When Mass Effect 3 bookended EA’s epic series of sci-fi RPGs, it wasn’t exactly clear how a sequel would work. In order to continue the franchise, some creativity would be required.
With Mass Effect: Andromeda, Bioware cleverly transports us to another galaxy after a 600-year trip, totally insulating the new game from the events of the first trilogy. We have a lot of the same aliens and political intrigue, but a different location with different protagonists.
The Andromeda Initiative is a multi-species endeavour to create a colony in the Andromeda Galaxy. It involves five ark ships travelling on a 634-year one-way trip to find a, so-called, golden world in Andromeda’s, apparently, resource-rich Heleus Cluster. Aboard the mainly human ark, Hyperion, the fate of the 20,000 passengers in cryostasis is entrusted to a Pathfinder, whose job it is to find the ships inhabitants a new home.
Rather than choosing the gender of your character like you did with Shephard, this time you choose to play as one of either of the Ryder siblings, Sara or Alex, offspring of famed pathfinder, Alec Ryder. Whichever Ryder you choose, the other will be involve in an unfortunate accident that puts them out of action for the duration of the game.
For the first couple of hours I feared that I was stuck playing a young adult novel adaptation. Taking the mantle of Pathfinder from character’s father, felt a bit too much like a schmaltzy coming of age drama set to a Mass Effect background. Maybe it’s more to do with me getting old and cynical rather than Andromeda being a game developed by Gen Ys fed on a diet of Twilight/Hunger Games/Maze Runner etc.
As the game progressed, though, I was drawn into not only a superb piece of high-brow sci-fi, but also a rather wonderful interactive role-playing game experience, set in a rich, believable universe. Despite the vast gulf of space that distances Andromeda from the original games, this is still Mass Effect with the technology and vehicles being instantly recognisable to fans.
The Citadel from the previous Mass Effect games, which served as a hub of sorts, is replaced with the Nexus, a vast base that was supposed to be complete by the time the first arks arrived. This has not gone to plan, and so the base remains half completed.
Your transport, and Normandy surrogate, is the sleek-looking starship, Tempest. The ship serves to get you about interplanetary, with your surface vehicle, Nomad, providing ground transport.
There’s been a lot of press about the games visuals and, whilst you do get used to them, you need to be mindful that, up close, the character models and facial animations are appalling. Bioware may have been able to palm this sort of stuff on us back in the day, but even with Dragon Age: Inquisition they were pushing their luck a bit. Against the likes of the virtually photo-real characters in Call of Duty Infinite Warfare and the PlayStation 4’s Horizon: Zero Dawn, dodgy looking hero characters with bad skin, bloated faces and bee stung lips are not going to pass muster.
Now, you may be tempted to create your own character’s features in the editor, but I recommend that you don’t. As bad as the default characters look, yours will look ten times worse, and you are going to be stuck looking at that mutant for the entire game.
Thankfully it’s only the cut scenes that drag you into uncanny valley, as the environments look great and from the usual third person view, you can’t really make out your character’s iffy visage. Also, only the human characters that seems to suffer, the aliens in the game fitting seamlessly into the otherwise faultless visuals.
The switch from the over-the-shoulder view of the original games to the straight third-person view borrowed from Dragon Age: Inquisition works very well, giving you a better view of your surrounds rather than just the back of your character’s head.
Whilst PC players still have to put up with some dodgy facial modelling, the visuals are otherwise impeccable. As great as all looks on Xbox One, EA’s proprietary Frostbite Engine, that powers everything from FIFA to Battlefield, performs gloriously on PC. Our Asus-based i7 6700K machine running with a GTX 1080 and 32Gb of memory was able to pump up crisp visuals across a triple-monitor setup at 5760×1080 at a consistent 60fps.
Like it’s predecessors, Mass Effect: Andromeda is, first and foremost, a role-playing game. It seems to have aspirations to be a shooter, which it doesn’t do very well. The weapons feel too weak for combat to be anything other than a series of pew-pew exchanges. Were the guns a bit meatier and the subsequent destruction a bit more Hollywood, they might’ve got away with it. But, no, you are on board for the narrative and the role-playing aspects of the game, not the shooting.
Andromeda’s multiplayer Apex element, in a similar manner to that of Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, manages to be a capable addition, but is missing the narrative that makes the single-player game so compelling. It lowers the game to that of a third-person shooter. Whilst it adds longevity, it’s not really the game’s strong point.
Mass Effect: Andromeda serves well as a fresh start for the franchise, new players are going to be able to dive right in, and whilst old players may need to ignore the bitter taste the ending of ME3 may have given them, they should still enjoy the game immensely.