Truth be told, I really hadn’t thought much about Mass Effect: Andromeda since I first completed it back in 2017. Between then and now, I ran though the original trilogy a couple times, because of course I did, but replaying MEA never really struck as a “thing to do.” It wasn’t until the late 2020 announcement of Mass Effect Legendary Edition that MEA popped back into my mind. I was then somewhat removed from my last Mass Effect trilogy playthrough, and I was deeply enjoying medieval fantasy times in The Witcher 3 and ESO, and also apocalyptic wasteland times in Fallout 76 and Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition. But in and among it all, I considered that I could use a refresher on spacey soap opera dynamics before diving headlong into the newly-beautified Mass Effect trilogy. So when everything else was finally said and done, I made a second trip to the Andromeda galaxy with a new pathfinder who was eager to set humanity’s flag on a few far-flung planets.
Re-starting the game came with equal amounts of excitement and concern. I remembered only little bits of the game’s story and was looking forward to seeing what would come of my new pathfinder. I also remembered that the game crashed on my a few times when I first played it, and that parts of it were quirky – my original Ryder and her magical, flying hair! – and disappointing (open-world fatigue). This second time, I opted to go with a male pathfinder, so at least flying hair wouldn’t be a problem. I also figured that I’d mostly avoid the boring and unimaginative “tasks and assignments” portion of my to-do list, thereby keeping open-world fatigue to a minimum, hopefully. I thought about doing a streamlined playthrough à la my “What is a RPG without the ‘R’ and the ‘P’” series I did for the original Mass Effect games, but since I wanted to hone in on the story of the Andromeda Initiative, that which sent frozen humans and aliens from the Milky Way galaxy to the Andromeda galaxy – specifically, the Heleus cluster — on large ships called “arks,” and all its people, places, and things, I figured I’d take my time with at least the main (“priority”) missions and the ally (“loyalty”) missions.
All in all, things went smoothly, mostly (the game crashed only once, so that’s a win), and a good time was had by all, except in the cases where I really angered a couple of my companions. But hey, a pathfinder’s got to do what a pathfinder’s got to do! Here are the most significant takeaways from my second trip to Andromeda.
The Andromeda Initiative is kind of dumb.
This isn’t to say that the effort wasn’t worthwhile as far as a good story goes, and yes, there’s something of a “big secret” to the whole thing that’s revealed during gameplay, but there were some HUGE assumptions at play. The most glaring was that some surely brilliant and worthwhile scientists in the advanced space-travel world of 2185 assumed not only that their identified “golden worlds” in Andromeda would remain happily habitable some 600 years later, but also that everything would just go right when it came time to unfreeze people. Maybe I’ve just grown more cynical, but in the beginning stages of the game, and especially when the pathfinder’s crew makes landfall on the first “golden world,” Habitat 7, I found it awfully irksome when anyone blathered on about the planet’s awfulness, hostile encounters with the kett, the game’s primary enemy, included. I’m all for hopefulness among new worlds and all, but when Ryder’s crew was greeted with this wasn’t what was promised in the brochures!, my initial feeling was what did you expect, you arrogant dummies!, rather than something more sympathetic.
Exploring planets is still loads of fun.
While I will always give the Mass Effect’s MAKO loads of sarcastic grief, I can’t give the same to MEA’s much better vehicular counterpart, the Nomad. I adore the Nomad to itty, bitty bits, and traveling around the worlds that allowed for this free-wheeling ride was one of the best parts of the game. This second time around, once some planets were made habitable, I spent far too much time just bonking around in my seemingly indestructible rover, climbing and then sailing off cliffs a’plenty just because I could. Best was when my companions commented on my horrible and scary driving techniques. (Such lines were few and far between, though, and I wish there had been more of them.) I also became oddly attuned to finding the edge of the map (marked by a blue barrier upon rolling up to it) and then traveling with it for as long and as far as I could. Sticking to my guns about ignoring all the fetching and other nominal doings on the driveable planets, I made my own adventures on them and had a grand time doing so. The same went for exploring Remnant sites and vaults and grabbing all sort of salvage from them. I will always maintain that the Remnant vaults themselves are somewhat difficult to explore, what with all the hidden controls, moveable platforms, and hard-to-find doors in regions where all the Tron-like environments look the same. However, figuring out any given vault was always very, very satisfying.
MEA is as visually stunning as it is lackluster.
