A New Home for Humanity? Mass Effect: Andromeda

(Note: I played the PS4 version of this game and my Ryder character is female so I’ll be referring to Ryder as she.)

The Mass Effect series has had a profound impact on gaming. Its approach to storytelling has become iconic: who doesn’t recognize its dialog wheel or characters like Garrus or Tali? Who doesn’t remember trying to pick which one of their teammates to pursue romantically, and the awkward sex scenes that accompanied that choice? The series’ big open world (or worlds to be exact), huge cast of characters and the impact that player choice makes on the narrative are at the core of what makes ME so beloved. Mass Effect: Andromeda clearly had big shoes to fill: how does a developer follow up such a landmark trilogy? While Andromeda features many of the same aspects that make the first three games stand out, it suffers from a mediocre execution of those aspects, and also from flaws unique to itself.

One of the most important parts of an ME game is its crew. You’ll be spending dozens of hours flying around space with these people; it helps if you actually like them. Andromeda’s cast isn’t terrible but is nowhere near as memorable as the casts featured in the original trilogy. Its members aren’t as compellingly written and their individual stories aren’t as interesting as those featured in past entries. There are stand-outs in Andromeda (Vetra and Peebee), but most of your teammates feel bland. Pleasant for the most part but quite bland. Because the cast isn’t engaging, the long hours spent having conversations with them and the romances with them, can be a bit dull. While some of the characters do have a decent payoff if you get to know them well, most of their stories feel slightly hollow.

The crew of Andromeda. From top, left to right: Vetra, Cora, Drack, Peebee, Jaal and Liam.

On this same note, Ryder isn’t the most compelling protagonist. While the game tries to play up her emotional connections to her father and brother, these attachments feel slightly artificial, as the game provides too little backstory for the family in its main narrative. Most of Ryder’s struggle stems from her trying to live up to her father’s example but since so little information about his achievements is featured in the main storyline, her struggle doesn’t carry the emotional weight that it should. I don’t want to be too negative: Ryder and her crew are competently written but compared to the other ME games they fall short of that high standard.

Andromeda’s main plot centers on exploring the Andromeda galaxy in search of a new home for humanity and other alien races. The galaxy is home to two new alien species: the Angara and the imperial Kett who serve as the game’s antagonists. Hidden on the various worlds of Andromeda are ultra-high-tech remains from a lost alien race called the Remnant. The plot focuses on Ryder’s attempt to make allies of the Angara, find a suitable home for humanity, unravel the secrets of the Remnant and defeat the Kett. There aren’t many surprises in how Andromeda’s story unfolds. The most interesting events occur in the game’s many side quests rather than in the main story missions. While the mysteries of the Remnant and the war against the Kett are ably written, they aren’t extraordinary. The game tries to heighten the tension by comparing the differing leadership styles of Ryder and the Archon, the tyrannical leader of the Kett. While this tension sounds good on paper Andromeda does a mediocre job of executing it–not a bad job but not a great one either.

Andromeda fares much better in the gameplay department. It improves upon the RPG/third-person shooter combat of the previous ME games. Andromeda focuses on constant motion in battle by equipping Ryder with a rocket-pack which enables her to dash away from or jump over enemies and obstacles. Combine this mobility with hundreds of weapons ranging from handguns to sniper rifles to laser guns, and you have countless options in battle. The game also provides special abilities like sapping enemy shields, throwing fire and tossing enemies with your mind, all of which expand your arsenal and offer many deadly combinations and strategies. The game’s many classes and stat boosts available to Ryder deepen its strategic potential and makes for a satisfying character-building experience. The only drawback to the combat is the convoluted weapon crafting system. There are many great guns available to you but figuring out if you have the right materials to make them is a chore.

When not in battle Ryder and her team explore the many worlds of Andromeda either on foot or in their vehicle the Nomad. The worlds are beautifully realized and stunningly detailed but many feel empty when driving through them. Once Ryder eventually finds something in the wastes, the game typically offers a fun adventure spent shooting things, solving simple puzzles and talking your way out of sticky situations. Andromeda’s core gameplay is solid but not spectacular.

It looks even worse in motion.

There are two major flaws that I haven’t mentioned yet but have generated a lot of controversy: the game’s facial animations and many glitches. To be blunt, the faces in this game are laughable. Even though the developers have released a patch to fix them, the characters’ faces still look off. They do look less like stiff dolls after the update but they certainly aren’t up to par. It’s hard to form an emotional connection to a character that looks like they’re made of plastic.

Like many other open world games, Andromeda is host to many bugs and glitches. Players have reported falling through the floor, unloadable saves and overlapping dialogue. I’ve had Ryder get stuck on walls and rocks while jumping or dashing. Although she would pop out after a minute, it was still irritating since it happened too frequently. The developers have released a patch to address these issues but the game was rough on release.

Mass Effect: Andromeda had quite a challenge to undertake: to follow up the landmark Mass Effect trilogy. Unfortunately, due to its lackluster (but by no means bad) writing, technical issues, and character animations it falls short of surmounting this challenge. Flaws aside, Andromeda is a solid game, especially if divorced from the original series. The Andromeda galaxy is certainly worth exploring but it’s not a permanent home for the Mass Effect series.

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