BioWare and EA's next big follow-up in their Mass Effect series, Andromeda, has finally released. Rather than try and determine a canon ending to the original trilogy with Shepard's choice in the fight against the Reapers, BioWare decided to take the setting to the entirely new Andromeda galaxy. This move not only allows them to maintain the look and feel of the original trilogy but let them sidestep the galaxy-spanning decisions we made as Shepard. With this new galaxy comes new friends, enemies, and mysteries.
Andromeda picks up roughly 600 years post Mass Effect 3, where the Andromeda Initiative has finally arrived in Andromeda and seeks to set up a new string of colonies in what appear to be pristine locations. However, upon arriving, nothing is what it was 600 years prior, and the Milky Way races find themselves locked in a mystery to discover the secrets of the Remnant, a supremely advanced race, all while battling the Kett, a race bent on complete control. Andromeda follows the player as one of the Ryder twins, the children of the Human Pathfinder Alec Ryder. Pathfinders are chosen and specially trained as the de facto leaders of their races - their aim is to help colonize the new worlds. With the help of SAM, an AI system, their combat abilities, leadership, and more are all raised to new levels through a symbiotic relationship aimed at melding AI and living, breathing beings.
It's a lot to take in considering we just left a galaxy fighting Reapers. Andromeda revamps much of Mass Effect, bringing in new combat mechanics, a lack of the Paragon/Renegade rating, and a bigger push for exploration and discovery. It didn't leave some of the series mainstays behind though, so expect dialogue, major RPG choices, and more to remain in this large game.
I'm really thrilled at the overall improvement of the combat system. It felt like a stronger mix between the original game's open combat with the better, revamped updates we saw in ME2 and ME3. If anything, the combat is incredibly fluid and opens up players to move around and use their powers in more interesting ways than before. While it's a downside you cannot affect how your team uses theirs, they're at least there to fill in any gaps you may have. The combat goes hand in hand with the player progression system as well. Unlike before where you were restricted to a set class, Andromeda essentially does away with classes and allows you spend skills across the Combat, Tech, and Biotic tech trees. This in turns opens up a broad range of your abilities in battle. Coupling that with SAM's ability to provide boosts based on your selected class and you can create a truly deadly Pathfinder capable at a variety of situations.
No Mass Effect (or BioWare game) is complete without a cast of characters, and I feel Andromeda went to great lengths to push the envelope. Aside from the intriguing main plot and building out my colonies, the squadmates in the game are hands down the best piece. Getting to know the crew of the Tempest, seeing their stories play out, and ultimately making decisions that not only impact the colonies but my squadmates was truly a treat. Drack, much like Wrex and Grunt, is without a doubt my favorite of the team. A 1,400-year-old angry Krogan that lived through the Krogan Rebellions? Yes, please.
With all of that, Mass Effect is arguably one of my absolute favorite franchises. The universe created by BioWare and lead writer Drew Karpyshyn sucked me in like the black holes at the center of our galaxy and had kept me enthralled through games, books, comics, and more. That being said, I went into Andromeda with high hopes and expectations. While much of the game did end up ultimately meeting some of my expectation (I'm enjoying the main plot immensely), I felt several aspects of the game fell flat to the point that's driven me from completing the game.
I'll cite a few pieces, but I think to do so I have draw comparisons to another recent BioWare title, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Although the game is being powered by Frostbite 3, the same engine that Battlefield 1 and Dragon Age: Inquisition uses, it wasn't until I was about halfway through that I fully realized the scope. Many of Inquisition's elements, such as the exploration, crafting, and general feel of the overall experience felt ripped directly from Inquisition. I felt as though I were playing Inquisition in space with guns and space ships moreso than playing another entry in the Mass Effect series.
The crafting system, for example, was fantastic in Inquisition and equally impressive in Andromeda. I appreciate the detail, variety, and sheer ability to maximize my experience and gameplay preferences. However, why do I need the ability to craft dozens upon dozens of weapons and armor when it's all made for a single person? Why do I no longer have the capacity to equip my squadmates and customize their appearances and weapons as well as my own? When I'm exploring with the Nomad on Eos or Voeld, it didn't feel all that much different from exploring the Hinterlands in DA:I other than the addition of planetary hazards, which frankly are annoying most of the time. The world, while full of random encounters, felt lifeless after a while. And regarding experience - Inquisition suffered from quests that sent players back and forth or small "tasks" that relied on you exploring every inch of an area over and over. Bringing that into Andromeda felt like a cop out and ultimately a time sink; sending me across dozens of systems or to the distant corners of planets just to deliver a message or find someone isn't fun. It's tedious and a waste of my time - that's why I have several unfinished quests at this point.
Taking a step away from the similarities, the game is full of bugs as well. I'm not going to talk about the poor animations that everyone has been up in arms about, but I'll point out a few others that definitely created some problems. Besides, the game in 4K does look spectacular. My main issues came with a few instances in the game during important cutscenes where all dialogue would cease, and the scene may stay stuck on a single character looking idly out into nothingness. Nothing but a full reboot of the game would fix that, leading me to replay challenging combat scenarios. There were also times where Ryder would suddenly act like a marionette with weights attached to his feet. Sure, it was great to see him drag himself along with his arms out wide the first couple of times, but when it started glitching during combat and ending with my death, it got tiresome.
Andromeda is not a terrible game, but it's not what could have been. I applaud BioWare for what they've done with the game and their willingness to accept the original trilogy "as is" while branching out into a wildly different territory. The introduction of the Kett, the mystery surrounding the Remnant, and the new combat system makes this game a fun experience in its own right. Tossing in the extra baggage of tedious/pointless quests, annoying glitches (hopefully fixed by the first major patch), and a general empty feeling makes me wonder about what might have been.Note: The Mass Effect: Andromeda review is based on a retail Xbox One copy of the game.