Mass Effect: Andromeda – A not-so-triumphant return – Review

Gare – Thursday, May 11, 2017 4:09 PM
Share on:

Five long years have passed since the conclusion of the original Mass Effect trilogy and the adventures of Commander Shepard – to this day, the series remains one of the most beloved western RPGs and a captivating space saga that countless gamers look back upon with nostalgia. And despite its brand new galaxy and a set of fresh faces, Mass Effect: Andromeda tried very much to play things safe, to make sure fans will feel right at home. Now, this occasionally worked, but at other times… it didn’t. While Bioware’s latest entry in the series is far from being a colossal intellectual trainwreck, I also feel like it could’ve stayed in the oven for a while longer, so to speak. Because there’s plenty of room for improvement.

A tale of kett and angara

The game’s storyline takes place a whole six hundred years after the events of the original trilogy: humanity sets off into dark space to find a new home in the Andromeda galaxy. After six hundred years of cryo sleep and a few other developments I won’t spoil here, our hero, Ryder, becomes a so-called Pathfinder – under their banner, the colonization effort begins. So this is more or less the focus of the narrative: exploring new worlds, trying to make planets viable for habitation, and staving off the not-friendly-at-all advances of a previously unseen alien race. Admittedly, the overarching storyline in Andromeda is far less exciting than the apocalyptic events of Shepard’s trilogy, and the developers themselves stated prior to release how the tone of the narrative would be a touch more light-hearted… but still, I couldn’t help feeling like Ryder’s exploits should’ve had a bit more oomph to them. And let’s not forget how the game – once again – operates with the same old “random nobody becomes the Chosen One” cliché: Ryder becomes this huge authority figure that everyone suddenly relies on a bit too abruptly.

After all this, the storyline mostly shifts its focus to the two new races encountered in the Andromeda galaxy – the kett and the angara – and even throws a few twists your way, albeit highly clichéd ones that I could pretty much predict hours before they were revealed to my inexplicably shocked characters. Instead, the more interesting bits of Andromeda’s storyline and lore come in the form of the Ryder family’s secrets, as well as the circumstances of the Andromeda Initiative and the Milky Way – there’s an entire sidequests devoted to this, one that I very much recommend completing if you’re at all interested in Alec Ryder’s backstory. Still, the bottom line is that I couldn’t quite get invested in the main storyline, not even at the end. Compare that to the high-stakes, high-tension finales of the original three Mass Effects, and you’ll see that the difference is day and night. I do sincerely hope the game will ease up on the kett and angara focus in any potential sequels, because by the end of Andromeda, I’ve heard more than enough about them and was eager to move on to something – anything – else. Similarly disappointing is the partial open-endedness of the plot, which fails to tie up certain loose ends: the entire thing felt a lot like the developers already had DLC and/or a sequel in mind, and decided to simply leave us hanging. Well, that’s all nice and good (not really), but after 90 hours of play time, I would’ve liked some more satisfying answers than what I got.

„I don't need an army – I've got a krogan”

The squadmates accompanying you on this new journey are a mixed bag. Some I’ve grown quite fond of during my time with Andromeda, while others were hastily exiled to a dark, spider-webbed corners of my spaceship, never to be heard from again. I particularly enjoyed the veteran krogan “space grandpa”, Drack, whose one-liners never failed to put a smile on my face; similarly, I grew to like Cora more than I had initially thought I would, and had fun listening to the various exchanges of Drack and Lexi, the Asari medical expert voiced by Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer. On the other hand, Andromeda also had its share of characters that either elicited indifference from me, or outright drove me up the wall. Peebee’s personality in particular ended up clashing with mine quite a bit right off the bat, and as a result, I happily left her on the ship for the entirety of the game, only dragging her out into the sunlight for the duration of a quick loyalty mission. And I’m not even sure she even deserved that much.

T-pose boogaloo

Now, I’m sure we’ve all heard our fair share of horror stories when it comes to Andromeda’s technical aspects, and indeed, those dreaded facial animations are quite… dreadful, to say the least. You’ll come across plenty of NPCs with their faces locked in a hollow stare as their mouths imitate the death throes of a beached fish. I’ve come across NPCs randomly entering a T-pose, characters popping into existence out of nowhere, and even multiplying squadmates. I’m not kidding: a copy of Jaal literally spawned in the middle of a cutscene and remained there without so much as batting an eye. The internet is full of videos highlighting the myriad issues plaguing Andromeda, so I won’t waste your time with it – needless to say, the game could’ve benefited greatly from staying in development for a couple more months to iron out these issues before launch.

