It’s been a long time since I last published an in-progress review of a game, but I find myself in a position where doing so is appropriate. A while ago I started playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. This is a long game, and given how much of my free time is being eaten up by preparing the Asia 2017 travelogue posts and working on plans for Italy 2018 it’s fair to say that it will take me quite a few weeks to finish it. My plan is to publish one or two more in-progress posts after this one at some point in the future and then afterwards synthesize everything into a final verdict that will be published as part of my Late to the Party series. For today I’ll be giving you my thoughts on what I’ve played so far.
Now, before beginning I ought to give you my background with the Mass Effect series. I would consider myself a fan of Mass Effect and I know a fair amount about the games, but I can’t call myself a superfan. Currently I’ve played through Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 on four separate occasions. I played a few hours of the first Mass Effect, but stopped after awhile because even though the story was good I couldn’t stand how bad the gameplay was. If I was a superfan I suppose I would have just grit my teeth and finished the game anyway. Mass Effect 2 is still one of my favorite games of all time and I hold the series in high regard, despite my issues with the first Mass Effect and the controversy surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3. With that out of the way, let’s get to it. There are minor spoilers for the opening hours of the game in the next paragraph, so be warned.
The story of Mass Effect: Andromeda begins between the events of Mass Effect 2 and 3. Members of the four dominant species on the Citadel Council—humans, asari, turians, and salarians—have come together in the Andromeda Initiative to built arks to transport tens of thousands of colonists out of the Milky Way and across space on a one-way, 600 year journey to the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda Galaxy. Coming along with each ark is a Pathfinder—an individual charged with leading the efforts of each species to find worlds suitable for settlement. Depending on your choice at the start of the game you play as either the son or daughter of Alec Ryder, the human pathfinder. When your character awakens from his/her long slumber you find that things have not gone entirely to plan. While you have successfully arrived in the Andromeda Galaxy, the “golden worlds” that appeared habitable from long-distance observation are now unsuitable for mass-colonization due to radiation and other problems. A mysterious energy cloud called the Scourge is spreading everywhere, making space travel hazardous, and the first aliens you encounter in Andromeda are a hostile species called the kett. Predictably, Alec Ryder is killed while scouting the first planet you arrive at, but before he dies he passes the Pathfinder title to you, along with his AI assistant called SAM. As if this sudden assumption of responsibility wasn’t hard enough, you discover that the Nexus, a huge space station sent to Andromeda ahead of the arks, is in bad shape. Damaged by the Scourge when it arrived in Andromeda and with its original leadership killed, the station is now run by new leaders who are bickering among themselves rather than working together. Inhabitants of the Nexus have been waiting over a year for any of the arks to arrive and during that time an insurrection broke out that saw a good chunk of the station’s inhabitants banished. Just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and it’s up to you to get the Andromeda Initiative back on track.
Andromeda’s setup is simultaneously odd and completely understandable. It’s odd because the building and launching of the arks is a pretty significant event but it’s never mentioned in Mass Effect 3. It’s completely understandable because developer Bioware really painted itself into a corner with how Mass Effect 3 ended and having the series jump to another galaxy allows them to escape any problems that Mass Effect 3 created and to effectively give the Mass Effect series a soft reboot. The game’s writers were now free to take Mass Effect in a new direction, though I’ll have to wait until I reach the end to know for sure if they succeeded in creating a worthwhile story.
As with previous Mass Effect games, before you actually get to the game you’ll likely spend an hour or so creating your character. In my case, I took one of the available preset male characters and made a few adjustments. I wanted to give him a beard but none of the facial options looked good to me, so instead I gave him a neck tattoo (because, why not?). One extremely welcome new feature in Andromeda is the ability to change your character’s physical appearance after the start of the game. In previous Mass Effects you were locked into your appearance once the game commenced and I, like many other people, have had the experience of creating what I thought was a decent looking character only to slowly realize over the first two hours of the game that I had actually somehow created a new version of Frankenstein’s monster. A few other small things are also selected before starting Andromeda; I chose the Operative class as my training, I set my character’s first name as Bonesaw, and I decided that Commander Shepard from the previous Mass Effect games was male. So far I’ve not seen the effects of that last choice. What I have seen, however, is a funny coincidence with how I set up my character. As I discovered after starting the game, the male voice of your character sounds similar to that of Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, and my character looks like he might be Drake’s cousin or distant relative, so even though the Uncharted universe and Mass Effect universe are completely unrelated I’ve decided that Bonesaw Ryder is in fact Drake’s descendant.
