Mass Effect: Andromeda tells the story of people looking for fresh beginnings in brand new galaxies, and that’s the hope of the game itself. On the surface, the concept presents a major break from of the original trilogy, looking to continue the shooter-RPG hybrid with fresh blood both in-game and behind the scenes. Theoretically, it’s a good plan for a fresh-yet-familiar relaunch of Mass Effect. Too bad for both Andromeda’s crew and Andromeda the video game, this journey doesn’t go as smoothly as one would hope.
Boldly Going Somewhere New(ish)
Set more than 600 years and a near-infinite distance away from where Mass Effect 3 left the series, Mass Effect: Andromeda is something of a soft reboot. All your favorite species from The Milky Way packed up and traveled for six centuries to the Andromeda System. All the major alien races sent a group off to a far-off outpost called The Nexus, including the humans and their Pathfinder, Alec Ryder. You play as one of his two kids (pick Scott or Sara at the outset), and you’ll quickly inherit the responsibilities of Pathfinder, mainly to colonize new worlds for the struggling space immigrants.
Searching undiscovered galaxies for a new start is a clever setup for a game that feels more adventurous than the galactic warfare the series was known for, closer in style to its Star Trek roots. Both Ryder twins exist in the story and have distinct personalities that show through in the thousands of lines of conversation. Scott is sarcastic and jokey, while Sara is more earnest and introspective. Those personalities shine through in the new dialogue trees which no longer focuses on the Renegade/Paragon dynamic. There’s more nuance to your interactions, showcasing Ryder’s emotions in unique ways.
Ryder is defined through how you interact with your crew as you search out for new homes and outposts among the stars. But Andromeda features an unbalanced cast, with some standouts and a few boring team members. You’ve got interesting folks like roguish asari scientist Peebee and old krogan soldier Drack, but they’re alongside blander NPCs like human defense expert Liam and biotic commando Cora. It’s a motley crew on the Tempest, but only a handful inspire the kind of deep connections felt with some Normandy shipmates, particularly when it comes to romance.
Cover and Jetpacks, a Winning Combo
As in previous games, you find your own favorite combinations of squadmates in the field, where Mass Effect: Andromeda embraces being a shooter. Dynamic cover and jetpack-assisted jumps make the gunplay snappier and more focused, particularly as many shootouts happen in open areas, as opposed to the hallways of previous entries. The added ability to jump creates verticality and options to each battle – that said, hunkering down and snapping off a few shots here and there still works most of the time.
The firefights are even more enjoyable thanks to random elements popping up, like a large beast just running into the explosive sortie you’re currently stuck in. Yet, after a couple dozen hours, most random encounters in the wild become formulaic. Often it boils down to, “Uh oh, you stumbled on five to ten soldiers/robots/smugglers. Better kill them all and take their stuff.” For all those improvements, Mass Effect: Andromeda still isn’t a pure shooter, and the closer it gets to that, the more the deficiencies show when compared to the top games in the genre.
The action works better in the more focused multiplayer. It's a straightforward four player co-op Horde mode where you take out wave after successively challenging enemies, with random bonus goals thrown in to mix things up. It's an enjoyable enough extra, but not dense enough to steal much focus away from the massive campaign and its many side quests.
The combat isn't helped by the unimpressive new enemies you face. The Kett have a mysterious background that gets more interesting as the story goes, but they're never too far from your first impressions of ugly, disposable enemies. They're mainly silent, brainless villains who exist to be killed en masse by Ryder and their pals. Meanwhile, Andromeda's other primary enemies, The Remnants, are faceless robots who show even less personality as you blow them to pieces across the star system.
Andromeda's campaign starts thinly with the simple goal of killing all the bad guys in an area so you can settle it. The plot thickens as you meet the new friendly race, the angara, just as the universe really starts to open up. The angara, particularly your squadmate Jaal, look more than a little like Knuckles The Echidna and are an intriguing addition to the Mass Effect franchise. Getting to know angaran history is one of the better hooks to pull you into the campaign. Watching the new settlers, the older races, and the warring kett try to exist in the same galaxy takes some exciting turns, but it hits some predictable plot points as the massive story unfolds.
Running on Old Tech in a New World
For all its positives, Mass Effect: Andromeda's major negatives go beyond some bland teammates and boring enemies. The biggest issue is that, despite being the first new Mass Effect in five years and on new hardware, it has the look and feel of an older game. It sticks too closely to the winning template and tech that built the series.
Technologically, there's a real uncanny valley on display in many of the crucial conversations. Facial animation, particularly on humans like the Ryder twins, has a real disconnect between the dialogue and the rictus grins that the faces can get shaped into. Some characters look noticeably worse than how NPCs looked on the lesser tech of older consoles. And despite aiming for a fresh start, many ancillary missions are the predictable fetch quests of "talk to this guy, flip three switches, then talk to them again."
Even as the story and worlds pull you in a dozen hours into the campaign, there are still moments where you're thinking, "Mass Effect waited this long and still didn't update the flow of this menu/option/layout?" Andromeda often doesn't feel as new-gen as it's long development would have you believe.
Is Mass Effect: Andromeda good?
The developers of Mass Effect; Andromeda had the unenviable task of making a brand new Mass Effect that both stays true to the series and simultaneously feels fresh. The game mostly succeeds at the former, crafting the familiar story, action, and interactions that made the series so memorable. But Andromeda plays it a little too safe with its fresh start, whether with predictable twists, overused character tropes, or disconnecting tech hiccups.
If you've been dying for another dose of the franchise, you'll find it in Andromeda, but it's not the refreshing new start it could've been. If BioWare continues to explore these new galaxies, hopefully, they'll take a few more risks next time around.