Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda – PC, PS4, Xbox One (2017)

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Mass Effect

Mass Effect: Andromeda once had the distinct honor of having the most disastrous big budget game launch ever, only for it to be topped later by BioWare’s own Anthem, alongside Fallout ’76 and Cyberpunk 2077. It was a big reputation hit for BioWare, and resulted in exposés on the studio’s horrible management. While most of what went wrong with the company comes down to Anthem becoming an all-devouring beast, Andromeda was more the victim of blind ambition, almost the entire dev cycle focused on making new technology to randomly generate planets. It was far too late when everyone realized there was nothing fun to do on these planets. Everything had to be rushed in a crunch filled dev cycle that lasted roughly a year, so the game coming out basically broken isn’t that surprising in retrospect. The fact it was made in Frostbite on EA mandate, an engine not made for RPGs and lacked desperately needed dev tools and UI features, didn’t help.

Andromeda has had a ton of patches since, but it’s still probably the most flawed mainline game in the series. However, there’s also a lot to respect about it. Despite everything, Andromeda was trying to be a fresh take on the ME formula, and it does succeed in a few spots. That makes what it gets wrong all the more noticeable. The big change up this time is you are exploring another galaxy, with the Andromeda Initiative leaving the Milky Way galaxy shortly before the events of ME3 to see new stars. Over 600 years later in cryo-sleep, things go wrong upon waking as they find a dark matter construct called The Scourge devouring the system, and even encounter an aggressive alien species called the kett to boot.

You play as one of the Ryder siblings, a son and daughter of a N7 named Alex Ryder who now works as a Pathfinder, a recon specialist with a super intelligent AI helper who goes on the frontier to make discoveries and map out the Initiative’s options for settling. He dies saving your life while your sibling is in a coma, and you have to become the new human Pathfinder, meeting new alien species, finding places for everyone to settle, and killing just a ridiculous number of bad guys because this is a Mass Effect game. Ultimately, the main conflict comes down to helping the native angarans against the invading kett, while also racing against them to control the mysterious Remnant vaults that have the power to revive dead planets.

Andromeda‘s narrative feels very slap dash in structure as the game tries going for a more open ended design, which the supposed focus of making outposts for the Initiative or finding the missing arks that house the rest of the colonists are put entirely to the side with exception to one ark and the first outpost. What should be important is weirdly set aside into side content with fairly hum-drum rewards, and what’s left in the main story suffers because the kett are terrible. They’re basically Space Catholic Eugenics Lovers, and their big gimmick just turns out to be a lamer version of the reaper’s assimilation process.

They are extremely one note and uninteresting, not helped by the angara suffering from clearly being based heavily on James Cameron’s Avatar aliens. They’re not carbon copies, but it’s a disappointment the main new species is so safe in their design. The Remnant are also just much less interesting Protheans (or rather their tech), not helped by the game deciding to throw out dozens of sequel hooks instead of concrete world building. A lot of DLC was clearly planned and none of it came into being after the poor initial reception.

There’s also no getting around that the game has this running feeling of insecurity. There’s a lot of clear allusions to the original games, down to including two outlaw factions meant to bring to mind Aria T’loak’s crime empire and the Shadow Broker’s shadowy organization. How they got here is contrived, especially with the numbers given for the Initiative’s numbers (if they’re accurate you kill off a big chunk of them by the end) and they’re obviously around because the game needed more types of enemies to shoot. While the story has its moments, it more often than not just reminds you of better written adventures, almost afraid to have its own ideas until the final segments of the campaign.

On the plus side, you have one of the most likable parties in the franchise. Your party this time include…

Liam Kosta – Former cop turned emergency response rescue worker, Liam does rather than thinks and sees the world in a black and white morality. He also loves retro Earth stuff and believes deeply in the Initiative’s mission. Acts as the basic soldier party member, and can unlock overload down the line. Romance option for a female Ryder. Makes lots of bad decisions.

Cora Harper – A human who served with a squad of asari commandos and Alex Ryder’s second in command. She has potent biotics and tries to be the voice of reason despite how much she holds back her emotions and how she prefers to follow than lead. She fights as a vanguard and can gain a team helping shield boost ability. Romance option for a male Ryder.

Vetra Nyx – Turian rogue who knows how to wheel and deal and joined the Initiative to get a better life for her and her sister. Wants to be relied upon and gets things done, but a bit too protective of her little sister. A more dakka style tank with power armor who can learn turbocharge to let her shoot more and stronger. Kind of a bad shot, and a romance option for either Ryder.

Pelessaria B’Sayle – Known more commonly as “Peebee,” she’s an asari archaeologist who started exploring planets on her own when she arrived in Andromeda. Obsessed with the Remnant and a thrill seeker who wants to experience new things. Imagine if Liara had no filter and it on you with every other line of dialog. Supports with tech and biotic skills and can learn shockwave. Romance option for either Ryder.

