Mass Effect Andromeda is a game about hope and new beginnings in many more ways than one. It is a fresh start for BioWare by taking the series to Andromeda with Ryder in the lead and doing it all using a new game engine. Fans who are moving beyond Shepard’s epic story are hopeful that they will fall in love with Ryder and her adventures in the same way. Lastly, every piece of this story revolves around hope and looking ahead. It is centered on boldly striking out for fresh horizons to provide a new beginning for humanity and for other Milky Way races. It is the ambitious dream that the player as Ryder will forge a bold path with new friends and old. This is our Mass Effect Andromeda review.
In short, every single piece of the mosaic that is Mass Effect Andromeda is tied up in these few words: Hope and a new beginning.
Image Credit Nero749
Graphics & Character Models – The Elephant in the Room
The latest bandwagon that many gamers have jumped on over the last several days is one centered on character models and facial animations. Fans have taken a molehill and made, not just a single mountain, but an entire range of mountains and have created an internet stir so virulent and hate-filled that a female facial animator was harassed in revolting ways over the weekend.
Without mincing any words, the characters are somewhat lacking in expression, but this is hardly anything new. The original ME games suffered from the same issue though perhaps to a lesser degree. The Shepard trilogy placed the camera a bit further away from characters which allowed the use of body language to convey emotion. MEA’s camera, set closer to speakers, removes this ability. In addition, lighting, depending on where Ryder is standing when the conversation begins, can also give a less-than-flattering look from time to time, though it is hardly constant.
THAT SAID, ninety-five percent of the time, Ryder and other characters in the game look amazing proving that there is nothing wrong with models. To get hung up here and lose the overall story does a terrible disservice to the game itself.
So much is right about the graphics in Mass Effect Andromeda. Each planet has its own look and feel that is vastly different than any other. One sees Ryder running around escaping vast temperature spikes with sand caking her armor. Another finds her plowing through a world littered with tropical neon colored plants. Yet another is a barren frozen tundra so cold that ice crystals cover weapons, the Nomad and bring a hasty death if staying too long away from a heat source.
Alien races, in particular the Angara, one of the new Andromeda species that players encounter, are also nicely done. Facial expressions manage to get the point across, perhaps due to their unfamiliarity as a “real world” concept.
The bottom line is that the graphics in Mass Effect Andromeda hit it out of the park more often than not.
Drawn In by an Epic Story
Ryder’s story is not Shepard’s. Where Shepard was already a seasoned soldier in ME1, Ryder and companions are inexperienced and uncomfortable in their places at the onset. They make mistakes along the way, yet learn from them and grow into their roles as the Pathfinder and her formidable crew.
Arriving in Andromeda after a 600 year journey, Ryder becomes the Human Pathfinder through a series of events that she could not have anticipated, the reasons for which unfold over the course of the entire game. As Pathfinder, Ryder is charged with finding a “golden world”, a habitable location, for the settlement of Milky Way colonists. Planets assessed to be suitable before leaving the Milky Way are found to be less so on arrival. Alien species, both friendly and unfriendly, greet our arrival with suspicion and aggression. As BioWare has said from the get-go, we are the interlopers this time. Never having trained for the role, Ryder fumbles her way around at first. The true joy of MEA is watching her grow into a leader.
Companions aboard the Tempest are a mixed bunch of races. All, like Ryder, seem quite young and are also growing up alongside Ryder with the exception of one ancient Krogan. There are plenty of romances to be had, though it must be said that those hoping for endless “banging” as alluded to far too often by BioWare developers recently may be disappointed. The romance my character entered into was a sweet one so far, though not graphic as one might expect. Seventy hours in and we’re still giggling and chortling as the screen goes dark. That’s not to say there aren’t full Monty scenes. I just haven’t seen one. Perhaps there are the “tame and monogamous” romances all the way through the “casual and graphic” type. Time will tell.
The story in MEA is very nicely written. Sure, there are some stilted conversations with some rather uninspired writing, but overall it’s a great story. This time around, there is not a galaxy-ending threat, though there is a threat but of a scale much less intimidating than the Reapers in the original trilogy. Andromeda is mainly focused on finding places in the galaxy for settlement, about fitting in and building trust with alien species, finding adequate planets for habitation and colonization, and about starting fresh.
It’s a big galaxy in Andromeda and each planet is a massive undertaking to explore and adventure through. While not “open world” in the most common sense of the word, there is a definite feeling of exploration and freedom to complete each planet’s full discovery in any way a player chooses. While there are a series of quests required to “finish” each planet, there are also some wonderful stories told by random NPCs as well as side quests that actually feel like a part of the whole.
Decisions made during quests have impact and are often very difficult to make. These decisions will have ramifications on later story elements too. Players can make their Ryder flippant and sarcastic or somewhat naively optimistic or some combination of both. Without the Paragon / Renegade system, players are unshackled from answering the “right way” and allowed to respond in the way that makes sense for their own idea of who Ryder is.
Companion loyalty missions are a thing again as they were in Mass Effect 2. These grant the player and Ryder insight into who each one is and what has brought them to this point in life. Every mission comes with a tough decision to make in the end and with an additional, very touching quest a bit further down the road one-on-one with each.
