It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for – Mass Effect is back.
It’s been five whole years since Mass Effect 3… and it seems like a long, long time. Sure, Mass Effect 3’s ending may not have pleased everyone, but as the full stop at the end of the Mass Effect trilogy, it was an epic conclusion to everyone’s favourite space opera.
So where can Mass Effect go from here?
Introducing the Andromeda galaxy… and a new initiative to colonise it.
Mass Effect: Andromeda takes us to uncharted waters. The Andromeda Initiative was set up to help intrepid pioneers reach out across the stars, making Human, Asari, Turian and Krogan colonies all the way in Andromeda.
Let’s put it into perspective – the Reapers dominated the Milky Way, but even they couldn’t quite reach Andromeda. But now, after a 634 journey (with its passengers and crew in cryo) the Ark Hyperion has arrived. The plan – to seek out new worlds, to boldly go where no man has gone before…
But it’s never quite that simple.
Introducing the Ryder twins. You play as either Scott or Sara Ryder, brought into the initiative by their father, who also happens to be the human Pathfinder – the man who’s in charge of finding humanity a new home.
Not that he gets to keep that job for very long.
After a rough landing in Andromeda, the initiative’s first contact mission quickly goes sideways. Enter some ancient tech, a hostile alien race and even more hostile conditions on the planet that was supposed to be their ‘golden world’ and it’s not long before the Pathfinder winds up dead… and you’re forced to take his place.
Quite a responsibility for someone with little training, but with an advanced AI buried deep inside your skull (your father’s dying wish, it seems), you’re left with little choice – you’re the Pathfinder now. Better go find some paths.
Obviously, this is new territory for Mass Effect.
Andromeda shifts the focus away from political intrigue and shady inter-species relations, instead focussing on the new frontier. You’re an explorer, so the main focus of the game is getting out there to explore. At least, in the beginning. Colonise new worlds, set up outposts and make the Andromeda galaxy a better place. Of course, there’s still the matter of those hostile aliens – the Kett – who seem to be tracking your every move. But honestly, the plot of Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t half as interesting as it thinks it is. And it’s not a patch on the earlier games in the Mass Effect series.
Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison. Mass Effect: Andromeda differs in tone significantly compared to the earlier trilogy. But perhaps that’s the problem. Clearly, Bioware has set out to take Mass Effect in a different direction… I’m just not sure they’ve gone about it the right way. Don’t get me wrong, Mass Effect: Andromeda is just about interesting enough for me to continue playing it. But I’m nowhere near as gripped as I was playing the original game.
And that’s the real shame.
But there’s still a lot to love about Mass Effect: Andromeda. The gun play and biotics are pretty much what you might expect of a Mass Effect game, with the skill system a familiar beast. No classes this time around, though. Instead, you choose a specialisation when you create your character, and all skills are basically available to everyone. It makes for some interesting combos – my personal favourite is a stealthy Infiltrator who gets in close with a shotgun and ninja-like melee skills. Nice.
But the addition of ‘profiles’ makes you a bit more versatile, too.
Here, you can switch out to a different profile at any time, changing the focus of your skillset in subtle ways. The effects tend to be minor but can give you an edge – the soldier profile is particularly useful for a ramping damage buff that can turn the tide in a big fight against hordes of enemies.
But while combat is a bit more fluid this time around, there’s plenty to hate, too.
You’ve no doubt heard about the dodgy facial animations and I have to be honest – they do, absolutely suck. There’s really no excuse when you look at the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn. Mass Effect: Andromeda dropped the ball on this one, and with no improvements in the day one patch, we may have to wait a while for anything approaching a fix.
Then there’s the storyline.
I’ve already touched on this, but Mass Effect: Andromeda is startlingly dull. The main plot throws up very, very few surprises. Even when it thinks it has, the plot twists often seem a bit contrived or just downright expected. Nothing new, here. It’s a damn shame, too – one of the big draws Mass Effect has had throughout the series is its phenomenal storytelling. But here, the Andromeda galaxy comes off as just a bit stale. There’s still some fun to be had, but I’m shocked there haven’t been any major twists or turns as yet.
And don’t get me started on the missions…
As it stands, most missions involve heading to Location A to kill some enemies or scan a piece of equipment. Then scan some more, followed by more scanning and a side order of scanning. Why so much scanning? It’s like if someone watched Star Trek and thought the main characters were the tricorders. Scan. Scan. Scan. Scan. Scan.
Thankfully, there’s some interesting new additions too.
The new multiplayer mode is just fantastic. Jumping into an APEX mission with some friends is an excellent detour from the single-player game. And given that you don’t use your existing character profiles, it lets you experiment with different setups a bit more freely. Insta-fun for you and you friends. And with a whole galaxy of scanning to get through, you might need the distraction.
All in all, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good game… if a little flawed. It’s not quite the fresh start we all hoped for, and it’s not nearly as interesting as it should be. But for fans of galactic exploration and those who love the Mass Effect game mechanics, it’s a welcome return to the series we know and love.
It’s just nowhere near as good as it could have been.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is out now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.