I will not hesitate to say that Mass Effect is one of my most beloved series of all time, to the point of obsession I might say! You can rest assured however that this will not cloud my judgement; after all, the bar has been set pretty high. It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been five years since my last adventures in Mass Effect 3. I remember putting off the ending for months because I couldn’t bear to sever ties with my beloved Shepard and Kaidan. But here we are, 600 years later with a new path to traverse, but can it live up to expectations? Read on to find out!
Game: Mass Effect: Andromeda
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review copy provided)
Mass Effect Andromeda is a whole new adventure far away from the Milky Way, taking us from our solo journey as Commander Shepard to a complicated family affair. Our past adventures now take their place in history, with the occasional subtle links here and there.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a fresh start, and as such, it is perfect for newcomers to the series. That being said, unless you are familiar with the previous series there are many things that aren’t explained in depth and may not be understood early on. For returning fans such as myself, the beginning has a nostalgic feel to that of Mass Effect 1 and is everything you could ever ask for from the series. It’s pure Mass Effect at its core, but the influence of Dragon Age Inquisition can certainly be seen in some aspects.
The previous titles musical scores managed to evoke so many emotions in me, with Mass Effect 3’s ‘Leaving Earth’ being particularly haunting. It would be fair to say that these tracks are one of the key triggers to the many tears I shed throughout my journey, and Mass Effect Andromeda continues to suck me further into that black hole of emotions from the start. John Paesano has smashed his debut into video game composing, perfectly combining orchestral and electronic tunes into a soundtrack that takes you down deep then lifts you back up again. Local Edmonton DJ’s were even brought in to create electronic, drum & bass and tropical house tracks for places such as the new nightclub Vortex where the iconic Mass Effect dancing can shine in all its glory (and my own for that matter!). There are a few timing niggles I have with some conversations, but overall the voice cast is fantastic, especially the performances from Tom Taylorson and Fryda Wolff who voice the Ryder Twins. I am in love with Fryda’s voice! A better person could not have been chosen to take over from Jennifer Hale’s iconic Commander Shepard. Hale’s voice captured a more mature individual with a wealth of experience, whereas Fryda captures the young, free and inexperienced Ryder perfectly. If there is one thing I miss it’s the elevator and its cheesy music!
So on to the hot topic; graphics. Unfortunately, the release has been plagued with poor animations, particularly in faces and glitches that have left many people rather sour. From personal experience, my characters face seemed to be puffed out like a puffer fish and the lip movements… well, it kind of looks like someone trying to talk straight after a Botox. It is an issue for sure. However, I feel that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. After a while you can easily switch off from them, seemingly getting better as you go along. Heck, some of them are even quite funny! BioWare have since acknowledged the feedback and are looking into resolving the matter, it’s nothing that a patch can’t fix and at least on my part these issues are not off-putting in the slightest. I believe the key thing to remember here is that all games have their own unique style, and Mass Effect Andromeda stays true to its roots. It feels right. Comparisons should not be made to games like Horizon Zero Dawn, that game is in a whole class of its own. Variety is the spice of life after all!
Away from the negativity, the Planetscapes are actually rather beautiful, with a new open world approach which was also introduced in Dragon Age Inquisition that allows us to explore the galaxy with freedom like never before. Though it still looks somewhat like the Mass Effect’s of old, the new Frostbite engine is a great improvement, especially in the lighting department. My first reaction to put it simply was WHOA! It’s hard not to keep taking screenshots.
I loved my Commander Shepard, and now my FemRyder has me equally, if not more hooked. Upon starting the game you are provided with the option of choosing to play as either male or female Ryder. You can stick with the default looks or create your own. There is a wide variety to choose from, from crafting the perfect cheekbones to those dreamy eyes. At the same time, they are still more limited than I would like and there are fewer options when compared to DAI. Once you are done with yourself, you also have the option of customising your twin too. Genes really do run in the family and your selections will influence the appearance of your father Alec, who turned out pretty damn good if I say so myself! As I previously mentioned, MEA is the beginning of a new story and as such, there is no option to import previous Mass Effect saves. There is, however, the option to choose if Shepard was male or female.
