Mass Effect: Andromeda Review – Shepherding New Beginnings

Electronic Arts
Electronic Arts /

BioWare had a lot to live up to, and make up for, with this pre-sequel spin-off to the Mass Effect saga, but Andromeda reaches for the stars without considering how bumpy the ride might be for its passengers.

Developer: BioWare

Publisher: EA

Platform: PlayStation 4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One, PC

Release Date: March 21, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. Not only does it arrive as the successor to a beloved trilogy (one which nevertheless ended by precipitating one of the largest controversies of the last generation), but it must also cater to both franchise newcomers and seasoned space-farers alike, maintaining the formula which fans love while elevating the sci-fi experience into the new frontier of contemporary game design expectations.

That’s no easy task, and unfortunately, it is one which Andromeda ultimately fails to live up to. Indeed, the many stumbles which the game makes in its pursuit of a fresh start for the series (some of these being the literal stumbles that occur as a result of the frequently off-putting character animations) means it never reaches the same star-riddled heights of Mass Effect 2, or indeed many other titles from BioWare’s rich portfolio.

As soon as Mass Effect: Andromeda begins, new protagonist Ryder is transported light years away from the milky way, where the events of the original trilogy take place. The statement of this opening couldn’t be clearer; aside from a couple of references and easter eggs, BioWare is taking Mass Effect in a new direction from what’s come before. Correspondingly, this decision leads to both positive and disappointing results for the story which follows.

Electronic Arts
Electronic Arts /

The good news is that the Andromeda galaxy allows BioWare to greatly expand the Mass Effect lore by introducing new aliens, characters and threats throughout the story, not to mention some seriously pretty environments and biospheres. Unfortunately, this dogged focus on expansion is prioritized above all other important ingredients for making a great sequel, including enrichment, innovation, and smart game design. Andromeda’s fresh batch of characters, for example, are no satisfactory replacement for the lovable cast of squad-mates which drove the story of the original saga. Your crew are no longer an endlessly entertaining roster made up of Talis, Mordins, Liaras and Jacks, but a so-so set of faces who tend to fall victim to some of BioWare’s stiffest dialogue writing in recent memory.

In a post-Witcher 3 world, Andromeda’s side-quests are hopelessly dull, acting as filler for an RPG experience which already feels bloated and tedious far too often as it is.

There are a few highlights, like the enigmatic Jaal or the vivacious Peebee, and they’re all supported by impeccable voice work across the board, but I didn’t feel truly invested in their backstory or character arcs, and so the stakes of the wider narrative never felt raised in the same way as something like Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission. Speaking of which, despite its initial intentions, Andromeda still treads on familiar franchise territory, as a tale involving an ancient alien race, a power hungry, laughably generic villain and a recently empowered protagonist tasked with bringing peace to the galaxy.

It all plays out without much in the way of subtlety, though there are certainly occasional instances (especially during the later half of the story) where the drama and character interactions make for engaging viewing, providing a glimpse into the potential of something great before descending back into the humdrum of hokey sci-fi soap opera. There even seems to be less of an emphasis on choice-driven storytelling too, and one wonders whether BioWare has been too cautious to craft a branching narrative, out of an attempt to avoid the mistakes of Mass Effect 3.

As Pathfinder, your main goal is to scout out planets and render them habitable for the influx of migrants from the milky way. Much like the semi-open world design of Dragon Age: Inquisition, these planets represent large, explorable zones filled with side-quests, landmarks and collectibles to be discovered. The problem is that most of the time, this sense of exploration is diluted by the mundanity of the discovery process itself; the game might send you trudging across miles of empty landscape only to finish a fetch quest or to find another measly crafting component.

Mass Effect Andromeda
EA /

In a post-Witcher 3 world, Andromeda’s side-quests are hopelessly dull, acting as filler for an RPG experience which already feels bloated and tedious far too often as it is. While you can make good headway across terrain via the Nomad vehicle, this space buggy is frustratingly slow and lumbering as a form of transport, often struggling to make it up even the slightest of slopes at an effective speed.

More from Reviews

The one thing which has improved in Andromeda is the combat. While the tightness and punch of BioWare’s gun-play still can’t quite compete with traditional shooters, Andromeda has been juiced up with a fast, flexible and hyperactive battle system which keeps encounters entertaining throughout the thirty-hour campaign and beyond. The new jump pack lends a dynamism to every shootout, while the ability to switch between classes, play around with an extensive range of abilities, and benefit from a versatile selection of guns and modifications means that the strongest sense of exploration comes via Andromeda’s progression system itself. Sadly, at least on console, you can only equip three abilities at any one time, and the extent to which you can command your squad-mates is now limited to strategic positioning only.

Regardless, the reinvigorated combat also advantages Andromeda’s cooperative online mode, which remains by and large the same from that found in Mass Effect 3, but holds even more addictive sway now that players can muck around with all the powers, class roles, and weapons available to them. It was the combat that kept me entertained throughout my time with Andromeda and, rather ironically considering the series’ history, it undoubtedly represents the game’s strongest asset.

Mass Effect Andromeda
EA /

Otherwise, Andromeda is riddled with design choices that feel like several steps backward from what have come before. Take the planet scanning mini-game, for example. While it was never the most intuitive or rewarding mechanic in the Mass Effect 2 or 3, it was decent enough for quickly finding resources to progress your character, and even fun in short bursts.

Not so in Andromeda, whereby scanning has turned into one of the most needlessly sluggish and tiresome of tasks, since hopping from each planet or solar system now takes forever as the game decides to indulge in manually transporting the camera to the designated location every single time. The paltriness of the rewards you receive in the process (half the time you will travel to a planet only to find nothing at all) means that it’s more cost-effective to avoid scanning altogether, which is probably not what BioWare intended. The same can be said of the crafting system, which can be a serious headache to work around thanks to Andromeda’s poorly designed user interface and menus.

The game’s only been out for a week, and it’s already become a cliche to talk about Mass Effect: Andromeda’s technical problems, but I can only retell my own experience after playing on a standard PlayStation 4. Frame-rate is the big problem, as a result of its unreliability during combat and driving sections, with the freneticism of the former being severely undermined by this inconsistency.

Mass Effect Andromeda
EA /

Other noticeable hiccups included enemies who would frequently suffer from obscure clipping issues, characters behaving strangely during conversation and the game’s inability to stay connected online at any time. All in all, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s lack of polish either keeps things from progressing forward or draws the player out of immersion, which is not ideal for a lengthy RPG experience like this one.

The reality is, however, that these technicalities are not the main weaknesses which hold Andromeda back from greatness. As a Pathfinder, I was expecting to feel invigorated and intrigued as a space-faring explorer of the final frontier; traveling to untold territory, discovering new forms of life, and immersing myself in the Andromeda galaxy’s tapestry of culture and politics.

More app trigger: 50 Best Xbox One Games Right Now

Indeed, at times, when all the moving parts of the game work effectively in unison, this promise manifests itself wonderfully onto the screen. But these moments are all too rare. Instead, for the most part, I felt as though I was playing a Mass Effect game in black and white; all the familiar elements are here, they’re just devoid of the zeal and richness that the franchise is revered for.  

6.5. You can almost hear BioWare repeatedly mashing the “Series Reset” button during a play-through of Mass Effect: Andromeda, but the game’s deviation from what we’ve come to expect from the franchise is largely characterized by a downgrade in quality almost across the entire board. Mass Effect: Andromeda attempts to redefine the potential for the franchise as it moves forward into the current generation, but the establishment of this new fiction makes for a disappointingly inconsistent experience.. BioWare. . Mass Effect: Andromeda

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.