As a fan of the Mass Effect series, it’s probably easy to think of my opinion as somewhat coloured by favouritism and forgiveness when it comes to Bioware’s epic sci-fi series. However, a simple Google search will chronicle the wave of criticism raised against the previous instalment in the series: Mass Effect 3. Legions of diehard fans openly crucified Bioware for their mishandling of the culmination of their efforts and then scrutinised further when they acquiesced to fans wishes and released free DLC that would change the ending. After five years of absence, Mass Effect re-launched itself into the video game atmosphere with Bioware’s latest offering and reboot to the series, Andromeda.
Taking control of either Scott or Sara Ryder, you’re the child of Alec Ryder who is a former N7 and one of the fabled “Pathfinders” (a term you’ll hear used in at least every second sentence). The many races of the Milky Way have journeyed to the Andromeda galaxy, setting out in the twenty-second century and arriving after 600 years in stasis to establish a score of settlements on this new frontier. I’m a passionate fan of the Mass Effect lore – it’s a universe that’s quite rich and detailed even for an RPG, and they’ve always presented interesting ideas in their conceptual form. Andromeda is no exception, but, unfortunately, the nose dive begins for Andromeda in the execution of its narrative. The beginning of the story is unbearably cliché and backs itself into a corner within the first half an hour of gameplay before it can properly begin. This issue also isn’t helped by a cast of characters who’re mostly forgettable, from the offensively bland Liam Kosta to a grizzled Krogan called Drack who’s basically a re-skinned clone of Wrex. I miss my crew from the Normandy, and there’s no amount of sub-par characters that fills the void left in my Mass Effect heart for all those well-crafted and lively NPCs. Even the introduction of the new Angara race who’re so unabashedly Australian sounding in accent couldn’t cheer me up enough to forgive many of Andromeda’s narrative shortcomings.
A big focus point of Andromeda was to make the experience feel much more “open world” as you travel around the galaxy to new planets. The game is far more ambitious and sprawling than any previous Mass Effect title and lends itself well to making the game feel truly epic in scope. It’s also structured to be completed in a very machete order, meaning that you will tend to re-visit previous planets multiple times to complete missions as you’ve progressed further along in the story. I think this is a great stroke of design genius from Bioware, as it continues to add relevancy to each remote planet and the way that the planets continue to be shaped by your actions and assistance.
I’m a perfectionist when it comes to ticking boxes and filling gauges, so making sure each planet is 100% inhabitable turned out to be a significant investment of time for me. What bogged down the experience for me, though, is the overabundance of systems that need your attention. From combat skills to research and development points and allocation, to NPC strike missions and more, it becomes far too overwhelming and actively deterred me from investing more time into figuring out how some of the systems work because there’s just far too much unnecessary padding. One of the standout features of this systems overload, however, is that the APEX strike missions tie directly into multiplayer from the single-player campaign. By being allowed to choose between whether I want to complete them myself or have them automated by NPC squads, it allows for a greater deal of autonomy to this type of system than the similar Assassin’s missions which can be found in Assassin’s Creed.
While not changing the combat system for Andromeda from the over-the-shoulder third-person style that Mass Effect is known for, it vastly improves on a bare bones system that was dying for attention. By adding in far more manoeuvrability with the jetpack and eliminating the system of pausing the game to line up a shot, it automatically makes the experience feel far more dynamic and intense, which is something that the series sorely needed before this point. It feels and handles much more like a shooter, and it’s to the development team’s credit that they’ve pulled the trigger (AHA!) and provided a more consistent gameplay experience. For those wondering, I rolled with an assault rifle and sniper rifle primarily as my weapons of choice – so yeah, I’m one of THOSE guys.
Visually, the series has prospered in many ways with the shift to the Frostbite 3 engine, with some of the artwork such as the landscapes and backdrops being visually captivating with so many different environments from lands plagued by lightning to snowy tundras. However, Andromeda has also suffered from very well documented issues with facial animation and dialogue timing at launch, and has become a spectacle on the internet based on the odd positions and angles some of the characters contorted into. While the game has been heavily patched since release, it’s still disappointing to see Bioware and EA clearly rushed a product to market that wasn’t polished and had identifiable issues from Day 1. Despite some class voice acting from talents such as Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games) and Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, Highlander), it isn’t enough to rescue what at times is some very cumbersome and unnatural sounding dialogue. Conversation is very nuanced regarding cues and psychology, and can be quite difficult to capture in some mediums which is evident in Andromeda’s attempts.
In the five-year absence of Mass Effect in my life, I’ve held out hope that Bioware would come back to its fans with all guns firing in a blaze of glory. Unfortunately, their return has been with more of a bang and then fizzle which has left a bit of a sour taste in the mouths of the Mass Effect fan base, including yours truly. As we continue to draw innovation from the indie scene in the way narratives can be told, and bear witness to the visual and performance potential of the AAA industry, it’s now more than ever that we demand more of our games. While Mass Effect: Andromeda is not a TERRIBLE game, the problem is that it’s just not a GREAT game either.