Like Knights of the Old Republic before it, Mass Effect cemented itself as the go-to science fiction RPG of the last generation. The trilogy is synonymous with space exploration, deep lore, and exciting combat. The original trilogy is often regarded as a mixed bag, but one of the all time greats. Enter Mass Effect: Andromeda, the inevitable follow up. Andromeda is a different experience, though, putting you in the shoes of a pioneer exploring the unknown galaxy neighboring our own Milky Way. It’s just you and a giant ship of human colonists, looking for a new home in the bright new galaxy.
A Blank Slate
Mass Effect: Andromeda does itself a good service by starting as a blank slate. Disconnected from the original trilogy, Andromeda has all the potential to bust out and see some new ground. The entire Mass Effect lore is one that can be easily expanded upon; think Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek. I was keen to explore this vast new galaxy and meet the inhabitants that awaited me.
You start by creating a male or female version of Ryder, the main character who serves as the captain on planet exploration. The custom character creation tools are varied, but not as expansive as those you’d see in a Elder Scrolls title. There’s a bit to fool around with, and you’re allotted a fair amount of options. I had a fun time crafting my very own Ryder, even if they didn’t feel wholly original by the time I hit “finish”. From there, you get to experience the most inconsistent RPG I’ve seen in a long time.
Exploration and Repetition
Mass Effect: Andromeda is very much a game of exploration. As Pathfinder (leader of the crew that surveys and sets up outposts on new planets), you’ll spend a lot of time visiting new worlds and making them viable for human life. As you play through the main story, you’ll come across new planets with their own story lines and problems. The main quest line is almost it’s own separate thing; you can complete it without even visiting all the main planets. This main quest follows Ryder’s attempt to discover the mysteries of The Remnant, an ancient alien species that harbors incredible technology. Playing the ever present antagonistic force is the Kett. This instantaneously evil race of aliens look to use the same technology as Ryder, but for evil. It’s a pretty retread story, one that mirrors a lot of themes from even the original Mass Effect.
After I completed the main quest line, I realized that a lot of the meat of the game comes down to exploring these planets and completing the quests within. Unfortunately, that’s where it all falls apart.
Literal Beer Runs
Andromeda is a big game, but it’s one about quantity rather than quality. Combat is fun and remains fun throughout, but motivation is the biggest deterrent. As you search the new and often beautiful looking worlds, you’ll have a good feeling of awe and wonder. After the brutally unimpressive opening which is linear and lengthy, exploring the first planet is a refreshing step in the right direction. Soon after you get your feet wet, you’ll start to notice that a lot of quests are similar.
It’s the MMO effect. You’ll have a ton of quests that all require you to do the same thing, just for different reasons. You’ll often have to hop off planet and visit another planet, scanning certain items and activating different terminals. You’ll then return to your quest giver for some XP and (occasionally) narrative closure. After the twentieth fetch quest, things start to get repetitive. Enough so, that I found myself skipping entire quest lines, searching for the good stuff among the mediocre. There are some great stories being told in side quests, such as loyalty missions and some stuff involving politics. Unfortunately, a good majority of these quality quests are buried between repetitive ones.
Mid-way through the game, I hurried towards a new quest marker with excitement. This quickly turned sour when I realized my entertaining new quest was a literal beer run. That’s not a turn of phrase or a figure of speech; someone wanted me to go to another planet and get beer for them. These fetch quests are made worse by the numerous unskippable cut scenes required to travel from planet to planet. These scenes look nice, and the spectacle of space travel is pretty, but after a while becoming time consuming and tedious.
Technical & Visual Inconsistencies
Presentation is just another place for Mass Effect: Andromeda to be inconsistent. It’s a constant barrage of sub-par animations matched with absolutely gorgeous world design. Each planet has it’s own feel, which is really cool. The frozen planet of Voeld is vast and full of flurries, Eos is stark and deserted. Some later planets look especially impressive, but this can often produce less than appealing performance.
Andromeda is ripe with technical hiccups. It’s something that you simply get used to as you play, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. As you attempt to take in beautiful mountain top vistas and appreciate the world around you, you’re assaulted with frame rate drops and freezes. The game often stutters, feels choppy, and you’ll run into plenty of graphical glitches. There’s pop-in galore, and the general lack of consistency makes it a mixed bag. It’s disappointing, as Mass Effect: Andromeda would be twice as good if it ran without hiccup. For an open world RPG, I can accept some technical mishaps. However, Andromeda is often more choppy than smooth.
Diamonds in the Rough
I truly hate the inconsistency in Mass Effect: Andromeda, mainly because there are some really cool moments to be had. If you’re a fan of Mass Effect in general, skipping Andromeda is a bad idea. There’s some great content here that plays true to the heart of the franchise, it’s just often buried in mediocre filler.
Driving around the planets in the Nomad (a big ATV that you’ll use for quite a bit of your traversal) feels great, and upgrading it over time is fun and rewarding. I had quite a few “woo-hoo!” moments, as I boosted off the side of a cliff on a low gravity planet, flying high over the surface. Combat also produced moments like this from time to time, as it’s probably the most solid mechanic of the game. Like previous titles, you can “play your way”, either favoring weaponry or abilities. Leveling up allows you to allocate skill points into three categories: combat, biotic, and tech. You can equip your character with three skills in any combination, giving you some pretty cool combinations to try. Approaching combat is fun, even if the result will always be the same regardless of how you play it.
The Bottom Line on Mass Effect: Andromeda
Look, I’m going to be completely honest. Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a terrible game. It’s not even a bad game, really. Andromeda is simply a game that’s in over it’s head and struggles to keep consistent. For Mass Effect fans, there’s definitely something to love. I found myself getting lost in world exploration, and while the quality isn’t always top notch, there’s plenty of content for you to dig into.
At just under 40 hours, I had managed to save the galaxy, but I didn’t feel like I had done all that much. That’s because Andromeda is a game that doesn’t want you to rush, it wants you to take in all of it’s minutia and detail. But that detail is rough, and often not fun to play. In a way, I felt punished by adhering to the main path, only diverting when I felt the motivation to. That’s not a great indicator for an overall story; I shouldn’t spend 40 hours in a game and feel unaccomplished. I know that there’s another 20 hours or so of content to be experienced, but my trip ends here. If you’re a fan of Mass Effect, maybe you’ll fare better. Unfortunately, Mass Effect: Andromeda is too inconsistent to warrant more time from me. From the writing and narrative to the presentation and gameplay, everything is a bit too padded out. If there’s any plans for continuing the series (and I’m sure there are), Bioware would be smart to focus on creating an engaging narrative, rather than a large checklist of similar content to keep us busy.