It's only been over 18 months since the gaming world was introduced to Mass Effect: Andromeda, which may seem a bit soon for a revisiting feature. However, if there's one game that warrants taking a second look at, it's BioWare's most under-appreciated entry in their beloved Mass Effect series. After the backlash over the original ending of Mass Effect 3, many were hoping for Andromeda to take a few leaps and strides in the series' redemption department. While I don't think it redeemed the series in any way - after all, it arguably hit its peak with Mass Effect 2 - Andromeda still provided an extremely entertaining experience that's unfortunately hindered by story issues, and the toxic stigma behind its notoriety.
Mass Effect: Andromeda completely abandons the Commander Shepherd storyline in favour of a new journey entirely, featuring new characters and a new story. Andromeda takes place in the year 2185, between the events of Mass Effect 2 and 3, though does little to bridge those gaps or make noticeable connections. Instead, it's sold as an entirely new journey in a distant part of the universe. The Citadel Council races and the Quarians have pushed into the Andromeda Galaxy in order to find a new home as part of the Andromeda Initiative. We're placed in the shoes of Scott or Sarah Ryder, who eventually, through some plot developments, become the new Pathfinders of their crew. A good majority of the game revolves around our Pathfinder searching for a new home while butting heads with some not-so-friendly adversaries.
If you go into Andromeda expecting to have the same experience as prior Mass Effect games, you’ll be severely disappointed. While I do still have a lot to praise about Andromeda, comparatively, it doesn’t stack up well to the original trilogy’s great characters, stories, and lore. However, the game isn’t without hope, as there’s plenty beneath the surface that can provide you with a compelling slice of science fiction.
For one, Andromeda’s combat is fantastic. After several dozen hours of mowing down enemies, I never felt bored by the action on display. In fact, dare I say, it surpasses the original trilogy in some regards. The gunplay is still unfortunately limited to the same cover-based shenanigans, but it does offer a lot more flexibility in terms of its various skills and abilities at your disposal. A good majority of the game has you travelling with a pre-selected squad, and each of their abilities complement each other well. You gradually build these relationships as the game progresses, and thanks to the romantic options at your earliest convenience, there’s ways to naturally escalate those relationships to, well, full-fledged romantic relationships. Best of all, depending on your standing with each of your crew members, they provide some decent additional perks in combat.
Visually, there are some stunning galactic vistas to behold. Space exploration isn’t quite as... intensive as No Man’s Sky, but it does allow you travel to a large number of solar systems and explore the planets within. While most of these planets aren’t actually explorable by foot, they give you valuable resources that you can use to contribute towards various upgrades on your ship, weapons, and armour. Sadly, with only a handful of planets to actually explore, it does bring to light the ambitions of BioWare, and where they wanted to take the game before crunch time forced their hand to a rushed completion. It’s still wonderful to see it all in place, but tragic that it never got to realize its full potential of true space exploration.
The RPG mechanics aren’t going to immediately satisfy die-hard fans of the genre, but given enough time, you’ll find an extremely deep and surprisingly complex system in place. Apart from the usual gameplay that has you recruiting and swapping out crew members and allies like you’re changing underwear, there’s enough here to make you genuinely feel like you’re an active part of a developing new society. You establish bases on certain planets that can either provide scientific benefits or, if you want to be the Rambo of interstellar space, build weapons bases. They’re each viable options, and depending on your choices, does impact your standings with certain characters.
If there’s one thing the Mass Effect series succeeds on as a whole, it’s the intricacies of its choice/consequence system. There’s a little less at stake in Andromeda than previous titles, but there’s a remarkable sense of urgency to your mission that puts you in tight situations – especially in the second half of the game, where the plot escalates to some interesting heights and revelations. It’s not the pinnacle of storytelling, but it’s enough to go on if you’re trying to get the most out of Andromeda. Unfortunately, the slow pacing of the narrative, and how long it actually takes to get anywhere meaningful, means you’ll be spending a lot of time aimlessly completing side quests that don’t add to the overarching plot. I personally would’ve loved to see everything eventually intertwine like in previous Mass Effect games, but here, it’s simply a means to pad out some playtime – a truly shameful missed opportunity.
To address the elephant in the room, let’s talk about Andromeda’s technical hiccups. Is the game still the same bug-ridden mess that it was at launch? BioWare has tried their best to patch up most of it, but I still occasionally ran into some glaring glitches and bugs – one in particular that entirely corrupted my save data and I was forced to restart the game (and yes, I was at least 15 hours into it). The facial animations are significantly better, but there is a sort of mechanical way in which NPCs react to your dialogue. You can only tell an NPC so many times that your father died before their eyebrows actually move in an organic way. Walking animations still look bizarre when you’re not exploring planets. Running around on your ship is unintentionally hilarious because it looks like you’re awkwardly rushing to the bathroom, or trying to do a crab mating dance. If you can look past the technical faults – and some horrendous dialogue that pulls you out of the experience – you’ll find plenty to love in its positive aspects.
Is Mass Effect: Andromeda a significantly better game now than it was at launch? From a technical aspect, it has somewhat smoothened out the creases but there’s still a few messy inconsistencies that will tragically never get patched out anymore. The story may be a hit or miss depending on your attachment to the characters – which is also another challenge in and of itself – but for all the missteps Andromeda took, it always had something that pulled me back in. Whether it was making me feel like I had authority of my crew, carving out my own intergalactic adventure at my own pace, or simply exploring planets and discovering everything that it had on offer, Andromeda ultimately ended up being a satisfying experience for me. I completely understand why some may not like it, but I found a bit of enjoyment in this dark corner of space.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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