Mass Effect Andromeda has been out for a little over a week now and since I have finally torn myself away, it is the perfect time to analyse what Bioware has created for us. Now before I get started I have to preface this with the fact that you cannot compare Mass Effect Andromeda to the previous Mass Effect trilogy. You just cannot. It is a new story, new characters and a new galaxy so expecting them to be similar is wholly unrealistic and a little unfair. But without further ado, lets dive in.
Let The Story Unfold
To travel for 600 years across dark space is no trivial task, and not done for trivial reasons either. The Andromeda Initiative was initially undertaken by Humans, Turians, Krogans, Salarians, Asari with more species set to follow if all went well. It was undertaken to plot a new home for humanity in the Heleus Cluster, one that was un-ravaged by war or annoying politics.
As the game unfolds, you realise pretty much everything is not well. Without going into any spoilers, Mass Effect Andromeda will pit you against another set of evil aliens that wish to end the existence of every species of the Andromeda Initiative, as well as mysterious tech that you will need to uncover and decipher in order to make a real difference in the Heleus Cluster. However, your main goal is to establish outposts for the Initiative on the golden worlds discovered through scans in the Milky Way. It gives you a sense of pride when you have finally built an outpost and solidified humanities survival in Andromeda. As much pride as it does when you blast holes in aliens that wish to see your species extinct.
The story does not end there though, with so many side missions that seem to escalate in priority, so that they even dwarf the main ones. The missions themselves are not trivial and echo an importance and in some cases desperation through the characters and NPCs.
Like I have said earlier in this review, it is important to not compare the previous Mass Effect trilogy with Andromeda, and while the initial story focuses on the building of settlements and expansion of the Initiative, it quickly becomes so much more than that, with the story opening up tenfold and becoming increasingly more in depth. What I am trying to say is that the story is fantastic, at least in my opinion. Mass Effect Andromeda does not simply take you on a linear path, with one or two goals to worry about. Instead, as you progress through the game, more dangers and goals appear left right and centre, to occupy your time and develop deeper connections with your team and even the NPCs that surround you on the planets and on the Nexus.
However, there is a drawback to some of the action in Heleus. Mass Effect has a reputation as a game that presents difficult choices for you to make, one that will have drastic consequences on the end game. There were not a lot of moments in Mass Effect Andromeda that really made you puzzle out a reaction. A majority of the decisions were basically asking you to choose two paths that led to the same outcome, with one path having a bridge and the other, a slight ditch in the road. Further complicating that, was the fact that there were just not a lot of the big decisions. They would pop up now and then but not enough to really feel like the galaxy was being shaped by the Pathfinder’s decisions.
He’s Emotionless, He’s Malevolent….He is Archon
The enemy on this merry little intergalactic adventure is known simply as Archon, and you do not learn much about him until the latter stages of the game, which is how I like my enemies – mysterious. Although you should know this – Archon and his relentless horde of followers are powerful enough to combat every planet and civilisation in the Heleus Cluster. Make no mistake, the Archon is not to be trifled with.
One of the things that shook me up storywise, in relation to the Archon and the aliens he commands, was what they did to other captured species. I was not expecting it and it made me more indentured to eliminate the Archon and bring peace to Andromeda. If for nothing else than the satisfaction of shooting him in the face multiple times with my Black Widow. It is truly disturbing.
Vastly Open Worlds
They seriously go on forever. Whether you are traversing the desert sand dunes of Elaaden or the frigid tundra of Voeld, there is always something new to discover. These worlds are huge and all of the main planets are heavily explorable. You will most likely stumble upon some of the secrets as you are zooming around either as the Pathfinder or in the Nomad but without some serious detective work, will most likely not find them all.
Enemy bases full of secrets, alien installations and NPCs that need protection and assistance are what await you on these planets. However, be prepared because if there is a mountain in your way it can get real annoying to get where you need to go. There is no Skyrim horse to ride so you can parkour your way up and over the slopes.
Gameplay : You Never Need To Stand Still Again
Aside from the story, the gameplay is where Mass Effect Andromeda truly shines. It is fast paced, non-linear and in every aspect, beautiful. As Pathfinder you are equipped with a vertical jump jet as well as a horizontal dash, that can see you launched in any direction your heart desires. These two space jets, as well as the huge open world, are what make the combat in Mass Effect Andromeda so open and free.
You are not limited to being stuck behind a pillar at the back of the room, while the enemies run straight at you. I mean you can do that if you wish, but there is a whole new world to discover. Leaping up to higher levels to expose enemies cowering behind cover, or even dashing behind enemy lines delivering a fatal blow and then hastily retreating. It is entirely up to you. Couple that with the abilities locked to the bumpers of your controller and you will be a devastating force on the battlefield.
