(Full disclosure: Purchased for PS4)
Mass Effect: Andromeda takes place roughly 600 years after the first Mass Effect game erasing most ties to the Old World. Settlers from the Milky Way, part of the Andromeda Initiative, have set sail across the dark gulf between the galaxies, arriving to settle in the New World of the Andromeda Galaxy thanks to the very deep pockets of private entrepreneurs that funded this expedition into the virtual unknown. It's six centuries later because that's how long it took for everyone to get there while they slept in cryo chambers.
But nothing goes right upon arrival. The "golden worlds" that they had expected to settle have turned out to be garbage, none of the other arks are in sight, your ship hit something on the way in, and in short order, you're shooting alien thugs faster than Captain Kirk can say "red alert".
Like in the previous titles, experience is earned by doing things like fulfilling quests and killing lots and lots of mobs. Leveling up earns you skill points which can then be used to upgrade skills in any of the three major categories -- Combat, Biotics, and Tech -- each of which have distinctive powers and abilities to make your character, Ryder, your own. Players can also do the same for their party members which have smaller, more customized sets of skills to upgrade.
Combat focuses mainly on typical weapon skills (like assault and sniper rifles) and associated abilities. Biotics is the "mage" branch with special powers that allow you to push enemies, toss them into the air, or summon a miniature singularity to weave chaos on the battlefield. Tech is kind of like biotics, only with technology-oriented abilities such as being able to drain enemy shields or summon a helper bot to add to your firepower. Although you're asked to choose Ryder's vocation at the start, it's only to give you a boost in your favored branch. You're not tied down to whatever you pick. On the whole, the system comes together and the customization tweaks and skill branches offer a lot to work with with fun powers that can make combat an exciting mosh pit of destruction.
The opening crisis acclimates the player to the basic functions of the game before they get their own ship, and a team, to head off into the Heleus Cluster and its systems in a quest to find a new home for everyone. Though you can only travel with two other party members, the game offers a lot of ways to make it easy to swap them in and out while on the field as opposed to having traveling back to your ship every time. Yet the tutorial is also an early exposure to some of the unfortunate issues that dog everything else.
There are core pieces of the game that pay off. The crafting was an engaging extension of lessons learned from Dragon Age: Inquisition allowing me to fashion a custom arsenal. The small stories and side quests could often be more surprising than the actual campaign, especially the trail of clues suggesting a deeper meaning (and a more sensible reason) behind the Andromeda Initiative's purpose. The sheer openness of its worlds and the exploration beckoning towards doors that have yet to be opened kept me going in the 70+ hours in picking through every mountain rise, kett base, and Remnant ruin that I could get to. Yet the quality of the overall experience was decidedly weaker than what I had experienced before with the initial trilogy.
Andromeda has all of the makings of a game pushed out way too early with a laundry list of issues that a body of patches will probably get around to fixing. But its not just one or two issues that are the problem -- it's the consistency of so many recurring problems degrading the experience.
Party members sharing their thoughts shouldn't be cut off because the game auto-saves or because I walked into a new hallway -- but it happens anyway. I shouldn't die because I'm held in dialogue, unable to actually move around, cancel out of, or be interrupted, but that happened, too. Music and sound effects shouldn't drop out, either, for who knows why. Every mission marker and important NPC connected to them should be where they are but, even with this, there were one or two instances of where they weren't (literally restarting the game seemed to fix this most of the time).
It's also hard to take some of the dialogue seriously thanks to how plastic some of the faces come across. I'm not expecting LA Noire's degree of intimacy, but for a story driven medium presenting its characters in this way, it can be jarring when it looks off. If Jack Nicholson's face looked like Ben Stein's
coming through that door in The Shining
, it doesn't quite have the same impact. And it happens a lot. Fortunately, at least the voice acting is solid even if some of the dialogue, or the faces delivering it, aren't. Though for alien races separated from the Milky Way by millions of light years, apparently the translator in Ryder's head has no problem making them sound as if they were just a few light years from Earth's colloquialisms.
