Welcome to Late to the Party, a series in which I discuss video games that I’ve finally gotten around to playing. Today I’m going to talk about Mass Effect: Andromeda, a sci-fi RPG that is the most recent entry in the Mass Effect series. I played Andromeda on my PS4 Pro and today’s post will be spoiler free.
If you’ve been following this website for the past few months you know that I already posted two in-progress reviews of Andromeda that can be found here and here. Not long ago I finally finished Andromeda and today what you’ll be getting is a synthesis of those two posts together with my final thoughts on the game. As a fan of the Mass Effect series I think I can speak with a decent amount of authority as to how this game stacks up with its predecessors as well as how it performs as a game in general.
The story of Mass Effect: Andromeda begins in the distant future and is set between the events of Mass Effect 2 and 3. Several of the dominant species of the Milky Way Galaxy have come together in the Andromeda Initiative and built arks to transport tens of thousands of colonists 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. You play as Ryder, the son or daughter of the human pathfinder, depending on your choice at the start of the game. Shortly after arriving in the Heleus Cluster things go predictably wrong, however, and Ryder soon finds that the entire Andromeda Initiative is in chaos. Other arks have gone missing, potential settlement worlds are proving unviable, and encounters with local alien species haven’t gone well. After taking over as the new human pathfinder it falls to Ryder to get the Andromeda Initiative back on track and fulfilling the Initiative’s promise of a fresh start for the Milky Way colonists.
For those that have played the previous Mass Effect games, particularly Mass Effect 3, the setup of Andromeda is going to be simultaneously odd and completely understandable. It’s odd because the building and launching of the arks is a pretty significant event that you would think the cast of Mass Effect 3 would know about, but it’s never mentioned in that game. 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.
As with previous Mass Effect games, Andromeda places a heavy emphasis on player choice, so parts of the story will play out differently based on what actions Ryder takes. Depending on your decisions, characters will live or die, relations with various groups and factions can improve or sour, and Ryder can even engage in bits of romance if you choose to do so. What’s changed in Andromeda, however, is that the Paragon/Renegade system of the previous games has been replaced with a four-fold system of casual, formal, emotional, and logical dialogue options that provide a broader set of choices for how Ryder interacts with other characters. The removal of the Paragon/Renegade system also extends to the game’s opportunities to interrupt a situation, which means you no longer have an indicator as to whether an interruption is either a hero or jerk thing to do. I’m largely ok with these changes, but I do have a major criticism of the interrupts in Andromeda in that they’re few and far between, and most of them aren’t all that memorable. Whereas I can recount a dozen or so cool moments from Mass Effect 2 that resulted from doing an interrupt in that game, with Andromeda—a game I just finished—I’m struggling to come up with more than three or four comparable moments.
Something similar can be said of Andromeda’s story in general, in that it’s a fairly good story but it doesn’t measure up to the high standard set by previous Mass Effect games. It simply doesn’t have the same level of narrative power, which is disappointing since there was a big opportunity with Andromeda to revitalize the series. Ryder him/herself is a pretty good character and there are a few interesting characters that are a part of Ryder’s crew, but almost none of them have the level of intrigue or likability as characters like Thane, Garrus, or Tali from Commander Shepard’s crew in the original Mass Effect trilogy. Of the entire Andromeda cast, the only one in my mind that can hold a candle to the squadmates of the older Mass Effect characters is Drak, the elderly krogan who still has a few fights left in him (and as a side note I’ll say that he’s also in my opinion the best squadmate to bring on any given mission). At the same time, however, Andromeda does do a better job of developing the relationships between the members of your crew and I also appreciated all the little nods the game’s story has to the original trilogy. The story of Andromeda isn’t as strong as I would have liked but it’s far from bad.
Where Andromeda has significantly surpassed its predecessors, however, is in the gameplay department. All special abilities—combat, biotics, and tech—can be unlocked and Ryder can switch between character class profiles on the fly to better suit the situation or how you prefer to play. Combine this with the new jump-jet and Ryder’s dash ability and Andromeda’s skirmishes are notably faster and more dynamic that anything we’ve experienced before in a Mass Effect game. Andromeda’s automatic cover system at times doesn’t quite perform that way I’d like, however Ryder’s talent for being mobile in a fight make this only a minor problem. The one thing that I would consider a major step backwards from previous Mass Effect games is that you can no longer control your squadmates’ power usage in battle. This can make it harder to set up combos and the game feels a bit less tactical as a consequence, but thankfully your squadmates’ AI is competent enough to effectively engage enemies and in the case of Drak is actually much better than in the past, seeing as how we finally have a krogan squadmate who behaves in battle exactly the way you’d think a krogan would (hence why I said a minute earlier that he’s the best squadmate to take with you).
