The ~150 hours I’ve put into the Mass Effect trilogy are probably on the lower end of the scale but man did I love those games.  My version of Commander Shepard was a renegade to the core with a soft spot for his squad members.  The fact that I couldn’t save both Tali and Legion in Mass Effect 3 because of a single choice I made in Mass Effect 2 still bothers me all these years later.  It’s easy to see why Mass Effect: Andromeda made my most anticipated games of 2017 list.

I’ve poured a little over 40 hours into Bioware’s newest addition to the franchise and I have to agree with Alex’s first impressions.  Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good Mass Effect game that reaches too far at times but still hits enough high notes.

Mass Effect: Andromeda has a lot to see and more to do but not enough polish to put it on a pedestal.

  • TL;DR: An overly ambitious game that may not be on many best-of lists but successfully scratches that Mass Effect itch.
  • Platform: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
  • Developer: Bioware
  • Time Played: 42:15
  • What I Played: Completed main story at level 43 with 72% completion in 38:45, spent remaining time in multiplayer

Mass Effect: Andromeda takes place in the Heleus cluster 634 years after the events of the original trilogy.  Arks, large ships carrying designated members of a race, blasted off from the Milky Way with the hopes of finding habitable planets known as golden worlds.  Scott/Sara Ryder is the human Pathfinder, leader of the expedition team.  Habitat Seven, the targeted human golden world, doesn’t turn out to be quite as warm and welcoming as it appeared when the ark blasted off.  Ryder and company are tasked with finding a home for humanity while dealing with a handful of other problems that come with waking up in a distant galaxy.

If you’ve played the original trilogy, the general gameplay of Andromeda will feel familiar to you.  Ryder chooses two squad mates, a couple of guns, some armor, and consumables like last-ditch healing items or specialized ammo to go on patrol with.  Level ups earn you skill points to invest in the combat, tech, and biotic skill trees.  Skills have six levels with A/B choices for levels four through six.  You aren’t locked into any specific path and respeccing is very cheap but I stuck with a biotic-heavy build of Annihilation, Charge, and Lance for most of the game.  My basic plan was to slam into an enemy with my damage-over-time aura active that also recharges shield on kills and primes enemies for combos.  Anything with any shield left caught a combo detonation from Lance until either I shotgunned it down or Annihilation finished it off.  Between the shield recharge on kill from Annihilation and full shield recharge whenever I used Charge, I was basically unstoppable.

The biggest addition to the existing combat formula is a jump jet that allows you to boost either vertically or horizontally.  It adds a ton of speed to the combat of Andromeda and, coupled with the removal of telling squad mates when to use their skills, puts a real emphasis on moving and staying alert.  Combat is a real joy in Andromeda.  Rolling through foreign planets with aliens both at your side and opposing you with bullets and biotic explosions filling the air is just wonderful.

You’ll find three new alien races in the Heleus cluster: the angara, the kett, and the remnant.  The angara are a blue, vaguely Avatar-looking race with large upper bodies and blue/purple skin.  They are invaluable to your efforts in the cluster and include my favorite NPC in all of Andromeda which I’ll get to in a bit.  The kett take the place of the geth and reapers as Andromeda’s villains.  They have a pretty grotesque look that reminds me of the Locust/Swarm from the Gears of War franchise.  The kett, led by the Archon, are all about the religious angle with unit names like Chosen, Destined, and Anointed and a goal of “exalting” enemy races.  The remnant are a mysterious machine race that isn’t explained in much detail aside from their technology existing on every planet Ryder and company land on.  Unit diversity is easily the biggest letdown when fighting kett and remnant.  The half-dozen different enemy types are all seen fairly early on and subsequent fights boil down to waves of the same enemies instead of new spins or higher level ones.

Combat may be fun and fast, but many Mass Effect fans come for the quests and the dialogue.  The overarching mission in Andromeda is to find and/or create habitable worlds.  There are five planets to land on and explore, each packed to the brim with main missions, side missions, fetch quests, and general pathfinding.  Frankly, it can be a bit overwhelming.  Even the opening tutorial mission on Habitat Seven has branching paths and optional side missions.  Andromeda throws a lot at you with little direction to start, but everything picks up after the first mission on Eos concludes.  I won’t spoil what happens but if you feellike you aren’t quite hooked up until that point like I was, wait until then.

Each of the five planets, from the bitter cold Voeld to the deathly hot Elaaden to the crime-infested Kadara, has its own 0-100% viability score.  Each planet has dozens of quests but, thankfully, not every one has to be completed to reach 100% viability.  Raising your total viability score gives you access to passive bonuses like better vendor prices and periodic crafting material items.  Overall, Andromeda packs in hundreds of quests ranging from literally going on a beer run to fighting a ship-sized Architect in the freezing cold.  That was my favorite mission by far.  I was starting to feel a bit burned out after a while and decided to focus on main missions and loyalty missions for my squad mates over the mindless viability increasing tasks.  I recommend doing the same if you are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of Andromeda.

