Mass Effect Andromeda introduces an interesting new premise and a new Galaxy to explore. However, both the lack of focus on the elements that made the original games so good, as well as the many bugs and glitches greatly hold back a game that had the potential to be excellent.
If you’ve heard anything about Mass Effect Andromeda by now, you’ve probably noticed how much of the discussions about Bioware’s latest game are drenched with disappointment. From the moment the early access program started, players have reported mixed feelings over what has been delivered, and ever since that time, Mass Effect Andromeda has more and more become a controversial game. Is Andromeda really as terrible as is sometimes claimed?
After a successful trilogy where players followed the adventures of Commander Shepard, Mass Effect Andromeda takes players to a totally new galaxy. We make a fresh start as Pathfinder Ryder, a human tasked with charting the planets of the newly discovered Heleus Cluster in order to plan out how the fresh colonists are going to form new civilizations in a whole different part of the universe. Ryder arrives in a space ark, where thousands of volunteers have been sleeping in cryo-stasis for over 600 years, and reaches the only outpost yet established by space travelers from the Milky Way – The Nexus. After an eventful first impression of the new galaxy – and one with a less than ideal outcome – you are tasked with finding new planets to inhabit for the people that wish to start a new home in Andromeda.
The premise is a good one, and one that is ideally suited to a game that both wants to make a fresh start yet also wishes to reuse the best qualities of its earlier installments. Many favorite elements from the first three Mass Effect games make a welcome return, such as many familiar races, technology and even references to beloved characters here and there. You do feel like a new adventure is starting, and still feel like it’s a Mass Effect game. Bioware made an excellent choice in how they stepped away from the original trilogy and still deliver something that could be ‘the next Mass Effect’. However, no matter how good your premise is, you need excellent execution for it to be considered great.
And that is perhaps one of Mass Effect Andromeda’s greatest flaws: much more than draw upon what really made the original Mass Effect games so good or even reinvent the genre, it chooses to take cues from Bioware’s latest games – most notably Dragon Age Inquisition – and with that one of today’s biggest trends in gaming: the open world. And while an open world fits a game that intrinsically revolves around exploration and discovery, it only works when the worlds you explore are actually interesting and full of adventure – and Andromeda’s aren’t.
There’s a total of five planets in the game that you can freely explore, at least to some extent. The actual size of the areas that represent each planet is similar to those found in Dragon Age Inquisition. Each planet has its own theme ranging from desert planets to lush jungles to frozen wastes, but each planet is decidedly empty and dull, with very little variation between them. Whether you are on Eos or Voeld barely matters, as both planets have mainly barren mountainous landscapes and present environmental hazards that make exiting your vehicle for too long a bad decision. Havarl is a planet that with its rich jungle landscape tries to provide the most variety, but even that fails to make a lasting decision when all you find on it are the same Remnant sites, an occasional enemy base containing either the same Kett enemies and technology or random raiders.
There are dozens of sidequests to be found scattered across the five planets, and although many of these actually feel organically part of what you as a pathfinder are supposed to be doing, they’re not that much more interesting to do. Scanning minerals, finding supply crates or rooting out a random raider outpost isn’t exactly interesting once you’re doing it for the 5th time, and there’s a lot of these in Mass Effect Andromeda. Doing everything in the game does take about 80 to 100 hours and that’s a long time to be doing chores like these. The game simply resembles Dragon Age Inquisition too much in the areas in which it shouldn’t have.
The game’s main questlines and character specific sidequests are actually pretty entertaining for the most part, and come closest to providing that familiar Mass Effect feel. The new races – Kett and Angara – are actually pretty uninteresting but they serve well enough as the newcomers that introduce the new threat and conflict to the player, who as a stranger in a new galaxy is unaware and unfamiliar with the specifics of their new home. There’s actually an interesting twist or two to be found during the story, as well as the excellent fun that the loyalty missions for each of your squadmates provide. These special side missions are actually some of the most interesting parts of the game and one of its best qualities. Besides this aspect, there’s another noticeable area in which Mass Effect Andromeda performs well and that’s in how it handles combat. You’re no longer required to pick just a single class and focus on a set number of powers. This time around, you can pick any power from any tree you’d like and mix and match to create whatever play style you want, and even switch pretty much whenever you want. There’s also a wide variety of weapons – the largest yet – and multiple ways in which to upgrade them. Combine this with the fact that the combat is as fluid as ever and difficulty can be set to best match your desired level of challenge and most fights in Andromeda are a joy to play.
The excellent combat mechanics transfer to the game’s multiplayer mode, that function similar to Mass Effect 3’s ‘Galaxy at War’ mode. This means you fight several waves of enemies whilst completing minor objectives in a cooperative setting with other players. Completing missions awards you with experience with which to upgrade your favorite characters and credits that allow you to buy packs that unlock new playable character classes and weapons. The multiplayer was never Mass Effect’s main selling point, but it was a pretty enjoyable mode in Mass Effect 3 and we’re happy to tell you it still is in Mass Effect Andromeda.
But what about all the negative opinions that flood the game? They mainly were concerned with the game’s awkward character animations, a lot of unpolished details, bad writing and tons of bugs and glitches. Sad to see, most – if not all – of these are true. Animations are probably the least of the game’s problems. While they aren’t particularly good, they mostly resemble those of earlier Mass Effect games, and in a game of this scale, they can be forgiven. The writing is occasionally unremarkably, but there are also times when it’s pretty funny or clever, so it is a mixed bag. Certainly below the level of the original trilogy, but not unbearable. The lack of polish and number of bugs, however, sometimes reach frustrating levels. Think about falling through the floor randomly, being stuck in environmental objects, invisible enemies, enemies shooting through solid walls, game saves refusing to load, being unable to interact with quest objects, character models duplicating and much more. Many of these are not game breaking, but they are fairly numerous and really work on your nerves. It’s pretty sad that the game is released in this state and it certainly doesn’t do it any favors.
A recent patch has attempted to fix many of these issues, and while not all is perfect yet, it certainly relieves some of the issues. Bioware still should’ve tested the game much, much better before they launched it.
But what holds Andromeda back most is easily its inability to live up to the original trilogy. It would’ve been so much better if Andromeda would’ve been a much more structured experience like Mass Effect 2 was. That was 40 or so hours of high-quality writing, action and exploration, while Mass Effect Andromeda packs 30 hours worth of pretty good content in almost 100 hours of game. Mass Effect was great because of its amazing characters, good writing and memorable moments. Here these elements are drowned out by the rather tiresome random sidequests and drawn-out exploration of inspirationless environments. It didn’t really work in Dragon Age Inquisition, and it doesn’t really work here. There are undoubtedly plans for more Mass Effect, but we can only hope they revert back to the formula of the original three games.
If you like Mass Effect there is certainly fun to be had with Andromeda, and it is, in essence, a pretty enjoyable game. It is just held back by the huge number of (small) issues it has and the unfortunate way in which it approaches open world gameplay.
This review was based on experience with the PS4, PC and Xbox One version of the game.