Since its release, Mass Effect: Andromeda has received a very mixed response from gamers, who just aren’t happy with Bioware’s latest offering. Based on the original hit trilogy, Andromeda is the fourth instalment in the science fiction video game franchise.
Taking place in an entirely different galaxy, Mass Effect: Andromeda introduces two new protagonists to the mix, Sara and Scott Ryder. Their aim is to establish new worlds for mankind, as they leave the Milky Way to discover new technology and new opportunities.
As they explore this uncharted galaxy, the Ryder family discovers something that threatens the very existence of life in Andromeda. To examine and combat this deadly threat, players will have to discover new worlds with the aid of their very own squad.
After completing the main story along with a huge selection of side-quests, is it fair to say that Andromeda deserves some of its unfavourable reviews? With an average 4.7 on Metacritic, it almost seems like this is Bioware’s worst Mass Effect yet.
But does Andromeda even stack up to the previous three games? Is it a complete trainwreck? It’s hard to say, but here’s my verdict, based on a playthrough with Sara Ryder.
Andromeda begins its expansive journey by literally throwing the player onto a new planet, as Sara follows her father to discover a strange abnormality. An N7 Pathfinder, Sara’s father Alex is voiced by Clancy Brown, and he provides an example of just how cool N7 recruits are. Just like fellow N7 Commander Shepard, Alec simply kicks alien ass.
When players begin the game, there’s a clear sense of mystery and adventure. Set with intrigue, players will be enveloped by the terrific atmosphere that the game presents. Ryder is quickly paired up with fellow human Liam Kosta, a response specialist who later becomes a valuable teammate.
At first, Bioware nails that all too familiar feeling that the franchise is renowned for. Harking back to when Shepard first encountered Saren, or when the Collector’s attacked in ME2, Ryder’s brief incursion on this new planet feels new and exciting.
But then, you notice something the second you pull a gun on the enemy. Where’s the detailed combat wheel that every Mass Effect game has featured? Suddenly, the ability to control my teammate has been removed entirely.
Yes, for some inane reason Bioware have done away with that truly solid system that enabled players to coordinate a plan of attack. Instead, they’ve replaced it with a poorly designed and ultimately forgettable system for equipping abilities just for Ryder. It seems like a huge step back.
Whereas Mass Effect previously allowed players to construct their characters’ story around whatever class they begin with, Andromeda allows the player to swap their profiles on the switch. This may make for some interesting combos, but it sort of feels a bit cheap.
Thanks to this weird decision, players now have way too many powers to select or boost. Excluding specific enhancements, there are roughly 24 different powers that can be equipped. Having previously played as a biotic god before, it did seem wise to select throw, singularity and overload for good measure, but there are just too many options to choose from.
However, Ryder is much more mobile than Commander Shepard has ever been, thanks to the inclusion of a new snazzy jetpack. Allowing the player to boost forwards or upwards, it does get you into those hard to reach areas, and it adds a quick getaway solution when facing enemies. It also makes a nice sound, so there’s that.
Along with the departure of controllable teammates, Bioware also decided to rid the player of customisation options for the entire team. ME2 didn’t necessarily have an amazing variety of options, but the ability to equip different weapons for different characters allowed for further freedom.
Oddly enough, this just isn’t an issue for Ryder. If anything, you’ll notice there are just too many options for the main character. There are four sets of armour for Ryder to wear, including the helmet, chest, arms and the legs. You can research and develop these armour pieces, but there’s a countless range of different designs.
Remember how annoying the inventory system was for the first Mass Effect? Well, buckle up, because congratulations should be awarded to the development team for somehow managing to create an even worse system than ever before. With long lists of options and modifications for weaponry and armour, players will just end up getting lost in the midst of the menus.
There really is just too much, and it doesn’t help that most armour pieces can be upgraded at least ten times, as long as players have the ridiculous amounts of resources. Those resources are acquired soon after you leave the first planet, and brace yourselves – as you have to probe for them!
If players thought ME2’s system was monotonous, they’ve seen nothing yet. This time, you have to travel long distances on various planets until a mining area is unlocked. Once it’s unlocked, gamers will still have to drive around until a rich source is discovered! Whoever thought this was a good idea, needs to rethink their positioning in the industry.
Players will notice that when evaluating planets, they’ll spend most of their time in this new six-wheeled vehicle. Thankfully, it can traverse planets with ease, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the exploration is done in the damn vehicle.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of using the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight will know that it was an unnecessary addition that took over a majority of the gameplay, and in Andromeda players will be using it for around two-thirds of the game. Oh, it doesn’t have guns by the way. You have to awkwardly exit to engage in combat.
Some planets are lush with wildlife, but there’s no need for Ryder to travel across empty desert dunes to get to a certain point on the map. In some cases, most areas feel just as empty as some of the lifeless planets from the first Mass Effect! You know, the entry to the franchise which was released in 2007.
Players will soon realise that they’ll encounter the same enemies on different planets as well and that the galaxy severely lacks a diverse ecosystem. There is a reason for this which is explained much later in the story, but it feels like a bit of a cop out to save the designers a bit of time.
Still, one of the most important questions remains unanswered. How is the new ensemble that helps out our main protagonist throughout their journey? Well, they’re surprisingly okay. As is tradition with Bioware, they have managed to include a mind-numbingly boring human character into the mix, but it’s not a terrible effort.
If players are playing Mass Effect properly, they won’t be focusing on the humans in their squad anyway. Everybody remembers just how painfully dull James Vega was, and now the biotic Cora can now join his ranks as an ultimately forgettable, one-note character. Instead, players should shift their focus to the new Asari and Krogan for example.
