'Mass Effect: Andromeda' Review: What's Old Is New Again

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a must-play for fans of the Mass Effect series
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a must-play for fans of the Mass Effect series BioWare

Mass Effect: Andromeda is about new beginnings. Not just in the main storyline of Milky Way civilizations venturing into a new galaxy, but also every character and moment throughout Andromeda’s 30-plus hour long campaign. You could even argue that developer BioWare has woven this mentality into the game’s creation itself, as Andromeda represents a bold new start for the company’s biggest franchise. Despite the push for the new, Andromeda’s strengths also come from how much it relies on the past.

As you’ve probably seen in countless advertisements by now, the story revolves around the Andromeda Initiative, a program to help humanity, the Asari, the Turians, the Krogan and the Salarians spread out across the known universe. After travelling over 600 years in a cryo-induced sleep, your character wakes up to find out that plans made before the incredibly long trip haven’t gone smoothly at all. In fact, things are about as bad as they could be, with an evil alien race trying to kill everyone and all worlds previously thought to be able to sustain life destroyed.

There’s only one person who can set things right, and I bet you have a pretty good guess as to who that is.

If this is your first Mass Effect game, you’re in for a treat. While you don’t really need to have played the original trilogy, it does provide some context for things like the established alien races, their behaviors and cultures. Those who haven’t played might be a little lost, but there isn’t much in Andromeda that dwells on the previous games. The focus is on the new races and planets to explore in the Andromeda galaxy. That being said, if you are a newb to the franchise, you’d be doing yourself a favor to watch some kind of recap of the trilogy to get you back up to speed.

Fans of the Mass Effect series will find many parallels between Andromeda and the original trilogy. The Mass Effect games are made off the interactions and relationships built with your crew members, and that continues in Andromeda. While some may not find the new characters as instantly lovable as, say, Wrex or Garrus, there are still more games coming to help flesh everyone out in only the way BioWare can. There are also some characters that hit that high bar of BioWare excellence immediately, like Drack and Jaal.

Gameplay is incredibly smooth and simple. Players are able to rank up whatever abilities he or she wants, meaning you aren’t going to be constrained to one play style forever. Skill points are handed out generously, and it’s very easy to cross over between the Biotic, Combat and Tech skill trees at any time. Players are able to have three skills active at any given time, and can switch between them to ensure you’ll always be prepared for whatever situation you’re facing next.

A major gameplay change from the original trilogy is the inclusion of a new jump-jet. This adds verticality to Mass Effect, and allows Ryder to really explore any environment he or she is in. While on the ground, the jump-jet can be used to dash in any direction, which saved my life a number of times as I skirted away from enemy fire and hid behind some cover.

There are so many missions in Andromeda, it was almost daunting. At just about every major hub in the game, mission markers are everywhere. The main campaign took me about 30 hours to complete, but there are many, many more hours of missions and romances and places to explore.

At times the mission structure for Andromeda can feel so drawn out, to the point where it gets absurd. This is especially highlighted in the loyalty quest for Peebee. Without giving too much away, the mission involves jumping from planet to planet, all for either a quick conversation or some basic exploration. Seeing as how just traveling from Planet A to Planet B takes about five loading and transitional screens, completing a quest involving jumping between four different planets takes time.

Even less-involved missions all seemed to have multiple steps that made them feel dragged out for no reason. This could be alleviated slightly if players had the opportunity to jump straight to one of the many hub worlds instead of having to go to the planet’s system, then travel to the planet, then go land.

While this mission structure can draw out the storylines of some missions, overall the story of Andromeda is captivating. Playing as Ryder, you can share the excitement your character has for exploring each planet and discovering what’s around every corner. Going to a new place for the first time is always a thrill, as is learning about what mysteries are hidden on each planet.

But for a game about exploring new and alien worlds, everything does end up feeling pretty familiar. To start, only a handful of the races from the original trilogy make it to Andromeda. That should lead to plenty of new introductions, right? Not so much. There are only two new races in Andromeda, and one of them is the enemy.

The planets even feel similar to each other, with many of the same animals and plants found throughout the galaxy. It felt like more risks could have been taken here, or at least some more diversity. It also leaves the opportunity open for sequels to introduce new races and alien worlds to continue discovering. Andromeda does end with several teases for what’s coming next. Additionally, many major story threads haven’t been wrapped up, or feel deliberately open-ended.

Like all Mass Effect games, choice is a major narrative mechanic. Previous games have made the choice system pretty binary: are you playing Paragon or Renegade? The new system in Andromeda allows for more shades of purple (because it’s mixing the red and blue from the previous games, get it???)

The new system also hides what choices are going to be the most important from the player. This, I feel, is the bigger deal, as you are never really sure if you’re at one of those “major decision” points. It forces you to always be paying attention to what’s going on and to always be thinking about your words and actions. You never know if an off-the-cuff remark may have a bigger ripple effect.

Voice acting is, in general, top-notch, and carries the story forward wonderfully. Fryda Wolff and Tom Taylorson both put on fantastic performances as the male and female Ryders. Complimenting them are a mix of bigger names, like Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer or Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani, and lesser-known talents. Regardless of if the role was big or small, every conversation felt real and engaging.

However, it should be said that Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t the prettiest game around. Considering just how much content is jammed in the game, something had to give, and that something is graphics. This makes many facial animations look dead or robotic, and textures often appear rubbery or bland. I personally didn’t have too much of an issue with this, and let’s be honest with ourselves, the original trilogy wasn’t exactly a shining example of graphical power either.

Unfortunately, Andromeda is also pretty darn buggy, and can feature absurdly long loading screens at times. Animations loop oddly. Sometimes the dialogue didn’t play or something else just didn’t work correctly. There were even a number of complete game crashes. Many posts online would lead you to think Andromeda has more bugs than an ant farm, but most of them are very small, and would be hardly noticeable unless you went looking for them. The bugs definitely impact the experience though, and BioWare had better be working on patches to fix these issues.

Despite all of the flaws with bugs, graphics, story and everything else, Mass Effect: Andromeda is still a wonderful game and something very special. Just like the characters in the game, Andromeda establishes a bold new start for the series, and builds a foundation for even greater things to come.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of the Mass Effect franchise? Have you played any Andromeda for yourself? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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