To boldly go…
The original Mass Effect trilogy from BioWare was pretty damn good. Sure, there were some ups and downs between the three titles, and who can forget the uproar surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3? But generally they were well regarded and so it makes sense that a new Mass Effect game would come out for this latest generation of consoles, hopefully carrying on the success of the previous games. However, with a new generation of consoles and the wrapping up of the original trilogy, it is the perfect time for a series reboot of sorts, and so Mass Effect: Andromeda takes players to a whole new galaxy.
The story is that a number of space arks have been sent on the 600 year trip to the Andromeda galaxy in order to start colonizing. The player is awoken from their cryogenic sleep as either of the Ryder twins, giving the player a choice of either male or female lead. Whichever they choose, the other twin is stuck in a malfunctioning sleep chamber but is not at any risk. The Ryder that the player controls however, finds that the best laid plans have gone sideways and is quickly thrown in the deep end to try and get things sorted. Before very long, and with perhaps a dose of nepotism, the player finds themselves promoted to the position of Pathfinder and is then responsible for finding a new home for the thousands of colonists still sleeping aboard the ark, while also dealing with the new alien threats that this new galaxy holds. All in a days work…
Much discussion has been had about the facial animations of the characters in Mass Effect: Andromeda, and while the weird expressions or lack of emotion is noticeable throughout the game, especially at some key moments in the story, it really isn’t as big a deal as it has been made out. Sure, the characters can look a little odd at times, but I didn’t find it affected my enjoyment of the game at all. It may not be what we have come to expect from triple A titles on the latest hardware, but it’s nothing to get upset about. For something really spectacular, take a look away from the characters and drink in the environments. It could be surmised that this is where all of the graphical time was spent. From the Tempest, your ship and central hub, to the varied planet surfaces that the player must visit and explore, they all look incredibly good, and the visual effects used really bring them to life and give them an unexplored feeling.
Back to the characters, it is not only their looks that don’t quite hit the mark. The script also doesn’t feel quite right. The characters are simply not as engaging as you would hope, and some of the dialogue choices feel completely out of place. Obviously players will be spending a lot of time with the various characters that they meet throughout the game, but it really is difficult to care about any of them. The writing is definitely the downside.
And unfortunately, that carries through to the story and side missions. The overriding aim of finding a new home for thousands of colonists and dealing with a new alien threat just doesn’t have the epic feeling found in the original Mass Effect trilogy. It’s a premise that has a massive scope for fun, but again it is difficult to invest. The side missions are all fruitful and worth doing, but very few of them really stood out as anything other than busy work and grinding.
Okay, that’s enough of the disappointing stuff. Andromeda is an action RPG and comes with some great combat that is an improvement over the previous games. This time around, the player can make use of a limited jet pack attached to their character, opening the environments to more tactical usage and building on the exploration. Players have a limited control of their team mates, giving them vague orders as to what to do or where to go, and generally the AI is quite capable. The combat is much more dynamic and chaotic, and with a more fluid cover mechanic, it leads to some really exciting encounters. This entertaining combat is carried through to a surprisingly good multiplayer mode, but I would imagine interest in the four-player co-op will be short-lived.
In true RPG fashion, leveling up gives access to a variety of skill trees that provide new skills and abilities. There is a lot available, which can be a little overwhelming, but it gives players the freedom to develop a character that they want to play rather than having to pigeon hole them into a specific class. There is also a huge amount of crafting to be found in the game, with different technologies and augmentations that the player can make use of if they have found enough resources. Mass Effect: Andromeda ticks all of the boxes when it comes to RPG mechanics and offers just the right amount of depth.
The return of a planetside vehicle may bring veteran Mass Effect players to a cold sweat given the awkwardness of the original Mako vehicle in Mass Effect 1, but rest assured that the new vehicle is great fun to drive and makes extended exploration enjoyable.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a massive game, as befits exploring a new galaxy. There are some issues along the way, the visuals are a mixed bag and the characters are difficult to invest in, but the actual gameplay is very nicely done. The combat is great, and the RPG systems work well. If you are looking for a deep and involving narrative, it may be best to look elsewhere. But if you want to explore a new galaxy and fight a new alien threat, there is so much in Mass Effect: Andromeda to love.