The Final Verdict on Andromeda

Roughly three months ago, I wrote about my impressions of Bioware’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, a hotly anticipated follow-up to one of the greatest science fiction trilogies across any form of media. Since that time, I’ve managed to wrap up my first play-through of the single player story, and get a taste of the multiplayer mode. Has it changed my feelings about the game, and if so, how?

The short answer is I’m an even bigger fan of Andromeda now than when I reviewed it in the spring.

Let’s start with the story, which is why most Mass Effect fans exist in the first place. Andromeda gets off to a slow start, in part due to the size and scope of many of the planets you get to explore. The pacing mostly improves as you get deeper into the game. You explore a couple locations that don’t require you to drive miles and miles in your awesome rover, the Nomad. Instead, you’re on foot. The locations are still large, but fast travel is an option just about everywhere that you’d want it to be. The remaining worlds were all a delight to explore, and featured some really great characters to befriend or fight.

The narrative gets more ambitious, too. Andromeda was starting to feel a little underwhelming shortly after my initial review, yet the game introduces new twists and complications to the story. Things pick up particularly as you discover the other arks (the massive transports carrying thousands of sleeping colonists across the expanse between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies). These are some of the most exciting missions, and the choices you make during them have consequences that are readily apparent before the story concludes.

I point this out because Andromeda clearly feels like the foundation for a new trilogy. Many of the decisions you do make feel like they will eventually be a big deal, but not in this game. Perhaps I’ll discover more variation in my second run at the story, especially given that I tried to mimic “paragon” behavior which typically doesn’t rock the boat as much.

I definitely could have done with less of the back-and-forth that some of the later quests created. Hearing that I needed to visit Kadara to pick up something always filled me with dread. The world is separated into two, and if your objective lies outside Kadara Port, you’ll deal with a lot of loading screens before you can get to a place where you then can fast-travel to the spot closest to your target. Previous entries in the Mass Effect seres didn’t require you to hand-deliver much of what you retrieved on so-called fetch quests, which made them tolerable. Andromeda really wants you to go back to these worlds, even though by the late game there isn’t much left to discover if you were already thorough.

I can’t emphasize enough that I still found it enjoyable, but just less so. Recent articles in gaming publications about the tumultuous development of the game shed a lot of light on why the game wasn’t as polished as its predecessors. From changes in leadership of the project to the late start the animation team got, it’s kind of heartbreaking to think how much better this game could have been. Yet taken on its own merits, this is still a fantastic sci-fi RPG entry. I suspect, however, that it won’t easily woo fans unfamiliar with the Mass Effect intellectual property.

Having finished the story, I have tried my hand at multiplayer, and it’s surprisingly fun. The mode is a little limited in that your only gaming option is a horde mode style of cooperative play. You and up to three teammates take on waves of enemies while occasionally executive other tasks, such as holding a particular point on the map or retrieving objects. It sounds mundane, but you’re only successful when executing properly as a team. Here, Andromeda‘s great combat mechanics really shine. The enemies use cover and attempt to flank or rush you. Defeating enemies, completing objectives and even reviving teammates earns you experience points and credits, which can be used to upgrade character skills, buy enhancements, and acquire loot crates with more characters and weapons. It’s adducing, and the “extraction” phase in the final round of every match is thrilling.

Andromeda is unlikely to appeal as strongly to newcomers as it will to Mass Effect veterans. Though it goes to great lengths to get new players up to speed and literally create a new galaxy of adventure and possibility, I can’t imagine finding the same love for the universe with this as the starting point instead of the original series. It does provide dozens of hours of fun between its epic story and its very accessible multiplayer, but its release with so many technical issues is a blemish against Electronic Arts and Bioware.

They may have been corrected, but people don’t want to pay money for an unfinished copy of the game, and uncertainty about the type of DLC that will be released in the coming months and years only exacerbates the distrust that longtime fans will feel towards the studio and publisher.

If you are a fan of Mass Effect and have the hardware, buy the game. If not, grab it when it goes on sale. It’s a worthwhile experience, and a strong franchise that I fully expect to return with the strength and power of the original trilogy that made Andromeda so anticipated in the first place.

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