Title: Mass Effect: Andromeda
Genre: Action, role-playing game, third-person shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 21, 2017
[Spoiler-infested waters. Swim at your own risk.]
A total of seventy-four hours, a 78% completion play-through and start of a New Game+ run later, I feel like I’ve played Mass Effect: Andromeda enough to talk about it. I want to start by saying that Mass Effect is my favorite video game franchise. Ever. I keep the original trilogy, even with its flaws, on a pedestal of my favorite games – so I had a lot of expectations for Andromeda, but more than that, I was just beyond excited to be back in my favorite video game universe.
Release day finally came and I have to say, the mixed reviews kind of left me in a daze. I tried to turn my back to any and all reviews until I could get my own hands on my copy after work. My efforts proved futile more often than not, so I read tons of mixed reviews hours before I finally started my own adventure in Andromeda. However, I kept an open, and hopeful mind. I am here to tell you that I am sure glad I did.
Mass Effect: Andromeda kept several of the qualities that made its predecessors so charming. That’s not to say the game was without flaws. It had many, and I’m definitely not blind to them, having had some run-ins, though minor, myself. That said, the flaws did not break the experience for me, as Andromeda’s strong suits kept me engaged and wanting more.
Characters, most importantly, your squadmates, are arguably the driving force and soul of the Mass Effect franchise. Mass Effect: Andromeda, as the name suggests, throws you into a whole new galaxy, meaning that your beloved Normandy crew is left in the past. 600+ years in the past, to be exact, meaning that everyone you grew to love, in exception for maybe Liara, is dead.
The crew on the Tempest, as your new ship is called, had a tall order: they needed to be as charming, relatable and downright enjoyable as a crew you had three games to get to know. Luckily, Andromeda is massive, which means that before beating the story, you can spend an ungodly amount of hours doing side quests, and getting to know your crew better with dialogue, random exchanges while driving around planets and the like.
That’s not to say that story does not cement a relationship with your Tempest crew. Despite my open mind towards the game itself, I set out thinking these new faces would never be able to top, or even come close to the ones I left behind in the Milky Way. I was glad to be wrong. Admittedly, the crew’s introductions all feel kind of flat. You don’t have an equivalent of Thane Krios gracefully taking down armed guards or Jack breaking out of a test tube to savagely take down Cerberus troops with her biotic powers.
The difference comes with the fact that you only really “recruit” three of your six squadmates. Peebee, Drack and Jaal are the only three you meet while exploring new planets, and their introductions vary, all very akin to their personalities.
Peebee, for example, tackles you, Drack is seen destroying Kett, the new enemies in Andromeda, and Jaal simply confronts you after you arrive in his home uninvited. He then joins you as an envoy. The rest of the squad, you just… have. Liam and Cora are with you from the start, and Vetra essentially comes with the Tempest after a brief exchange.
Introductions aside, the squad really grew on me. Each of their loyalty missions were engaging and well written. Some were stronger than others. Liam’s loyalty mission is now one of my personal favorites in the entire franchise, mostly due to the writing. In addition, you have a number of side quests, such as one where the crew prepares for a movie night, which seem tedious at first, but the payoff is worth it and makes you grow closer to your crew as a result. (See: quests such as movie night are better left off for later in the game, even though you acquire it towards the beginning).
Overall, the crew is great and I assure they will grow on you if you give them a chance. They are younger and more inexperienced than your crew on the Normandy, which might come off as annoying to some, but it definitely adds some charm and realness to them.
Liam, for example, is constantly making rash decisions, trying to help the Initiative and to make sure that we can coexist with the Angara, Jaal’s people. You can address this with him, choosing to reprimand him or to let it slide. After all, every character is breaking their shoes in in this new galaxy.
Similarly, Peebee added a sense of comic relief and unpredictability never before seen in an Asari character. Even the Salarian pilot Kallo and Suvi, the resident science officer, seemed to have interesting and well-thought out backstories. Gil, the engineer, despite the flak he’s gotten from fans, brought what I thought to be one of the most interesting romances—seeking to become a father with a male Ryder, should you, as the player, accept to do so.