If you’ve played any of the previous Mass Effect games you’ll find a lot of familiar things in Andromeda, many of which have new and improved spins on them. Your new ship is called the Tempest and its exterior has a similar appearance to the Normandy—other than the obviously different color scheme and some changes to the ship’s silhouette—but inside you’ll find a whole new ship. The Tempest’s interior is much faster and easier to navigate than that of the Normandy, meaning you lose a lot less time between missions when you run around and talk to your crew. Something similar can be said of the Nexus, which is Andromeda’s version of the Citadel but not as large and also quicker to navigate. I particularly like that the Nexus’ vendors are placed in the docking area, so you can get to them right away after the Tempest arrives. Planet scanning has returned from previous Mass Effect games, but it is thankfully much closer to what we got in Mass Effect 3 than in Mass Effect 2. While flying around in space you’ll only send out probes to investigate anomalies and you’ll be told when you arrive in a sector if any anomalies have been detected. Graphics, of course, are better than they were in Mass Effect 3 and load times have also been reduced. Another nice touch is how Ryder’s character animations when he runs around are more fluid and realistic than what we had with Shepard in Mass Effect 3. Ryder’s body feels like it actually has weight and momentum when he’s sprinting and he moves at the same speed both in and out of combat, so you’re free to go running like a madman through the Tempest or the Nexus.
Unfortunately, for everything that Andromeda has improved, I have to report that it also has made a few things worse. I really, really do not like how you have less control over your squadmates in combat. While you can still direct them to particular locations and attack particular enemies, you no longer can choose their loadouts and control when they use their special abilities. This makes it a lot harder to coordinate attacks on individual enemies and set up combos that aid in bringing down tougher opponents. Consequently Andromeda is more difficult, but not in a good way. Squadmate AI doesn’t appear to have noticeably improved since Mass Effect 3 and in one case has actually been worse, at least so far. I recruited a new squadmate from one of the alien races I’ve encountered in the Andromeda Galaxy but I don’t like bringing him along because he keeps getting wounded. Thankfully my tactical cloak allows me to run over and revive him, but I wish he was better at taking cover. Another annoyance is that for some reason you’re also not allowed to save the game during main story missions, but maybe there’s something that I’m misunderstanding about this. What’s very clear, on the other hand, is that Andromeda’s game engine, for all the things it does well, can’t always keep up with what’s happening in the game. Environmental pop-in has been common so far in my playthrough and during a few in-engine cutscenes I’ve noticed minor framerate drops. Lastly, and this is just a personal gripe that not all will agree with, the romance choices for male Ryder have a critical gap in them. WHY CAN’T I ROMANCE SUVI???!!!
The biggest change from previous Mass Effect games, however, is that Andromeda’s planets are open worlds, and I’m not sure yet if I like or dislike this. To get around these worlds you have the Nomad, an all-terrain APC that lets you navigate planets much faster than on foot and can keep your characters safe from hostile environmental conditions. Like other games with open worlds, there are markers on your map for the main story mission and the optional side missions, and you’ll find resources and new side missions as you explore. Completing missions, as well as setting up bases of operations and forward supply stations, improve the viability of the planet, which aides the Andromeda Initiative and earns you Andromeda Viability Points that can be used to acquire bonuses in the game. We’ll see whether or not I give the open world approach of Andromeda my approval, but the fact that I’m not yet won over might be a bad sign.
Another thing that remains to be seen is how many glitches I’ll encounter while playing the game. As some of you might know, Andromeda was a buggy mess when it first launched and if you go on Youtube there are plenty of videos documenting all the flaws from those early days. It’s now been over a year since Andromeda came out and it appears that most issues have been fixed, but some bugs remain. Facial appearances on most of the human characters that you speak with have been improved and are now passable. During some conversations, however, you’ll see a glitch where other characters will do very fast shoulder shrugs, like they’re suffering some sort of muscle spasm. NPCs that you see walking around the Nexus and other places will at times slide around while standing upright and when you exit the Nomad your squadmates have a habit of teleporting into the air and dropping down beside you, rather than just teleporting to the ground like you do. The game also has an odd habit of indicating that I have unused experience points to use when I actually don’t. Andromeda has been improved a lot since launch, but there’s still plenty of jank to be found.
If I were to score Andromeda right now I’d probably give it something around a 7.5 to 8.0 out of 10. At the moment I’m about 23 hours into Andromeda and I’m guessing that I’m no more than about 20% of the way through the game. My next-in progress review post probably won’t go up for another month or so, and it will likely will be shorter than this one since I’ve covered a lot of the game’s basics today. One thing that will likely appear in the next in-progress review post that wasn’t in this one is my thoughts on the characters of the games. Originally I was going to put some initial impressions of them in today’s post but I decided instead to wait and see how some of them develop. What likely will never appear in any future post on Andromeda, however, is the game’s multiplayer mode, which I could care less about. There’s always a chance that I’ll give it a try, but right now I don’t see that happening. In any case, I hope you enjoyed reading today’s post and are looking forward to whenever the next installment goes live on this website. Now it’s time for Bonesaw Ryder to get back out there and make his ancestor proud by exploring exotic locales, finding hidden secrets, and amassing an incredible body count.
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