Far beyond the Milky Way
In view of the Mass Effect Trilogy remaster being released in a few months I thought it’d be nice to re-play the fourth entry in the series, Mass Effect Andromeda. Partly to see how it’s aged given some of the controversies around its original release in 2017 and others that have subsequently come to light in the years after. I initially played it on the Playstation 4 upon release whereas this time I’m playing it on the Xbox Series X, though it’s not a game that has been upgraded for the new hardware.
It’s been interesting in the time after the initial release reading about the difficulties experienced during development, learning to use the Frostbite engine which was apparently not very well suited to this style of game so the team had to learn to use it while getting it to work which sounded like a nightmare. I’ve also read recently about how budget limitations had an impact on things like the number of new alien races included in the game and the galactic travel elements too. In some respects, it seems like a miracle that the game was completed at all.
In the interests of full disclosure, I had mixed feelings upon the initial announcement of the game. On the one hand, more Mass Effect was definitely something I wanted but by setting it in a brand new galaxy and having it take place 600 or some years after the events of the initial trilogy I had misgivings due to feeling like I wanted to stick with stories post the Reaper invasion and to be able to continue to see characters that I’d come to love. I was also still a little disappointed with the ending to the third game, which while the extended cut DLC did improve things it was still very underwhelming.
The most jarring change is the removal of the paragon and renegade dialogue system, you don’t get alignment points anywhere based on your actions and dialogue choices which was one of the things I really loved about the trilogy. That being said the replacement dialogue system offers more choices with how you respond, you can choose to be emotional, funny and anything in between. The system is similar to Dragon Age Inquisition and it works really well in both games. Whatever other issues I have with Andromeda, I absolutely love the dialogue, it’s something that Bioware is definitely very good at doing.
Let’s start with the negatives first
The key one being it’s still buggy as hell. I’ve suffered multiple crashes and I’ve had instances where all the sound cuts out to be replaced with a loud buzzing noise and requires a reboot, which obviously impacts the playing experience quite heavily. I’ve had stupid ones like the Nomad spawning inside a building where you can’t then use it, cutscenes where people are holding invisible weapons and instances of speech starting unprompted and seemingly totally out of context. All of which are irritating but thankfully not game-breaking.
Human characters (with a few exceptions) look appalling, they look kind of like wax dummies and facial animations aren’t the best which doesn’t help with the immersion. There’s a lot of back and forth between worlds which can get a little tiresome when trying to finish all of the quests and some are quite uninspiring while also being unhelpfully marketed. The result is a lot of traipsing around hoping you’ll get lucky and stumble across what you’re looking for in order to scan it and move on to the next item.
You also seem to get the same animal enemies over different planets just with a different look and name, which if talk of budget issues is true then it’s not a bad way of making your assets do more work but also does also feel quite jarring. The inventory system is a bit crap too. You just end up accumulating loads of junk that you seemingly never need to use so wind up selling and there’s not really much you need to buy. The only things I’ve bought in this playthrough are starship models and quest-based items.
On my first playthrough, I wasn’t overly fond of the story
At times it felt like a bit of a re-tread from the trilogy with the Kett being the antagonists rather than the Reapers. They’re essentially trying to use other races to incorporate their DNA into the Kett, though their ultimate motives aren’t revealed so there’s jumping on points for a potential sequel. I’ve enjoyed it a bit more the second time around as there were little bits and pieces which I initially didn’t appreciate that make it more individual. I will say that the Archon is a poorly defined main villain in my opinion though, there’s nothing done to make him anything other than generic which is a shame.
There’s actually a lot I really like about the game too
The combat is as solid as two and three with the jump mechanic adding some variety even if it’s largely unnecessary. There’s an absolutely enormous selection of combat powers to sink skill points into so there’s a lot of scope to make a very personalised combat set up. The combat you’ll encounter is largely pretty well-paced too, it never gets to a point where its a slog, though I appreciate this may not always be the case on higher difficulty settings. Also the battles against the giant architects, in particular, stand out as being extremely satisfying.
