I’ve had my hands on Mass Effect: Andromeda for four days and four nights, and after roughly a dozen hours of playing I’m finally beginning to wrap my mind around the massive new galaxy that BioWare has invited us to explore. So far, I love most of the experience.
The original Mass Effect trilogy of games ranked among my favorites for its incredible story, cinematic sequences, and exciting gameplay. BioWare created a deep and engrossing universe with fascinating worlds, bizarre aliens, and terrifying villains. Andromeda is an expansion of that intellectual property for existing fans, and a compelling reboot for newcomers who may not have played the original games from 2007, 2010, and 2012.
The game begins during the time between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 (in the late twenty-second century). Tens of thousands of colonists, in cryo-sleep aboard massive spaceships called arks, have come together as part of the Andromeda Initiative, which seeks to create a new home in Andromeda free from the political baggage of the Milky Way. Your character, last name Ryder (Sara or Scott, by default), wakes up after the 600-plus year journey, and everything’s gone to shit. The “golden worlds” identified before launch are inhospitable at best and uninhabitable at worst. Arks are missing and people have died.
You become Pathfinder, a specialist trained to explore and help settle new worlds in Andromeda. It’s an excuse for you to have incredible authority over the Initiative’s colonization efforts, access to an awesome spaceship called the Tempest, and lead a squad of new, endearing characters. I’ve only spent mere hours with them, and while they don’t replace the beloved characters of the original trilogy, they stand out in their own respect. And the Tempest? I still prefer the SR-2 Normandy, but I was impressed as my character toured the stealthy scout ship for the first time.
As you would expect, arrival in a foreign galaxy brings about new opportunities for conflict with aliens. These include the aggressive kett, and synthetic beings called remnant. Their origins are mysterious, and I imagine I’ll have to wait a while before I know the real danger either side poses. However, the combat is exciting, and the enemies are varied. Some leverage cover to fire on you and your squadmates, while others rush and try to flank you. Gone are the days of camping out behind cover and picking off enemies.
Fortunately, the battlefield has expanded considerably. Andromeda suits are equipped with jump jets, and that allows you to take advantage of vertical spacing to stay alive. Skills are still divided among combat, tech and biotics, with the latter being the scientific equivalent of magic or the force from Star Wars. The powers look and play well during the heat of battle, and progression feels rewarding as you and your squad level up. Speaking of your squad, you have considerably less control over them than in previous Mass Effect games. They fight effectively, though, and the tradeoff is a focus on your own survival and abilities during combat.
Conversations are almost as important as combat in Mass Effect games. The typical “paragon,” “renegade,” and neutral responses of the original series have given way to tonal options. This creates a much more malleable main character, who can be logical, aloof, professional, or hopeful; but at times I do notice the absence of the ability to be a real jerk (which was very entertaining in the original trilogy). Nevertheless, conversations seem to have many more options, and it’ll be exciting to see how these tonal choices play out over the course of Andromeda.
The scope of this game is intimidating, even compared to previous entries. In some ways, it feels like a Bethesda entry. Some of the worlds are much, much larger, requiring fast-travel points. There are different cities and locations spread across the map, and massive locations located within those worlds. Fortunately, you have access to the Nomad, a six-wheeled rover that handles better than Mass Effect’s Mako ever did. For players who like to do everything, be advised: there is a lot.
Side quests may now span multiple worlds, and players need to recognize that trying to do everything on one world at once will get stale, and possibly frustrating. This is a game for people who are interested in taking their time exploring Andromeda, and doesn’t lend itself well to speed runs.
Navigating those various worlds looks more beautiful than ever. While I could spend hours exploring past entries’ iterations of the galactic map, Andromeda makes you feel like you’re really flying through the various solar systems. Choose a world navigates you through asteroid fields and around celestial bodies into orbit. Planet scanning is back, and while some may find it annoying, I don’t mind taking a moment to appreciate the stunning planets throughout the region.
Much has been made of the facial animations. As a newcomer to next-gen console gaming, I don’t find them all that bad. I also don’t buy a game for the facial expressions during conversations. To be sure, some of them look bad at times, but it’s never been enough to make me want to stop exploring. If you’re a Mass Effect fan, or a science fiction and RPG fan, you can probably get past the hysteria, too. The writing and voice-acting, meanwhile, continue to be strong up to this point.
I can’t evaluate the story yet. Despite the many hours invested, I’m just scratching the surface. What I can tell you is that this game has a much different tone than the original trilogy. Commander Shepard was a soldier, and spent most of his time fighting people and things with destructive ends in mind. Ryder arrives in Andromeda as an explorer, and the game’s focus so far appears to be discovery in a strange place far from home.
Though it likely won’t dethrone the Shepard trilogy as one of the greatest stories ever, BioWare has a real opportunity to create a more engrossing experience with Andromeda. Few gamers can relate to being an elite soldier as Shepard was, but for Mass Effect veterans and rookies alike, everything in Andromeda (the game and the galaxy) is brand new. The future is open-ended for the colonists, much as the gameplay is for the player. I don’t fault the game for retreading some themes and concepts from the original series, for those ingredients made Mass Effect so beloved to so many.
Those who only think of this game as a successor to Mass Effect 3 will be disappointed. Its concept is considerably different, and not everyone will love it. This is a completely new adventure with some of the comforts of old, and I believe it will come to stand separately from the Shepard trilogy on its own merits. Still, based on what I’ve seen so far, I would highly recommend it to anybody who enjoyed the original games or anyone who likes sci-fi action and RPG gaming.
A final score will be awarded upon completion of the game.