After the success of ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ and a five year wait, ‘Mass Effect’ has finally returned to PC and Consoles in the form of Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’d already proven to be a fairly controversial title ahead of its official release though, thanks to the early preview players were able to have thanks to the Xbox One’s EA Access initiative.
It left some players worried, some players scared, and some players angered that the game wasn’t going to live up to their high expectations. It’s pretty common these days though; it’s very rare that video games actually live up to the hype that gamers wrongfully grace them with pre-release.
What if I told you that Mass Effect: Andromeda wasn’t as bad as people said though? Sure, those odd character animations and facial expressions are there, but what if I told you that it still managed to deliver incredibly enjoyable gameplay experience? Mass Effect: Andromeda certainly isn’t perfect, but it definitely deserves a lot more praise than it has been receiving.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is set 600 years after the events of the original trilogy, with 20,000 colonists leaving the Milky Way aboard colossal Arks and heading out further into the universe to try and make a new home within the Andromeda Galaxy. Disaster strikes though when a group of pre-known planets in the system that were considered resourceful ‘Golden Worlds’ before the journey begun are instead found to be inhabitable and dying thanks to a strange plague-like threat known as The Scourge. There’s also a new Alien race to be wary of, with the ever-deadly Kett taking on the role of the antagonists in this new addition to the series.
You take on the role of either Scott or Sara Ryder (twins born a minute apart) as you try to make sense of the dire situation that the colony now finds themselves in. Thanks to a series of unfortunate events, the player eventually find themselves promoted to the role of ‘Pathfinder’, with the new-found responsibility of having to find a habitable planet for the now homeless colonists who remain aboard the Ark.
Mass Effect: Andromeda can feel a little less accommodating than we’ve been used to in the series so far thanks to its fresh outlook on the universe and events that have taken place. Whilst it all essentially takes place within the same timeline, we’re so far ahead of the Shepard saga that you essentially have to learn about the universe all over again. It’s not a reboot, but you see things from a new perspective and in a way that comes close to having to build up the lore again from scratch – forget about the politics, the who’s who of races, as well as each planet within the star map, because Mass Effect: Andromeda has you starting all over again.
This isn’t a bad thing and in many ways revitalises the franchise (we’re all finished with the Reapers now…), though given the fact that this is a all-new entry in a much-loved series that people spent years with leaves things feeling a little convoluted to begin with. However, after you’ve spent a few hours with the game and got over the fact that you’re no longer in what could easily be considered ‘Shepard’s Universe’, you’ll begin to embrace this fresh outlook on the game and how different an experience it offers. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll know you’re playing a ‘Mass Effect’ game, but Mass Effect: Andromeda feels different enough that it will take some getting used to. The sooner you adjust to this though, the sooner you’ll be able to really start enjoying Bioware’s latest space epic.
Of course, whilst the ‘Mass Effect’ series has always had a blockbuster main plot, a lot of the effectiveness of the narrative comes from the player’s input into the smaller plot points through conversational choices. Gone are the ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ options that typically signified a ‘good guy’ or ‘bad guy’ conversation choice though – instead we now have four options, consisting of ‘emotional’, ‘logical’, ‘casual’, and ‘professional’.
With a richer variety of conversation options to choose from, the perception that other characters will have of you no longer feels so black or white. I mean sure, there are still options to be a dick or a goodie two shoes if you please, but there are more different ways to approach it. You can mix things up as you please, though different characters will respond to your choices in a variety of ways. You can either play consistently to one role, or completely mix things up to cater for who you’re speaking to – it’s really up to you. It gives a greater sense of freedom to the player, which in turn adds a greater sense of personality to Ryder. It’s a nice change and something I could really appreciate; especially since this is an all-new approach to the ‘Mass Effect’ universe.
Whilst there’s a lot more variety in your conversation choices this time around, the effects they have no longer feel as significant. Don’t get me wrong, as the Pathfinder you’ll be tasked with making some pretty big decisions, but the diversity of responses on offer can make these choices feel a little less impactful. When in previous games it was broke down to the ‘good’ choice and the ‘bad’ choice, you knew what you were doing would make a difference. When it’s instead split into individual mindsets though it can be a little difficult to really feel the effect your decision has. I haven’t found any way to punch a journalist either, which is a massive oversight in my opinion…
As per previous entries in the series, there’s a lot more going on in Mass Effect: Andromeda other than just the main story. These aren’t just small side quests that simply show up on each of the planets you visit either, but actual endeavours that have a lasting effect on your relationships with the countless characters of the game – you’ll have the option to romance a host of companions and NPCs, interact with the Pathfinders aboard other Arks, investigate the first murder within the Andromeda system, as well as host a movie night for your comrades. These kinds of quests can easily feel insignificant in other games, but in Mass Effect: Andromeda I always felt like the reward would pay off with either a new discovery or some pivotal expansion to the plot. Bioware have always taken pride in fleshing out even the smallest details in each of their video games, and that’s something that’s evident here too. Even the seemingly unimportant subplots can have a big effect in the overarching narrative of the game, so it’s certainly worth playing through as much as you can throughout the whole of the game if you want the most fulfilling experience.
One area that Mass Effect: Andromeda has absolutely nailed is the combat, with showdowns against enemies managing to feel both more tactical and dynamic than ever before. Previous games in the series have often limited abilities to specific classes, but here you’re able to unlock them as you please. I managed to make a super soldier who had superb shooting skills, but was also able to use biotic capabilities to smash opponents apart with ease too. There is a limit to the amount of skills you’re able to use during combat which is a shame and nullifies the flexibility a little, but you’re able to customise your loadout in between combat situations so it isn’t too much of a lasting issue.