Speaking of overwhelming…

Horizon Zero Dawn has, in my mind, perfected the conversation model seen in games today.  Every NPC in Horizon had spectacularly detailed and intricate muscle movements that seemed unreal at times.  Andromeda doesn’t quite reach that level but character models aren’t as bad as the internet makes it out to be.  A recent patch has updated the sunken eyes and some of the exaggerated mouth movements that the game released with and sure, I hoped a game under the Mass Effect banner from a big name developer like Bioware would push the envelope a bit.  It isn’t a perfect system but I don’t think conversations in Andromeda are any worse than they were in Mass Effect 3.  I was hoping for some advancements in the time since then but for a Mass Effect game, I’m fine with it.

One pleasant surprise is how quickly I felt a bond with the crew of the Normandy Tempest.  The group’s resident asari, Peebee, is a real loose cannon.  She thinks and speaks at a mile a minute and is easily excitable.  For starters, your first encounter with her starts off with her tackling you.  Drack, a grizzled krogan warrior, is the old man of the group who loves to both talk and joke about his past like when he was “quads deep” in kett forces.  My favorite squad member is Jaal, hands down.  The angaran fighter is not only useful in combat but has what I think is the best voice acting in the entire game.  I don’t know how much of it is the fact that he’s the only squad member of a new race, but Jaal is just wonderful.  Unless I specifically needed two other people for missions, Jaal was always by my side.

Nostalgia and three games worth of play time make it hard to rank the Andromeda crew over Garrus, Liara, Tali, and the rest of the trilogy crew but the ambient conversations in Andromeda help make a hell of a case.  Characters feel alive while you are on the Tempest thanks to the emails Ryder receives, the conversations on the loudspeaker, messages on the fridge in the crew quarters, and just overhearing discussions.  Conversations and random plot points can go on for hours and hours, too, like when the science officer Suvi wonders if she can eat a plant she found or why the pilot Kallo constantly needs credits.  Loyalty missions for each of the six squad members really drive home your connections with them.  My favorite is probably the one with, surprise, Jaal where you learn more about his family.  It’s both intense and scary.  All of these factors combine to help you feel attached to the all-new Mass Effect crew.

Enjoying a nice bro session with Jaal.

Andromeda leans pretty heavily into the RPG portion of the action RPG moniker.  The mountains of voice work are supplemented by the addition of an updated four choice dialogue wheel: emotional, logical, casual, and professional.  Ryder isn’t restricted to being purely good or evil like the old paragon/renegade system.  This new system gives you more choice in acting and speaking like an actual person.  The Tempest’s doctor, Lexi, even keeps a detailed record of your psychological well-being.  Some of these dialogue options can lead to romance and let’s just say that some scenes leave less to the imagination than others *cough Cora cough*.  Crafting in Andromeda involves literal research and development.  Scanning enemies, plants, items, and alien structures with your omni-tool gives you research data for the Milky Way, Heleus, and Remnant.  That research data is used to unlock weapon and armor blueprints that can be developed with minerals and resources found while scanning planets from orbit and on fallen enemies.  It’s not a very deep system since you effectively find resources at random with no way to specifically target a resource, but it’s a good idea to check R&D terminals every once in a while to see if you can upgrade.

As a trilogy player, callbacks like meeting a turian Spectre on Havarl and hearing that Lexi grew up on Omega were nice to see.  Andromeda tries not to beat you over the head with the backstory of a series rooted in the last generation of consoles.  At the same time, though, I wonder how Andromeda plays to a series newcomer.  Are racial differences like why the krogan and salarians hate other or why the asari are so adept at biotics explained enough in-game?  Did I take a lot of that for granted here?  It’s hard to tell.

One thing that’s easy to see is how beautiful these planet shots are.

Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer returns in Andromeda.  Matches pit four players against seven increasingly difficult waves of kett and/or remnant.  You can choose between premade classes and outfit them with whatever guns and consumables you see fit, all of which is earned through loot boxes.  Yes, even classes.  Each match is a score attack to see who can kick the most ass and get extracted after the final wave.  I was a huge fan of the surprisingly fun multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 and while it remains largely unchanged here, I wasn’t hooked like I was last time.  I’m not sure if it’s because the improved single player combat matches the intensity, annoying lobby quirks like having to wait for each player to “ready up” instead of a countdown to the next match, the fact that my friends would rather group up for Overwatch, or something else entirely.  Regardless, blasting kett and remnant for a few matches is a nice distraction.

Bioware tried to up the ante with the free APEX HQ app where you can send AI strike teams on generic missions to “capture the high ranking officer” or “destroy the supply depot”.  You can also send strike teams out from the Tempest.  Missions have positive and negative traits to go along with each strike team’s equipped item like modified ammo reserves or better shields but after using the app for a few days it was clear that none of those factors made a difference.  Using the app is as simple as sending your teams out on missions as often as possible to gather single player crafting resources and multiplayer items.  Certain missions are given the APEX identifier which can be played in multiplayer but don’t deviate from the standard seven wave format.  I’m all for the idea of earning materials and loot boxes while away from the game proper, but mindlessly clicking with zero strategy isn’t the way to do it.

Andromeda (literally) reaches for the stars. It may not get there, but it’s still a good time.

Mass Effect: Andromeda hits all the notes you’d expect in a Mass Effect game: space exploration, interesting squad mates, and branching dialogue paths.  It’s not the most polished game out there with infrequent but frustrating crashes, slightly outdated conversation presentation, and a multiplayer mode that’s somehow a step back from its nearly identical predecessor.  All things considered, if you enjoyed the trilogy and can overlook some technical shortcomings Andromeda will be well worth your time.

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