In many ways, Mass Effect: Andromeda is both a figurative and a literal fresh start for the series. Whisking us over two and a half million light-years from Earth to the Andromeda galaxy seems a bit drastic but it works, both as a plot device and as a means to remove itself from the criticism Mass Effect 3 received. How does Andromeda fare when compared to the previous trilogy’s legacy?
Mass Effect: Andromeda opens with you waking after 600 years on the human Ark, Hyperion, upon its arrival at Habitat 7. Habitat 7 is the planet assigned to the Hyperion as a Golden World, one perfect for colonisation, but something is clearly wrong as it appears inhospitable. Going down to the surface reveals hostile alien life and everything starts going pear-shaped.
Eventually you end up on the Nexus, this game’s equivalent to the Citadel from the earlier entries. A place where the Andromeda Initiative as a whole can organise colonisation, security and in general control events. However, no other Arks have shown up, everything is a mess and the responsibility falls to you, as Pathfinder, to fix everything.
Jumping the action to a new galaxy and in a new timespan neatly sidesteps the issue of following Mass Effect 3’s controversial endings. It also helps the game feel fresh, having the benefit of feeling rooted in Mass Effect’s world thanks to the Arks bringing races and technology familiar to the series whilst also allowing completely alien elements.
Speaking of alien elements, Andromeda introduces the Kett, a bipedal species with natural bone armour who act as your primary enemy throughout the game, led by the enigmatic Archon. Also new are the Angara, a wise race native to Andromeda that is already engaged in a long-running resistance against the Kett when you meet them.
Naturally these races are big driving forces for the plot of the game along with the mysterious technology, known as The Remnant, found in ruins around the various planets you’ll visit. How the new races and this technology are connected as well as how the Initiative interrupt events are the main thread of the game’s plot.
Alongside this main plot thread however you also have to deal with petty squabbles, internal politics and make a selection of planets viable for colonisation. There is a lot of narrative in all these activities and on the whole it is weaved quite interestingly throughout with side missions giving extra context to things that happen elsewhere.
The writing and dialogue is in general very good but has its moments of cliché and poor logic. The companions are also an interesting bunch with the possible exception of Liam although they do feel like they’ve been designed with a checklist of archetypes in hand. BioWare games in general do a good job of character diversity but here it feels a bit forced and “by the numbers.”
Liam sticks out especially because his characterisation is at odds with his apparent role. He’s an ex-police officer that moved to crisis response after getting disillusioned yet he’s frequently the first to get angry or make rash decisions. None of the other companions have this kind of dissonance or at least, not as flagrant.
But how does Mass Effect: Andromeda actually play? The core game feels very much in line with what you’d expect, especially if you’ve played Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition. The biggest changes in Andromeda come from exploration and combat.
As part of the main plot you are tasked with making planets viable for settlement, in general this ultimately boils down to doing side-missions for folk on those planets. There are other activities to do on planets however, clearing out Kett fortifications or other trouble spots also increase a planet’s viability and you can also scour the planet surface for crafting materials.
Andromeda has a crafting system you can use to create new weapons and armour, to do this you need raw materials. Once planetside you can scout mineral rich areas and deploy drones to collect what you find. Different planets have different materials and you’ll need a variety as you progress.
Weapons and armour you craft have slots in that you can insert Mods into. This allows a lot more customisation than the items you find from dead foes or from containers and can make assembling your “perfect” gear set a fun task in itself as you tweak your whole getup to suit how you fight.
Which brings us to combat; Mass Effect has seen massive changes to combat as the series has progressed, from the very stat-focused feel of the original’s cover-based approach through to the solid action-focus with dodge rolling of Mass Effect 3. Andromeda is an evolution on the third game’s combat but actually feels more dramatic a change than you’d perhaps expect.
First off, the biggest additions are the changes to mobility. Mass Effect and its sequel were firmly seated in the Gears of War camp when it comes to how it used cover, sit in cover occasionally popping out to take a shot before ducking back in. Mass Effect 3 added sprinting and the ability to roll, making movement a more interesting choice than before but still had extended periods of ducking your head in and out.
Andromeda tries to make combat a lot more engaging by giving you jump-jets and a mid-air dash and it changes the feel completely. This helps make the multiplayer side of the game feel more dynamic and exciting but it adds positively to the main campaign too.
Being able to jump and dash around the battlefield changes up combat drastically. Combined with the ability to hover in the air briefly whilst aiming makes each encounter far more engaging and less clinical than before. Enemies are also smarter and use the environment to flank you and often surprise you when you least expect it. Engagements are a little less predictable and that is always a good thing, the addition of destructible cover also helps.
Cover has also changed, the prior games used a button to snap you to cover but that has now gone, replaced with a system than places you in cover as you move to it. I had concerns that the game would get confused and not place me in cover sometimes but I’ve never once had it make a mistake.
Streamlining has also found its way into the core combat, the combat wheel of past games is no more with control of squad mates simply being whether they focus on an enemy or where they are positioned. This is a bittersweet change, it fits with the faster pacing of combat but not being able to micro-manage which skills get used might upset fans of the older system.
Cooperative multiplayer is a rare thing so keeping Mass Effect 3’s well received take on a wave-based horde mode almost unchanged is nice. It’s got new maps as you’d expect, the mobility changes keep it feeling fresh and more hectic and is a lot of fun, especially playing in a group with friends although the games I played via matchmaking were also surprisingly non-hostile!
Tying into both the multiplayer and the main campaign are Strike Teams or Apex Missions, these are accessible from computers in specific places in the campaign or from the main multiplayer menu and consist of sending NPC teams on missions which take a certain period of time and upon completion reward you with credits and items. Apex Missions can also be taken on by the player using the game's multiplayer providing a more active component to the process.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is very polished and looks beautiful in general but it does have some rough areas. I had more than a few situations where an NPC would moonwalk or teleport between locations or would be positioned incorrectly in the scene. I also had some instances of voice clips playing incorrectly whilst on the planet surface and whilst these issues do detract from the experience, in general throughout my play I didn’t encounter anything severe enough to affect my enjoyment of the game.
Overall the game is an enjoyable sci-fi romp with an interesting setup and enough new characters, races and other additions to the setting that I’m interested in seeing where BioWare take it moving forward.
Mass Effect: Andromeda (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Some slight technical issues occasionally hamper what is a solid Mass Effect entry. Fun, dynamic combat, some great missions and an interesting new setting provide an enjoyable place to get lost and spend some time in. It does sometimes feel like a “Mass Effect Greatest Hits” but there are worse things to be.