Random Review: Mass Effect Andromeda

Much maligned, universally disregarded and apparently full to the brim on animation mishaps and game-breaking bugs. Mass Effect: Andromeda hasn’t had the best of receptions – but are the critics right? In my opinion – absolutely not. (mild spoilers in this review – character names, places, species).

The game is far from perfect, but it is certainly not a bad game. As you may know I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, with Mass Effect 2 one of my favourite games of all time and one I recently reminisced about. Hearing the early reviews made my heart sink, and even prevented me from playing the game upon release which would have been a certainty otherwise.

However a couple of weeks went by and I came upon the game earlier than envisaged through fortunate circumstances and set off to a new galaxy. Leaving everything from the original trilogy behind including the characters as well as the locations, we join the newly appointed Pathfinder, Mr or Mrs Ryder, on their quest to create a new home for humanity and the rest of the Milky Way species.

I began playing after the first major update that addressed a lot of the infamously bizarre animations so I can’t comment on them, therefore I can only talk about the game as I experienced it.  On the whole it went rather smoothly, other than the odd objective that didn’t register when I’d reached the right position or this Asari that decided to imitate a coat-hanger:

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Now, the game is set in a new galaxy from the off. Commander Shepard, Garrus and the rest of the team are back in the Milky Way, with the Andromeda Initiative setting off to explore a new galaxy with a fresh start and an opportunity to meet new species. The Initiative is made up so far of Humans, Turians, Krogans, Salarians and the Asari, with various Arks for each species making the 600-year trek (not all without trouble) to Andromeda to join them at the Nexus – the Citadel-like hub of the Milky Way travellers.

As the Human Pathfinder, Ryder’s job is to explore new ‘Golden Worlds’ that have been cited as potentially habitable.  There are other outposts as well that demand attention and it’s from here that the story begins to play out. Of the three new species, the Angara are friendly, the Kett are not and the Remnant are mostly hostile yet interesting sentient robot-like (and Geth-like) beings that the main quest revolves around. The story is generally pretty easy to follow, although for the first half of the game there doesn’t seem to be much urgency, going from planet to planet to seek a ‘New Earth’. Eventually a major protagonist appears, and the story evolves with some interesting twists.

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The combat is again a huge feature of the game and will make up A LOT of your time, almost too much. Most quests involve going to a place where some bad guys have holed up and taking them out, where the main quests involve going to a place where A LOT  of guys have holed up and taking them out. As always you can take two squad members with you, but they look after themselves completely as you are unable to control when they use their powers, or on whom. You can tell them where to stand though.

Ryder’s choices are limited to three powers at a time, along with the guns. You can at anytime re-spec all of your ability points but it would have been nice to utilise more powers at a time when in a fight. Powers range from your tech abilities that make use of constructs and explosive-type attacks, biotic abilities allowing for gravity-defying combinations and combat abilities that focus on Ryder’s health and proficiency with the weapons. If you enjoyed the combat sections of the previous games you’ll enjoy these, if you didn’t then there’s not much here that will change your mind. Personally I’ve always found them enjoyable, combining different abilities to devastating and occasionally hilarious effects. The same can be said in Andromeda, there’s just too much combat especially if you are like me and want to get the most out of the game.

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Your shipmates are generally fun to talk to, with some a lot more interesting than others. As before, the human characters are by far the least interesting while Jaal, the Angaran member of the team, was my favourite due to his background and story arc. They will often discuss goings-on amongst themselves while out and about which are often quite funny, and you can romance the majority of the team depending on your gender. I enjoyed talking to them all very much, and taking part in their little quests now and then. Loyalty missions make a return which all require visiting an area full of enemies, but some of the other team-mate related quests are a relaxing change from the combat.

What has irked many is the addition of the Dragon Age: Inquisition style maps, where each planet contains a relatively small area (for a planet) where Ryder must gain complete viability for a living situation. However in a video game, these areas are rather large maps, dotted with objective markers and building to clear out. What made the original games so good were the contained sections on each planet where the hub of activity was contained, but spreading this out into open-world areas such as this is quite jarring and doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense within the story. The Nomad is the choice of traversal for these maps, a Mako-like off-road rover that has boost and jump abilities, and controls a lot better than the infamous Mass Effect 1 vehicle, never flipping over or really getting stuck anywhere so I thought it was fine.

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This brings us to the sheer amount of quests and things to do. There are tons of them, and while they are not on a Witcher 3 level of originality or story-telling, they are mostly fine. The majority require you to go to a place and take out all the enemies (usually the Kett, you will kill LOADS of Kett), but there are some interesting stories in there. Additionally included are many ‘additional tasks’ that require you to scan a bunch of things or pick plants but these are purely for XP so I didn’t bother with them all. What did annoy me occasionally was when you would trek to one planet to talk to a guy, who wanted you to go to another planet to kill some guys, where you find some info that means going to another planet to talk to some other guy. Not only is this unnecessarily time-consuming in what is already a mammoth-sized game, but it just doesn’t make sense a lot of the time.

Not bringing along many of the species (for now) was an upsetting choice. There’s a lot of stories to tell regarding the Quarians, the Drell and the amazingly matter-of-fact Elcor among others, but there was more than enough to do here than required anyway. A bone of contention before release was that we’d be controlling a human again without our choice of alien. Due to the massive opportunity for story branches with multiple controllable races, changing the core storyline that I won’t spoil and how the other races have quite specific traits (humans are seen as the most adaptive, multi-cultural race) I don’t think it would have worked. It’s a good idea but I just can’t see the implication making sense right now, especially with the amount of bugs releasing with this game. Possibly in the future.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good game. It is however quite an easy target for people to completely disregard with the bugs and the success of the original trilogy prefixing the diminishing returns of Bioware’s latest games. The acting is very good, I personally prefer Ryder over Shepard due to his/her comedy and relative immaturity in seismic situations, the dialogue is mostly enjoyable give or take a couple of lines, the Angarans are a fine addition with an evolving and eye-opening backstory, the combat is great despite overstaying its welcome, the game looks fantastic and the main quest is an enjoyable ride that keeps getting better. The finale delivers, despite some loose ends (and a strangely misplaced credits sequence) that will hopefully wrap up in DLC, seeing as any sequels have been put on hold indefinitely from Bioware.

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Stay strong and clear.

*All screenshots taken from my own PS4. I am not affiliated with Bioware or Mass Effect: Andromeda.

(N.B. When grabbing the screenshots for this blog post-game, I died randomly in combat. Upon reloading, I had been reset to Level 1, from Level 59. All my weapons, armour and skill points had disappeared and any autosave game I loaded up created the same issue. Luckily the manual save I had from a few hours before was fine. Having already finished the game and having a manual save as back-up I was ok, but this could have been disastrous for someone else therefore I will be reporting it to Bioware!)

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