little innovation here. When I say it’s a rehash of Mass Effect 3, I genuinely mean it’s exactly the same in so many ways that you’d be forgiven for thinking no time was spent on it. This means that while Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer was tremendously well-received, and I like many played a lot of it, the appeal to do so here might not be as strong – as in a sense I’ve done it already.
This makes the multiplayer good, but not great – as the five years since Mass Effect 3’s launch make the game’s online formula a little dated and a bit stale to players like myself that have played it all before.
Overall / Conclusion
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a fantastic game, and one that takes the Mass Effect series on to the new consoles and to an entirely new experience. It’s a real evolution and a game that much more immersively captures the experience of exploring a galaxy, and makes great improvements to gameplay that make playing it addicting.
However, the main story is rather lacklustre and the overall presentation of conversations and the lore of the new galaxy is notably below the standard of the previous three games and makes it far from the perfect Mass Effect game it could have been. It’s clear in many ways that there wasn’t enough time devoted to some of these elements, including the multiplayer mode, which is surprising given the five-year development cycle for the game.
All of this adds up to a game that is well worth playing, and that will comfortably command your attention for 60+ hours of gameplay, but doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the stellar titles that went before.
If you’ve played Mass Effect games before, or if you’re a fan of third person games with lots of depth, then this game is for you. If neither are your thing it might be worth giving it a miss, at least until the release of what we’d expect as Mass Effect: Andromeda 2.