The year is zero, the day zero. You have left the year 2185—left your home, friends, family, and everything you’ve ever known—to start a new calendar, to pave the way for the thousands of sleeping colonists depending on you to find them a new home. Ark Hyperion slows from its breakneck travel, abruptly coming to rest in the vacuum of space, silent and still and speckled with breathtaking stars. Millions of light years from the only true home you have ever known, with twenty thousand sleeping colonists depending on you for their future, you awaken from your 600-year slumber with a gasp—and just like that, you’re thrust into the world of Mass Effect: Andromeda.
We’re going to take this using a blank slate as our foundation, okay? The negativity about animation and writing and whatnot from early access players, other reviewers, and even people who have only seen promotional material (prior to the game’s release, of course) has been overwhelming, and to be honest I don’t quite agree. It has its flaws; all games do. It had some production difficulties; all games do. Overall, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a solid game with gorgeous visuals and decent narrative, and though it’s perfectly possible to jump in without playing the trilogy it seems like it would be more attractive to Mass Effect veterans—and that its flaws would be more easily forgiven by Mass Effect veterans as well.
I’m going to preface this by addressing the most common complaint about the game: animation. Well, on one hand, it’s BioWare, and we all know that they have some…signature animations, let’s say. Since this is such a new game, a lot of people have expressed disappointment with the quality of the animations in all of the promo material, and I am here to do two things: to confirm and to play devil’s advocate. Yes, those wonky animations continue throughout the entire game, and yes, they are distracting. (Just watch Cora as she walks off with Director Tann after arriving on the bridge of the Nexus.) I hoped they would be better. However, I also know that the developers had to work with the Frostbite engine, which is primarily engineered for first person shooters and heavy multiplayer games—you know, everything that Mass Effect isn’t. And this engine isn’t a dev-friendly one. From what I understand, they had their work cut out for them, in large part because EA saddled them with an engine that wasn’t suited to their purposes. So yes, the animations are very BioWare, but take it with a grain of salt.
My primary complaints with the game that I can’t excuse appeared quite early on, but for the sake of not overloading this review—which is meant to be positive, mind you—with negativity right at the outset, I’ll save that for now. But be prepared. It’s coming.
It’s been a year or so since I last destroyed my emotions by playing through the trilogy. (I picked Destroy, by the way—anything for the slightest chance of my Shepard living.) Despite the time gap, I found myself settling into a rhythm soon enough. My biggest compliment would probably be that this game is a great balance of familiar and new; the skills, weapons, loadouts, machinery, and interfaces all ring strongly of the trilogy, but the scenery is honestly leagues better than anything the trilogy ever had to offer. Honestly, even the desiccated wastelands and storm-torn crags are gorgeous, and I found myself getting struck by lightning multiple times while stopping to admire the landscape on the very first planet. Worth it.
There are a bunch of new mechanics, though, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that many of them worked well for me. For instance, ammo and health crates are distributed fairly liberally throughout the world, and all you have to do to refill your ammo or heal is walk by them—no button presses or anything. Also, you’ve got boosters on your back, allowing you to boost around and jump jet while you parkour to your heart’s content. Oh, and remember the classes from the trilogy: Soldier, Adept, Engineer, Sentinel, Vanguard, and Infiltrator? In addition to one more—Explorer—those are now profiles, which are performance-enhancing specs that you can switch between at will. That added versatility is great as it allows you to adopt your approach to different solutions situations.
The interfaces are overall pretty good, too. Inventory is in-depth but organized, the quest log has some helpful subheaders, and the profiles are straightforward. My only complaint isn’t even really a complaint; there are roughly a billion skills that you can level up, which is wonderful for variety and personalization, but the argument could be made that there are too many. You can only equip three at a time, so it seems like at any given time I’m only getting a teensy sampling of what I could be getting. It’s immense.
That holds true for the game in general. There’s a lot to do in Andromeda. Like, a lot. On one hand, you’re never at a loss for missions and adventures, but on the other hand sometimes it feels like the plot gets a little tangled up in itself. It’s not as straightforward as it was with Shepard, where the primary objective was “defeat the Reapers and save the galaxy.”
Ryder doesn’t get off so easy. In Andromeda, the primary task is to find a home for humanity—though it isn’t exactly clear what prompted this move. There was no disaster from which to escape given the fact that the Reapers hadn’t yet arrived, and this makes me cringe a bit because I was worried about this game being a bit of a Manifest Destiny Simulator. But within ten minutes, naturally, everything goes wrong, and you have to expand your to-do list. You have to make the planets habitable—yes, I mean changing the weather—defeat a new enemy (the Kett) and their leader, aid the angara Resistance, save the Nexus, establish outposts, and gain the loyalty of your crew—and that’s only what you know within the first few priority missions. There’s a whole range of things to do on each planet, from activating ancient Remnant ruins to invading enemy facilities, and somehow all of it ties back to finding a new home for humanity. Again, I cringe from that a little because Manifest Destiny Simulator, but it’s not as bad as I’d feared.
