Mass Effect: Andromeda Review

By Mark Delaney, 2 years ago
However people felt about Mass Effect 3's controversial ending, few who invested the hours necessary to see the trilogy in full would argue that it was all worthless. Many hated the ending, some even felt the same of the whole third game, while others still had problems throughout each of the entries. Ultimately, however, Mass Effect remains a milestone in the medium for more reasons than would be sensible to list in full here. To say Mass Effect: Andromeda had some sizable shoes to fill is understating it by a great margin. Maybe that's why the end result of 80 hours with the game feels so up and down, so inconsistent. Yet even in isolation, Andromeda is often good, but rarely exceptional.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda tells the story of Ryder, a member of the Andromeda Initiative, a group tasked with finding a new home for the inhabitants of the Milky Way galaxy. Although they publicly decried Shepard's claims of an imminent reaper invasion, it seems the political leaders in the original trilogy privately took those claims to heart and sought out after new "golden worlds", extragalactic viable replacements for the homes of species such as turians, salarians, asari, and humans. After a cryosleep of 600 years, Ryder is abruptly awoken to assist the crew, first and foremost her father and the prestigious Pathfinder, the leader of the operation.

It doesn't take long before the vital role falls to the younger Ryder, while his or her sibling (you choose the sex of your character) suffers complications awakening from cryosleep. The earliest disappointment appears when you're tasked with creating your character. While many face-altering tools are available, several no-brainers are strangely missing. Unavailable are things like eye shape, eyebrow width, and ear shape, and there's a terrible lack of hair styles for either gender. If you're the type to get really deep into customizing your hero, like a good RPG should allow, you'll likely be turned off by the close to bare bones offering in Andromeda.

The game quickly opens up to offer dozens upon dozens of hours of content from menial tasks and the return of fan favorite loyalty missions, to several massive open worlds where outposts can be established. The premise, like that of its predecessors, is interesting. While you can't so soon get a feel for the characters or the mission flow or the branching dialogue, that initial promise of a new age of exploration is like a fishing hook and if you're a fan of the series or even just moderately interested in discovering a new and well told story, it's hard not to take the bait.

The creation tool is lacking, but it's possible to at least make someone whose appearance isn't an unwelcome distraction.The creation tool is lacking, but it's possible to at least make someone whose appearance isn't an unwelcome distraction.

Exploring the universe offers the opportunity to scan dozens of worlds, which mostly fails to provide much purpose or fun thanks to long loading screens when planet-hopping. This is a small part of the game and can even be avoided by all but completionists with little to nothing of value lost. Much more exciting are the sprawling open worlds that play a key part in the story. While searching for "golden worlds" on which you can permanently reside, there are several completely open landscapes that each offer a dizzying amount of things to do and people to meet. Sometimes those things won't be worth your time, but just as often they are thanks to the plentiful combination of story and XP they offer.

Those truly invested in the lore can sink many hours into just a single world and there are several of them. Improving the conditions of the worlds comes via completing missions on them, and getting them to 100% viability is the endgame. The number of missions on each planet allows you to not just pick exactly which missions you'll do to arrive at the 100%, but it leaves you with a still absurdly high level of stuff to do even after you've achieved that rating. Each world offers different landscapes and climates, and resolving each of their unique issues, like radiation or extreme heat, directly plays into the story. These open worlds are usually exciting, especially when landing on one for the first time, as they all look gorgeous in EA's proprietary Frostbite engine.

In comparison to the previous three games, Mass Effect's gunplay has never been better. Not only are there a plethora of pre-battlefield options like trees of gun customization, crafting, and buying and selling with merchants to perfect your best and favorite alien killing machine, but once you do get into the thick of it, the way a shootout feels is simply awesome. Less reliance on cover shooting is needed now. Depending on your specific class and fighting style you may seek it quite often anyway and the new auto-cover system rarely falters. Dashing laterally or boosting upwards with your jetpack or biotics adds another element that totally redefines the legacy of Mass Effect's shooting gameplay, making it faster and more varied, especially because these new traversal techniques come with added verticality in the environments.

Combat is more varied than ever. Related to that, it's also never been better.Combat is more varied than ever. Related to that, it's also never been better.

Another new and improved aspect of the action portion of this action-RPG is the ability to alter your character class whenever you want. Familiar names crop up again, like Soldier, Vanguard, and Infiltrator. Each of these classes can level up based on where in the three categories — combat, biotics, and tech — you put your XP and the full run of abilities are available to all. If the rewards in another class eventually suit you better, you're free to make the switch and take advantage of new, mostly passive abilities. You can only carry three powers into a battle, but diversifying your skill tree still has its advantages because different combatants will be vulnerable to different abilities and weapons. Mixing and matching the wide open skill tree with the option to change your class regularly makes for what feels like countless possible solutions to a fight. It's simply fantastic.

While the combat makes a great shooter out of Andromeda, many of its other major components combine to make for a lackluster RPG. For starters, your crew aboard your ship, the Tempest, feels like the B-team in most cases. Great efforts were clearly made to distance your new squadmates, of which there are six, from their predecessors. A rarely seen female turian plays the ship's motherly role, a far cry from right hand man Garrus. PeeBee is a looser, more impulsive asari than the mild and soft spoken Liara ever was. If it's not fair to compare the new crew with their counterparts from the Normandy, then suffice it to say this sextet mostly fails even in isolation. This is largely due to their dialogue, as well as that of Ryder's, being poorly written quite often. They will often speak as though they want only to reveal their archetype. It seems BioWare forgot the most crucial rule of writing — "show, don't tell."