Lastly, the Milky Way is not forgotten. Observant players will notice very nice nods to the trilogy through audio logs, visits to the Cultural Exchange, memory sequences, Easter eggs etc.
Fine, But How Does It Play?
In terms of gameplay, BioWare has outdone itself. Players aren’t bound to a single character archetype but have the freedom to spend level up points in any one of several pools: Biotics, Combat, or Technology. Within each of those are a ton of abilities. The difficulty is to not spread ability points too wide. With only three available skills during gameplay, it’s worth choosing carefully. If you’re not happy with your chosen skills or have spread them too far, you can always head to the Tempest medical bay to visit the respec station, both for you and your companions.
BioWare has addressed the limited number of battle skills through the use of Profiles, passive bonuses based on chosen skills. These Profiles, similar to templates, are unlocked through the application of level up points and passive skills for applying one unlock with them. The more points applied to the Profile’s required pools, the higher the level of the Profile goes. Up to three of each type and can be saved as a favorite. For instance, Vanguard Rank 5 offers 40% Melee Damage and 90% Melee Force while a Soldier Rank 4 gives 16% Weapon Damage, 25% Weapon Accuracy, +8 Damage Resistance, 25% Weapon Clip Size and more. Players can save up to three of each type with different weapon loadouts and abilities that can be switched at will depending on the enemy being faced.
Even with a limited skill bar, players have fun fluid combat ahead of them. Fighting absolutely packs a punch and is visceral. PC controls are responsive and do not feel like a port from consoles which is a major step up from Dragon Age Inquisition. Combat is also much, much more difficult depending on what level you set your game on. You can go as easy as “narrative” to “casual” all the way up to “insanity”. Enemies aren’t stupid either. They move, hide, get behind cover, run inside and much more…though they do pop up conveniently for head shots.
Nomad is Andromeda’s version of the Mass Effect 1 Mako. For all the BioWare talk that it’s “better, brighter and easier to drive”, it’s the Mako. I loved every minute. It’s also great that you can customize it, add enhancers and set it into low-6-wheel drive for climbing steep spots or to not slip on icy surfaces. I climbed many a mountain in the Ma…er…Nomad.
This brings me to the number one awesome in Andromeda: JET PACKS! This single feature has changed the game both in single player and multiplayer with vertical combat. Hovering to aim or, in my Vanguard’s case, use Biotic Charge from the air is just amazing. In multiplayer, it gets you out of sticky situations fast by being able to literally fly up and pull yourself up on top of a roof.
Speaking of multiplayer, if you loved Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, you’ll love Andromeda’s just as much with some big improvements too. Each wave in a match has the same requirements as before: Hold Out, Escort, Hack but enemies are MUCH stronger and MUCH faster. They aren’t as predictable either and will gather around whatever objective you need to complete simply to be mean and not let you get things done. Reload times are slower as are ability cool downs so it’s good to slot things that cut those delays down to keep yourself in the fight more effectively.
OK, So What’s Wrong With It?
Two low points on the game play side are the excessive amount of scanning required to complete objectives and the clunky UI. For a PC player, the menu system is hard to navigate without a way to search for what it is you want. Quests are logged into “folders” based on who gave it, where it takes place or how crucial it is to the main story line to name just a few. However, there is crossover between these categories and accessing exactly the one you want to see in order to learn what to do next for an un-tracked quest is painstakingly bad. The same goes for equipping items — it’s just not intuitive and is not explained well at all.
Flight animations will make you want to reach for the barf bag as the Tempest jets through a wormhole or….something….on its way to the next system and then another long pause for flight as it goes from system view to the planet only to zoom in and then out again before having to scan for the place to land. The worst part? NONE of it is skippable and it takes a long time to get from place to place.
Crafting, Research & Development are largely useless from my perspective. Nothing I could make was better than things I was finding. With steep resource costs, unless you’re into endlessly gathering ore and other crafting goodies, it’s not really worth your time if that’s not your thing. The only caveat to my overall distaste of the crafting system were the items I could make for the Mak…er…Nomad. Those are worth the effort.
That brings me to my final point: When you log into Mass Effect Andromeda for the first time, strap yourself in for a wild ride for the next four or five hours. You’ll be frustrated at times, lost a lot and confused by what exactly it is you’re supposed to be doing. But it’s OK! It gets better and after a few hours, you’ll have mastered things and the story will have gotten its talons into you. Then you might as well just call in sick for the next 4-5 days until you get through the final breathtaking moment.
Final Thoughts on our Mass Effect Andromeda Review
Yes, in every possible way, it is Mass Effect. Whether it’s the combat system that is both new and familiar or multiplayer with its improvements or the interesting variety of quests or the epic score that screams Mass Effect, it all gels together into a whole. Ryder’s galaxy is as well-suited to her as the Milky Way was for Shepard. If we’re lucky, there are a lot more adventures in store for Ryder and her crew.
To take a phrase from the original trilogy’s Anderson, “You did good, BioWare. You did good and I’m proud of you.”
Our Mass Effect Andromeda review was completed on PC, via a review code sent by Electronic Arts’ PR team. We logged over 70 hours in the game.