Mass Effect: Andromeda continues Bioware’s much-loved stellar odyssey with the fourth instalment in the long running series. Andromeda is as vast in contrast as the constellations in space, with many pieces collectively coming together to produce a decent galactic experience.
Set in the year 2185, Andromeda’s story takes place somewhere between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. It’s a pseudo 2.5 tale in the timeline, bridging a gap between the latter two titles in the trilogy.
600 years is a long time and things don’t go according to plan when upon your arrival, a spreading dark-matter cloud engulfs the human ark as a hostile alien race…
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Release Date: March 23rd, 2017
With planets on the verge of expiring, the Humans, Salarians, Asari, Korgan, and Turians form the Andromeda Initiative, a plan to populate the home worlds in the Andromeda Galaxy. Each race bundles 20,000 of their kind on a one-way, 600 year cryogenic ride aboard a transport vessel fittingly dubbed the Ark Hyperion to reach the Heleus Cluster and hopefully colonize one of the seven inhabitable planets to ensure each respective species’ survival. 600 years is a long time and things don’t go according to plan when upon your arrival, a spreading dark-matter cloud engulfs the human ark as a hostile alien race known as the Kett seeks to genetically integrate new species into their fold, aka. Star Trek Borg-style.
Each race is led by a Pathfinder and this is where you come in; playing as either Scott or Sara Ryder, the twin children of humanity’s Pathfinder, Alec Ryder. With the supposed “Golden World” rendered uninhabitable due to extreme weather conditions, Ryder senior heads to the planet’s surface to investigate, only to wind up stranded. Responsibility now falls to you, an inexperienced rookie with the weight of the world now on your shoulders.
Where Andromeda shines is the narrative and storytelling. Like previous Mass Effect titles before it, Andromeda is a dialogue heavy role-playing game where decision making influences how the game plays out. The plot starts out rather broad and deepens as you progress through the game, with the familiar turn-wheel decision making control affecting how other races respond to you and vice versa. Your chosen responses has been upped from Paragon and Renegade choice to four category selection – emotional, professional, casual, and logical.
There’s plenty of political intrigue, alien encounters, planetary exploration and moral quandaries for you to plunge your Omni-blade into, and for me this is where Mass Effect separates itself from other titles of similar genre.
There’s plenty of political intrigue, alien encounters, planetary exploration and moral quandaries for you to plunge your Omni-blade into, and for me this is where Mass Effect separates itself from other titles of similar genre. The thought provoking aspect will leave you pondering just that little bit longer, wondering if the decision you’re about to make is the right one.
Character customisation is back and much beefier this time around. There’s a good choice available to you, with Skill Point system offering further customisation as you level up. By upgrading skills, new profiles with attribute bonuses are unlocked to better reflect your personal play style. Profiles can be switched up at any time, so your Ryder avatar will feel distinctively unique to your own personal taste.
One of the main gripes about Mass Effect 3 was the lack of truly meaningful impact on the overall plot, with the conclusion pre-determined early on despite your best efforts. BioWare attempts to make Andromeda feel more consequential, and does feel that way when assessing things from moment to moment. Side missions are more fleshed out than previous games, with quests opening up new quests that don’t feel tact on but have a sense of purpose, expanding on the narrative or opening up new storylines. On a more general view, the Andromeda is still Mass Effect and certain constraints still tie down the player from veering completely off the main plot line.
Arguably the biggest issue is the character animation.
Andromeda really struggles in some areas and falls completely flat in others. Arguably the biggest issue is the character animation. Despite voice acting being believable when paired with solid dialogue, the animated facial expressions throw the illusion of immersion right out the window. As strange as this may sound, characters look and feel soulless. Their pupils struggle to focus, darting around or looking off into the distance. It’s obviously a technical issue which is hard to ignore given how much emphasis falls on character interaction and engagement.
Combat gameplay has been further expanded on in Andromeda, pushing forward beyond just being a simple cover-based shooter. The addition of the jump jet improves the speed of combat, making it more fluid and has a tactical feel when playing alongside your squad. Unfortunately both the enemy controlled AI and allies aren’t the sharpest elements in the universe. For whatever the case may be, surrounding AI characters tend to keep a set distance in relation to where you move so there’s never a real sense of true engagement during combat. AI allies also lack basic self-preservation, moving around in the midst of enemy fire with little regard.
Andromeda boasts 50 hours of gameplay, which certainly is well within the ball park, although some of the rinse and repeat tasks you’ll be performing may make it a struggle to keep you committed long enough. Although the planets may look different on the surface, from Voeld’s icy climate to Eos’ exposed and canyons, the act of restoring each world to inhabitable status follow a similar formula each time. Missions tend to be travel here, kill this and move on for the most part. Obviously there is some variation to what’s involved, but there’s the feeling that perhaps gamers have seen it all before and now demand more from gameplay design compared to when the first Mass Effect hit store shelves.
Mass Effect: Andromeda shows so much promise, let down my technical issues and what feels like rushed development. BioWare have come out in the days since launch stating they will be supporting Andromeda post-release with fixes to address the much maligned issues, but it’s a case of waiting to see what they can deliver based on player feedback. Don’t get me wrong, Andromeda is a stellar (no pun intended) space adventure that you can lose yourself for hours on end. It is very Mass Effect at heart and doesn’t stray off course of what it already does so well. If you can look past some of the underlying issues, there’s a rich universe to explore.