The Mass Effect Legendary Edition released last month to the delight of fans who had clamored for a remaster for years. The game looks spectacular, particularly the original Mass Effect, which received the most attention of any of the original games. I’m sure Mass Effect fans will be playing the legendary editions of these games for years to come, especially considering the series is fourteen years old and fans — old and new — are starting new playthroughs every day.
But I want to take this time to focus on a game many of us aren’t replaying, and maybe never even finished in the first place: Mass Effect: Andromeda. MEA released in 2017 to a mixed reception. Its combat and visuals were widely praised while it lacked in the story and character departments (to say nothing of the horrific facial animations and glitches permeating the game). Andromeda wasn’t received terribly, with most major outlets giving it scores in the 6-8 range, but the atmosphere of disappointment surrounding the game was difficult to see past.
After finishing the main trilogy recently for the third time, I decided to dust off my copy of Andromeda and give it a proper go-round after not completing it four years ago when it released. As I started it up, I wondered: was this game really as bad as I remembered? Despite some misfires, mostly in terms of its story and characters, I did enjoy my time in the Andromeda galaxy.
Andromeda starts with your created Ryder waking up from a 634-year coma as ark Hyperion, carrying 20,000 humans in search of a new home, arrives in the Andromeda galaxy. S--t subsequently hits the fan and Ryder, her father, and some other characters are sent to the nearest habitable world to see if it could truly hold human life. However, a lot has changed in the 600 years since the Milky Way arks embarked on this journey and Habitat 7 is much less welcoming than what humanity hoped for.
Ryder makes first contact with a new alien species (yay!) who immediately begin shooting at her (womp). Herein lies the core fault of Mass Effect: Andromeda, in my opinion. The game sells you on exploring a new galaxy and finding a home for humanity. But it’s still a game, and games need gameplay. The Mass Effect games are third-person shooters, after all. So Andromeda gives you enemies to shoot at right away. There’s no nuanced communication between two species meeting for the first time, one of whom is alien to this galaxy. Just angry yelling and lots of shooting by a very one-dimensionally evil alien species. I would have loved for the game to go in a different direction, at least in the beginning. Humans showing up and killing the first aliens they encounter — and you can choose to jump the gun and shoot first here — isn’t quite a good look for humanity, especially when these humans are meant to be explorers, not a military. Ultimately the core idea of the game is at odds with the gameplay itself.
The main story takes off from there, bringing Ryder to the Citadel — er, I mean, the Nexus — and other planets within the Heleus cluster in search of a home for humanity and information on the other arks, carrying Turians, Asari, and Quarians, which have gone missing. Ryder gets involved in conflicts between leaders on the Nexus, encounters gangs of exiles on a scummy world called Kadara, influences a Krogan colony, and makes (much more civilized) first contact with the Angara. The main story is engaging enough, although a little quick. I purposefully procrastinated doing main story missions to artificially inflate the game’s length, often doing nothing but exploration and side quests during two- or three-hour gaming sessions. It felt a bit like Mass Effect 2 in the sense that the main story with the Collectors really took a back seat to recruiting a squad and gaining their loyalty.
Too many of the game’s side quests were unremarkable and simply felt like filler included to pad out the length of the game. Most of what you’ll be doing over the course of the game are missions to increase planets’ viability scores so you can build outposts on them. However, these missions don’t help Andromeda do anything to separate itself from any other overstuffed RPG (looking at you, Ubisoft). Your map is often cluttered with icons you probably would rather ignore (I don’t play Mass Effect to scan rocks and plants for some random scientist). Now, did I complete way too many of these damned quests? Yes, and I’m still trying to figure out why. I didn’t do it because they were fun. No, more out of obligation and a desire to, essentially, cross things off my space to-do list.
Now, there were some quests I really enjoyed. I loved my time on Kadara with Reyes, enjoyed Liam’s loyalty mission on a pirate cruiser with wonky gravity, and found a quest where Ryder joined Kallo and Suvi to investigate extra mass on the Tempest to be very heartwarming. There are plenty of fun, interesting, and well-written quests to be found in MEA, but they are often too buried behind boring fetch quests and trivial, Assassin’s Creed-like map markers.
Most times I could ignore the banality of Andromeda’s side quests because the gameplay itself was simply excellent. There are an abundance of weapons to craft and experiment with, including weapons from the Milky Way, Kett weapons, and Remnant technology native to the Andromeda system. Instead of continuing as a strict hallway cover shooter, Andromeda brings verticality to the series’ combat, encouraging players to be mobile and aggressive. Ryder’s jumpjet can help her traverse during exploration, but is even more helpful in combat to quickly close gaps on enemies or flank them from above when they’re hiding behind cover. Melee attacks are even more pronounced in Andromeda than in past Mass Effect games, although not yet a core part of gameplay. Regardless, I enjoyed equipping Krogan warhammers, Asari swords, and Kett blades to wreak havoc on enemies.
Mass Effect: Andromeda allows Ryder to basically learn any skills she wants. Gone are class restrictions. You can mix and match tech, biotic, and soldier skills to create a unique skillset for your Ryder. However, a power wheel is absent, meaning Ryder can only equip three skills at once. I thought this to be counterintuitive to the game’s tenant of power exploration and ultimately stuck with many of the same powers throughout the game.