Some dialogue options teased the presence of unnatural and sometimes simply dumb things to say. Characters will blurt out some inane things, turning a dramatic or emotional moment into a distracting one and sometimes even a laughable one. This was a problem throughout the 80 hour playthrough. Even toward the very end, Ryder said two things that can only be described as idiotic if she were a real person, but instead must be considered bad writing. Coming upon a gravity well, a device with which she had interacted at least a dozen times throughout the game at that point, she enlightened her crew: "This looks like a gravity well." She did it again soon after as well, arriving to find some enemies called remnant, a robotic class of enemy that had opposed her at every turn. She again stunningly delivered the obvious: "They don't look friendly." Moments such as these were not uncommon and made much of the story, and especially Ryder, very grating.

There are a few good crewmates. Liam is not one of them.There are a few good crewmates. Liam is not one of them.

Pursuing romance is still an adolescent idealist's dream whereby you are free to hit on everyone with corny, often disjointed one-liners to test their openness to the prospects of a relationship with you. Certain characters may not be interested in you simply because of their orientation while others may be okay with you having flings with others at the same time. In this way the romances have evolved, but still they fall far short of resembling anything like most real life accounts. You can be having a conversation about the new central enemy aliens, the kett, and their dastardly plans, and suddenly, if you so choose, branch off and flirt with the person. The romance dialogue options are almost always partitioned off like this, rarely worked into conversations in any organic way.

Still, some interpersonal gameplay mechanics were salvaged by the return of loyalty missions. Gaining squadmate loyalty no longer improves the likelihood of their survival, but it does open up the final tier on their skill trees, so it comes with benefits other than just providing some of the best character moments in the game, even as they are so often overshadowed by worse moments. Squadmates and dialogue are two major facets of the Mass Effect DNA, so it's a problem that they so often fail to deliver.

Another key area where Andromeda lacks the draw of the series' past entries is the matter of player choice within the story. There are few story moments that ask for your input and even fewer where they include tough choices. They are so few and far between it felt as though this was always meant to be a standalone game, even though BioWare has teased within the game and otherwise that Andromeda might be the start of a new multi-game story. In the few moments these choices do appear, they're not easy to make and will give you pause thanks to no answer ever seeming wholly right or wrong.

Every planet on which you can land offers a truly remarkable number of things to do.Every planet on which you can land offers a truly remarkable number of things to do.

Andromeda is riddled with bugs and it was interesting to find not a frustrating frequency, but an unseen variety. Most aspects of the game can display issues at one point or another. This list includes but is not limited to: framerate drops or total freezes, clipping, broken cutscenes, improper lip syncing that is sometimes missing completely, game over screens that get lost in a purgatory of reloading and not reloading, texture pop-in, enemies remaining frozen or unaware of your presence, and game crashes. None of them were permanently game-breaking but the variety to which the game has issues is both oddly impressive and, in my mind, confirmation that it was rushed to release. It also hurts that saving is often disabled on missions, something that seems to be a design decision or at least a necessity based on how the game's combat and other sequences play.

With so many of the game's best moments coming from the action and so many of its faults coming from the role-playing, it should come as no surprise that the multiplayer is a lot of fun. The same four-player survival mode from Mass Effect 3 returns in Andromeda in a nearly unchanged form. Surviving seven waves with variable objectives against one of three enemy factions across five maps is not a very deep experience, but the combat is so well done and four-player co-op so inherently entertaining that it needn't be a deep offering. In its simplicity, Andromeda recaptures what made ME3's online modes so entertaining.

You can work to level up a character only to a point before he or she is maxed out. After that, you can rest on your accomplishments or take a new character into the fray as well. Previous characters aren't retired, so you can always change back to your preferred, original, or perhaps most powerful characters. With only five maps it feels a bit sparse at launch, but even as they are, these "APEX Missions" offer an unexpected highlight of the game. If you're inclined to ignore the online portion, you can do that. Within the Tempest there's a semi-automated version of the same mode that allows Ryder to assign combatants to missions but not require the player to partake in them personally.

That's not where that goes.That's not where that goes.

The achievement list is one that will reward regularly in a full playthrough that spans dozens of hours as intended. You'll need to utilize different maneuvers and abilities, but don't fret if you don't favor them as you can respec whenever you feel like it. Plenty will come through story or loyalty missions, too, and if you stick around to achieve 100% viability on all the planets that offer such a rating, you'll get a currently quite rare achievement. Including the option to skip multiplayer completely, the list actually resembles those that came before it in the series; if you've completed the other Mass Effect games or at least enjoyed the bounty given to those who stick around for a while, you can expect more of that with Andromeda.

Summary

Mass Effect: Andromeda had the unenviable task of following a rare mix of greatness and controversy. Many will find BioWare's latest effort doesn't meet the standard of its predecessors, but even judging in isolation reveals some major concerns revolving around the game's writing. As a shooter, it succeeds greatly. As an RPG it suffers several missteps that are salvaged by what can at least be called inconsistency, meaning for all the bad it does, Andromeda does equal parts good. It feels like Andromeda is worth exploring just once. In many important ways it's a small step for BioWare, but with regard to characters especially, it's hard to ignore the giant leap backwards.
3.5 / 5
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Positives
  • Multiple massive, fun open worlds
  • Combat has never been better or more varied
  • Multiplayer is a worthwhile addition
  • A great shooter
Negatives
  • Inconsistent in several key areas, like characters, dialogue, and overall story
  • Buggy in a variety of ways
  • Character creation is lacking
  • A lackluster RPG
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 80 hours in Andromeda across the story and multiplayer modes. On the way he collected 37 of 55 achievements for 660 gamerscore. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves most kinds of games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of gaming, he likes bicycling, binge-watching, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.