Bioware’s original Mass Effect trilogy were some of my favourite games from the last generation of consoles. While each of the games had their own flaws – the first was somewhat lacking in terms of combat but amazing at world building but I felt the second scaled the RPG aspects back a bit too much and then the third had that ending – each were truly enjoyable games and built a fantastic sci-fi universe.
Expectations were high then, when Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced. Initially I was a little sceptical when the first information was released; that it was set in a different galaxy, centuries after the trilogy. It sounded like it was going to be completely removed from the great universe and lore that Bioware had spent three games building and we’d spent hundreds of hours playing.
Thankfully, I needn’t have been too worried in that regard. Mass Effect: Andromeda follows members of the Andromeda Initiative, a group of explorers who left the Milky Way galaxy at some point around the events of the second Mass Effect. As well as wisely removing the story from having to suffer the effects of the ill-considered ending to Mass Effect 3 (where, no matter what choice you make, it fundamentally breaks the universe) it does mean we still get familiar races and technology so it still feels like Mass Effect.
The Andromeda Initiative launched a number of colony ships towards the Andromeda galaxy with the intention of settling there, and the story opens as the human ark, the Hyperion, awakes it’s crew from over six hundred years of cryogenic sleep to an emergency. Unlike the original trilogy, where you always play as Commander Shepard and choose their gender, this time around you select one of the two Ryder twins, Scott or Sara, while the other remains an existing character. I played the trilogy with a male Shepard and, having also heard that femshep was the better choice, decided to go with Sara.
With your choice of sibling appropriately selected and customised, Ryder then awakens to trouble on the Hyperion. The ship has arrived at the intended human colony world, Habitat 7, however the surface of the planet isn’t as it had appeared on scans and the space around it is filled with a mysterious dark substance called the Scourge that causes massive damage to the Hyperion that results in the Ryder that you didn’t select being stuck in their stasis pod for a good chunk of the game. There’s a fairly lengthy prologue with exploration on Habitat 7 including the discovery of some advanced technology that can terraform the planet and the introduction of the primary antagonist of the game, the Archon. The Archon is the leader of the kett, a militaristic and hostile race,
After leaving Habitat 7 Ryder and the crew of the Hyperion travel to the Nexus, which is where things really kick off. The Nexus is basically the Andromeda equivalent of the Citadel from the original trilogy, and is crewed by more members of the Andromeda Initiative. The crew are made up of all of the major alien species, with the Nexus team having set off for the Andromeda galaxy a little while before the ark ships. Here Ryder is given the major quests that will drive the rest of the game, to track down and defeat the Archon as well as discovering the fate of the other species arks. On your travels you’ll encounter new alien species as well as another faction of enemies, the robotic Remnant – because every science fiction game franchise needs to have robots!
There’s more of a sense of exploration in Andromeda than in previous Mass Effect games, especially as they’re in a new galaxy where everything is unknown. While there were somewhat unexplored planets in the original trilogy, the exploration aspect was always somewhat lessened by the fact that the galaxy was already colonised by races that we knew by that point – sure, the asari homeworld is a new planet for us as the player to explore, but it’s filled with asari and we know them already. In Andromeda though, particularly early on, there’s a feeling that there could be anything on each of the new planets that you explore. As with past games, there are major planets that act as quest hubs as well as less important locations that you just scan from orbit to see if they contain any useful items. Most of the major questing planets let you use the Nomad, Andromeda’s replacement for the original games’ Mako, to travel between locations in a fairly standard open world game manner. Finally, Ryder also has a scanner that works much like detective mode in the Batman: Arkham games. Depending on how you play, you may only use the scanner every now and then for investigating quest items, but if you’re a completionist then you’ll find yourself scanning every new enemy and item you see and sweeping it around each area you enter to see if anything new comes up.
Andromeda was the last major game that I played before my big upgrade in May, and I was playing at significantly below recommendations with a three year old AMD APU and a 2 GB GTX 960. Thanks to the games scaling options however it meant I was able to play with a higher graphical quality than I’d expected, and all of my screenshots here were taken on that hardware. The simplest recommendation for increasing game performance is to lower the resolution, but this is something I’m generally loathe to do as it results in blurry text and interfaces. In Andromeda however, the scaling allows you to choose the main resolution that all of the interface is displayed in, and then a separate resolution for the more demanding 3D engine. With that set to 900p and around medium settings, I was able to sustain 45 fps on average, though that did take a bit of a hit on the rainy planet of Voeld but still generally stayed above 30 fps. After my upgrade, and on other hardware that did meet the requirements properly like my test bench at work, it’s almost entirely stable at 60 fps and subsequent patches by Bioware have also improved that.
I really liked a lot of the music in Andromeda, particularly the main theme which was reminiscent enough of classic Mass Effect while also being its own thing. The voice acting was a bit more hit and miss, however. Sara Ryder was pretty decent I thought (having not played as Scott I don’t know how good he would be over the course of the game) but the default team members Jacob and Cora both grated a little – to be fair though I don’t know how much of that was the voice acting performance or the script as Jacob’s lines in particular were pretty terrible. Their replacements in my squad however both had good performances and actually felt like they had chemistry in dialogue that featured them both, and they were the asari PeeBee and Jaal who is a member of the new friendly species in Andromeda, the aya. Sound effect wise, it’s all fairly standard gunshots and explosions that you expect to hear in a science fiction game – nothing either particularly stand out or noticeably bad really.
