Mass Effect Andromeda is, without being an out-and-out reboot, essentially a side-reboot of the Mass Effect series. The core series, starring everyone’s favourite Commander, ended on a very definite note with Mass Effect 3, and to be able to get back into the Mass Effect universe, EA has taken us to a whole new galaxy with a new cast and crew to play with. Let’s hit up the Andromeda galaxy for a review of this title.
Mass Effect Andromeda takes place in the fictional Heleus Cluster in the Andromeda galaxy, 600 years from the events of Mass Effect 3 (or to be technically accurate, 2819, or roughly 600 years from midway between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3). The collected races of the galaxy have created an organization called the Initiative, which sent arks filled with peoples of various species to the Andromeda galaxy in search of new homes. However, when the human ark, Hyperion, arrives in Andromeda, things are not as they had been projected to be 600 years ago, and new and terrifying forces are at play. Even worse, the arks containing the other races have disappeared. Enter the Ryder family: you play as either Scott or Sara Ryder, entrusted with the future of not only humanity, but all the major Milky Way species (needless to say, you can change the first names as you see fit). It’s up to you to find homes for the settlers, and ensure that these homes are safe. But saying is much easier than doing…
I’m going to get the elephant out of the room from the start here: yes, the facial animations are creepy and fall headfirst into the uncanny valley, never to emerge. Since this review comes post-patch, you’ll find that a number of these issues are dealt with, although not all. There! So glad we go that over with so that we can concentrate on the rest of the game.
EA and BioWare have made a lot of changes to this game while keeping many of the aspects that we know and love. Some of the biggest changes have been to combat and exploration. The Heleus cluster is a big space, but not so big that the ships require mass relays to move around. Instead of the Normandy, you’re given control of a sexy ship called the Tempest, and she is one gorgeous bird. Many kudos to its designer. Exploration is a big part of the game, and the planets that you can explore are aptly large in scale, enough that you’ll require a buggy to get around. Instead of the Mako, this time around you get the Nomad, an unarmed recon vehicle that allows you to get across dangerous terrain at a good clip. Much of the plot in Mass Effect Andromeda is making deadly planets a viable place for races to live. And wow, is there a lot of stuff to do, from the usual fetch quests to mining to crafting weapons and armor to the usual romance options.
I mentioned a change in battle, which also includes a change in the way Ryder’s character development is handled.You don’t have to choose either of commando, biotic, or tech paths, but can assign points at will to your own play style. You’re only allowed three active abilities at a time, though, so you need to think carefully about how you want to do things. The emphasis on inventory goods during a fight has also been removed, and combat is far more dynamic than before. In prior Mass Effect games, you could hunker down in one spot, and pretty much take on an entire army by yourself (as long as ammo held out). Enemies are far smarter in Mass Effect Andromeda, and cover is far more volatile and less likely to last you any decent amount of time. This means you have to keep moving if you want to stay alive.
I have two really, really big bugbears with Mass Effect Andromeda, though. The first one is something that I’d thought most big dev studios already dedicated resources to: colour choice. Most of you, my loyal readers, will know that I’m colourblind to some degree, which makes seeing certain things in some games as much an enemy as the Big Bad Monsters. Sadly, if you’re red-green colourblind, expect to struggle with some aspects. The scanner that Ryder is outfitted with uses a (I assume) green “scanning area”, and highlights things that you need to scan in red. Guess what happens when you have to scan for a set of tiny footprints, highlighted in red, on a bed of green or brown. That’s right–the section becomes impossible to figure out because you can’t actually see the stuff, even though, as it turns out, it’s clear as day to someone who isn’t colourblind. Bad Bioware. Bad choices of colours, and bad for not including a colourblind mode. This is the same issue we ran into when reviewing The Witcher 3, but they thankfully sorted it out eventually. I personally hate the scanner. Not just because of the colour choices, but also because it’s a horrible game mechanic. Having to hunt around a place for whatever it is you’re supposed to find can be incredibly annoying, doubly so when you can’t spot the colours.
The other big issue is the choice of font, or perhaps it’s the choice of colour for the font. There were some sections of the game where I honestly couldn’t read the instruction on screen. A good example here is in the transit pod inside the Nexus: you have a choice of three places to go, and each one is highlighted with the corresponding button and a small piece of descriptive text saying where the destination is. Problem is that the text is in white, and the background is light. Sure you could try to shift the camera to see, but that also shifts Ryder’s focus, so the text disappears. Pick one at random and then try to remember every time, I guess? This problem occurs over and over in the game, and could actually have easily been fixed with a darker backdrop–or “text box”–behind text.
Those niggles aside, the game features the usual gamut of issues that will no doubt be fixed in future patches, from framerates to mesh and texture pop-in to clipping issues and wonky animations in places where glitches occur. Expect these as a feature of modern games and move along, because odds are high that they’ll be addressed in a future patch.
Like its predecessors, Mass Effect Andromeda features a multiplayer mode, which is presented as a “take it or leave it” affair. The multiplayer mode ties in nicely with the story, though, and can be launched on board the Tempest. You take the role of someone in a special force called APEX, carrying out missions all across the Heleus cluster against AI opponents. If you played Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode, it’s almost exactly the same, just with a setting change. If you enjoyed that, then you’ll have a blast with this, but it’s no evolution and feels vaguely tacked on as “something we have to have but not going to put much thought into”.
The big thing to take away from Mass Effect Andromeda is less the idea that it’s a new Mass Effect game, but more a game set kinda in the Mass Effect universe. Yes, the familiar turians and krogans and asari and salarians are here, but there’s a lot here that is completely new. And a lot that isn’t. Despite its problems, I still enjoyed it, and the new, expanded environments made it feel a lot more lived in and populated than prior Mass Effect games did. Should you buy it? I’d say yes: even if the multiplayer is a bit more meh than I’d hoped, the lengthy single-player campaign more than makes up for it. There’s nothing quite like exploring new places, new galaxies, and new aliens, and Mass Effect Andromeda has all of this aplenty, shortcomings notwithstanding.