Sequels…the ever problematic result of success. It is extremely rare in this day and age to have a successful form of entertainment and not garner a sequel (or two). If a sequel is made, how many is too many? Do you continue as long as the money keeps rolling in, or do you call it quits when the reviews are so bad that you question existence itself? But, if the public is demanding a new instalment in a franchise, then surely it has to be delivered?! Well, BioWare and EA had this dilemma. Mass Effect is without question one of the most loved and critically acclaimed video game series of all time. Ask 100 people to name a great series from the last generation, and I guarantee Mass Effect will get a tonne of mentions.
For me personally, Mass Effect 2 is in my top 5, well, top 3 games of all time. So, waiting for the inevitable to happen, I was feeling a complete mixture of overwhelming excitement and resounding dread. I knew it wouldn’t be a direct sequel due to the ending of Mass Effect 3 (which many people hated, but I thought it was a good way to end this adventure), so I anticipated a spin-off of sorts, possibly during the Reaper conflict, but my hope was for a prequel taking place during the First-Contact Wars between Humanity and the Turians. When EA announced the latest instalment in the Mass Effect series, Mass Effect: Andromeda, back at E3 in June of 2015, I was shocked and intrigued. Apart from the namesake sci-fi show, our galactic neighbour has not featured in many games, films, etc. Have BioWare and EA created a galactic success? Or has it been a universal failure? Well, to be honest, it’s a bit of both…
Mass Effect: Andromeda takes place some 600 years after the events of the original trilogy. The ruling sentient beings from the Milky Way decided that they need to find a new home during the Reaper conflict, and because the Reapers pretty much guaranteed the destruction of every civilisation in the Milky Way, the new homes had to be a bit farther than any species has travelled before, and from this the Andromeda Initiative was born. Four ‘arks’ were sent out to our nearest galactic neighbour, which is still a massive 2.5 million light years away, so it was a bit of a commute, to say the least. You play as either a male or female named Ryder, who is part of the ‘Pathfinder’ team. A Pathfinder’s (your daddy until you inherit the role) job is to find suitable planets for colonisation, which becomes ever more important when it is quickly learned that the pre-chosen ‘golden worlds’ are not suitable for a quick set up. A Pathfinder will also be called upon to deal with any hostile lifeforms they encounter that could put the entire Initiative in jeopardy, which is a rather dark twist to the story of Andromeda that doesn’t really get addressed.
Sure, violence is only a last resort, and the age old rule of engagement is in effect for Ryder and his team that they will not fire unless fired upon, but you are an invading alien, so what the hell gives you the right to start laying claims to planets millions of light years from home? BioWare completely dodges this intriguing question of ethics when you come across the new canon fodder enemy in Andromeda, the (stupidly named) Kett. After meeting your new foes and all questions of whether or not you should be here go out the window, it’s time to save the galaxy from this religious, fanatical evil, but to do so you need a team. And not just any team, no, you need a NEWS TEAM!! Sorry, wires crossed again then. No, of course, it is time to build that squad; however, it is a lot easier this time around as you get the ‘full squad’ achievement only a couple of hours into the game. When you have your team of ultimate badasses assembled, it is time to turn those not so golden worlds into liveable habitats and turn the Andromeda Initiative from a crumbling failure into a humanity and friends greatest achievement.
The story is one of the things that Mass Effect: Andromeda does get right. It is generally entertaining and an interesting side story in the Mass Effect universe. Unfortunately, there are many problems with this game, and it breaks my heart to write those words. Let’s get the elephant in the room out in the open first…the numerous bugs and performance issues that plague Mass Effect: Andromeda. In my playthrough I experienced the following:
1- Game crash at the end of a tough, tough mission on the ice planet of Voeld.
2- Nomad constantly freezing for a second or two while loading a new area of the map
3- Kett soldiers appearing in the air randomly throughout the map
4- Squad member who was downed during combat was still down after it had finished; however, their dialogue continued
5- Extreme frame rate dips
6- Losing audio randomly for a few seconds
7- Non-existent autosaves during missions
Now, individually these issues are honestly no way near massive enough to care about, but altogether they do cause a problem, especially for a game like Mass Effect from a major studio such as BioWare. While playing Andromeda I constantly thought that this is just a game that wasn’t finished. It truly feels like EA needed to rush this out and would deal with the issues later on (which BioWare have announced they will be) and just hope the fanbase would accept a game with these problems. Thankfully, these problems aren’t game ending or anything serious like that, but when my game did crash right at the start of the end cutscene for a level, my heart completely sank with the fear of having to do it all again, but praise the sun, the game actually autosaved, so I didn’t have much to do again. I will only touch on the facial animations briefly because, to be honest, they do not bother me that much. They are completely hilarious at times, and a company the size of and with the resource base of BioWare should be doing better, but their questionable animations are the least of Andromeda‘s problems.