Outside of combat you’ll be spending a lot of time exploring Andromeda’s worlds both on foot and in the Nomad, Ryder’s all-terrain APC. Andromeda has fully embraced open-world gameplay and has multiple planets for Ryder to roam, which feels fitting for a game about space exploration and there are some nice animations as your ship flies between worlds. While exploring you’ll also encounter a few scattered puzzles to solve, some requiring you to carefully traverse an area and others that make you solve an alien version of Sudoku. 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 a planet, which aides the Andromeda Initiative and earns you Andromeda Viability Points (AVP) that can be used to awaken groups of settlers that grant you bonuses in the game.
Andromeda also has a ton of small but appreciated changes that improve the game’s quality of life. The interior of your ship, the Tempest, is much faster and easier to navigate than that of the Normandy, and you can do a lot of mundane things like selling salvage, managing APEX teams and AVP, conducting research and development, etc. from a convenient spot inside the ship. This means you lose a lot less time between missions and can move more quickly to whatever activity you want to do next. The Nexus, which is Andromeda’s version of the Citadel, can also be swiftly navigated. 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 mercifully 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 star system or at a planet 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. Lastly, and for some people most importantly, you can finally change your character’s 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 crafting 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.
Unfortunately, all the good things Andromeda does are sadly marred by a veritable cornucopia of bugs that are encountered throughout the game. None of these bugs are game-breaking, and the most of the worst offenders that people reported back when the game launched in 2017 have been patched, but it’s clear that Andromeda should have spent a few more months in development before it was released. In my two in-progress review posts I mentioned a lot of the bugs I found and for the sake of space I’m only going to reiterate a few of them. Among other things, in some conversations you’ll see characters do very fast shoulder shrugs, like they’re suffering some sort of muscle spasm, and Ryder’s neck will sometimes twist around in horrific fashion when talking to people (this neck twisting was also a problem in previous Mass Effect games). In combat there’s an annoying bug where my remote turret failed to deploy even when I threw it on level ground and outside of combat my squadmates had a habit of teleporting into the air when exiting the Nomad—and sometimes staying up there—rather than just teleporting onto the ground with Ryder. Andromeda’s game engine also can’t always keep up with what’s happening in the game, as environmental pop-in is common while driving around in the Nomad and on rare occasion the game suffers from framerate drops, though interestingly the framerate drops never happened during combat. More frightening than the framerate drops, however, were the times when the game froze on me for five to ten seconds. Thankfully none of these times were the game actually crashing, but Andromeda is not as stable of a game as I’d like. Like I said before, none of the bugs actually break the game, but if you play Andromeda be ready for some jank.
As a final note, Andromeda comes with a cooperative multiplayer mode however I didn’t touch it other than playing the tutorial. From those few minutes of playing the tutorial mission it appears that Andromeda’s multiplayer is at least decent but I can’t give an informed opinion on it, and consequently I’m not factoring multiplayer into my final judgment of the game.
After over 122 hours I finally finished Andromeda and saw the end of this part of Ryder’s tale. I completed all but five or so of the side missions and achieved maximum viability of each colonized planet. Having seen and experienced nearly everything that the game has to offer, I’m going to score Mass Effect: Andromeda at a 7.5 out of 10. Andromeda tries really hard to recapture some of the best elements of its predecessors while also adding in its own twist to the Mass Effect formula, but the results are mixed. Gameplay has never been better in a Mass Effect game and there are certain moments where Andromeda manages to outshine its forerunners, however the overall story and the characters don’t quite live up to the Mass Effect pedigree and a myriad number of bugs indicate that the game was launched far too early. When I think about Andromeda I can’t help but feel like this was a B-Team effort, which is unfortunate since many Mass Effect fans including myself were hoping this game would help the series recover from the way it stumbled with the ending of Mass Effect 3. Andromeda is good, but with a Mass Effect game people expect more than merely good.