There are 6 effective ‘classes’ that you can select, from Security, Biotic, Technician, leader, Scrapper and Operative. Each class grants you different abilities and styles, allowing you to match to your personal playstyle. For example, a Scrapper is ‘hands on’ out on the front lines, whilst Technicians are more supportive, using tech to overpower enemies from afar. Biotics are my personal favourite, using a mixture of biotic powers (mass effect fields) to blast enemies at a distance whilst also using lighter firearms as support. Unlike past titles, you are no longer stuck with this choice. As you develop your character’s skill set, new profiles can be unlocked, such as Soldier, Vanguard and Explorer. Each profile grants different bonuses to skills and abilities, such as increased damage, accuracy and recharge speeds. As you develop more skills, ranks will be increased for greater bonuses. Profiles can be switched at any time, allowing you to change tactics and playstyle to suit various situations if one isn’t working out for you. As you gain XP you will accumulate points, which can be spent on Combat, Biotic and Tech skills, allowing you much more freedom in combat; you no longer have to be restricted to one type. Skills rank from 1-6 with each tier granting new bonuses. From rank 4, one of two options can be selected, allowing you to personalise the skill deeming on what you feel is more important, such as damage over radius.
Up to 3 skills can be added to your active loadout at any one time for combat. These too can be swapped out to mix things up, however, I do wish that all options were available to you as you never know what you may need in a pinch. The rest of your squad’s skills are pre-set and you can only increase their rank in these skills only. The restriction of freedom over your teammates here is one of a few instances that I wish were not removed. Speaking of teammates, there are 6 companions available, all of whom you will meet relatively early on in the story. With a similar line-up to past titles, each has their own speciality and personality. It can be a little hard to not compare them at first, but you will soon come to love their unique quirks.
Of course, all of these guys are available to romance along with a few others, and romance in Mass Effect has always been a key selling point. (I swear I don’t play this game for that reason alone…). Liam, Jall and Suvi are for female Ryder only; Cora, Gil and Avela are exclusively for male Ryder whilst Peebee, Vetra, Reyes and Keri are up for anything. Trust me, there is a whole lot of banging to be had and things have definitely become more realistic and heated in this galaxy! Seriously, go have some fun. This is not the only area to become more realistic. Much like DAI, the conversation system has been expanded past the previous Paragon/Renegade options. In the previous trilogy, Shepard was more restricted to working towards the greater good of all or being a total badass with more self-interest, both of which had clearer outcomes. In MEA, conversations reflect a much broader personality that you can shape, choosing between Emotional, Logical, Casual or Professional responses. These allow you more control over the shape of Ryder’s character, whether this is a reflection of your own reactions to a situation or crafting your own idea of how Ryder should be. The results of your choices may not be as prominent here, and over time they will shape who you are and how those around you interact. It’s refreshing not knowing what consequences will come about from your decisions.
The Andromeda Galaxy offers much to be explored, and though some might find the pace a little too slow, it’s fitting with the theme. This isn’t the Milky Way; there are worlds we know nothing about, races to be discovered and we must find a way to shape a new life here. Mass Effect is at its most rewarding for those who wish to explore every nook and cranny and learn all they can from the people and world around them. Mass Effect, like most BioWare titles, excels at storytelling and I personally love doing everything I possibly can to delve into the heart of it, from main missions which drive the main story to side missions which delve deeper into the bigger picture. There is so much that can be missed if you don’t invest the time. Away from the Nexus, this galaxy’s ‘Citadel’, there are many planets to be explored. Using the galaxy map from the Tempest, I found transitions between planets more fun and engaging as they take you on a third-person ride through space, much better than driving the Normandy across the map. From here you can scan planets, which reveal more information on their history, and you can discover valuable resources. I know some may find this a tedious task but I love the knowledge.
