After five years, the critically acclaimed Mass Effect series returns for a brand new chapter in its illustrious history. With new characters, a new galaxy and refined gameplay, Mass Effect might look like the games of old on the surface, but dig a little deeper and this is a completely different game. This is both a blessing and a curse for Andromeda that perfects the battle system sorely lacking in the other games but in doing so, disappoints in so many other areas.
The story begins with the end of a 600 year voyage to the Andromeda galaxy to branch out and expand humanity beyond the Milky Way galaxy. Once there, things inevitably go wrong as the ship loses contact with the other ships it travelled with and the settlements they once believed to be lush paradises are inhospitable wastelands. Left without a plan or a world to inhabit, the crew fear the worst. The set up is actually really intriguing and its exciting as you first gain control of Ryder who’s dropped in the middle of this crisis and has to try and fix everything.
After a limited character creation system that includes a handful of preset options for hair, faces and choosing between male and female, you begin your journey across the galaxy to find a new home. After a small linear prologue to get to grips with the controls and lay out of the game, it opens up a bit and early on its clear that they’re not the only ones in search of new worlds. A dangerous blood-lusting alien race show up and its up to Ryder and his ragtag crew to navigate through the galaxy as the unavoidable fight with this race builds as the game unfolds.
There’s no denying, Mass Effect Andromeda’s vistas are impressively rendered
The story itself is nothing remarkable, especially considering what’s come before in this series of games and the concerns with the lacklustre writing go as far as the voice acting itself. Some characters deliver their lines well, including Liam and Dr Lexi (Natalie Domer) who stand out as being the most realistic in this respect but the rest of the characters are either okay or just plain bad. One of the worst lines comes from one of the characters early on as they sigh and let us know their face is tired. The wonky animations only further exacerbate the issues to the extent that some cut scenes are jarringly bad, bringing you out of the action completely. During my play-through I saw some characters getting in the way during conversations, others clipping through walls and at one point a character stood vibrating on the spot during what should have been a tense, dramatic scene. For a game of this size and with the budget it had one or two bugs and glitches are forgivable but during my 40 hour play through I encountered more than two handfuls. Some of which were game breaking and resulted in a hard reset.
Aside from the passable story and questionable animations, the real meat of the game is in the game play which is incredible fun and versatile. With a new vertical element to fights this time around via the jet-pack Ryder has, the game feels more open and accessible than ever before. Fights play out based on skills you’ve chosen from levelling up and there’s an impressive array of tech, biotic and physical skills to craft your character around. Its worth mentioning here too that the menus and user interface is very clumsy and takes a good while to get to grips with. It regularly takes three or four different screens to get to what you need and this unnecessary complicated interface does nothing to help the already flawed game.
The user interface is clumsy and unncessarily difficult to navigate
You can play as a sniper and launch long range slow-mo moves to line up your shots better, you can become a tank by levelling up your health and strength and go in close with melee or just choose sentry bots and turrets to do all the hard work while you hide behind a crate – the options are easily tweaked and keep the action fast and frantic. The amount of customisation here is the biggest draw of the game and regularly switching between abilities and trying new combinations of skills was a lot of fun during the time I had with the game.
The enemies themselves do feel like bullet sponges at times and with effectively only three different types of enemy through the game, it can become monotonous at times to fight the waves of enemies in areas. This is broken up somewhat by the variety in gun play and the layers of vertical manoeuvrability that help but for all its fun, there’s only so many waves of endless identical enemies you can take.
Despite a lacklustre story, questionable animations and a few good characters, Mass Effect: Andromeda feels very underwhelming. Its a shame too because for all its flaws, there’s no denying the beauty the game has to offer. There’s no denying that Andromeda has some impressively rendered vistas and with a reasonably long draw distance, there are times when the game opens up that its beauty is a marvel. The variety of areas including a lush jungle, barren desert and an ancient city underground are among a few of the areas that are a joy to explore and always throw up some amazing views.
The action is regularly frantic and fast paced
The game also features the usual array of fetch quest side missions that don’t really add anything extra to the game beyond the experience points they offer and a multiplayer mode that’s really good fun but effectively works by eliminating waves of enemies. There’s a lot to do and in the time it took me to complete the game, I feel like I experienced the vast majority of it. Having said that, it does feel disappointing when weighed up next to the other Mass Effect games and for vast periods it feels like its in a whole other galaxy compared to the original games.
Overall then, Mass Effect Andromeda is a hard one to recommend. Its average story with underwhelming characters and side quests make up the bulk of the time you’ll spend with the game but thankfully the game play is incredibly fun and feels tightly refined. The customisation with the guns and skills are the main draw though and the ability to change these on a fly is a neat addition but ultimately, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a disappointing game that could have been so much more with a bit more refinement and a revised script.