I’m won't dive into the countless side quests and plot details as I don’t want to spoil them for you. Just rest assured that you won’t run out of things to do and places to explore, because if Ryder and Shepard are similar in one way it’s that they both always want to help everyone.
On that note, it’s important to remember that Mass Effect: Andromeda is an open world game, and while it’s not the biggest game I’ve seen it’s still massive. The most important thing is that it works—and for the most part, it does. It doesn’t get boring, but it does get frustrating, and my reason is two words: the Nomad (the six wheeled transport you drive around while planet side). You see, it’s an open world game made for the Nomad, so oftentimes you have to navigate it with the Nomad, which would be fine if the vehicle’s abilities worked well. The boost is all well and good, but there are times when you have to boost up hills (barely 45 degrees) and it’s the most finicky thing in the world. If you don’t hit boost just right, you’re not getting up there. Period. And the jump jets bump up the back of the Nomad. Not the front. The back. So if you’re trying to get over a rock that’s in front of you, you’re stuck, because the back of the Nomad will go up three feet and the front will go up three inches.
Whenever you fast travel, though, the Nomad follows. So if you’re like me and give up on the Nomad, braving the hazardous elements and hoping life support doesn’t give out before you reach your destination, never fear: you won’t lose it.
I got a sweet golden paint job on mine, though which almost makes it worth it.
Since I’m ranting about the Nomad—which, granted, is still vastly superior to the Mako—I might as well bring up my other big negatives (at least, the ones I can write here without majorly spoiling the game for you, which is something I avoid at all costs). First off, let’s talk about how BioWare assured us that marketing would be split evenly between Scott and Sara Ryder, but then released a billion promos with Scott and about four with Sara—the two whitest white bread characters in the entire game. That was fun and totally equal, right? Oh, and then how the only non-straight romances are ones with aliens, implying in yet another BioWare game that LGBT-ness is an overtly nonhuman trait desired only by nonhumans? It doesn’t matter what your politics are; all that matters here is that BioWare made a promise they didn’t live up to. They have a history of doing that; if you need another example, remember how wonderful they insisted the Nomad would be?
That rant past, let’s talk about character creation. You know how in almost every other BioWare game ever, you can select feature “types”? Like, mouth type and nose type, and then you adjust dimensions from there? Not so here. You either go from a preset or go with the default. If you like the eyes on one preset and the mouth on another, sucks for you; you can’t combine them. You just have to work with what you’ve got. Me, I prioritized the eyes, so as a direct result my Ryder always looks like she has something stuffed in her mouth. Nothing I can do about it. I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about it, which eliminates my ever-present worry that I’m just an idiot who misses the obvious, and it makes me wonder why the devs made that interesting choice. Maybe it was because of their difficulties with Frostbite?
Then there’s multiplayer. I don’t have much to say about this, other than it’s incredibly similar to Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. You can pick from a good number of set classes and races in between games, all with limited versions of in-game abilities. With your team, you must get through seven random waves that can involve either hacking, device destruction, target assassination, or just plain survival, all while hordes of enemies (either kett, raiders, or Remnant) bombard you. It’s great at first, but I can see how it could get repetitive after a while—especially if you end up in a situation like mine, where you select “Random Map” and end up playing the same map five times in a row. But I’m sure those kinks will get smoothed out.
This review is glancing at best despite its length, and ends far more abruptly than I would have liked. This game is absolutely massive in all of its aspects, from geography to skills and everything in between, so it’s impossible for me to touch on everything I experienced. With a game this big, there’s bound to be some flaws here and there, but the big flaws are signature BioWare—which, like I said, are more easily forgiven by Mass Effect veterans, but overall this isn’t the worst situation this game could have found itself in. I thoroughly enjoyed—and will continue to enjoy—my exploration of Andromeda, and I know I won't be bored for a long while with this in my game library.
Mass Effect: Andromeda doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but it comes close. Considering the situation in which the developers found themselves, they put out an addition to the franchise that really feels like returning home even though you’re millions of light years from Earth. With stunning scenery, a distinct Mass Effect feel, and an abundance of things to do, it’s a worthy investment for any Mass Effect veteran or newcomer—but don’t expect it to be perfect.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been involved with games since I was a little kid, when I would watch my father play World of Warcraft for hours—and later, of course, mooch off of his account. I have a cobblestone background of creative writing, newspaper journalism, and multi-platform gaming, and I intend to add more stones to that mix as I get them. Excluding sports, I'm a fairly versatile player and will play whatever I can find, though I have a soft spot for lore-intensive games and fantasy. Personal interests include the interplay between history and video games, especially with games that contain archaeological elements—however fantastical—such as Horizon Zero Dawn and the Tomb Raider franchise.View Profile