The voice acting is also hit and miss in Andromeda, with many of the voice cast sounding like they really couldn’t be bothered when recording their dialogue. The best example of this is, unfortunately, right at the beginning of the game. When Ryder and his father speak to each other, there is nothing there, no emotion, it is just dead. While talking to other people about your old man, this is especially annoying due to the dialogue choices you are given which suggest a troubled relationship between the two, but there is just zero conviction from Ryder, so honestly, who gives a crap? Not all the voice cast project as much emotion as a grapefruit, thankfully, with your two Asari squadmates, Peebee (Christine Lakin) and Lexi T’Perro (Natalie Dormer), a delight to converse with. If the other conversations couldn’t put you to sleep, then the system scanning surely will. This is a vintage Mass Effect component, and it is a vital tool needed to increase your material hauls for weapon and armour production. It doesn’t escape the fact that the process is as long and dull as it has ever been. BioWare again has done an incredible job in providing information on the 100 or so planets available to scan, and for a complete space geek like myself, I love reading about these alien worlds, but this doesn’t change the fact that actually scanning the planets is repetitive, and the journey between these different worlds is monotonous.
If you are new to the Mass Effect universe or, to be honest, even if you have played the other instalments, Andromeda can be a daunting prospect with the sheer number of missions and objectives thrown at you. It seems you can’t go a few feet on a planet in Andromeda without getting a new mission or two. This wouldn’t normally be a complaint, but I often found myself not wanting to bother with half of these missions and just carry straight on with the main missions. The other three games had their sheer number of missions, but they seemed to trickle in at a steady pace; Andromeda just shotgun blasts you in the face with all these tasks that need to be completed. All I can say is “balls to being a Pathfinder!” And speaking of the Pathfinder, Ryder is to Commander Shepard what a microwave burger is to a prime cut of steak. Shepard was a rugged, ass kicking, heart stealing son-of-a-bitch, Ryder is a creepy, iritating moron. It isn’t a great feeling to have about the main character of the game you are playing, and I really cannot decide if I dislike Ryder because of my love for Shepard or if he is just awful. Ryder isn’t the worst character, surprisingly; no, that moniker goes to your trusty AI pal SAM, WHO NEVER SHUTS THE HELL UP!!!!! He will constantly just spout nonsense, informing you when you are in a hazardous area, when there are mining opportunities nearby and just other ‘helpful’ bits of info, which would be fine IF IT WASN’T ALREADY ON THE SCREEN!!! Also, during the heat of a battle, if you stray into a hazardous area, SAM will tell you, and when you back into a safe area, he will again inform you of that. And he will do this every single time.
Combat is the saving grace of Andromeda, but it is still not without problems. Enemies will often just stand there waiting for you to shoot them, and this goes for all ranks within the Kett army. Your teammates are extremely capable of dealing some serious damage to the Kett, although they take the all or nothing approach and will constantly need to be revived, which falls to you, Pathfinder. You can only order your two squad members to attack or to take up positions, so when one of your kamikaze pals inevitably falls, your best is to hope it’s not directly in front of anything too challenging. The actual combat though is a blast, and with the detailed skill tree you can mould Ryder into whatever type of warrior you want to play as. The automatic cover system works extremely well in Andromeda, and there were only a handful of occasions in which it failed me. Moving around the fight is easier than ever, as Ryder does move more fluidly than Shepard, and this is made even easier by the addition of a much-welcomed jump pack which allows you to reach higher vantage points or quick dodge attacks.
Once you have the combination of powers/guns/ammo that suits you, then the long, constant battles are never a bore. I would often find myself rushing through the rest areas just to get back to shooting some Kett fools in the face, and every time I came across a small Kett patrol during my exploration of a planet, I would always jump out and blast them. Exploring the several landable planets is another highlight of Andromeda. They all look incredible and are diverse enough to not lead to boredom when exploring them. Driving around in your trusty Nomad is fun, and you can pretty much go everywhere you can see. The side missions you receive are generally centred around exploration, like find the missing science team, locate some missing research and such, and it is during these side missions that you will come across Andromeda‘s secondary enemy, of sorts: the Remnant. These robotic sentinels are guardians of the ancient technology used to terraform the planets you will land on. Generally, they are not much bother and are mostly bullet fodder, but there is one Remnant that requires some serious time and effort to defeat. I won’t give too much away, but be prepared, Pathfinder, for a battle tougher than most of the Kett boss fights.
Publisher: EA Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 21st March 2017