There are also things like the jetpack that allows you to quickly evade enemy attacks or reach a high ground to get the upper hand on your opponents, whilst the auto-cover when equipped with a weapon ensures that it’s never too difficult to get to safety. There were a few instances where the game’s insistence of automatically putting me in cover could be a bit of a nuisance (especially when trying to move around freely), but for the most part it works quite well.
The assistance your allies provide has been simplified too, in turn making it a more streamlined process to direct them during combat. You give instructions to them via the d-pad, with simple button presses associated with the direction you want to receive support from. It’s just makes more sense and also ensures you don’t break away from the action too much in order to issue simple commands.
With your new role as the Pathfinder, it’s up to you to find planets that are habitable as well as uncovering any hidden secrets they each might have. There are a wide range of different landscapes to explore across each planet, so it always feels like you’re going to see something different – be it with the flora and fauna or the other-worldly wildlife. There’s a wide range of things to discover, adding an extra degree of intrigue to planetary exploration. There’s an extended emphasis on scanning objects in the environment this time around too, but I actually found it a little annoying. I always felt like I needed to have my scanner equipped and to keep looking for undiscovered things, which could be a little tedious when you just want to enjoy taking the wonder each planet in.
You can explore planets both by foot and in the game’s brand new all-terrain vehicle, the Nomad. Remember how naff the Mako was in previous ‘Mass Effect’ games? That’s all been fixed with the Nomad. It’s an actual joy to drive and even has upgrades, making it an even slicker vehicle the further you progress into the game. You’ll come across some enormous planets throughout Mass Effect: Andromeda with all different kinds of harsh terrain, but thankfully the Nomad’s versatility across even the brutal of landscapes makes it the perfect means for exploration.
One thing’s for sure, these planets you explore look utterly beautiful – Mass Effect: Andromeda has some of the most stunning environments I’ve seen in any video game. You’ll encounter tropical paradises, lively jungles, frozen pits, luscious neon plant life… there’s so much to see and the fact that it’s so skilfully crafted makes each location feel like believable Alien scenery. You’re taking on the role of an explorer who’s uncovering these sights for the first time, and it’s a feeling that transitions through to the player too thanks to the spectacular worlds on show. I was constantly in awe of everything I saw and it really shows the benefits that current gen hardware has brought to the ‘Mass Effect’ series.
Of course, the massive elephant in the room with Mass Effect: Andromeda is the graphical issues with character models and animations. Now I’ll put it out there and say that I don’t think that the characters of the game are hideous. I’ve seen a lot better in other video games (‘Uncharted 4’ and ‘Horizon: Zero Dawn’ for example), but they’re not absolute monstrosities. The facial animations when they’re talking though are just… odd. Given that the game has such a big focus on character interactions and deep conversations with characters, you’d have though that Bioware may have considered facial animations and lip syncing one of their priorities; instead we’re left with characters that at times have the same mouth movements as a goldfish. Those dead staring eyes too… scary.
You know what though? It became kind of endearing. Mass Effect: Andromeda does a lot right in so many other areas that I found myself not really minding about the fact that characters look like Barbie and Ken dolls, nor the fact that they look so odd when in conversation. I didn’t mind that some of them walk like Conor McGregor either, nor the fact that they would randomly stand with their arms out wide as if they’re being crucified in thin air. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good and Bioware need to get to fixing it as soon as possible, but none of this stuff did anything to ruin gameplay for me – it DID do enough to detract a few points from my overall score, though.
Besides graphical issues, there are a few other problems that do affect the gameplay a little bit more. There are often a heck of a lot of awkward menus to navigate just to complete the simplest of tasks, whilst keeping track of all of your quests can be a pain too – not just because of the sheer volume of them that you’ll uncover, but actually finding the navigation markers for them too. There’s also the fact that the game suffers from plenty of framerate drops, regardless of what system you’re playing on; I played on the Playstation 4 Pro and even that struggled to constantly maintain a consistent framerate during the more action-packed sequences. Again, it’s nothing game breaking, but it’ll be noticeable to the average gamer.
Last but not least, multiplayer returns to the fray with the co-operative Horde-like mode from ‘Mass Effect 3’ showing its face once again. It’s more of the same that previous players will be used to, with the mode playing similarly to the single player options albeit without the feeling of progression of exploration. There’s plenty of fun to be had in it if you’re into that sort of thing and the limited time I spent with it was enjoyable, though I certainly found that the single player experience was the better option. There are bonuses to unlock for the single player campaign within multiplayer though, so it’s definitely worth sinking a few hours into.
Mass Effect: Andromeda delivered exactly what I hoped it would – an epic sci-fi adventure with fantastic combat mechanics, stunning alien worlds to explore, and a narrative that’s full to the brim with side-quests and sub-plots.
However, there’s no denying that it’s severely lacking polish. You’ve just got to look at the character’s faces, animations, occasional framerate drops, and jaunty menus to realise that it might’ve benefited with a bit longer in the oven.
Do these flaws make it a broken, terrible game though? Certainly not. The positives of Mass Effect: Andromeda outweigh the negatives and it certainly lives up to the series’ high standards in almost all facets of design. I have no doubt that it’ll probably be one of the most divisive titles released this generation, but for me it certainly delivered on its promise of providing a compelling, action-packed adventure.
Release Date: 21/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC