Mass Effect: Andromeda caught my attention due to its massive length and the mashup of space exploration/intense combat/character driven storylines. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a smorgasbord of the best science fiction tropes with great characters and an engaging narrative.
I’m new to the Mass Effect series, and sort of new to the PS4. I’m an old school PC gamer (the original Deus Ex remains my favorite) but even impressive graphics aren’t enough to wow me. It takes great gameplay and an engaging story. Especially engaging characters. Plus, I’m a huge science fiction fan, and this game borrows from so many common tropes: exploration, colony ships, terraforming, artificial intelligence, and super intelligent ‘creator’ aliens. But it manages to balance them all in a good storyline where arks filled with thousands of people in cryostasis set out for the Andromeda Galaxy in search of a new home. I won’t spoil the plot, but it does tie in to the previous games. You’re allowed to play a male or female human, and the customizable appearance allows for a wide range of hairstyles and ethnicities. (I do wish they had allowed you the option to play a different species.) Your character is a Pathfinder, one tasked with finding worlds fit for colonization—as well as deal with hostile aliens, scavengers, raiders, and ancient robots trying to prevent that. You’re given a ship, the Tempest, which serves as your home. It’s to scale and looks great. You even have a spacious cabin where you can change outfits.
First, the gameplay: combat is fast and fluid. You’re allowed to carry up to four ballistic weapons (if you put enough points in the correct skills) and one melee weapon. There’s a wide range of biotic and combat abilities. Some let you lift enemies into the air, immobilizing them, or protect yourself with a shield that reflects energy back at attackers. Others let you blast them with sheer force or infect them with robotic parasites. The jump jet really helps you dodge and move around the field to outflank enemies. You automatically duck or take cover when moving behind crates and other battlefield obstructions. There’s some pretty epic fights in the story: battling the various Remnant Architects, raiding the Kett Fortress on Voeld, freeing the Asari ark Leusinia, clearing the Flophouse on Elaaden—you’ll want to replay the good ones.
Weapon selection focuses on pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and a melee weapon. There’s such a wide range of guns, and the ability to build custom versions, that even the pickiest gamer will find an arsenal they like. Armor is the same, with many different suits that you can also customize with mods. Of course, you can customize the colors of your armor, allowing for an even more unique appearance.
Visuals: Ignore all those complaining about graphics glitches and poor facial animations. If you’ve downloaded the latest patches, most of those issues are fixed, and happened so infrequently to me that it didn’t detract from the overall game. Yes, Bioware should have shipped a less buggy title. But enjoy the good things: the worlds, the equipment, the structures, the lighting—all look magnificent. Stepping onto Habitat 7 for the first time made my jaw drop—a sensation I haven’t felt since exiting Vortex Rikers in the original Unreal way back in 1998. This is a beautiful, detailed, immersive game.
Exploring: There are many solar systems to discover, each with worlds and phenomena like comets and derelicts to scan. Some of this activity earns you XP, Research Points, minerals, salvage, and even progresses a few quests. While there’s a only a handful of planets you can actually walk around on, this is still a neat feature and fits with the plot of seeking a new home in a strange galaxy. On the worlds you are allowed to set foot on, you can use the Nomad (a six-wheeled armored rover) whose paint job can be customized. Some character conversations can only be heard while driving in the Nomad, so it’s not a boring feature in the least.
Quests: There are a LOT, and some are character related (completing them gains you that squad member’s loyalty). Most of these quests fit the game’s theme of building a new home in Andromeda, though a few seem frivolous because of their ease of completion. But overall they are set up well, because the more you complete, the more viable you make the core planets for colonization and settlement. The character’s Loyalty Missions are some of the best in the game, and though each features combat, they fit with what that character holds dear.
Romance: Like previous Mass Effect games, you can romance certain characters. I played Sara, and romanced Peebee, which took some time compared to the other squad members. The relationship was well done and added an extra element to the game. I do feel like some relationship choices get shortchanged over others (some receive much better love scenes, such as a Scott/Cora coupling), and (before the patch release that allows Jaal to be romanced by either gender), fewer LGBT pairings. I also think there should have been more ‘fling’ relationships available, at least one per core planet, for either sexual orientation.
Research Points: This feature is cool but could have been so much more. I like that you’re allowed to research and build better versions of your weapons and armor, but you can play the whole game without ever using it. It’s wasted as a result. There should have been more quests that required you to research something in order to move the story forward (and not just developing a piece of pre-exiting weaponry, of which there are three different side quests). A great idea that falls short.
The Squad: You get six characters possessing a range of combat skills, and each (with the exception of Drack) can be romanced. Their personalities are well defined, especially as the game progresses. I advise talking to them as much as possible, and switching combinations to ride around with in the Nomad, because there’s some fun conversations to be had. Some reviewers have expressed dislike of these characters, but I call bullshit. They do represent archetypes, true, but you’ll find that in any fiction medium, especially a video game. Peebee, an Asari, is my favorite with her chaotic but curious personality. As an Angaran, Jaal’s unfamiliarity with your customs is well done. Liam, a fellow human, always cracked me up with that British accent and snide humor. Vetra, a Turian, is the most down-to-earth of the group. Cora, another human, seems all duty but has a soft side. Drack, a Krogan, is the cantankerous yet lovable elder of the group. I liked them all.
APEX Missions: I can’t comment much on this, as I have yet to delve into the game’s multiplayer side. What I have seen looks good, with exclusive missions and highly customizable characters. It might be a way to feed my Mass Effect hankering now that I’ve completed the single player game.
So all in all, I got more than my money’s worth in Mass Effect: Andromeda. I didn’t want it to end, and that’s after spending 143 hours to complete the game at 100%. Though I doubt it’ll happen since fan reaction was underwhelming, I’d love to see a sequel. Especially one that features the same characters. There’s several loose ends (like the missing Quarian ark and the Kett’s continued interest in the Heleus Cluster) and the impression is blatant that your mission has just begun. But until then, I’m willing to replay this from the beginning. It’s that good.