While being able to learn every skill certainly opens up the gameplay and encourages experimentation, I found myself creating a “head cannon” that my Ryder was an engineer and mostly leaned on tech skills. My reasoning was that such appealing aspect of replaying the original Mass Effect games was being able to try out different classes for Shepard, and therefore different squad combinations to best complement Shepard’s skills, and I wanted to leave myself open to different ways of replaying Andromeda from a gameplay perspective. My next Ryder will be a shotgun-blasting biotic user as opposed to the tech-infused sniper I played with the first time.
The designs of the planets Ryder and co. visit are quite beautiful. Sure, two of them are desert worlds and one is basically Hoth, but the aesthetic of the explorable planets are well designed and I did enjoy exploring the different worlds. Andromeda’s level design is closer to the first Mass Effect’s optional explorable planets (albeit with 2017 game design as opposed to 2007) and far away from the cramped hallways and open rooms of ME2 and ME3. I’m definitely down for more exploring in my Mass Effect and less space cop-ing, and I would welcome further visits to Andromeda to explore beyond the Heleus cluster.
While exploring the Heleus cluster, Ryder will encounter the Remnant, ancient robots tasked with guarding vaults and other locations on planets Ryder explores. The vaults are able to terraform planets to make them viable for humanity and exploring them (and therefore making planets viable for outposts) is a major part of the game. I liked the design of the Remnant and their combat encounters could sometimes prove more challenging than fighting Kett, but ultimately I wanted more from the Remnant.
Don’t get me wrong — their vaults are gorgeous, and I gladly explored them, even if they grew repetitive at times. The crashed Remnant ship on Elaaden was a beautiful site and a nice touch of world building. However, their role in the Heleus cluster and in the game’s narrative left a lot to be desired. The Remnant are essentially old technology left over from an advanced society millennium ago. So, basically Andromeda has its own version of the Milky Way’s Protheans. Ryder can uniquely interface with Remnant technology, just like how Shepard’s interaction with the Prothean beacon makes him special.
But Mass Effect: Andromeda doesn’t stop plagiarizing its predecessors with just the Remnant. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the game’s central twist will leave long-time Mass Effect players with a sense of deja vu.
The original Mass Effect released in 2007 with several alien species populating the Milky Way and ME2 only added more. For Andromeda to only showcase only two alien species, the Kett and the Angara, while also not bringing over species like the Quarians (clearly saved for DLC that was never made), is baffling and I really wished Ryder and the Tempest crew got to meet more aliens. This is a space opera, after all.
What the game lacks in interesting new aliens it surely makes up for with great characters, right? Unfortunately, there’s no Garrus or Tali or Legion along for the ride. What we’re given are a crew of six mostly unremarkable squadmates with a few bright spots. Cora and Liam suffer from “boring human starter squadmate” syndrome present in the original games (Kaiden, Jacob, James). I found Peebee and Drack to have the most personality of Ryder’s squadmates (though Drack did feel like a generic old, violent Krogan at times). Getting to know Jaal was probably the highlight of the game in terms of its characters. Being Angaran, he has so much to offer Ryder. Getting to know him and learning of Angarn culture was one of my favorite parts of the game. I liked visiting their home worlds, meeting the different factions of Angara, and navigating cultural differences. This is where the game shined — when it was about first contact, exploration, and building relationships.
I did enjoy how the crew of the Tempest interacted and bonded throughout the game. While Gil and Kallo weren’t given much to do in the game, I liked how they clashed and how Ryder could have a hand in mending their relationship. Dr. Lexi T’Perro, voiced by Natalie Dormer, has more dimension to her character than at first glance. Dr. Suvi Anwar was one of my favorite characters to get to know. Some of the Tempest’s crew you can romance while others you cannot (depending on your Ryder’s gender), but you can befriend all of them by choosing certain dialogue options, which is a nice way to strengthen your relationships while also not accidentally causing someone on your ship to fall in love with your Ryder due to simply being nice to them.
I want to briefly mention Ryder’s twin before we go. While creating your Ryder, you also have the option of creating Ryder’s twin (Scott or Sara) or choosing the default Ryder twin appearance. I spent probably too much time developing my Ryder’s twin (even gave them matching birthmarks), and it was mostly time wasted. What could have been an interesting addition to the game, either as a squadmate or an important part of the plot, is immediately shoved aside. Ryder’s twin remains in a coma after Ark Hyperion lands in Andromeda and doesn’t wake up until the very end of the main story. Ryder can visit the comatose twin at times, but the relationship between the Ryder twins is so far in the background and the twin’s role in the game so minimal, I wonder why BioWare even included a twin for Ryder. Ryder’s twin in a way encapsulates Mass Effect: Andromeda — good ideas, disappointing execution.
Despite the flaws I’ve outlined, I did have fun with Mass Effect: Andromeda and I think it’s a good game, but to get to those conclusions I first had to accept it was going to pale in comparison to the original Mass Effect trilogy. It lacks a truly invigorating story and instead offers up one that relies on using familiar twists and plot elements any Mass Effect fan would recognize. Its cast of characters leave something to be desired and will have players longing for their favorite space bro or romance partner from the original trilogy. The gameplay is stellar, however, and the open-world map design is certainly a welcome addition to the Mass Effect universe. I do encourage any Mass Effect fan to try out Andromeda if they haven’t before. Just…lower your standards a bit. There’s a solid, respectable game here. It’s simply hidden under impossible expectations.
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