GAME: Mass Effect Andromeda
RELEASED: March 2017
AVAILABLE ON: PC (Origin), PS4, XBox One
Few games have reached the level of infamy that Mass Effect Andromeda has. When it launched in 2017, it quickly became ridiculed for its awful animations, buggy gameplay and overall lackluster presentation. However, as a fan of the franchise and someone who has genuinely enjoyed Mass Effect Andromeda, I felt it would be a fair time to ask 2 years later if the game is even still worth playing after the patches and fixes. The answer is… probably a bit more complex than yes or no. Let’s just get to it and discuss the game that most likely killed the Mass Effect franchise.
As a warning, I will get into a fair amount of spoilers in this review, so if you want to avoid those you might not want to proceed.
Andromeda is set after the original Mass Effect trilogy and in the Andromeda galaxy (hence the name). As part of an initiative to spread the reach of the Milky Way races to this part of space, you wake up from cryo in the human Ark, as each species has their own ark where they are kept in cryo until awoken upon reaching the Andromeda galaxy. Your name is Ryder (first name and gender up to you), and with your sibling Scott/Sarah and father Alec, it is your job to help colonize this new part of space. Alec bears the title of Pathfinder, a title given to individuals who are chosen leaders in the colonization effort. So far so good, right?
Ehhhh, not really. You see, the story in Andromeda kinda has this rushed feeling to it where it seems the writers were forced to write in some kind of tragic event for the main character. In this case, your father Alec dies in order for his title of Pathfinder to pass on to you (rather forcefully). However his death is a bit… stupid. In the first scene when getting to Habitat 7, the first planet you visit in the game, Ryder accidentally cracks their helmet. But fear not, it seems their omnitool is capable of repairing the crack in no time thanks to nanobots.
Which makes the upcoming death of your father somewhat confusing. You see, you discover some ruins on the planet and as it turns out, they control weather and living conditions on what seems to be the entire galaxy. But activating them causes you and your father to be knocked to the ground from a tall place and your helmet cracks again. However rather than fixing your helmet like you saw in the beginning of the game, your father sacrifices his helmet to save you. This feels entirely pointless and frankly really contrived given it is shown your omnitool can repair damage to your helmet. Which means your father’s death is one of the most unintentionally pointless moments in the game.
And while this is the biggest plothole I can think of to point out, overall the main story of the game feels really clunky and has some fairly odd decisions. For instance your sibling won’t wake up until nearly the final parts of the game, giving you very little time to actually get to know them. Heck you’re not even given much to go on with the backstory segments given to you through memories you can collect in the game world (no idea how this works, apparently your father’s memories were scattered across the galaxy). And yeah, if your dad hadn’t died so pointlessly you might’ve gotten to know him as well and given him some character development but nope.
The story does pick up a bit through the game but is mostly there to serve the gameplay itself. The Remnant race you discover are practically a renamed Prothean race where it seems their entire purpose for existing is to give the player a tool to make worlds habitable for humans. How these Remnant vaults you discover, that apparently were created by an ancient race of machines, are even compatible with humans and knows how to make worlds habitable for you, is never really explained well. It just makes the entire game feel a bit too convenient and kinda glosses over how difficult colonization would actually be.
The sidequests are handled fairly well though, especially the loyalty quests. The game is at its best when dealing with the smaller things and drama. The writers are particularly good at writing dialogue that feels somewhat touching in the right situations. It just seems most of the story was thrown together on very short notice and if testimonies and rumors surrounding the game’s development are to be believed, that was very much the case.
You spend most of the game as an ambassador for the new races in Andromeda, trying to forge relations with the new species in Andromeda such as the Angaara (who themselves bear a strong resemblance to the Protheans from the original trilogy) and… to be honest it seems those are the only new species you meet that are friendly and intelligent enough to converse with.
The only other new species introduced are the Kett, who serve as the game’s main antagonists. They are pretty much the Collectors from Mass Effect 2 (starting to see a pattern yet?) and seek to “exalt” the species they come across, which basically means gathering the DNA from other species and turning them into Kett, as well as ruin the habitats in Andromeda.
Yeah, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, one of the main issues with the main story, aside from the many plotholes, is just how lazy and rehashed it feels. It doesn’t really feel like anything we haven’t seen before, just redressed and renamed.