During the playthrough, two members never left my side; Peebee and Jaal. An Asari with an interest in ancient technology, Peebee seemed like the perfect choice. She’s certainly different compared to my top-tier wife Liara, but her impetuous attitude is a welcome change of pace. Obviously, she became my romance, because she’s Asari. Duh.
Jaal belongs to a new species in Andromeda, the Angara. His personal story in Andromeda has the most weight and taking him along for missions felt essential. Having Jaal and Peebee travel hostile worlds with Ryder also provided some pretty entertaining conversations between all three characters.
Considering that these new teammates will constantly be compared to the original trilogy’s characters, Bioware has done an alright job. It was a mighty task to introduce a new squad that follows in the footsteps of Garrus, Wrex or Tali, but they made a commendable effort. If anything, Jaal may become a favourite for some and heck, even Liam has his moments.
What some players will immediately realise is the significant lack of well-known voice actors. The main VAs in the game are perfectly fine, but the original trilogy with rife with big names; Keith David, Martin Sheen, Carrie-Ann Moss and Seth Green. Hell, Seth Green was in every game and Yvonne Strahovski voiced a teammate.
There’s only one recurring character who has a recognisable voice, and that’s doctor Lexi. Voiced by Natalie Dormer, she makes a few appearances during cutscenes and is often found in the medical bay. Considering the franchise has been known for boasting such big names though, it feels like a bit of a disappointment. If anything, it used to add a certain gravitas to the series.
Specific quests need to be chosen carefully, as there are just too many fetch quests dotted around the numerous planets. It is unfortunately slightly reminiscent of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and often completing various quests can feel like a massive drag.
However, what is utterly baffling is Bioware’s decision to incorporate a major plot point in one of the tedious collectable quests. Something that can be entirely missed throughout the game, adds an extra layer to Andromeda’s story, which should’ve been prominently featured at some point of the game. For fans, it’s almost essential viewing.
It cannot be stressed enough that all of the allies’ quests should be tackled because they result in some of the better writing witnessed in Andromeda. Funnily enough, the two humans aboard Ryder’s ship have some of the more entertaining loyalty quests, with Liam’s having some funny, sharp dialogue throughout.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the final quest. The main villain that has plagued Ryder during the game, the Archon, is a terrible attempt at creating an interesting character. For a franchise that has given us Saren, the Collectors and most importantly the Reapers (here’s looking at you Harbinger), the Archon completely fails to deliver.
Bioware appeared to have missed the memo for creating villains in Andromeda, as the Archon is hardly intimidating or even remarkable. The writers have supplied no interesting backstory and no sympathetic reasoning for his cause. He simply hates other species because Bioware forgot to come up with a valid reason.
Some may deem it unfair to constantly compare Andromeda to the previous trilogy, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Andromeda has been in development for years, and the last entry was released in 2012. The first entry is almost ten years old now and it even that does a better job with the animation!
Shepard will always be the greatest of all time, but at least Ryder is somewhat serviceable. She’s inexperienced, and that is reflected during the game. She’s burdened with a mighty task, and her development is somewhat entertaining to watch. Hopefully, later games will fully expand on her story as well.
It is rather difficult to recommend Mass Effect: Andromeda to gamers, let alone fans of the franchise. It might not deserve some of the sheer hate that it’s currently receiving, but then it’s part of a genre that has been almost perfected with the original trilogy and games like The Witcher 3.
Perhaps we have been spoiled in the past, but thanks to games like The Witcher 3, a new standard has been set in the RPG genre. Developed in less time than Andromeda, CD Projekt delivered something that was rich with great storytelling, solid animation and superb attention to detail.
Yes, it’s all Geralt’s fault. After having spent numerous amounts of time on the game, taking in the beautiful landscapes and defeating monsters whilst romancing a hot sorceress, I realised that I had experienced a game like none other.
It’s funny because at first, I hadn’t appreciated The Witcher 3 for it’s worth when I started the game. With time though, it soon became clear that this was a game developed with a clear love for the material and its characters. Both of the downloadable content offered even stood up against full video game releases.
CD Projekt ruined my gaming experiences with the RPG genre because it completely set a new standard. Perhaps not every game developer should aspire to be like CD Projekt, but it wouldn’t hurt. When you get a franchise like Mass Effect which is adored by thousands, it should be treated with care.
Bioware reportedly handed down the fourth game to a different development team, whose previous work on the franchise was Mass Effect 3’s unnecessary multiplayer, along with some of the downloadable content. Of course, most of the team behind the previous games are no longer with the company, but it just seems utterly bizarre to see it handed down the development line.
Maybe to some, it came as no surprise to see the mixed response for the game. Dragon Age: Inquisition ruffled some feathers, but here it feels like Bioware completely dropped the ball on one of their biggest franchises.
For fans of the series like myself, it’s a massive disappointment to see that Andromeda failed to deliver. Bear in mind, it isn’t the worst game in the world and I didn’t particularly hate the experience. It just felt very lacklustre, especially for a Mass Effect game.
So, does Andromeda actually deserve the criticism? Yes and no. Some might find some elements of the game enjoyable, so check it out when it’s cheaper. Also, Bioware has responded to the criticism and they’re apparently listening. So there’s that. That does not condone some of the abuse that the developers have received, however.
Anyway, I’m going to talk Saren out of working for the Reapers again to be reminded of how great science fiction games can be. Shepard.