Mass Effect: Andromeda is all about change. Commander Shepard, Ashley, Tali, Garrus, Joker, the Normandy, and everything else we’d become attached to across three massive games has been left behind, and a bold new galaxy lies ahead.
Starting afresh in their own universe has been something of a gamble for BioWare, especially with so many fans left with a sour taste after Mass Effect 3’s controversial original ending, but has it paid off?
Brave New Worlds
Mass Effect: Andromeda takes us away from the Milky Way and into the Andromeda Galaxy, with thousands of colonists on their way to new worlds. However, the arks transporting these people from across the Council’s races become scattered – something called the Scourge has caused major havoc, and the worlds intended to be the colonists’ new homes are no longer inhabitable.
As either Sara or Scott Ryder, you’re a Pathfinder – the unlucky person chosen to find the colonists’ new home.
The game’s sandbox is huge, with multiple worlds to explore and many a relationship to be built. On the Tempest, your new ship, Ryder and her / his crew explore the galaxy on the hunt for inhabitable planets. Scanning worlds brings you upgrades and resources, and you can explore them in the Nomad, a sleek vehicle that replaces the first Mass Effect’s Mako.
Making worlds habitable typically requires you to take out enemies, handle locals who may or may not relish the idea of your building an outpost, and more. Encountering new races on diverse planets is fun, as is building outposts on suitable worlds; doing so opens up local quests, giving you good reason to explore further. These may be basic fetch quests, or something deeper.
The characters are obviously a change from the Normandy’s beloved crew, and players may or may not fall for them in the same way. It has to be said that they’re not immediately as likeable or compelling, but the loyalty missions (as in Mass Effect 2) help you build closer bonds with them over time; completing these opens up new skills for specific team-members. These are a real highlight of Mass Effect: Andromeda, and give a deeper insight into this new squad.
Mass Effect: Andromeda’s conversation system has received a few key tweaks here and there too. Now, your optional responses are separated into logical, casual, professional, or emotional categories, for a more varied choice. Previous Mass Effect games encouraged repeat playthroughs through the Paragon / Renegade system, allowing you to take a lighter or darker path, but Andromeda’s is a little more nuanced. It’s been designed for a more natural balance of humour and aggression, compassion and detachment, so your character’s development is less clear cut. Romance comes into play again, too, depending on your ability to woo.
Andromeda’s visuals are impressive, mostly so in the range of worlds you’ll explore. There’s some quality diversity on display, from deserts and frozen landscapes to wild jungles, which makes the idea of being Pathfinder more exciting and involving.
As you wander these planets, you’ll become involved in one issue after another, from solving murders to finding ancient secrets. There’s plenty to see and do, whether you want to keep flowing from one quest to another or just take time to check the galaxy out.
There are also memory triggers to track down, which were left behind by Ryder’s father (the original Pathfinder), to uncover secrets, as well as the mining aspect. You can also send strike teams out on unplayable missions, and try the co-op horde mode that lets you unlock extra rewards while having a blast with a pal.
These little touches help to expand the playing experience, offering distractions and depth to the game beyond the main campaign.
The game’s combat has also been tweaked, with one of the biggest changes being the jumpjets. These allow you to jump and reach higher ground faster, bringing more verticality to environments, as well as making combat a little more dynamic. Shooting and cover work much like they did in previous Mass Effect games, only things feel a tad smoother and more fluid (not to mention frantic).
Speaking of fluidity, the progression system has a more flexible structure too. You can add bits and pieces to create a unique character, rather than having to stick to one class or another, with a nice mix of weapons and enhancements available. You can experiment to mix-up your combat approaches throughout the game, rather than being limited to the same set.
Mass Effect: Andromeda may not be perfect, but it’s an exciting sci-fi adventure that does a lot of things right, making smart improvements here and there. After getting used to the Mass Effect experience we all know over three games, this new arrival shows how much can still be done with the franchise. There’s so many races and worlds to uncover, so here’s hoping BioWare keeps on exploring fresh ground with future releases..
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