Welcome to the Andromeda Initiative! I’ve left behind the Milky Way to seek out new adventures, though I can’t help but wonder if it’s too late to turn back. Mass Effect Andromeda is the fourth installment in the Mass Effect series, and for the fourth installment in one of the last generations biggest triple-A series, received an alarmingly small amount of buzz. Just as quickly as we saw the first images from Andromeda, it was in our hands. This sort of marketing typically goes one of two ways, a well put together game that the studio is incredibly confident in, or a quick cash grab to escape a sinking ship. For this reason, I was nervous diving into Bioware’s latest visit to the old N7 stomping grounds.
Mass Effect Andromeda stars Scott or Sarah Ryder. At the start of your adventure, you’ll choose which of the Ryder siblings to play as. Your selection will be woken from their respective cryo pod at the end of the roughly 6oo year journey to the Andromeda galaxy. The other sibling will remain in a coma due to difficulties in leaving their cryo pod. The protagonist’s father, Alec Ryder is the Pathfinder, a soldier with an AI implant charged with using his abilities to find a home world in Andromeda for his people. A Pathfinder was chosen for each race or at least those that received Arks to Andromeda(think generation ships). Minor spoiler ahead….Alec dies, though I’m sure you knew that or at the least assumed. When the initiatives first ground op goes horribly wrong, Ryder and company are greeted by Andromeda’s first unfriendly new race, the Kett. Alec sacrifices himself and his title of Pathfinder as well as the onboard AI, SAM is passed to the player.
Here Mass Effect Andromeda truly begins. As the Pathfinder, it’ll be your duty to seek out potential home worlds from the Nexus, your base of operations modeled after the Citadel from the original series. While the premise on its own is sound, Ryder’s position as Pathfinder is the first troubled bit of storytelling. Unlike Shepard, the human hero of the original Mass Effect trilogy, Ryder doesn’t earn the title, but instead, has it thrust upon him suddenly. All of this could work fine if Scott or Sarah Ryder were remotely humble in this situation, but the majority of their dialogue options leave them either an unpassionate husk or an entitled jerk. It’s worth noting that despite which gender you pick Scott and Sarah seem to be mostly identical although I did play as Scott.
The rest of the crew is equally as bland. You have your basics, a Turian, a Krogan, multiple Humans including an ex Asari Commando. While the crew is diverse, they didn’t resonate with me enough to make me care about them. Each character has a loyalty mission which can be picked up as you progress, but they all end on a singular note. I walked away thinking “well that happened” but none of these missions seemed to impact the overall story in any significant way. If any character was even slightly likable, it was Jaal. Jaal is the only Angaran member of your crew, the Angara, of course, being one of the two new races encountered in Mass Effect Andromeda. Part of me thinks that Jaal’s unfamiliarity is what made him likable. He seems less cookie cutter than his crewmates, and his battle quips even made me chuckle occasionally.
The Angaran race, as well as our new enemies the Kett, have a lot of possibilities but end up just being more humanoid races that might as well be any other aliens that came to the galaxy with us. Their technology is on par with the denizens of the Milky Way, and they have all the same principles. More aliens with assault rifles is not the brave new world Mass Effect Andromeda promised. In its earliest hours, strange weather patterns and strange new creatures are teased before moving on to a planet that looks like it could be the American Midwest.
Dialogue trees have been dumbed down in the same style BioWare used in Dragon Age: Inquisition, an icon next to each option will let you know if you’re responding politely, being cheeky, or getting romantic. It makes what was once a fun decision in character development a paint by numbers experience.
Your Omnitool, the device used by characters in the Mass Effect universe to interact with just about everything now has a scanning feature. You can scan almost anything on new planets to get research data used for developing new weapons and armor. Scanning can feel tedious at times; I often found myself slowly walking through environments with the scanner out pre-emptively as not to miss anything.
Mass Effect Andromeda’s combat might be its one shining grace. An action game Mass Effect is not, in previous titles I couldn’t wait to holster my gun and get back to talking. Mass Effect Andromeda’s combat does what it sets out to do better than most anything else in the title. It keeps its soft cover third person shooter mechanics while adding some verticality to combat in the form of your armors jump jets. You can use this jet pack feature to boost into the air or dash across gaps. It does a fine job of breaking up the mundane sit behind some cover and shoot formula by letting you more quickly get up close and personal with Mass Effect’s melee attacks and many powers.
In past Mass Effect games, you would lock into a profile at the start which would determine where you could spend skill points and upgrade powers. Andromeda opens up the idea of profiles by letting you place skill points wherever you like and opening up changeable profiles to suit your playstyle. Each profile provides different buffs based off what skill set it is best suited for, for example, the Soldier profile will buff damage output while the engineer will receive buffs to shields.
Technical issues seem to be the talk of the town when it comes to Mass Effect Andromeda. For one character animations seem wooden. Large scale RPGs often have to let high-end graphics take a back seat to allow for deeper storytelling and multiple narrative options. It’s something I can normally look the other way on. However, Andromeda’s strange facial animations and weird eye darting are a contributing factor to the story not landing. Even in tense situations, Scott Ryder seems to have a half smirk. There’s something truly unsettling about a man smiling even a little bit as he’s told his father didn’t make it.
In my late hours with Mass Effect, I encountered some full on technical nightmares. In the loyalty mission for Vetra, your Turian crewmate, I died in combat and respawned in a hallway where I was unable to open either exit. Luckily I was able to roll back a save and complete the mission but not before witnessing the most broken cut scene I have ever seen in a video game. We’re talking characters sliding through doors, shaking limbs and T-poses galore.
Mass Effect Andromeda failed to make me feel something the way its predecessors did. I found myself in unfamiliar territory with characters and a story that I didn’t care about, in part due to technical issues that were tough to look past. Only Mass Effect Andromeda’s combat accomplishes what it set out to do, and that isn’t enough to keep you engaged. A year from now patches may make Andromeda look like a different game. That may make it a bit more worth your time, but even technical fixes can’t save it from a mediocre story. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Mass Effect, but the team at BioWare needs to take a step back and remember what made the series great. The deep stories and interesting character development are nowhere to be found. If you absolutely need more Mass Effect, this game is here, but I wouldn’t recommend it.