“Sorry, my face is tired…”
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Format: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Released: March 23, 2017
So full disclosure, I went into this one having very little personal experience with the Mass Effect series. I played the original game back in 2012 for about six hours before dropping it, deciding it wasn’t really the kind of game I was interested in, at least at the time. But while I haven’t played any of the games since then, I’ve still taken the time to familiarise myself with at the series storyline, as well as some of the more interesting points of fan contention, such as the third game’s original and controversially renowned “pick a colour” ending.
While I do admit that I’ve wanted to go back and try playing through the series proper, having developed a somewhat better appreciation for western RPGs over the last five years, the amount of time required to tackle such a content-packed trilogy of games is unfortunately time I don’t really have. Quite frankly, if I was going to get into the series, I needed a fresh entry point that wouldn’t require a commitment of eighty hours of free time. Thankfully, this has been provided by Mass Effect Andromeda, offering a new story free from the original trilogy, set in a brand new galaxy and the far-distant future.
Unfortunately, considering that my quest log is currently filled with errands attached to compelling stories, along with locations of mysterious alien ruins to rummage through, I don’t see a review coming any time in the near future. But don’t fret! With twenty hours logged and around half of the main storyIine complete, what I can instead offer you is not only my thoughts on the game thus far, but also a newcomer’s unbiased perspective of the series, free of fan expectations and disappointments.
Speaking of disappointments, let’s get this out of the way first since it’s the most contentious topic surrounding Andromeda right now: the game’s presentation is pretty piss-poor for a AAA release. For starters, Andromeda’s character creation options are so ugly and bare-bones that you’ll probably find yourself choosing the default appearance for your character, if only because it’s the only one that looks the most passable. But apart from that, the game is littered with more graphical bugs than a Bethesda game. The framerate takes frequent and very noticeable dips, textures frequently pop in, and character models not only occasionally sink into floors and ramps, but also either suddenly pop into existence or float down from the sky. And that’s not even including the often bland, yet always confusing facial animations. While I’ll happily admit that although these facial animations weren’t any sort of game breaker for me, they were incredibly distracting. Sometimes even completely undercutting the drama of the more emotional story moments. It’s incredibly disorientating to hear a character’s voice convey heart-breaking distress while showing the facial expression someone who just let out a cheeky fart.
That being said however, I don’t think Andromeda has completely dropped the ball when it comes to its presentation. The environments you get to explore can offer some pretty awe-inspiring moments. They can hit when you’re looking out of your starship’s cockpit window or even simply while driving your exploration rover across each beautiful planet’s surface. I guarantee you’ll have a moment of pause when you witness the bio-luminescent, ruin littered jungles of Havarl for the first time. But even if that isn’t enough to help you look past the questionable visual quality, I think Andromeda’s story of hopeful pioneering gone wrong definitely will.
You play as one of the Ryder twins, a brother and sister pair that take part in the Andromeda Initiative, a project with the intention of sending colonists on a one-way trip to settle in the Andromeda galaxy. After six-hundred years of travel, Ryder wakes up from cryostasis to discover that the initiative has gone completely tits up. Potentially inhabitable planets, or “Golden Worlds”, are too hazardous to colonise, barely any of colonist ships have successfully made the journey, and the Initiative’s command center, the Nexus, has been stranded for over a year with barely any power left by the time Ryder arrives. And if that wasn’t stressful enough, Ryder has been given the duty of “Pathfinder”, designated to find viable worlds for the colonists to settle on before the Nexus runs out of food and power. So you know, no pressure or anything.
I absolutely love how the game drops you into this dire and seemingly hopeless situation. With the duty placed solely on my character, the story made me want to do everything possible to help the unfortunate colonists. Being such a desperate situation for everyone around you, even the smallest accomplishments feel significant, as it really feels like everything you’re doing is helping the Initiative get back onto its feet. But it’s when you do something big, such as making previously uninhabitable worlds more viable for colonisation, that you really feel the weight of your efforts. Colonies start to appear on the planet surface, people on the Nexus start discussing which planet they want to be stationed on, and the once bleak and depressing atmosphere that surrounds the space station evolves into one of hope and optimism. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you alone did all of that.
It’s an incredibly engaging scenario that is only made moreso thanks to the diverse cast of characters that make up your crew. They’re such a joy to talk to that I frequently took the opportunity to explore my ship just to see what everyone had to say about even the slightest development in the plot. Each one had interesting personalities and backgrounds that I wanted to get to know more about, from Drack, the battle hardened grumpy grandpa Krogan, to Suvi, the ship’s openly religious science officer. It goes to show just how enamoured I am with their company that I’m determined to finish the game’s “Movie Night” sidequest just so that I can watch this rag-tag group of fighters and misfits enjoy a few crappy vids together.
It’s just a little unfortunate then that Andromeda’s gameplay doesn’t really match up to the same quality as its story. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of stuff to do in this game, especially considering the sheer number of quests you can do, but a majority of them revolve around combat, and sadly Andromeda doesn’t have a very interesting combat system. Putting it simply, I feel like the game is basically an interesting story wrapped around a fairly okay cover shooter. The only thing that really makes it interesting is the ability to use the in-universe version of “space magic”, Biotics and Tech. And while these can add a little bit of strategy and fun to the combat at first, especially when combined with the ability to change combat classes on the fly for specific stat buffs, you can only create a black-hole to suck up the same three kinds of enemies so many times before the novelty wears off.
I think before Andromeda was even released, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be a perfect game, especially following the news of its incredibly distracting technical issues. While I can’t say for certain whether or not Andromeda will appeal to long-time Mass Effect fans, I can definitely say that, as a standalone entry in the series, it’s not bad. Its obvious presentation issues and fairly generic third-person combat drag the experience down somewhat, but the fantastic characters, as well as the overall story and the content surrounding it was more than enough to keep me invested throughout the time I’ve had with it so far.
If an engaging story with interesting characters is all you need to enjoy a game, then I think that Andromeda is totally worth taking a look at. Just keep in mind that if you are going into it without playing through the original trilogy, it’d probably be a good idea to at least research the first Mass Effect story and general lore. If only so you can understand which alien species is which, along with some of the series’ common in-universe terms, like that “Genophage” thing that the Krogan species keep whining about.