That being said, the game has its moments. Your crew being a pretty big part of what I enjoyed about the game. Over the course of the game you meet Peebee, a young asari with a pretty quirky personality, who seeks understanding of the Remnant above all (think Liara, but more balanced and honestly more likeable). Jaal is an Angaara with a very sweet and kind personality, who is unusually open minded for one of his kind. Vectra is a badass Turian (and the first female Turian given a major role in the series), who has a pretty interesting relationship with her sister Sid who also wants to become a soldier like her.
Liam is probably the least likeable person, a so called crisis expert who spends most of the game being a bland jock who whines way too much. Not even the other crew members like him much from what I saw. Drack is a krogan. He talks like a krogan and acts like a krogan. Not much beyond that to be honest and just seems like an older version of Wrex from the original trilogy. Cora Harper is a human Asari commando who ran with the Asari commandos. She’s a powerful biotic and is pretty handy in gameplay but doesn’t really have much of a personality herself.
So yeah, the story isn’t that great and a lot of it rehashes stuff from previous games. It at least does provide a tool for making planets habitable and gives you objectives to complete so as far as serving the main gameplay, it’s functional. But whereas I didn’t find the story particularly good, let’s go on to what I think makes Andromeda enjoyable.
Okay, this might be the most unpopular opinion I’ve ever had but… in terms of gameplay, Andromeda might be my favourite in the series. Now before you raise your pitchforks and scream heretic at me, hear me out, and keep in mind this is purely my own subjective opinion. The gameplay of Mass Effect Andromeda is honestly really good.
What you have here is essentially what feels like a spiritual sequel to Mass Effect 1 and in my eyes, a better sequel than even Mass Effect 2 overall. It brings back the focus on exploration that was prevalent in the first game. Heck, even the galaxy map feels like it recreates the original galaxy map from the Mass Effect 1 E3 beta.
Andromeda is the most sandboxy the series has been thus far and you’re really left to approach the game as you want to and there is an absolute TON of sidequests and tasks to do in this game. While I was playing this game it kinda became my go-to game to just sit down and play when I was too tired to do much else simply because of its open world nature. I could just go in, do some tasks and do something else so I often kept it alt-tabbed in the background (which may explain the over 200 hours of game time I accumulated).
Where older games still had this kind of approach, it feels even more open ended in Andromeda given you can use the Nomad (the game’s equivalent of the Mako) to drive around the worlds you discover and do everything from mining resources to discovering new places and people to talk to. Or driving over enemies. The only thing I kinda dislike about the Nomad is the lack of a mounted gun which makes it oddly defenseless. I mean, you’d think the Initiative would prepare for anything.
Of course, the game is not perfect by any means and has a myriad of bugs and just plain odd game mechanics. I’ve noticed times where I wasn’t able to pick up a quest because an NPC was in a position where I couldn’t talk to them. For some reason the game only allows you to talk to people if you’re standing in front of their faces.
And I’ve had times where enemies would just disappear and render quests in a state where you can’t finish them. Or the vaults softlocking you once you’ve initiated a purge, meaning you can’t go back and grab important mission items, rendering a certain task incomplete for the rest of the game. I’ve also had dialogue triggering for quests I’ve already completed, leading to a lot of confusion, or dialogue triggering for alternate paths somehow, leading to somewhat confusing quest progression.
And of course that’s not counting more minor things like the tasks and side quests tending to feel on the repetitive side and giving a constant feeling of deja vu. And sometimes quests just kinda end without much of a satisfying conclusion. Or minor gripes such as SAM repeating the same things over and over with the mining dialogue being particularly bad. I also find it odd how the mineral deposits you find on the galaxy map are described as “huge” yet give you a fairly measly amount of resources compared to how much you could find by just driving around on a planet’s surface.
And I was hoping for more substantial climate changes once you have “converted” a planet with the Remnant vaults. Most of the time it’s just minor things like removing the hazard effect from the planet and you don’t really get any substantial reward for going through what you did, the game instead explaining “it’s a long term effect”. It does just feel a bit underwhelming to intend some terraforming and just get some barely noticable weather changes.
The star of the gameplay in my opinion though is the combat. It feels way more fluid than in previous games with jets allowing you to finally jump and making the combat feel far more dynamic than in previous games. Headshots also feel intensely satisfying where enemy heads simply pop into a fountain of blood, giving the guns a very powerful feel to them.