„Maybe because I shot him in the face!”

Andromeda’s battle system is what you’d expect from Mass Effect, spiced up by a fancy new jetpack feature that certainly adds to the overall flashiness of combat, especially when you start dodging bullets left and right like someone out of a superhero movie. Back are the three main skill branches that should be familiar to all series veterans, and while not too much has changed in terms of your combat, biotic, or tech abilities, the way you learn and distribute them is now completely free from restrictions. Indeed, your Ryder is able to spend skills points in whichever skill tree you prefer at any point in time, so anyone with a penchant for hybrid builds will find themselves right at home in Andromeda, flinging tech and biotic skills at the same time. The flexible nature of the skill system extends to Mass Effect: Andromeda’s treatment of firearms as well. Briefly put, your character can use every weapon type right away – this, coupled with a detailed crafting system that lets you create and modify weapons to your heart’s content, further enhances your ability to custom-tailor Ryder to your specific needs and play style. Now, the bigger problem that plagued the otherwise quite fun shooty parts is that you spend a good majority of the campaign battling the same kind of enemies, with little to no variety to help spice things up a bit – other than a select few exceptions (hi, Architects), Andromeda severely lacks any memorable encounters I could look back upon and say “yeah, that was badass”, even if the actual combat system – as I’ve earlier stated – is one of the saving graces of the title.

Brave new worlds

The new planets introduced in Mass Effect: Andromeda are certainly pretty to look at and mostly fun to explore – despite a few dodgy spots (looking at you, Havarl, with your cramped, mind-numbingly dull areas), the overall picture is a fairly pleasant one, and there are plenty of quests to tackle. The problem, however, is that a good number of said quests still consist of “please find me nine pig livers, thanks” type of errands, while the rest of them are slightly amusing at best, forgettable at worst – even among Andromeda’s more content-filled, story-focused side quests, rarely do you come across one that will stay in your memory afterwards. Yes, I could definitely see that Bioware looked to CD Projekt RED’s massively successful The Witcher 3 for inspiration, but if you’re expecting Andromeda to deliver the same kind of quality in terms of side content as Geralt’s exploits, you will be sorely disappointed. At the very least, I would recommend going through each loyalty mission, but those so-called Additional Tasks? A complete waste of time. I noticed a similarly worrying trend when it came to interior locations – kett bases look basically the same, while each planet’s Remnant ruins – with some minor alterations – also follow the exact same pattern over and over again. If you want something about as tedious as closing the nth Oblivion Gate in The Elder Scrolls 4, you’ll get that here. As for exterior locales – that is, the surface of each planet – you’ll encounter numerous breathtaking vistas, that much is certain… but too often you’ll find yourself just driving through empty, barren wastelands to get from point A to point B for some quest. Do yourself a favor and unlock every fast travel point on the map before doing anything else – you won’t regret it.

Tired faces

Mass Effect: AndromedaPlatform: PC, PS4, XBox OneGenre: TPS, RPGDeveloper: BioWarePublisher: Electronic ArtsRelease: 03/21/2017Rated: MESRBUnfortunately, Mass Effect: Andromeda did not end up as the rising phoenix that would save the franchise and triumphantly resurrect it from its 5-year-long hiatus, which is particularly disheartening when you realize the fanbase had already dealt with a controversial Mass Effect 3 ending, as well as the achingly tedious MMO-esque quest structure that plagued Dragon Age: Inquisition. Look, I finished the game – I poured 90 hours of my life into it. It wasn’t terrible, and hardcore fans of the franchise will probably still have fun with it to an extent, but that’s the best praise I can really award it. And I think a series like this deserved more. In fact, this game should’ve been Bioware’s chance to prove they still had the creative spark that earned them all those fans over the years – yet sadly, Andromeda couldn’t engage me the way the original trilogy so masterfully did. Maybe next time – because there might indeed be a next time, should the planets align. But in the meantime, to any hardcore western RPG fan looking for something memorable and worthwhile, I have this to say: just do another playthrough of The Witcher 3 instead.