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July 2020

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: March 21, 2017 (US), March 23, 2017 (EU)


PS4 Review - 'Mass Effect: Andromeda'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 24, 2017 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

A whole new galaxy awaits for you to explore as Mass Effect: Andromeda pushes the boundaries of known space into the next generation, delivering distant star systems with remote and hostile planets ripe for discovery.

Buy Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect 3 was one of the most controversial games in recent memory. Few games have endings so infamously disliked that they had to be patched. It's not a surprise that Mass Effect: Andromeda is both a sequel and a soft reboot of the franchise. Taking Mass Effect outside the Milky Way Galaxy is a perfect way to keep the same world but introduce new adventures. Andromeda might be new, but that doesn't make it fresh.

Andromeda follows the story of a fleet of ships sent away from the Milky Way with the intent to colonize new "golden worlds" in Andromeda. Players control one of the colonists, Ryder (either a man or a woman). Ryder is awoken from cryostasis, and things start to go wrong. The golden worlds are uninhabitable, aliens are attacking, and none of the other ships in the fleet have shown up. When an accident claims the life of the Pathfinder of Ryder's ship, she's forced to take over and figure out what happened to the other colonists and decipher the alien relics scattered throughout the galaxy.

Perhaps Andromeda's biggest problem is that the characters are dull. Bioware is often known for memorable casts, and Andromeda doesn't live up to it. The first few hours introduce a dozen different major characters, but I could barely tell them apart at a glance. Characters lack personality, from their visual design to their personalities. Characters rarely respond strongly to events, as evidenced by a character who finds out that their father died but stares ahead in blank silence. This is too common, and rarely did I feel the impact of a major event on a character. There are some standouts, but they're few and far between.

It's a shame because the concept is interesting. Being colonists in a new world offers a lot of possibilities, and sometimes, that shines. There are some excellent moments in world building, but they're bogged down by the trite, safe and uninteresting missions. Andromeda plays it too safe for a game about exploring new worlds and civilizations. The original Mass Effect delighted in showing you new things. Andromeda is more interested in reminding you of the old. It feels like a forgettable side story, and it's difficult to imagine anyone chomping at the bit for more.

It isn't helped by some genuine cringe-worthy dialogue. The game attempts to feel like a quippy summer blockbuster, but it gets exhausting. The original Mass Effect had its share of irreverent dialogue, but it was balanced. Here, most of a character's lines are snarky quips or faux-wacky dialogue. When characters are surrounded by hostile foes, it rings false that they can manage to be so carefree. Additionally, many characters fall into the trap of spewing information at you. A random shopkeeper reveals their deepest secrets in answering a casual question, but that doesn't make them feel like a person. To some degree, most RPGs have this problem, but it stands out a lot more here because it's so unbalanced.

Andromeda has some genuinely fun and enjoyable characters or missions. If you enjoyed Mass Effect for the gameplay, you'll probably be in better shape than most, but if you enjoyed the Narrative difficulty option, Andromeda is a disappointment. In the wake of games like The Witcher 3 and Horizon: Zero Dawn, it's hard to not find Andromeda lacking. It's also not something you can ignore because you spend so much time in dialogue, but so little of it feels satisfying.

Although the writing isn't up to Bioware's usual quality, the gameplay is quite solid. Andromeda builds on the combat style from Mass Effect 3. It's a squad-based, over-the-shoulder shooter where you have direct control over one character and minimal control over others. Both the player and the enemy have special skills and defenses that interact with one another, so combat is more complex than point-and-shoot. Enemies can be shielded or armored, and you need to use special skills or sustained fire to strip their defenses and render them vulnerable to your attacks. Your own special skills can range from powerful lances of dark energy to cryo-grenades, or you could just charge into foes like a battering ram. If you've played previous Mass Effect titles, you have a good idea of what to expect.

