I have worried about the future of planet Earth nearly every day of my adult life. Climate change threatens the very world we call home and it feels like we’re powerless to save it. Luckily, games like Mass Effect: Andromeda create a universe in which mankind’s scientific prowess is coincidentally improved exponentially by discoveries on Mars—it may be fictional, but it does give me a little hope for the future of our species. With those breakthroughs, more than twenty thousand colonists are shipped deep into space to find a new home for the human race.
This scenario broke down within the first few minutes of the game, and once I had taken autonomous control of Scott Ryder, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy the universe I was bound to explore. And explore I did. Once I got past the hump of this new Mass Effect’s opening, I discovered an entire galaxy at my feet. I found and dissected a diverse group of planets throughout Andromeda, and while there was so much to see, I couldn’t help the feeling that I was going through a lot of the motions that had been through before with the original trilogy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a terrific time with Andromeda. However, this is not the revival of the series that fans had built it up to be. Even then, there is a lot of good that makes Andromeda more than worth your time.
An Epic Galactic Adventure
After arriving in the Andromeda Galaxy, you find that many of the planets you had planned to colonize had become uninhabitable. The other arcs full of colonists had vanished, and a mysterious race of aliens called the Kett were causing trouble all over the galaxy. You take control of Scott or Sarah Ryder, the pathfinder for the Andromeda Initiative, as you explore the ancient vaults found on several nearby planets.
The story becomes more and more complicated as you progress, with different races and civilizations tied into what's happening in the world in different ways. Every time I landed on a new planet I couldn’t wait to discover what secrets it held in store, encouraging my progression. Even with a somewhat melodramatic antagonist, the universe that the Mass Effect series had established still works fantastically in Andromeda, and that's a great thing.
While the setting and plot feel very new in Andromeda, everything else feels overly familiar if you’ve been on a Mass Effect adventure before. The Ryders feel like a discount Commander Shepard and the exchanges between races feel virtually unchanged.
As a result of this familiarity, the game sometimes comes across as not being able to take the next big step that the series needed. It's safe by design, and for some that will be enough to make it attractive.
Quick & Customizable Combat
Combat is still a fantastic part of this series. Blowing away groups of enemies is satisfying no matter how you do it, whether using a firearm or one of your powers. The arsenal of weapons feel responsive and powerful, and a wide range of abilities make it easy to design a strategy that fits your style. This plays well into the repetition of combat, making it feel like more of a reward than a burden.
You gain experience and level up through killing enemies and exploring different planets, giving you skill points to allocate to different abilities broken down into Combat, Biotics, and Tech. Each category holds load of abilities like a boost to your concussion round, incinerating your foes with a burst of flame, or enhancing your biotic ability to throw unprotected enemies across the room.
I tend to rely on my trigger finger skills, using all my early skill points to power up my grenades, my personal barricade, and my concussion shot. Combining those powered up abilities with a jump and dash ability that felt great made me feel like Master Chief.
Andromeda’s combat feels tight and fun, but the cover system stands out like a sore thumb. Instead of snapping to cover like previous Mass Effect titles and industry leaders like Gears of War and Uncharted, taking cover in Andromeda felt awkward and inorganic. Several times during heated fights it seemed like I was crouching and clearly out of harm's way when an enemy Kett would land several shots, killing me in the process. It's a small price to pay for the enjoyability of the gameplay experience.
Light Years From Perfect
Feeling similar to the original Mass Effect isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s the few places that Bioware didn’t improve that make Andromeda fall short of where I hoped it'd be. Perhaps the best example is the scanning ability that you need to use often in nearly every mission; it becomes incredibly redundant to use over time.
You open up the scanner by pressing down on the d-pad and examining your surround area for any glowing objects, something you need to find to get vital information to proceed in the mission. It’s a really boring mechanic to use constantly.
And as you’ve probably heard already, Andromeda is full of bugs and technical oddities. From the freaky facial animations to the entire screen turning a lime shade of green for a few minutes, many things went wrong during my playthrough. At one point I had paused the game in the middle of an early boss fight, and when I came back to it I was falling through clouds and dying and then respawning and dying again a dozens times before I finally respawned back in the boss’s arena.
Moments like that were common during my time with the game, spoiling a lot of the good times that I would’ve enjoyed otherwise. While the weird bit of facial animations didn’t distract me too much, the other bugs and hiccups made some play sessions a huge drag.
I had a lot of fun with Mass Effect: Andromeda. The galaxy I got to explore was full of life and the combat felt incredibly satisfying. But various issues with important mechanics like the scanner and hefty technical problems prevented my enjoyment from ever lasting too long.
Although familiar in some regards, this is a positive in Andromeda’s case. Though, a truly successful revival needs to be innovative, not repetitive, and Andromeda often falls into a trap of tedium. It's a shame because it could have been so much more.