Mass Effect: Andromeda – Review

Mass Effect: Andromeda marks the first entry in the series in five years, and the start of a new trilogy that breaks away from the original and forges its own path, in another galaxy no less.

Andromeda takes the classic elements of Mass Effect gameplay and story and transports them into a new style and much more explorable world.

But all of this comes at a cost, with the gameplay lore and presentation of the game lacking the shine and engagement of its predecessors.

Story

Andromeda begins with a brief introduction to the Andromeda Initiative, a mission by the races of the Milky Way to travel to the Andromeda Galaxy and settle new lives there.

You play as either a male or female character called Ryder, and after a tough start to life in Andromeda becomes the human Pathfinder, a figurehead for exploration in the galaxy with responsibility to settle new worlds.

Doing this isn’t always easy, as initially the command structure is in serious disrepair and worlds that were thought to be habitable are far from what they appeared.

Soon, you’ll run into an indigenous species known as the angara – who have settled many planets in the local cluster of Andromeda, but are facing attacks from another species – the kett – which threaten to destroy civilisation in this part of the galaxy.  You’ll also encounter mysterious technology and synthetic life known as the Remnant, which guard ancient areas known as vaults which are crucial to establishing life in Andromeda.

Your role as Pathfinder throughout the game is to balance this exploration and world-building with fighting the kett, and finding a way to solve both so that worlds can finally be settled.

Without spoiling too much (which I’ll do in another post), the story doesn’t really capture the imagination in the way that other Mass Effect games have – and it follows the series’ inherent weakness in fulfilling its story aims through deus ex machina.

The whole thing isn’t that memorable, with few points that really shock and awe, and it’s disappointing that such an emotive and long-reaching potential wasn’t fulfilled in this first entry in what will supposedly be another trilogy.

The game does, however, expand on its’ use of side quests to further gameplay and expand upon the game’s potential.  Rather than simply fetch and/or kill missions from the previous games, Andromeda makes great use of the expanded exploration capabilities to make real quests that feel far more fleshed out than they used to be.  This is where the bulk of your game will be spent, and the sheer amount of things to do is unparalleled in the series so far.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is well worth sticking through to the end, and you’ll no doubt be carried along by the stream of side quests before working through the main story thread.  It’s not an inspiring, ground-breaking or overly dramatic campaign, but definitely comes with its fair share of thrills and spills and will still leave you hopelessly addicted when you reach the main core of the game.

Gameplay / Combat

Building upon the tremendous success of Mass Effect 3’s combat improvements, Andromeda’s is the best gameplay in the series to date without question.  It’s fast, fluid, tactical and, above all, fun.

There have been numerous changes to the overall gameplay, which while only subtly changing the Mass Effect formula, they make a big change to the end result.

First of all players can now use jump-jets to move around, as well as biotic slides that cover distances more quickly.  These add a new level of verticality to games and also make better use of the new open-world environments that the game uses.  Mass Effect is no longer a linear shooter with little deviation from a set path; almost every battle can be approached differently, which lends brilliantly to playing in different styles.

The class restrictions from old Mass Effects have been removed, so you can now equip your character with any combination of powers or weapons that you’d like.  This lends a tremendous amount of freedom to the game, and allows you to switch up the playstyle whenever you like.  Different pre-sets of powers can be saved to “profiles”, which can be equipped on the fly – giving you access to different tools to defeat enemies, as well as different bonuses to help you in any given situation.

There are annoyances which creep in though, with the game introducing platforming and puzzle elements that slow things down to a snail’s pace at times.  Platforming isn’t too difficult, but the jump-jet’s imprecision can lead to some frustrating sections.  The puzzle elements range from Sudoku to a long-winded Simon Says, and both aren’t exactly fun ways of furthering the game’s intrigue.

This is the best Mass Effect game in terms of gameplay, and it’s exciting to think what else they may be able to do in future now that they have a solid and impressive system in place here.

Graphics

The build-up to Andromeda and the few weeks after release were dominated by discussions of the game’s poor graphics, with particular attention to the facial animations being substandard or at times broken.  For a AAA game, it makes sense that people were disappointed that they weren’t as good as they should be, and for EA it’s an embarrassment that their flagship Frostbite engine wasn’t highlighted in the way that it should be.

In my experience with the game, though, the graphics are a huge step forward on Mass Effect 3 and the facial expressions are just exactly what you’d expect.  I didn’t come across any of the errors that other people did, and for the most part I was completely immersed in the cutscenes that took place (although more on the other types of conversations later).

A patch in recent weeks has notably improved lip-syncing in the game, and surely this will satisfy the game’s critics.  It’s not ideal that these fixes needed to come in after millions have already made up their minds on the game, but the finished product as it is now is far better than at launch.

In a wider sense, the graphics are beautiful – with the worlds displayed in the game being incredibly detailed and visually stunning.  The introduction of the Frostbite engine means that the clean and futuristic Mass Effect look is here in abundance, but rather than being sparse and rather sterile as it was in previous games, buildings and planets look real and rich – adding to the immersion in the world.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, regardless of what you may have heard, is a beautiful game that looks and feels real and deepens your connection with the characters and the world in which they live.

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