One of my gaming goals for 2021 is to replay Mass Effect: Andromeda. Can’t say it’s a lofty goal, but with the Mass Effect Legendary Edition due out later this year, rather than tread through the original trilogy for the umpteenth time, I figured I’d cast fresh eyes over Andromeda‘s post-Commander Shepard universe instead. It’s with that in mind that I share here how things went with the game the first time around.
Actually, 77 and one-half to be precise, but who’s counting? Me, that’s who, because I really can’t believe that I spent anywhere near that time in the world of Mass Effect: Andromeda. But there it is, and now it’s time to talk about it. Where to even begin?! There’s so much to unpack here, but I’m going to keep things streamlined and spoiler-free (but no less opinionated) by exploring the game through five topics: story, missions, characters, gameplay, and graphics. I’m also going to aim to keep the previous Mass Effect games out of the picture. As bound in that universe as Mass Effect: Andromeda is, it’s a different animal from the original trilogy.
TL;DR Mass Effect: Andromeda is a solid and enjoyable game with its own set of issues and quirks, none of which significantly detract from the overall experience.
Now, if you want to read, continue at your leisure…
After a lengthy opening sequence, during which it’s revealed that some 600 years ago, humans and other alien races were sent on a cryo-laden journey from the Milky Way Galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy — you end up specifically in the Heleus Cluster — in order to “explore” and “find a new home,” you begin your journey as the human Pathfinder – the one who’s in charge of finding and settling new planets. Along the way, you meet faces old (the Turian, Salarian, Krogran, and Asari) and new (the Angara, the Remnant), and together everyone must band together to fight a reprehensible enemy – the Kett, led by the Archon – who’s bent on galactic dominance. It’s not necessarily your standard “good guy versus bad guy” story, but that notion rests firmly at its core. The Pathfinder is set up to be the hero and is, in most cases. Though a little bland and not without a few lulls, I found the story to be more than passable. It definitely got better and more intense later in the game, so it was by no means a letdown.
Players are given all sort of leeway in determining the path they want to take throughout the game. You can follow the main story itself (your “priority” missions), veer off into missions within the cluster, complete loyalty missions, or take a break to do some tasks and assignments. I didn’t really have a plan going in, so, much as I tend to do in open-world RPGs, I bounced between the choices. I suspect that the main story itself isn’t very long, as I’m pretty sure that I spent at least two-thirds of my 77 hours on everything but the main story. (The loyalty missions are the absolute highlights.) It’s a big game, and there’s no shortage of things to do.
And that brings me to one of game’s most glaring issues, which Hatm0nster addressed in this post and other bloggers have touched upon – there are too many things to do outside of the main story. Now, it’d be one thing if the side missions and tasks were interesting, but…they’re not. The tasks and assignments are generally dull and don’t amount to much in terms of rewards. (I’m including the Strike Team Missions here, as well.) Though I will say that the game did dole out experience and resources hand-over-fist, so by its conclusion, I had racked up far more resources than I could ever use. I guess that’s good?
Gold stars all around! If the story seemed a bit trite, and the missions were a little insipid, then it’s because Bioware put all its eggs (or the vast majority of them, anyway) into creating the game’s characters. Your companions have meaty stories, real stories that you reveal in layers during various conversations.. Your team isn’t perfect, and they’re not trying to be. But they’re all behind you as the Pathfinder. Each of them is imbued with purpose and realness. Having the opportunities to learn about their foibles and triumphs, their inner beliefs and outer personas is where the game really shines. And this was especially true during their own discussions! Hearing your companions converse among themselves always provided insightful fireworks, whether you were on your ship or on a planet.
If I have but one complaint about the characters, it’s that some of the portrayals came off as heavy-handed. For that reason, I didn’t connect very well with a couple of the characters who, at times, felt like they had had dramatic dialogue shoehorned in for no reason. And of the peripheral characters – those with whom you could interact but weren’t part of your team – they mostly felt incomplete, and I wished their stories had gotten more attention. I purposefully pursed a romance with one of them, and it was cute, but it didn’t lead to much.
Despite early reviews and videos that seemed to highlight the game’s potential gameplay defects, I didn’t experience any issues with movement or combat. Battles with enemies ebbed and flowed nicely, and the controls felt smooth and buttery. Ryder herself was sturdy as ever. Even with my clumsy controller, I could make her turn on a dime during harrowing situations. She looked natural walking and running, and I adored the addition of vertical movement. (I really overused my jump-jet, believe you me.) I did experience the occasional glitch during combat where an enemy might suddenly start hovering mid-air or magically “fall” into the ground, but they were generally few and far between. In fact, the game was remarkable glitch-free, save for a few side missions that glitched out when it came to completing them. They aren’t the only reason I stand at 95% complete overall, but they’re certainly part of it.
If anything hampered the gameplay, or, maybe more specifically, my gameplay, it was the cover system. When it worked, it worked fine, but it seemed far too easy to take Ryder out of cover inadvertently. Of course, I’m not a very graceful or patient shooter, so, as I said, that could have been more my fault then the game’s. Also, thank goodness they allowed for skipping between planetary travel, because I was over that in a heartbeat. I only wish they had allowed the same when traveling between solar systems, and entering and exiting planets, as well.
My goodness if Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t the prettiest game I’ve ever played. I hardly ever take (or remember to take) screenshots of any games, even my favorites. But with this game, I couldn’t stop taking them. The people, the planets, the landscapes, they are all simply beautiful. And I was pleased to see planetary landscapes that felt more alien than not. Granted, we still can’t seem to get away from the tropes of “grass land,” “sand land,” “snow land,” “jungle land,” and so on, but Bioware made a vested effort to give players some unusual environments to explore. And the same extends to everyone you encounter. I couldn’t stop staring at the details placed in the faces of the Krogans and Salarians. I’m all about the eyes in game characters, and once things were fixed so that everyone stopped looking like they were caught in headlights, I found myself hypnotized by character’s eye movements during close-up conversations.
On the flipside…the hair. My Ryder’s hair. It simply had a mind of its own. During every, single cutscene that didn’t take place inside, her hair moved constantly, as if she were always standing in front of a fan. It was very distracting, to say the least. Outside of that, the animations of the human and Asari faces remained a bit strange throughout (my Ryder made the funniest fish-mouth when pronouncing “u” and “oo” sounds), but they were easy to overlook after awhile.
My 77 hours with Mass Effect: Andromeda were 77 hours well spent. Yes, there are too many meaningless side quests; and yes, some of the characters could have received more polished storylines; and yes, the character animations did seem a bit inferior to the planetary designs. But none of that takes away from the fact that Mass Effect: Andromeda offers players a robust RPG experience. In the end, it’s a game that gives as much as it takes, and it’s really up to each player to formulate his or her own balance. I had a great first time through, and I look forward to someday saving humanity all over again.
All images including lede (© Bioware) were taken by cary using GeForce Experience.