Nakmor Drack – Ridiculously old Krogan badass who decided to kill every kett he saw after the krogan left the Initiative during an attempted coup where they got screwed over after solving the problem. Cares deeply for his people and can take a joke better than anyone. Has some tech skills, surprisingly, the signature krogan blood rage, and can learn to use a flak cannon that can shred enemies with shrapnel. Mainly a DPS tank and cannot be romanced because BioWare is staffed by cowards.

Jaal Ama Darav – Angaran resistance fighter who joins your team after finding the angaran city of Aya. Despite his gruff exterior, Jaal is ultimately a good hearted dork who likes to tinker and learn, and has a bit of a complex when compared to his many, many siblings. Also, does not understand sarcasm or jokes well, but he improves. Very similar to Javik from ME3, though not a cynical mean butt. Used to be female Ryder romance only, but the game was later updated to make him an option for either. Fights as your infiltrator and can learn avenger strike, a new name for Kasumi’s old cloak and strike power.

What’s kind of unique about this bunch is that while they lack the depth of some of the original trilogy party members, they work exceptionally well as a unit. They each have a role and bounce off each other with a ton of life. There’s never a boring moment with them, even with minor dialog during travel. What’s also unique is that you can’t order them around.

Andromeda leans more into action and creates an extremely fun and kinetic battle system that downplays cover. You have a new jump jet that gives you a dodge and a jump you can lead into an AOE smash or hover with sights out, and the pause HUD that lets you load out actions is now completely gone. You are expected to move and shoot and make use of your powers, now limited to three slots, expecting you to experiment with a variety of ability load-outs you can organize in the menu. You are also expected to make use of the combo system, where you set up an enemy with a power or status ailment and detonate them with another power to cause a small explosion and bonus damage. Where it was mainly an afterthought in previous Mass Effect games, it’s a central element here, thus why your party members have more obvious tells that they’ve set up enemies for combo detonation.

Add in the solid enemy and ally AI, and you have a strong system that could really use further building on. It really sparks in the multiplayer mode, which can also grant crafting resources, money, and item drops in the campaign via the APEX system. The game has a ton of ways to take up your time, even bringing back planet exploration by having planets be condensed maps that house side missions to mess with. You even get your own off-shot Mako, though far less glitchy.

Andromeda‘s bugs have also mostly been ironed out (still a few area loading and mission line breaks in there to look out for), leaving its biggest issue being that its start drags like little else has ever dragged. You’re severely under powered for hours and railroaded into one of the most dull quest lines in the franchise’s history. The game wants to set up the premise and get the player used to the weird new mechanics, but it fails to really make these opening hours engaging. It feels padded, from the sparse Nexus hub for the Initiative to the repetitive encounters with the kett and Remnant due to a severe lack of enemy variety put against the campaign’s length. It’s a good game, but it is a chore to get into it.

The crafting system is also quite bad. You get very little information on how weapons you can craft function, and you have to unlock tiers for each weapon with research points mainly gathered from scanning things with your omni-tool during play. However, you don’t get a lot of wiggle room to experiment with weapons because there’s not a lot of research points to go around (similar issue with your skills but you can pay to redistribute those points in the med area of your ship). You need to pick out a small handful of weapons that work for you and rock them for the entire game if you want them to be properly strong enough to face off with late game enemies. Good luck figuring out what works when the descriptions poorly explain how they fire or work, and that doesn’t even get into the weirder weapon mods and their bizarre gimmicks. It’s both overly complex and simplistic, ultimately just ME1‘s “number go up” mixed with the illusion of freedom to experiment. They’re good guns, but do not benefit from having tiers for bigger numbers.

The romances are mostly what you’d expect from he series at this point, including the side romance lines you have to wonder about their inclusion, but if your a gay man, your exclusive choice is pretty awful. Gil, your engineer, isn’t a bad character, but his entire story is based around child birth and egg fertilization despite, you know, being a gay man. It’s weird. Jaal was also not originally for male Ryders at launch and his dumb-ed out male Ryder stuff had to be patched back. You could possibly understand BioWare having cold feet with Jack being pansexual in 2010, but by 2017, there is no excuse for this rake stepping.

There’s more to go over, including the now fixed facial animations which are just weirdly lifeless instead of deep in the uncanny valley, but it’s splitting hairs at this point. What matters is the takeaway is that Andromeda isn’t a bad game, just a deeply flawed one with some really good ideas that another Mass Effect game could really build upon. The question is what that game will be due to Andromeda‘s extremely poor reception, not a sales disaster but show to have under-performed by EA’s expectations by a significant amount. Don’t expect much from the pathfinders in the future, if they’ll even be there at all, but hopefully this was a useful learning experience for the next one.

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