In short, there is truly not a single overly boring character aboard the Tempest.
It is also worth mentioning that even though Bioware has some issues to address with same sex romance, and I hope they do, I was pleasantly surprised with Peebee’s development and romance. I never thought any new relationship would come close to Liara’s well-written arcs. (I’m looking at you, Lair of the Shadow Broker). But it’s safe to say that Peebee grew on me exponentially over the course of the game.
Up there with characters, one of the most important requirements that Andromeda needed to meet was feeling and playing like a Mass Effect game. This it definitely pulls off without trouble. The combat is without a doubt one of the shining aspects of the game, with the new addition of “jump jets”—essentially jetpacks—that let you jump and boost for dodging and overall faster movement.
In addition, Andromeda shed the confines of choosing a specific class. Now, you can pick and choose abilities from all different classes to match your play style, whether that’s having charge like a vanguard, grenades like a soldier and overload like an engineer, all together.
We also get to see the introduction of “profiles.” These profiles have the names of the classes you’ve grown to know and love, and each one boosts specific stats on your character. Given that Ryder is essentially made into a super soldier by SAM, your companion AI, you can switch profiles on the fly, giving you an edge in all scenarios. The vast improvements to combat made some of their dull enemies, like the Kett, enjoyable to encounter.
Though the squadmate command seems to have lost functionality in exchange for more fast-paced combat, I didn’t find that this took away from combat overall, with each encounter still being entertaining. I will say that the lack of enemy diversity did make combat feel a bit old at times, but switching up your approach, either by crafting and trying new weapons, or switching up your powers, made it feel fresh once again.
As you may already know, with Andromeda, Bioware let go of the boundaries that kept players from exploring in previous games. Now adopting an open world, the planets you visit feel massive. Being able to roam around them in a much more functional version of the Mako, the Nomad, was a nice touch. The open world aspect also brought along a myriad of side quests and “tasks” that became tedious. But the fact that you’re not coerced into them made up for it.
I personally started out by picking up every single quest possible and completing them. I soon realized that this strategy would burn me out and instead chose to focus on the quests that caught my attention. This worked wonders for me and made it so that the game never felt bothersome. If you are a completionist, however, the option to do every single mission the game has to offer is there. And trust me: it will take a while to finish.
Though the open world seems to turn off some players, it truly allowed Bioware’s artists to create exceptionally beautiful environments. When you play a game with boundaries, you reach a point on a map where you realize, “Oh… that’s just a matte painting as a background, creating an illusion that there’s more to explore.” In Andromeda, the universe is very much alive, and an absolute joy to explore.
The beautiful soundtrack composed by John Paesano also helped breathe life into the universe. It made me excited for what’s to come next in the series, as the game takes place in one cluster of the Andromeda Galaxy. There are many more planets to explore, if they decide to expand down that route.
Much like the crew, no matter what, Andromeda’s protagonist(s) had a lot to live up to. If you played Mass Effect, you grew incredibly attached to Commander Shepard, whether you played their default versions or you customized them yourself.
I’ve seen many players claim that Ryder fell flat, with the writing being too goofy or loose. I couldn’t disagree more. This was yet another aspect of the game where I wasn’t expecting to be more than simply content. Over the years, the connection I’ve had with Shepard’s character is unlike any connection I’ve had with any other video game character.
The Ryder twins had a lot to prove, and for the most part, they stepped up to the plate and had a great at-bat. The fact that both Ryder characters are in the game—no matter who you choose to play as—is a definite improvement which saves Bioware some headaches on the “what’s canon?” front.
Another memorable feature of the Ryder siblings is how they are characters with decent qualifications, yet not meant to ever take the position of Pathfinder. It just makes them more real and relatable. They get their position thanks to dire circumstances, and that’s not to say they don’t prove themselves—they definitely do. But the process of filling their roles’ shoes is a slow one that unfolds before you as a player.