There are also some oddball disconnects where logic seems to take a vacation. For instance, at one point, I'm able to manufacture Remnant weapons that use no ammo and replenish themselves. Even the descriptions say that Initiative scientists have no idea how it works, yet with the right materials, I can mass produce these things. In Mass Effect 2, you got a beam rifle as a pre-order bonus -- a bizarre weapon that was made available to Shepard by researchers working for the powerful Illusive Man -- making it unique and reasonably understandable as to why Shepard (as the best hope for humanity) was given one. But in Andromeda, I can apparently print these things out despite the unknowns.
Other problems exist within its open-world. For example, I had cleared out a future mission area because, well, it was there and this was an open world area. Things like that are bound to happen and if I'm in an open world game, I'll find ways ways to break free from the main quests and run wild.
After clearing the base, one of my party mentioned that a bunker was unlocked. There was only one sealed door in the area that didn't open so I assumed it was that. Only until later when I actually had the correct mission associated with said vault that it miraculously opened (the base was still bereft of life when we returned so that was in our favor despite dialogue leading up to it essentially warning us about danger we had already wiped out). I couldn't help but feel a bit of deja vu from Dragon Age 2 where that used crushed wagon debris to block certain caves from entry until the 'story' said it was okay to go in.
There's also a lot of planet scanning and while reading the descriptions of those worlds you dutifully discover (and have nothing to do with the story or be explored) can be interesting, the resources you get from certain "discoveries" are so paltry that it feels like you're wasting even more time just going out of your way. There's something of a lost opportunity here to generate random missions on those worlds that you could explore, too, or even random bases found out in the wild to add an even bigger incentive to head off the beaten path this way.
Andromeda's campaign arc things plays things very safe, and in some ways, feels as if it transplanted Milky Way familiarity to a new neighborhood and then did its best to stay inside the lines. Yet, that it devolves so quickly into combat feels as if this was an chance squandered to expand into the an even bigger unknown. The main villains, for one thing, come off as more cannon fodder than as an extension of some scary, unknowable thing heralding more than just being there for experience points.
Having played through the previous trilogy, I was hoping for another Saren Arterius or Illusive Man moment here and came up empty. On the other hand, a number of the personal quests for your party members fare much better as satisfying asides. These along with a few others also continue the series' penchant for giving the character key decision points (such as whether or not you want to shoot an important NPC off a ledge) and a few of the choices made have an impact or two later on in small ways, though if this is anything like the previous series, will likely be a lot more meaningful in later installments as you build Ryder's history.
Team-based, online multiplayer expands on what Mass Effect 3 introduced so if you liked that, here's your new arena. Four players team up to survive seven waves of varying objectives on one of several of map settings in a quest to level up their favorite class and earn in-game cash to buy loot boxes to potentially unlock even more stuff. It works, it can be addictingly fun, but it's also a bit buggy much like the rest of the game with sound drops, severe frame drops when the area gets exceptionally busy, and one recurring issue where claiming Strike Team rewards from the MP menu would simply hang the game for me. And like the other issues, they occur about as often.
Yet there are other promising vignettes and asides hearkening back to the original series in setting the stage with awesome vistas, daring alien settings and mysteries, and keeping your trigger finger and biotic powers in check. Battling it out with Remnant Architects, giant flying mech worms, are among those memorable moments along with solving, and then activating, mysterious "vaults" of alien technology. These are where some of the best moments of the game live, suggestions of the kind of doors to the unknown Andromeda can open as an extension of a favorite universe, making it all the more disappointing when its issues consistently sour them like random, trash mob encounters.Pros:
- If you're an open-world exploration nut there's a lot to see -- big areas with plenty to do
- Upgrade and crafting systems offer more ways to customize your experience
- Some of the side quests, like those for your teammates, are more interesting than the campaignCons:
- Feels like a beta
- New galaxy feels like another corner of the Milky Way
- If you think you can escape to its multiplayer to get away from the bugs, think againFinal Viability Score: Four Cryo Pods out of Seven