Welcome to Andromeda
First things first… Mass Effect: Andromeda is not a bad game.
Though Andromeda has gotten a bad rap from, well, almost everyone in the games media, I do thoroughly enjoy it. Is it a perfect game? No. Not even remotely. But through its flaws and failings, it still shines bright in several ways. Now, I am slightly biased as the Mass Effect series has always been on of my favorites. Just the fact Bioware allowed us another trip to this universe was enough to make me freak the fuck out. Still, I am able to see where the consensus group of reviewers is coming from. I’ll get into more detail in a bit.
»»»»Be warned: Spoilers below««««
A little background information:
Mass Effect: Andromeda begins just between the events of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Humanity and the other Citadel races form a group called The Initiative with the sole purpose of travelling to and colonizing the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy. The humans as well as the Turians– a bony, almost avian, digitigrade species with advanced military prowess, the Asari– a purplish blue, matriarchal species with a natural inclination towards biotics (aka moving shit with your brain powers,) and the Salarians– an amphibious salamander looking species with extremely quick mental acuity put together several “Arks” specific to each species (as seen below) as well as a massive space station called the “Nexus” to ship across the void between the Milky Way and Andromeda. Groups of volunteers are then put to sleep in cryo chambers for the 600 year journey to the Heleus Cluster where the Milky Way species are meant to find homes to colonize. Upon arrival, however, the player character’s father who happens to be a leader within the Initiative is killed in an accident whereupon he passes his mantle onto you. The “Arks” belonging to the non-human species are then realized to be missing. Two new sentient species are discovered in Andromeda: the Kett and the Angara. The Kett become the antagonist species of the game whereas the Angara become a sort of ally to the Initiative. Cutting to the chase, the Initiative project does not go entirely as planned and Ryder (your character) must solve the puzzles left by an ancient, now extinct species; fight back the Kett, befriend the Angara, find the other Milky Way species’ “Arks,” colonize/terraform the Heleus cluster, and bang some very bangable aliens.
Now that you have some background, let’s begin with my dissection.
As almost anyone who’s ever played a Bioware game knows, they’re one of the best when it comes to role-playing games (RPGs) and universe building. They create magical stories and locations complete with characters of immeasurable depth and heart. That reputation does not stop here. At the heart of any good RPG are relatable characters, a compelling storyline, and great pacing. Andromeda meets two of these three criteria.
The characters are on par with the first Mass Effect in terms of depth. Almost every character and quest draws you further into the game. Even the “bullshit” side quests that pop up in every RPG to spread out the action and build depth make you feel more invested in this new galaxy. Bioware did an amazing job giving the player a sense of a pioneer spirit. You feel inclined to terraform each of the planets available and make a new home in Andromeda. Your squad is a fairly diverse bunch of characters. You have a spunky, smuggling female Turian; a nerdy, fast-talking Asari; a biotically inclined human chick with a fade; an Australian guy with a fro; a sullen, mysterious Angara; and a badass, elderly Krogan (a large lizard like species from the Milky Way known for their aggression and brutality) with a bit more wisdom than you’d be used to from a Krogan if you’ve played a Mass Effect game before. Each character in this ragtag group is really built upon well. By the end of the game you have the ability to know every little bit about their pasts, why they volunteered for the Initiative, their families’, their motivations, etc. This is where Bioware thrives.
The combat of this game, sort of a tactical shooter type, is fairly decent and keeps the game moving forward well. You’re character can specialize in several different areas and then cater your squad to fit niches you can’t. The weapons and armor system is not convoluted nor is it simple. The combat is fun. That is as simple as I can put it.
This game was made for everyone. You can skip the side quests and keep moving on with the main storyline if that’s your cup of tea. You can say “fuck it” and learn nothing about your party and skip almost every line of tedious dialogue if you’d like. Or you can dive in, immerse yourself, and spend hours upon hours learning the ins and outs of the Andromeda Galaxy. The game plays to your playstyle. This ability to cater to any crowd is almost necessary in modern games in order to sell well. But for some this is a terrible thing…
Bioware treated fans to a golden age of RPGs starting about a decade and a half ago; including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, the first two Mass Effect games, and Dragon Age. These games were masterful in almost every respect. They encompassed the ideas that have made modern RPGs what they are. They required intelligence to play to their fullest and rewarded the smart and attentive player with rewards around every corner. On the other hand… Andromeda just feels lazy. As I stated above, there is no reason to sit through lines of dialogue. There are no rewards for paying attention. I would understand if Bioware attempted to make the game playable for the player that doesn’t have hours upon hours to sit and play a game, but also reward the players that decide to invest that amount of time into the game for the efforts. Yet, at the end of my 48 hour playthrough, I felt as though I could have just skipped through every cut-scene, every section of dialogue, every “important” choice and would have felt just as accomplished as I did. For a diehard Bioware fan, this is just an insult. Andromeda has no focus. While the characters and storyline are deep, they just leave you feeling shallow. The rewards for your efforts of exploration are few and far between. The pacing coupled with the lack of reward leaves you wondering if it is even worth exploring, if it is worth diving in. In the end, I would argue it wasn’t.
In quick regards (“quick” as I feel this particular subject has been beaten to death with a stick for the past two months) to the visuals of the game, the scenery is spectacular. The alien species are beautiful. The player character- you know, the character you’re going to spend the entire game looking at- has moments of beauty but they are overshadowed by moments of inhuman expression. The inhuman moments take you out of the game. You’re forced to sit there thinking, or even speaking out loud in some instances things like “what the actual fuck is her goddamn eyebrow doing?” or “how the hell am I expected to believe that is a natural reaction to this situation?” Now, Bioware has stated they are working on releasing patches overtime to fix this. But these quirks are so bad the game should have been delayed in order to fix them. This is a rookie developer error, not something one of the more veteran developers in the industry should have even had to fix in the first place.
As stated above, the combat is fun. In fact, it’s very fun- when it works. As is common with Bioware games, Andromeda’s combat leaves much to desire. Every Mass Effect game except Mass Effect 2 has not been the most polished experience so I didn’t come into this game thinking it would be. However, I believe that given the amount of time Bioware had to develop this game as well as the MANY imperfections the game already has, they could have at least made the combat as fluid as possible. There were several instance where I was forced to just stop playing out of rage because the game continued to through me into impossible situations where there was no cover from enemy fire in sight- or even better where there was cover and the game decided to make my character stand up right into the line of fire while trying to recover health or shields. I’ve never been into video games because of combat, but Andromeda’s was just one more thing that took me out of being immersed in the game.
In the end, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a fun time. The characters make you laugh. The gameplay is ultimately enjoyable. The scenery is fucking gorgeous. But! There are moments that force you to think, “this could have been so much better…” Bioware has unlimited potential. You see glimpses of it in every game they’ve made recently. But so far, they’ve fallen short of what they once were. I’m an optimist at heart, though. I see Bioware scrambling to find solutions to the issues we as an audience have been screaming at them to fix. Maybe they are truly learning how to make a masterpiece again. Give them a chance. Give Andromeda a chance if you haven’t already. You may find you enjoy it more than you thought you would.