The narrative choice to set the game in the Andromeda galaxy and the sandbox-like planet elements allows for some really cool gameplay moments. It provides a genuine sense of exploration and this is encouraged which is brilliant, there are quests and secrets to be found and the terraforming of the planet plays into this too. It’s one of the things I love most. I spent so much time just driving around the various maps seeing what quests turn up and unlocking fast travel points – given how useful these always are. Honestly, I loved making each planet viable for an outpost to be constructed, it’s something I’d definitely want to see more of in a sequel were one to happen.
There are some really cool moments and set pieces
The final push towards the end, where you’re having to drive the Nomad to the destination to try and stop the Archon, in particular stands out as you’re doing this while a battle is raging on around you. The moral choices you get to make over the course of the game are very much less black and white than the previous games too. Here it’s essentially things like deciding between one group or another to leave to their deaths or to cover for someone that got people killed or to be honest about it, it really makes you think. Although the fallout of these decisions isn’t always readily apparent as I guess they planned for them to be more impactful in any potential sequels.
My absolute favourite part of the game though is the crew you travel with, while they’re not all as memorable as some of the crewmates from the trilogy there are some great characters. The conversations you can walk in on between various characters really help bring them to life, as does the banter you get when you’ve got two teammates and you’re exploring the planets. I definitely can’t fault most of the dialogue on offer here as it’s largely superb and the different options you have for your Ryder make for a more personalised experience, you can potentially be completely serious or a bit of a joker or other options and the interplay just really worked for me.
There are loyalty missions for the teammates and then lots of little side quests for the people on your ship and these are really nice little distractions that further add to their personalities. Liam’s loyalty mission in particular is brilliant if you play it how I did. There’s a lot of bickering happening while ignoring the bad guy, who is progressively getting more annoyed at not being taken seriously and it was very entertaining. It’s helped by some great voice acting across the board, I don’t think there’s a single bad performance in there which is obviously a positive thing.
I honestly think the biggest shame about the game was how it was essentially dropped after the reception it received. All the downloadable content was canned and from what I’ve read one of the packs was going to be the hunt for the Quarian arc and that would have been cool as it in theory would have also brought back some of the other aliens that don’t appear like the Elcor and Hanar. I kind of understand there being a backlash but at the same time, it’s always a shame when it basically kills off any plans for further support for a game that’s only real crime was being flawed.
And that’s ultimately the crux of the issue with Andromeda
It’s by no means an awful game but it has a lot of niggly flaws which hold it back. I think the huge shift away from the setting and characters of the original games was massively jarring to fans and didn’t exactly help. I don’t know that it deserves the level of vitriol that’s been thrown at it since release, it’s fundamentally a solid game, I think my main issue with it is that it had the potential to be so much more. With that being said I enjoyed it a lot and at no point during either playthrough did I ever consider not seeing it to the end.
This potential is possibly the biggest shame of the whole thing, I have no idea if there will be any sequels to Andromeda but I’m now at a point where I’m torn. I’d like a sequel that follows on from the main trilogy but I’d also like a sequel here too where they tell the story they wanted to tell, with the features they wanted to include and to be given the time to iron out most of the flaws. I suspect it may not happen as I expect Bioware will opt for a safety-first approach to any new Mass Effect games in future. Maybe they could change to a Call of Duty model of operating and alternate between new Andromeda and trilogy linked games but I very much doubt it.
Ultimately it was good fun to replay Andromeda, it’s definitely got me looking forward to the remastered original trilogy that’s for sure. I’ve also picked up the books that link in, one of which is apparently the story that one of the DLC packs would have used prior to everything being cancelled. I guess beyond that it’ll just be a case of waiting to see where Bioware decide to take the series as all we’ve got to go on is a very vague teaser trailer that implies that things will be back within the Milky Way. It’s going to be interesting if nothing else.
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