The Ryder twins go from being unable to keep their crew’s attention in meetings to being the person they look to when a leader is needed. You, as a player, earn your crew’s respect and admiration. That is something that somewhat lacked with Shepard, to some degree, given that… well, Shepard was just a badass.
Additionally, Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer’s iconic voices were pretty evenly matched by newcomers Fryda Wolff and Tom Taylorson. Both voice actors did an outstanding job bringing their respective Ryder characters to life. Not because they are as epic and commanding as their predecessors, but because they are different. Just like Ryder is, in no way, similar to Shepard. Their lines, though exceptionally delivered, make Ryder sound normal. They’re the kind of person you speak to in the streets, where they’ll say two words to you and you’ll be like, “Oh, that person’s got a good voice.” Except they’re acting and they’re doing it well.
My biggest criticism of Andromeda’s protagonists is the lack of involvement from the sibling you do not pick to play as. However, I am positive, given the game’s ending, that this is something that will change if more games are to come. At least I am hoping it does. It would be extremely fun to have your sibling as a squadmate, which seems to be what was intended for the Ryder twins story-wise.
The Not So Good
I must admit Andromeda had some shortcomings. But if you’re expecting me to talk about bugs and facial animations, you’ll be disappointed. I may sound like the biggest liar in the world when I say this, but both my playthroughs on PS4 have been relatively bug free. I have encountered about one floating enemy, and a few other glitches. None of these broke the experience for me, and neither did the facial animations. Besides, Bioware has been pretty diligent about listening to fans and applying quality of life improvements.
Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s story was pretty simple, with the theme of exploration and finding a new home being the obvious the main focus. It starts out pretty slowly, but picks up speed as you progress in the game. There are callbacks to the original trilogy which could potentially make hardcore fans shed a single tear. Not to mention, there are a lot of underlying elements to the story, such as the secrets behind the Initiative and why they left the Milky Way, which made me extremely curious.
However, they did play it safe with their story, and I am hoping that, as with the original trilogy, things get more intricate and that the stakes grow as we play more. (For example: go more in depth on the Initiative’s secrets).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I felt pleased by the end of the game. The story is a great foundation for what’s to come, and it’s made me extremely excited for the future of the franchise—but it is definitely not one of the game’s strong suits.
By far the weakest link in the game, the Archon did not present much of a threat. The character had moments that made him feel more menacing than usual, but that doesn’t say much. He was cartoonish and downright funny in a bad way on numerous occasions. That comes with the fact that the Kett, as a whole, were never really interesting.
Finding out that they were converted Angara all along helped them out a bit, but given that we’ve already seen this in different iterations of Mass Effect antagonists, it did not boost their reputation or worth by much. I hope that if they decide to keep the Kett—which seems like they will given the last scene in the game—that they give them a better purpose and goal than just “kettifying us all,” as Peebee charmingly put it.
I believe the universe is holding extremely promising secrets, such as the nature and current whereabouts of the Jaardan. This alone is keeping me hopeful and wanting to see what Bioware has in store for the franchise and the antagonists to come.
As you could probably already tell, I loved this game. Its shortcomings did not keep me from relishing the overall experience. A mix of the gameplay, charming new cast, promising protagonists and potential for the story still has me logging more and more hours on new game plus, with no signs of stopping.
Despite its criticisms, I truly believe Bioware has done a good job once again introducing us to the universe many of us have grown so incredibly fond of. I am looking forward to what’s to come, just as I am hopeful. Trust me, the skepticism you feel to leave the home they so expertly crafted for us in the Milky Way is perfectly normal. I felt it too, so believe me when I say that the journey to Andromeda is worth the shot.
As you get your feet wet and the once unknown faces surrounding you grow warmer and more familiar, Andromeda will start to feel like home as well. You will, with certainty, be able to take a deep breath, start a new game and believe the words leaving Ryder’s mouth, your mouth: “We made it.”