As Pathfinder you are given access to dozens of abilities and literally hundreds of ways to customise those abilities to your playstyle. As you access new and improved skills you will unlock the benefits of Profiles, which confer special boosts to certain areas of combat. For example, you can switch to an Adept Profile to gain a boost to your biotic skills or a Soldier Profile to boost your combat skills. You are not locked in to a Profile, which provides you a lot of freedom to evolve or even try out new playstyles.
This of course extends to your squad mates as well, each customisable with their useable abilities and able to be ordered around the battlefield, depending on what you require. A particular enemy giving you trouble behind cover? Sending Drack the Krogan in will reduce that trouble to rubble. Sharpshooter pinning you down? Jaal the Angara will handle that in a flash. You just have to remember to use your team. However, if you do not command them manually in a battle it is no big deal, as they will continue to fight alongside you.
Mass Effect Andromeda does not have a multiplayer mode in the traditional sense, where you shoot other players, gloat over your success and repeat. Instead it is a series of co-op modes, where you and three other players have to fight across a series of objectives, whether they be to hack certain areas, survive an onslaught of enemies or defend an extraction zone.
One of the most awesome things of the Mass Effect Andromeda multiplayer is the character selection. While you may only start with a few variants of Human characters, you can unlock pretty much every type of alien variant that you would have seen in the Mass Effect universe. Want to play as an Asari Huntress? You can! What about a Krogan Berserker? Or a Salarian Infiltrator? You can play as all of them. The only catch is, you have to unlock them first, hopefully getting lucky with reward boxes.
The multiplayer in Mass Effect Andromeda is incredibly fast paced, with enemies assaulting you from all sides, while you and your team gallantly try to push them back. Based on your character select, you will have a preselected list of useable abilities. Hopefully they will complement your team and allow you to escape mildly unharmed.
But that isn’t all for the multiplayer in Mass Effect Andromeda, you are also able to go on APEX missions, which are special timed events that grant greater rewards and have special modifiers. These APEX missions can be played in multiplayer, or can be designated to singleplayer Strike Teams that complete the mission for you and grant the Pathfinder some awesome singleplayer rewards. It is essentially multiplayer for those who do not like playing multiplayer.
That is not to say the multiplayer does not have issues. While the rotating sphere of APEX missions does add some variety, the rotating of set objectives in-game, such as defend, assassinate, extract etc do become quite strenuous and boring at times. Hopefully new objectives get added in or maybe just some crazy modifiers.
The Connection With Your Team
I have left this until last because I truly believe it is the most well done part of Mass Effect Andromeda. Your Initiative team, which you quickly acquire the full set of, features a bunch of eclectic characters, each with their own hopes, dreams and personality traits. You can hear them on board the Tempest as you wander around, arguing with each other or discussing new kinds of tech, or even insulting each other. It makes the team and the game itself feel more alive.
As you progress throughout the game as Pathfinder, each mission you do for any member of your squad, draws your closer to them and you learn a little more about what makes them tick and how they feel in the grand scope of things. It is truly a wonder to capture the amount of emotional depth that Bioware did, and it is not something I have felt since, well Mass Effect 2. It made me feel as if each and every one of the Tempest crew was part of my family.
This leads into loyalty missions. At certain points in the game, after completing certain objectives, you will get the option to go on a special mission with your team, one at a time. These loyalty missions, are special objectives that are incredibly personal and close to the heart of that particular crew member and if you complete them successfully, you will have acquired that team members loyalty, which unlocks some sweet benefits for you, as well as allowing you to learn a bit more about your team. One thing is for sure, loyalty missions are fun!
Now turn down the lights and put on some smooth jazz because it is time to get into the romance. You are able to put the moves on pretty much every member of your team, and even some NPCs not on board the Tempest. I have to say, at some points it can get pretty cringey, with the awkwardness mounting every time, you click that flirting dialogue option (the one next to the big heart – middle left option). And if you are successful, you will have the long awaited “sex scene” that Mass Effect is kind of known for. In this case, however it can get pretty raunchy, with Bioware describing it as softcore space porn. Yep. I cannot describe it any better than that. And contrary to previous games, you will see a LOT more of your team in Andromeda.
But one of the nicer things about the romance system in Andromeda is that you cannot seduce every member of your team, due to their sexual preferences. Some characters, like Peebee, will be fine with either male or female Ryder, while some like Suvi only care for female Ryder. It is a nice attention to detail on Bioware’s part.
Mass Effect Andromeda, in my opinion is a worthy successor to the original Mass Effect trilogy. The gameplay is incredibly fast paced, so that no two battles feel exactly the same, and each skirmish entered into feels fresh. The story broadens up early on in the game so the focus isn’t solely on building outposts but that is still a major part. One of the biggest problems with this game was in the narrative, in regards to how there were very few ground-breaking decisions that the Pathfinder had to make, and the choices we did get offered, more often than not, felt hollow and did not really tie in with the game dramatically anyways.