Even at the breakneck speed of technology, we still find ourselves pondering on the question: “What is beyond there?” Bioware’s classy take on sci-fi made it possible for us to envision something like that. After the explosive conclusion in Mass Effect 3, fans were left to wonder what would happen to the franchise. Perhaps a new galaxy would do fine? Away from the established pillars of the Milky Way, Mass Effect Andromeda comes in with a bang.
In a Galaxy Just Beside Ours…
Mass Effect Andromeda can be taken as a spin-off of the first trilogy. Before the attack of the large sentient squids, humanity and a bunch of alien species got together to pursue a dream: colonizing a new galaxy. This organization is then called, “The Initiative”. With a promise of a new life away from the norms, Arks, vessels containing each specie then set-off to rebuild their lives.
After being frozen 600 years for the travel, the settlers and pioneers were surprised that much has changed. Radically different from their initial findings, the so called “golden planets” weren’t actually golden. Up to the task are “Pathfinders”, individuals handpicked for their smarts and abilities to find the new home for their race. You, the player is one of them.
Mass Effect Andromeda kicks-off after a tragedy (like they always do). The Human Ark, Hyperion, has encountered problems prior to their landfall. Although the expedition successfully escaped, the problems continued to pile. Without a leader and with the promise of a new future going haywire, it is up to the player to build a new home for the thousands that expect one. Talk about pressure.
While the player can create a character with his/her likeness, the game does have a default character appearance and name. As a “Ryder”, the task of being a Pathfinder falls on the player’s shoulder. Not to be taken likely as even with the help of highly-advanced tech, the dangers of a new frontier is still a surprise.
The World(s) of Andromeda
If you were able to play Mass Effects 1, 2, and 3, think about Mass Effect Andromeda as the culmination of all their properties squeezed into one package. Taking cues from their previous creation, Dragon Age Inquisition (which I played like hell), the game was developed to be more open-world with quests and activities scattered around a large playing area. This actually works for a game like Mass Effect Andromeda as it features a large variety of biomes to explore.
As with all Bioware games, the character creation is part of the excitement. The player is given tools to tinker with their protagonists’ appearance. Should the urge to make it simple arises, a default button for “Create a Ryder” is also present.
For starters, with the free-roam segment back, riding a scouting rover is an essential. Instead of the tank-like “Mako” from the first Mass Effect, we have the Nomad. Both excel in traversing the terrain of multiple planets, but the Nomad is retrofitted for an exploration-oriented approach, so no guns or cannons on the get-go. This can be deduced as a means for the developers to balance the game as staying inside a tank could diminish the experience, especially during short skirmishes.
For interplanetary travel, the player relies on the Tempest, the game’s counterpart of the distinct Normandy ship. While there are a large number of planets present, only a handful of them are open-world maps. This doesn’t mean that the game isn’t large. The maps themselves are already a handful and exploring seven of them isn’t an easy chore. Maps also include the Nexus, Andromeda’s counterpart to the Citadel, and some bit-sized corridor maps.
Uninhabited planets offer trivias that somewhat expand the game’s lore. They also occasionally offer resources. Other than that, they serve as good wallpapers.
Guns in Space
Playing a Bioware game requires a lot of time if you want to experience the full gist of it. Having none of that precious resource, I decided to play the game with the play style I love the most– hit the enemies hard with a gun. Being a soldier is very straightforward as it just requires the player to shoot at things until they drop dead. This in turn makes the game more of a traditional cover-based shooter. But it isn’t as simple as that.
If you fancy being a mage or being creative in dealing with your adversaries, Biotics and Tech can be of great use. Biotics can be deemed as magicians in the world of Mass Effect. They can create force fields, repel bullets with ease, and propel opponents into the nether regions of space. Techs on the otherhand, rely more on hacking and fighting against synthetic components. Not only that, but they can also deploy a turret for more mayhem.