Once you land, your task is to find a suitable location to colonise and raise the planet’s viability through activating alien monoliths and vaults that will terraform the world. These open worlds are huge, and luckily the Mako has been given a much-needed upgrade to the Nomad, a 6-wheeled beast of a vehicle that can pretty much get you past anything. The interface is quite minimalistic, showing off the environments to their fullest, however, I do miss not having a mini map to see exactly where I am easily. As you explore, you will come across many resources that can be used in Research and Development to create new armour and weapons from blueprints, along with mods and augmentations that can enhance and even change the properties of your equipment, or boost the Nomad; a system also inspired by DAI. The interface can be a little overwhelming at first with the plethora of options and menus, but after delving in it becomes much easier. These resources can be found in many ways and are split into 3 categories, Milky Way, Heleus and Remnant Research Data. As you traverse the environments, these can be picked up by hand or mining by deploying drones in the Nomad. Many also found this task tedious but it really takes no effort at all as the map and controller vibrations tell you when you have hit a rich zone, then a simple tap of a button and its done. You can also use your Omni Tool to scan various items for research data or to reconstruct the past to help in missions. I constantly had my scanner out (no pun intended).
Across your travels, you will encounter many enemies, predominantly the Kett and Remnant. Combat has been given much more freedom in movement thanks to the jump jet, allowing you to effectively evade or bring down enemies, even those in cover. Unfortunately, I found the combat to be a little clunkier, with auto cover being a slight hindrance, especially in having to change the direction you face manually. I also find the lack of tactical control over my squad disappointing. Previously you had the ability to control your squad’s abilities, giving them commands. In DAI, this tactical control was fantastic and often crucial in gaining the upper hand. Here, however, not being able to control their actions leaves me uneasy, not knowing what they will do. Whilst only controlling yourself allows for strategic solo play, it almost makes having a squad feel redundant. That being said, combat is still fun and challenging when overwhelmed with enemies.
As you complete missions, defeat enemies and transform the damaged environments, you will earn Andromeda Viability Points. Each planet has an individual AVP measurement and placing an outpost for colonisation is only possible after the 40% threshold. This also contributes to an overall Nexus level. Each new level allows you to release a new Cryo Pod of colonists from one of 3 groups, Science, Military or Commerce. Each group offers different perks, from increased inventory capacity to bonus XP.
If you fancy having a break from the main campaign, the multiplayer is a fantastic escape. Mass Effect’s multiplayer has always been great fun for me, and one I am most experienced in. APEX is made up of the Nexus militia, deployable to defend outposts and interests. Unlike the previous title, unfortunately, you cannot customise your own character here other than colours. Strike Teams are made of up to 4 players, either with friends or with other players online. You can also go solo, but you may not get very far! Multiplayer supports microtransactions where you can purchase Andromeda Points, or you can gain MP credits by participating in matches to purchase packs. Packs range from basic to Premium, and each pack will supply 5 random items, including consumables like revive packs and ammo or weapons and mods. It is here where you can also unlock new characters to play across all classes and races, each with their own unique bonuses, which can be developed as you earn XP. These bonuses can be shared across all characters once unlocked by playing the multiple characters. Missions are made up of 10 waves that get harder as you progress against enemies including the Kett, Outlaws and Remnants. These missions can involve defending bases or gathering Intel and are ranked from easier Bronze to difficult Gold. Mass Effect’s multiplayer is always exciting and challenging, and teamwork is key if you want to complete the mission. At the end of each mission, you will be ranked in position by the medals you gain from matched based on your ability. There is no better feeling than ranking first, and it is highly addictive. I have lost count of how many times I have said “just one more match!”. Strike Teams can also grant in-game bonuses, such as credits or materials. These teams can also be deployed in game, much like the War Table in DAI. Missions have a variety of rewards, with some missions only available for a limited time. Each one will have a percentage chance of success and a completion time, leaving you able to continue playing the main game or whilst you are away at work.
Mass Effect Andromeda is everything I was hoping for from a Mass Effect game. I thought it may be hard to take on a new character and story after Shepard, but I can honestly say that I love my Ryder and her sass. I adore its witty and sometimes cheesy humour, it is one thing I would never change. I admit there are a few issues that need to be resolved. It isn’t perfect, but they do not and should not put anyone off from what is otherwise a fantastic and emotional experience. For anyone that loves Mass Effect, I am sure you will love this in equal measure. For anyone new to the series, there is no better time to get involved in this universe.