On the gameplay side, it’s possibly the most fluid of any game in the series. The cover and shooting mechanics are generally similar to how I remember Mass Effect 3 playing and the boost pack built into Ryder’s suit that basically acts as a power jump means that you can traverse the game like never before in a Mass Effect. Over the course of the original trilogy, you could see how it started with the focus on the RPG elements and the gameplay of the third person shooter elements feeling almost like an afterthought and as each subsequent game came out there was less RPG and more shooter. While a lot of work clearly went into the shooter side of things, Andromeda also puts a bit more emphasis on the stats of weapons and equipment through both items that you collect as well as a sizable selection of craftable gear.
The Nomad controls really well too, with some nice features like a toggle between fast and all terrain modes to be able to scale steep surfaces and both a boost and vertical jets. All of this makes the Nomad quite a versatile and fun to drive little vehicle, though I wouldn’t have minded some weaponry on it even if you had to stop to deploy it first.
Bioware games are also well known for the conversation options, and the classic dialogue wheel returns once more in Andromeda. The traditional good/evil (or in the case of Mass Effect case, Paragon/Renegade) system is no more however, with Ryder being a much more grey character. I tend to go good guy with most RPGs so I tried to make the decisions that I would consider closest to that but there were a handful of moments in the game where I genuinely had to stop and ponder the possible ramifications of either option. I’m not sure they had any real effect on the end of the game, mind, but I’d not be at all surprised if some of the choices were planned to pay off across the course of any possible future sequels like in the original trilogy.
The internet, as it’s known to do, massively over exaggerated problems with the game in my opinion. Yes, there were some bad animations (the worst of which Bioware have already fixed) and yes, there’s some fairly cringe worthy dialogue. Graphically it doesn’t quite match up to AAA titles of today, and feels more like something that would have been released a couple of years ago – it still in my opinion looks pretty good, but it lacks in some of the bells and whistles you’d expect from a top end title. Despite all this however, I didn’t really find any game breaking bugs or major performance issues. I think I might have had a single crash in my nearly 100 hours with the game, and there was one time that my Nomad fell through the world and I had to reload my last autosave but I then wasn’t able to replicate it again. There is an issue with the quest log where it and the ingame codex of information on new species, ships etc show there as being new items even if everything is read that even the ‘mark all as read’ button that was added a little while ago hasn’t fixed but that hardly impacts on gameplay other than being a slight irritant. I’ve had far worse issues with games that haven’t been as heavily panned for being buggy in the past.
Honestly, the biggest complaint I’d have against it is that there’s just a bit too much to it. Even after 100 hours, on a single save file, I’m only at about 97% completion with a bunch of small side missions that are both uninteresting and, in perhaps a greater sin in a game this large, not tracked on the galaxy map that I don’t think I’ll ever bother going back to unless they get proper tracking on the map like all the rest of the quests – I know the majority of these are meant to be exploration based objectives such as ‘find kett subjugation devices’ and so on, but at least a general area to search in would be helpful. There were a few times that I’d finish everything I had to do on a planet, go back to the Nexus and then be sent right back where I’d come from that weren’t exactly great either and shuffling these around somewhat to minimize the travelling back and forth would have been greatly appreciated. At least a skip button was added to the animations on travel within a solar system, as that took far too long when the game first came out.
Finally, one that did annoy me was one particular side quest. Since it’s Mass Effect, you have a number of romance options throughout the game. One of the side quests allows you a potential romance with an asari reporter on the Nexus, and as I hadn’t as yet decided who to go for I started the romance side of the conversation with her. By the time that finally got anywhere though, I’d then ended up in a relationship with a member of the crew. While all of the other romances, as far as I’m aware, give you the option of declining, when you meet the reporter back on the Nexus towards the end of the game there’s no option of turning her down – the quest simply continues to where you meet her in the bar and then back to her apartment. As it’s a roleplaying game, I feel like that’s not how my character would play it and would respectfully say ‘No, sorry, I’m in a relationship now’ and end it there leaving me with a decision to either stick to what I feel is the character and have an unfinished quest or just finish the quest and not be happy about it.
While I absolutely feel that more time should have been given to Bioware to continue testing and improving the game, given the stories of the game’s time in development it’s frankly astonishing that it all holds together as well as it does. I’d definitely agree with the general opinion that it’s not up to the overall quality, but to say that it’s an outright bad game is something that I’d argue against. Sadly, the general internet opinion seems to have been reflected in the games sales, and Bioware at present have put the series on hold. We still have a little more Mass Effect to come, with the Dark Horse comics and two more novels in an Andromeda trilogy due later this year (the first, Nexus Uprising, was released around the launch of Andromeda but I haven’t got round to reading it yet) but the future for the series generally is looking fairly bleak.
Me? I’d spend another 80+ hours with Sara Ryder and her crew without hesitation.