As they say, choice is always a good thing. You can also make a hybrid character if you see that working with guns, space magic, and hacking are your kind of thing.
A Wonderful World(s)
It won’t be a good review if we don’t talk about the graphics. The previous Mass Effects owe their likeness to the tried and tested Unreal Engine. At that time, it was one of the best game engines out there and it did well as a medium. This time, Bioware followed up on Dragon Age Inquisition’s upgrade by shifting the engine into Frostbite, an engine known for its lighting effects, made famous by the Battlefield franchise.
With that, the worlds explored in Andromeda are incredibly rich in detail. The views atop mountains and towers evoke a sense of grandeur, enabling the player to see the scale of things. Again, this doesn’t just translate on planet side. Exploring Andromeda’s systems also gives glimpse of awe-inspiring black holes, and colored marbles that orbit around a dazzling star. Mass Effect games weren’t known to be great in the graphics department, but this one, in terms of environment detail, brings the bacon home.
Part of any Bioware game are the companions. They stand as your fictional buddies and are expected to grow as the horizon widens. Mass Effect 2 showed that even with a large number of cast, identity and individuality can still be explored. But with Mass Effect Andromeda, we have a more compressed take. With a limited number of species present in Andromeda, the cast is small but well rounded. You can take only two of them in each sortie.
Now is it something you should buy? Short answer is yes. Mass Effect Andromeda might be rocky at times, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game. In fact, it’s an RPG that promises hundreds of hours. Quality-wise, it stands up. That, in my book, is worthy of an investment.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a departure from the series. This is a game that brushes away the past’s pillars, taking the name and extending it further into unseen territory. It isn’t a bad thing really. A new galaxy means more ways for the story to expand into another direction. It also gives way for new ideas. The previous trilogy pretty much covered everything and adding into it is like kicking an already dead, gutted, and exhumed undead horse.
The story picks up a bit slow. Sometimes, the scripting dives into the uncanny valley. I particularly remember having a dramatic scene at the earlier parts of the game. However, the emotion was foiled by the character immediately changing the topic like changing a day-old underwear. In contrast to that, silliness, twists, and lightheartedness pull the game back from the very depths. Obviously, there are some hiccups here and there but as it goes on, Mass Effect Andromeda ultimately holds in the end.
The quests themselves are great overall. The main story and the companion missions are mostly well-crafted. There are some minor nuisances such as “collect X of these from some faraway place” kind of quests, but as I said, only a minority. The game also heavily relies on the consequences and morality of some things. There were some moments where-in I had to think for a while and ponder as both choices are morally lacking. Sometimes diving into the “which is lesser evil?” kind of dilemma. For me, I like this kind of thing as it throws the player off-balance, giving a grim view of life that isn’t a clean cut of black and white.
Gameplay-wise, there’s nothing but praise. I liked every moment the game throws in a fight, be it intentional or by the player’s decision. Every encounter is lightning fast, and the AI does an incredible job in swarming the player and employing tactics at the same time. As it is, cover-based shooting is still the main takeaway in this game.
In terms of design and appearance. The game does well in crafting its fictional worlds. Bioware managed to create something alien, translating it into a fine medium for others to experience. If you’re playing on a PC, the explosions and effects are nothing short of breathtaking. With that inline, let me discuss about the main complaint about the game: the facial expressions. Sure, at times, there seems to be a lack of emotion, taking away the heart in some heart-wrenching and dramatic events. Sometimes, it just works. It may be a problem for the game, but I do find it absurd that some people judge the game based on this alone. With Bioware promising a fix, this caveat might be gone in a short while.
All in all, I enjoyed playing Mass Effect Andromeda. It’s an RPG that’s filled with things to do, new people and places to meet and explore, and new enemies to pulverize, be it with bullets or physics. It combines the good in the previous games, taking it into a new galaxy, thus making it feel old and new at the same time. If you’re a fan of Mass Effect, this is worth checking out. If you want a shooter/RPG that works, then here’s a game that can get your attention.