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Welcome to the Andromeda Initiative

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    Mass Effect: Andromeda

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    Welcome to the Andromeda Initiative

    After 5 years of waiting, and the controversy surrounding Mass Effect 3’s ending, we finally have the next entry in the Mass Effect series: Mass Effect: Andromeda. While many have undoubtedly seen the torrent of attention the game has received over its lackluster facial animations and numerous bugs, what many have not seen is the bright nugget in the rough. While Andromeda may be a bit rough around the edges, once I reached further inside, I found a surprisingly good experience in one of my favorite open-world games to date.

    Note: In this review I do not cover the multiplayer aspect of the game.

    Gameplay – 9,5/10
    When I look back to my time with the original Mass Effect trilogy, I don’t often find myself remembering the combat with much reverence, so I found myself very pleasantly surprised when I was treated to the best third-person combat I think I’ve ever experienced.

    Unlike previous ME games, you are no longer restricted to sticking with one class for the entire game. You are free to put your skill points (Which you earn after every level increase) into whichever skills you want across the three classic skill trees of the series: Biotics, tech, and combat. Eventually you can level up enough to the point where you can increase all the skills to max level, but this is not feasible in a single playthrough of the main story, and so the game does still incentivize careful skill placement, at least to begin with. Despite this, there is such an absolutely insane variety of playstyles, skills, and guns that I almost did not know what to do with myself. Not only does this offer incredibly diverse opportunities and methods of play, but also packs the game with replayability. After finishing my first playthrough, I immediately wanted to start a new game+ and continue building my Ryder.

    The combat is far more fast-paced than previous entries in the franchise, mostly due to the new jet pack, which allows rapid vertical and horizontal movement across the battlefield. It is a bit jarring to get used to the jet pack at first, but once I did, I realized immediately what the previous games were missing. Along with the fluidity and fast-pace of the combat, the powers and tech abilities have been revamped a bit from the previous games. The old ones we were all acquainted with are mostly still there, along with some new abilities as well. They all look great and offer unique and interesting advantages. All in all, Andromeda has some of the best and most entertaining combat I have ever played, and that says a lot.

    Exploration is probably the most important theme in Andromeda, and I am pleased to say that it is very successful in that. Unlike ME1 which offered exploration, but on barren and uninteresting planets, Andromeda’s planets feel alive, have plenty of interesting content filling them, and are so very vast. I am not a fan of open world games, generally because I hate traveling across the map, as I tend to feel as though I’m spending half the game just running from point A to point B. Andromeda does suffer from this a bit, as its maps are huge, but luckily, thanks to the Nomad, the travel time does not feel quite so long.

    Speaking of the Nomad, yes the Mako 2.0 is here, and while I do like the way it feels a lot more than I did the Mako in ME1, I still can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Nomad, as it doesn’t offer much in terms of features other than just being a glorified car.

    Andromeda does suffer from some fetch/menial side quests, as I have experienced in every open world RPG I’ve played (Yes, including the Witcher 3), but there are a good number of meaningful and interesting side quests as well to balance it out. Perhaps it doesn’t have as many as Witcher 3, but it definitely has enough from the norm of these style of games. I would have probably given Andromeda a full 10 on the gameplay front if not for several bugs I encountered throughout the game. None that ruined the experience, but enough to detract a bit.

    Story – 7.5/10

    I recall when I first played the original Mass Effect, shortly after it was released. I fell in love, immediately. I vividly remember that moment on Virmire, where I had to pick Kaiden or Ashley the first time, and I remember thinking to myself afterwards "Never has a game given me a choice with this much consequence before." It’s one of my greatest gaming memories, and sadly, Andromeda did not have any of those for me.

    Andromeda does offer some of the great Bioware narrative mainstays such as great characters, some of which (PeeBee, Jaal, and Vetra) quickly became some of my favorite characters in the series. Don’t get me wrong, nobody can beat Garrus, but they do come close. I also vastly prefer the new dialogue system over the old Paragon/Renegade options. While Ryder may not be capable of the kinds of horrible acts that Shepard was, this new system does offer a far more gray approach to the choices you make, rather than just presenting them as a black and white. There is no wrong option, which I like. The facial animations definitely do detract from this dialogue though, but I will touch on that later.

    The main story follows Scott or Sara Ryder as they take a 600 year cryosleep trip to the Andromeda galaxy, where a program known as the Andromeda Initiative is hoping to make its new home. While this provides a semi blank-slate for Bioware to work with, I am glad they brought back the old species and made it feel familiar. There are a couple new species here as well, but mostly it feels very familiar in that sense. The main plot unfortunately felt very generic to me, especially considering some of the major themes/plot points are essentially the exact same ones we saw in the original trilogy. While I was happy that they retained some of the old aspects from the series, I feel more than anything that this was an opportunity to separate itself from the source material, and it just did not do that enough in this sense.

    That being said, the major side content is where the game shines in this respect. The companion loyalty missions have returned, and they are for the most part, excellent. There are also numerous other side quests that have you addressing major issues facing each planet you travel to, as well as efforts to colonize those planets. The colonization is also a very cool aspect to the story-telling, as you can see the ways in which the environment, people, and areas are changing when Ryder revisits the planets.

    Graphics – 7.5/10
    The game, generally, looks gorgeous. The planets you explore, the ships, even the character models themselves, all look stunning, but unfortunately the facial, and general character animations are very off a lot of the time, and this heavily detracts from that.

    It seems almost as if the team did not have time to put emotion into the characters faces. While this is not as noticeable when looking at the alien species, it is immediately apparent when talking to other humans. There are very few facial expressions at all, and some characters also sport eyes that seem dead and stare off into space. While I eventually got used to this, it is definitely something that will break some immersion for people.

    Sound – 8/10
    The voice acting is superb, and generally mostly made up for the poor facial animations in my playthrough. There are obviously some misses in terms of the VA choices, but all the important ones I felt were excellent and very engaging.

    Unfortunately, the music of Andromeda is almost nonexistent. I look back to the trilogy and remember some of those classic songs that just bring back all those great memories, and while Andromeda does have some very good themes, they almost never play. Perhaps it was just too quiet, but I felt like the vast majority of my 50+ hour playthrough was without any music whatsoever, and I missed it horribly.

    Overall – 8/10
    There are hard hits and big misses in every major category of Andromeda other than gameplay, but this does not stop Andromeda from being a great game in my eyes. I found its only true failing to be character animations, and a bit of a disappointment in the narrative department, but otherwise I enjoyed every moment I had in this new galaxy, and I cannot wait to continue diving into it, as I still have a lot of content to complete even after finishing the main story. I loved this game, albeit in a very different way than I loved the original trilogy. That isn’t to say I feel Andromeda is outright worse than the other ME games, but that I feel it is a different experience entirely, so try not to go into it expecting the same Mass Effect, and I don’t think you will be disappointed. In the meantime, "Stay strong and clear!"

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