The coolest evolution in combat is increased mobility. Commander Shepard could barely get off the ground, but Ryder has a combat suit that lets you make impossibly high jumps and artfully dodge enemies, so fights feel a lot more dynamic, especially for classes that specialize in shotguns and close-up combat. Combat is easily the high point of Andromeda. It's fast, frantic, fun and flexible. With the right equipment and setup, you hardly need to take cover and can smash your way through enemy forces.

A major change to Andromeda is that your protagonist can now be a jack of all trades. Rather than being forced into a single class, you can mix and match abilities from different specialties, including changing your combat profile — even in the middle of a fight. It might sound minor, but it's a significant improvement because you're not shoehorned into a certain play style that doesn't work for you. You can be a biotic-wielding wizard, a gun-toting soldier, a stealthy electronics expert or a mix of all three.

Unfortunately, the mission design is weaker. There are some excellent missions, but they're usually the capstone for major plot events. The game is at its best when you're fighting an arena full of foes, but the more casual missions tend to be overly long and uninteresting. You're asked to scan objects with your handy-dandy wrist tool, which amounts to the now-common Detective Vision mechanic, where you look for a glowing object and hit a button to scan it.

Exploration is pretty fun. While it's not an open-world game, there are a lot of nooks and crannies that  lead to hidden treasures, special missions, or an object you can scan for resources. Your increased mobility helps to make exploration feel fun instead of frustrating. Like the earlier Mass Effect games, you get a space truck that you can use to explore certain areas. This isn't exactly engaging, but it's also not a repeat of the Mako from Mass Effect 1. It's simple and easy to use, and that's all it needs to be. Exploring also lets you gain resources to upgrade your home base or your characters, so it always pays off, though the game retains the Mass Effect 3 problem of needing too much travel-back-to-the-base for basic stuff.

When Andromeda is firing on all cylinders, I enjoyed my time with it, but those exciting moments are bookended by a lot of slow and boring quests, which make it an inconsistent experience. When you're looking for clues in unknown areas or ramming face-first into a group of Krogan mercenaries, it feels absurdly engaging. At its best, I was willing to forgive a lot of flaws because I was having fun. At its worst, I wanted to be done with the next Sudoku-themed puzzle or tedious backtracking.

Fortunately, the improved focus of the combat pays major dividends in the multiplayer portion. Like Mass Effect 3, Andromeda has a multiplayer horde mode, where you must complete increasingly difficult objectives to unlock loot boxes. It lacks the customization of the main game, but the increased mobility and modified combat also boost the multiplayer. Those who put dozens of hours into Mass Effect 3's multiplayer won't find anything too different here, but the improvements make it work. It meshes much better with cooperative multiplayer than Dragon Age: Inquisition's attempt at the same. It's easy to imagine spending hours in the multiplayer unlocking new characters, weapons and challenges. It ran smoothly during my playtesting, but some people have reported noticeable lag spikes, so be warned.

The largest disappointment with Andromeda is that it's not very good-looking. The character models look plastic and fake, even when compared to older Mass Effect titles, let alone modern games that blow it out of the water. The animations are stilted, and character faces rarely display emotion. The environments are better, but so much time is spent looking at the awkward character models that it stands out. In many ways, it seems like a step back from Mass Effect 3. We also saw a number of animation glitches, including characters freezing in place, standing on thin air, running in circles, and walking in the infamous T-pose. The voice acting isn't any better. Ryder can't match up to Jessica Hale or even Mark Meer's Shepard, and the cast as a whole feels low-effort. There's a lot of voice acting that is uncommonly cringe-worthy for a Bioware title, which is usually strong in this area.

At the end of the day, Mass Effect: Andromeda isn't bad so much as it is disappointing. The core gameplay has been improved from Mass Effect 3, and the multiplayer is almost worth the price of admission on its own. Alas, it's dragged down by a weak presentation, poor plot, and a general lack of ambition. When Andromeda shines, it's a lot of fun, but in a month filled with top-notch games, it's disappointing that Bioware's years-in-the-making follow-up is so thoroughly mundane. There's plenty of fun to be had if you're willing to overlook the flaws, but Andromeda asks you to overlook flaws just a bit too often.

Score: 7.0/10

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