In a somewhat controversial move though, the game foregoes the original class system from the previous games and just makes you able to spend points in ANY skill you want. Honestly, I both love and hate this decision. On one hand it gives you far more character freedom than ever in the series. On the other hand, it all but removes ANY roleplaying aspects the series had to this point beyond the story decisions you make.
Since you’re no longer tied to a class, you’ll pretty much be the same Ryder every time you play the game and can practically get every single power in the game if you want to which removes the fun of playing a specific class. Ryder has no weaknesses at all and it honestly kinda makes the game a bit boring in terms of replayability. And it makes Andromeda even more of just a tactical TPS with skill trees.
That being said the powers do feel fun to play around with and given the game has a combo system, it feels really satisfying to prime enemies for a combo and then detonate it, causing intense damage. This also makes it even more important to pick the right companions in battle as some of their powers can prime enemies for detonations that you can pull off.
Character customization is back but honestly leaves a lot to be desired. At least they made it better in patches, even making it possible for male characters to wear makeup and have female hairstyles, making it possible for me to make male Ryder a total femboy.
Multiplayer is honestly the most disappointing thing about Andromeda. While the aforementioned combo system makes co-op combat more involved, the mode is largely just the same as it was in Mass Effect 3. You play on the same rotating maps over and over with the same enemy sets over and over while grinding resources to pay for loot boxes. It gets boring really fast and doesn’t add much to the main game.
Even weirder, in the main game, the multiplayer missions are somehow tied into the main game as “Strike Missions” where you can send out Apex teams to do missions that grant bonuses in multiplayer. Which seems kinda pointless given how boring the multiplayer is. At least it’s there for those who care about I suppose.
That being said, I overall found the gameplay really enjoyable for two main reasons. The first being the combat and the second being what we will get to in a minute.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
It’s weird, but Mass Effect Andromeda is simultaneously one of the most gorgeous and most awful looking games I’ve witnessed. Because the environments in this game and the artwork put into them is simply stunning and I’ll be honest, subjectively the environments are the biggest reason I enjoy this game. It might seem shallow but I just LOVE seeing alien planets and habitats and exploring them. Zipping around in the Tempest and Nomad visiting alien planets and never knowing what would come next became the biggest draw for me to this game. I found myself strangely immersed in the worlds and the beautiful environments for the duration of my playtime.
THAT BEING SAID, there is one elephant in the room that cannot be ignored. Yes, the animations in this game are HORRIBLE. Even after the game was patched to “fix” these animations, they are still extremely clunky and stiff and just have this… off quality about them. It’s definitely uncanny valley territory due to how realistic the face textures look, yet the faces don’t move or animate like any real human face would. And that’s not even taking into account the clunky body movement.
So given this is a Mass Effect game and talking to people is what you do like… 95% of the time, the facial animations are a big issue and definitely worthy of their meme status. Heck, the “my face is tired” line in the game just sums up the whole thing perfectly. At times it’s hard to believe stuff like this came from a AAA developer and publisher. It’s pretty embarassing all things considered.
But in all fairness, I actually kinda got used to it after a while. And it wasn’t as bad as I expected and in some cases, I’d say it doesn’t look that bad. But that’s why I say this game is simultaneously gorgeous and ugly because you have these odd and weird animations in this gorgeous game and it just feels… weird.
Sound-wise… it’s okay. The voice acting isn’t great but it’s servicable and the voice actors do a pretty decent job portraying each character and I never encountered anything I would call bad. The music is pretty bland, even less memorable than any music from the original series. Even the main theme feels really forgetable. But the gun sounds are pretty satisfying and overall I didn’t find the sound to be distracting me from enjoying the game in any way.
Overall… yeah while I may subjectively enjoy Andromeda because of my own tastes, it is hard to call this a good game. And it makes me sad because this could’ve been a lot better than it ended up being. What we’re left with is a rushed product that ultimately doesn’t really add much to the franchise and feels really clunky and unpolished, which is a real shame.
That being said, the positives are there. The game’s strong combat, gorgeous environments, witty character dialogue that genuinely brought a smile to my face and weak but enjoyably cheesy story makes this a game you might want to consider at a bargain price. And hopefully, this won’t be the final chapter in the Mass Effect saga…
FINAL SCORE: 6/10