“Welcome to your new home in Andromeda, where the brightest star is you!”
The ending to Mass Effect 3 left a lot of fans less than happy with the outcome. The legacy left by the series as a whole acts as a poisoned chalice; how can a successor even attempt to come close to the exhilaration Mass Effect 2 left players feeling? Some will say it can’t. Luckily, legacies can be left behind, and Mass Effect 2’s legacy was left behind in the Milky Way.
You’re in Andromeda now.
In Mass Effect: Andromeda, you take control of Ryder, a human who’s just been woken from a cryogenic slumber lasting 600 odd years. Unfazed by the impending grogginess and undeniably bad breath after such a deep sleep, you set about your work immediately; finding suitable worlds to inhabit and colonise.
This is the Andromeda Initiative.
However, a couple of problems await you – unsustainable environments on these “Golden Worlds”, the new, militaristic race known only as the Kett, and a mysterious faction of robots dubbed “the Remnant”. The plot of the game revolves around these issues and the new alien race (the Angara) that you’ll come across on your travels. Starting afresh in the Andromeda galaxy provided the creative team the chance to ignore skirt around the ending of the original trilogy. While the story is innovative and refreshing at times, it does sadly fall back on certain tropes found in the original trilogy, such as the inclusion of a mysterious ancient race, and the strength found in uniting different species. Maybe it’s a subtle commentary on how as one human race, we should all unite and end all forms of war?
Nah, because there are still tons of bad guys to kill.
The gameplay in Mass Effect: Andromeda should prove very familiar to long-time fans of the series. For the unaware, the Mass Effect series is (predominantly) an exploration-centric RPG, focusing heavily on player-companion relations, with combat encounters peppered throughout your journeys. Andromeda is no different. Where the series once fell short, has now come on leaps and bounds: the combat.
The combat in Andromeda is sleek, fluid, and most importantly, fun. No longer do players emit a groan of despair at the realisation that a confrontation is afoot; now we (well, I personally) relish it. An integral part of this all-new, all-improved combat experience, is the vastly enhanced cover system. Providing you have your weapons drawn, Ryder will now take cover whenever they’re positioned near an area that offers such. Its integration is seamless, and feels like a feature that’s always been a part of the franchise. Should you play as an all-guns-blazing Ryder, one who’s focused on advancing their arsenal of biotics, or somewhere in between, you will marvel at the improvements Andromeda has brought to these encounters.
And that’s not all; Andromeda offers so much more than gunplay.
Naturally, the RPG elements Mass Effect is known for, have been retained. The multiple-choice dialogue options return, offering you the chance to mould your character in whatever way you see fit. As well as that, Ryder, much like Shepard before them, only travels in groups of threes; meaning you’ll be accompanied by two companions of your choice. You don’t have to be a veteran of the series to know that it’s lauded for its player-companion interactions, and these too make a return. Build up enough of a rapport with your buddies, from chatting or performing tasks for them, and you may or may not be able to pursue a romantic relationship with them. But be warned – if given the option (and you’re most certainly given the option), Ryder will jump on anything with a pulse. Whether it reciprocates these feelings, is up to you to find out.
Exploration is key in this game. As Pathfinder, your job is to infiltrate potentially inhabitable “Golden” worlds, and complete various tasks which in turn, will enable colonists to land. While it sounds basic enough, it offers many a challenge to the player, and really gives us a sense of purpose; as Ryder, we’re literally paving the way for not just humanity, but all inhabitants of the Milky Way. Pretty cool.
Not all your duties as Pathfinder result in you landing on terra firma – you’re also tasked with managing Colonial Affairs in Andromeda. The more you learn about a planet, through scanning its wildlife and environment, the more points you garner, and these points can be spent as you see fit on improving life on both the Nexus, and your various colonies. You decide who to pull from cryogenic sleep. Want to improve the Andromeda Initiative’s research capabilities? Wake the scientists! Care to show the hostile Kett you Milky Way inhabitants are a force to be reckoned with? Release the militants from their slumber! Or, care to, uh, “acquire rare items” and “grow financial investments”? Then, defrost the commerce pods… I guess. Not quite as exciting, but I suppose they’re still essential..?
You’re also placed at the helm of research and development, on behalf of the Nexus. The more you interact with and learn about each world’s surroundings, the more points are made available for you to spend, and these can be invested in everything from studying and producing alien weapons, to armour, and even biotic upgrades. If you haven’t already noticed, Mass Effect: Andromeda really rewards thorough exploration.
And, one of the final entries on your long to-do list as Pathfinder, finds you in control of various Strike Teams who will, at your command, embark on different missions throughout the galaxy. These range from the mundane elimination of enemy supply ships, to the more exciting search and destroy missions. It reminded me of a similar feature in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, where you’d send assassins off on missions all around the continent. A feature found in Andromeda however, is the option to play some of the more difficult missions in multiplayer, either with friends or via public matchmaking. It’s a nice little touch, and adds yet another facet to the already varied gameplay.
For the most part, the visuals in this game are stunning. The varied environments are incredible, ranging from the lush, almost overbearing jungles of Havarl, to the sandy dunes of Eos (no, not that one, FFXV fans). They’re honestly gorgeous, and it’s just a pity that, aside from the mission-centric areas, the planets are mostly barren, without much of note. The visuals during conversations were, up until recently, another story. After spending ages in the character customisation menu, you’re met with an unskippable cutscene, (and a rather long one at that) only to find that, your Ryder may or may not look completely different in gameplay, as to how you created them. A curse, truly. Not only that, but NPCs (often of the human variety) appear, well, messed up in some cutscenes, hindering the immersion factor. But, as of April 4th 2017, these horrifying encounters have been fixed. Thanks devs.
It’s the little things in Mass Effect: Andromeda, that make the game for me. It’s the minute references to other literature (ODSY? Tempest? Hyperion?), the nuggets of humour that can be found in the crew’s email logs to each other, or the interesting addition of the character Suvi, whose religious beliefs and ideals conflict with her line of work. It’s these totally passable tidbits that really cement in my mind, the idea that Mass Effect: Andromeda is a great game. I’ve tried to avoid comparing this game to its predecessors, because it doesn’t deserve that. Entering a new galaxy, essentially wiping the slate clean is a feat that Mass Effect 2 never had to contend with, and people are very quick to forget this. Sure, Andromeda has its glitches and bugs, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. It’s a fantastic game, even with the weight of its ancestors resting on its shoulders.
You’d better get comfortable in the Andromeda galaxy, Pathfinder. This is home now.