Hands down, MEA was and will always be gorgeous. I played this time on the PS4, and just like when I played the game on PC for the first time, I was awe-struck by the graphically-rich environments. From the planets to space stations to the galaxy itself, the details in the game were astounding. During my first playthrough, I was totally taken in by watching characters’ eyes; this time around, I was fascinated by skin imperfections and clothing/armor textures. Problematic and lazy particulars endure, and they are a little hard to forgive, like the fact that all the alien races are copy-paste replicas. These play into the lackluster side of the coin, which primarily consisted of just how empty this “full” game felt as a whole. Every individual in the game was stuck in, when they existed, their own a small routines. Sure, upon visiting the main space station, the Nexus, after you ally with the game’s only newly friend-able race, the Angara, you’ll see some of them on the station, but you certainly couldn’t interact with them, let alone any of the moveable mannequins that generally “inhabit” the station. This goes double for the occupied planets, which only changed in very minor ways once a human outpost was established. Wildlife as very few and far between, and what little of it there was were again just re-skinned versions of the same three to four creatures. Even the Heleus cluster itself was largely just “there.” Though I tried to put aside thoughts of MEA’s development woes in this second playthrough, in some instances, those miseries were so painfully obvious in the game, it was hard to give them a pass.
Ryder’s companions are the best.
In initial my write-up on the game, I gushed over MEA’s companions, calling them the best part of the game. Coming into the game fresh and feeling at times bowled over by that which the game lacked, I can’t overstate that, for me, the companions made this game. I don’t hold them in as high regards as I do the companions of the original trilogy, but if for some reason BioWare had chosen not to include companions in MEA, or at least not written for them some really excellent stories, I don’t know that the game would be at all tolerable. Putting aside the notion of romance, which is available for your core companions, your crew, and a few new strangers-come-allies, I loved getting to know all my co-habitants (again) on the Tempest (aka: the not-Normandy), and it was awesome, too, that they conversed and interacted (sort of) with each other outside of Ryder’s company, y’know, just like a ship’s crew would actually do. Sometime they all got along, and sometimes they didn’t. And sometimes, depending on decisions that were made, they didn’t get along with Ryder. Stumbling into these reactions was a welcome change from playing the typical “perfect hero,” humanizing Ryder as much as everyone else.
MEA has the best combat system of any ME game.
It’s no secret that the original Mass Effect games (and mostly just the first one) didn’t have the best combat systems. Indeed, in thinking about playing Mass Effect Legendary Edition, a number of combat missions come to mind that automatically make me groan in discomfort. With Mass Effect: Andromeda, BioWare went miles in the right direction with combat, offering a system that was, save for its automatic cover mechanic that’s too easy to miss/screw up, smooth and intuitive. Ryder had in the armory the standard ME complement of weaponry – pistols, assault rifled, sniper rifles, and shotguns – but also at the pathfinder’s disposal were biotic skills, tech magic, and loads of other combat tools. Add to all this the fact that the game had vertical movement (a true revolution for ME, that’s for sure) and teammates who were actually helpful in battles, and MEA’s combat was downright great. Battles could be made very simple just by shooting everything in sight, or, they could become complex affairs in which you performed various combos with your teammates. Some enemies dropped like flies; others were more shielded and required a bit more maneuvering to take down. And while many of the smaller skirmishes that can be found on planet surfaces and in Remnant vaults played out quite similarly, battles within and among major facilities were diverse and intense, some with different waves of enemies appearing throughout. The combat in MEA may have made me groan occasionally, but only when my strategy went awry. Otherwise, it’s fantastically fun.
So then, has Mass Effect: Andromeda been worth this second trip? A game’s replayability mileage will obviously vary from player to player, but for me, it was worth it. It really is a good game that bests the original trilogy in a number of ways. Yes, it cuts it in others, but MEA remains a solid, enjoyable time. It’s hard to argue with just how good its writing is at times, and I certainly can set aside my issues with the awkward premise of Andromeda Initiative itself long enough to enjoy the stories the game contains. That said, I don’t see MEA becoming a game that I replay as regularly as the original trilogy. Maybe it’s too young of a game for any nostalgic pangs to form. Maybe it’s dull and uninspired moments are too harsh to handle in a game of its size. Maybe it’s just not quite compelling as a whole, even though I’ve yet to uncover tons of choice-laden branches, to revisit time and again. Whatever the case may be, I regret nothing in Andromeda, again. And perhaps in another four years, or thereabouts, we’ll see if it’s a case of “third time’s a charm” with Mass Effect: Andromeda.
All images, including lede, were captured by author during PS4 gameplay of Mass Effect: Andromeda (© BioWare, Electronics Arts, Inc.).