Published by Electronic Arts, BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda stakes its claim in all-new territory for the sci-fi franchise, but its journey leaves behind a lot.
Set six centuries after Mass Effect 2, Andromeda follows Alec Ryder and his twin son and daughter Scott and Sara (the player can choose one to control) as they lead humanity, Asari, Turians, and Salarians to the Milky Way’s neighboring galaxy, and into the jaws of peril. An alien overlord named Archon leads an army of Kett, vicious aliens bent on conquering the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda Galaxy. Humanity’s first forays into new territory becomes all-out war for survival alongside its alien allies, including the burly, reptilian Krogan race.
Unfortunately, Andromeda‘s plot rarely deviates from this mass-produced line of thought. Battles in alien fortresses and across deserts, as well as in ancient space stations and inside a Dyson Sphere-like world are a visual treat, but they add up to nothing more than the sum of their parts. The Andromeda galaxy has new aliens to meet and exotic terrain to put the player in the moment, but the events that take place here are a shadow of the original trilogy’s intricate maze of galactic politics, the morally gray Cerberus, and exciting and thought-provoking villains such as the radical Illusive Man and the deadly-but-alluring Saren Arterius. Instead, Andromeda presents a bare-bones plot with many basic, familiar elements from today’s sci-fi adventures and does little to expand on it. Even the action-packed, high-stakes third act is a motley of conventions crammed together.
The characters, too, suffer. The original trilogy had beloved characters such as the shy, but determined and wily Asari archeologist, Liara T’Soni, who embarked on a personal quest that led to her reaching new, breathtaking heights. Or Wrex, the disillusioned Krogan soldier who goes on to reform the Krogan race and believe in his people once again. Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s cast of characters are competent video game companions, but none of them rise to the original trilogy’s high bar, with the possible exception of the Andromeda native Jaal, whose alien nature makes him a window into life in this new galaxy. The in-game dialogue is similarly solid, but rarely has the high-stakes drama, witty humor, or memorable moments of the original trilogy. The dialogue wheel changes from a good guy/bad guy dynamic to a split of casual, professional, emotional and analytical responses in conversations, which feels like an appropriate change for this new galaxy that is based on making new beginnings and defining yourself.
Gameplay is a mixed bag. Combat has many new innovations in store for Ryder and his/her combat team, such as a jetpack that effectively serves for both combat positioning and exploring rugged terrain. Also, rather than being confined to a single class such as Soldier or Vanguard, Ryder can flesh out skills for Soldier, Biotics, and Tech at will, and customize the combat-powers loadout on the fly for maximum flexibility. This system is much more cumbersome than the original trilogy’s, though it is rewarding for players who put in the extra effort. Exploring Andromeda outside of combat is exhilirating at first, but may feel slow and sometimes frustrating in some situations, such as jumping all over an alien momument searching for one more rune to scan, or driving up a steep cliff, looking for the narrow path leading upwards to the objective. There are some hidden goodies on each planet, such as extra resources or containers of items, but none feel essential, just extras.
As a whole, Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s advanced graphics (mainly in cutscenes), solid voice acting, flexible combat, and advanced weapons crafting system will make it a rewarding sci-fi romp for dedicated players, but fans of the original, more streamlined series may find too many missing elements to make it a complete Mass Effect title.