The promise of Mass Effect: Andromeda was that of a bold new take on one of the most beloved series of last generation. After the mixed (at best) reaction to the ending of the third game a new galaxy filled with a fresh cast of characters seemed like the right decision filled with promise. In reality it feels like an adventure that would have been better off staying untold.
The driving forces of the original trilogy were its plot and deceptively complex cast of characters. Over the course of three games players came to care deeply for their crew in the fight against the Reapers. Andromeda tries to capture these same emotions but instead fails to establish any new ground. The Andromeda Initiative itself has the trappings of an intriguing space tale. Colonists from every species banding together to traverse a new galaxy and start a new life is a setting rife with possibility. But the new galaxy only winds up feeling all too familiar. It’s almost comical how out of their way the developers went to create facsimiles of everything from the original games. From a new Citadel, to mysterious advanced alien technology, to an evil race kidnapping other races. All the boxes are checked. You even mostly interact with races from the Milky Way as only two new races make an appearance. The plot itself mostly eschews the colonization aspect in favor of a boilerplate savior storyline that is inoffensive if endlessly predictable. Even the villain fails to come close to the legacy of the Illusive Man or Saren due to minimal screen time and uninteresting motivations.
The crew itself also leaves much to be desired. Some of my favorite Mass Effect moments were the quiet ones aboard the ship just talking to my shipmates. By the end of Andromeda I spent most of my time aboard the Tempest speeding to the next objective because everyone aboard felt like a worse version of the Normandy crew. Ryder’s most memorable trait is that he/she is the Pathfinder which is a position that wants to feel as cool as a Spectre but only ends up feeling like an empty title. Cora is all the worst parts of Ashley and Miranda in one character. Liam is all the boring parts of Jacob and Kaiden. There is an old, battle hardened Krogan and a quiet Turian with a mysterious past. Jaal was probably my favorite but even he felt like a lesser version of Thane. The writing in these interactions, as well as those across the entire game, ranged from standard video game fare to cringe worthy with hardly anything standing out for good reasons. Each squad members loyalty mission offered some interesting moments but still felt like the developers desperately trying to invoke old memories when they should have been trying to forge new ones.
Over the course of your journey you will land on a handful of worlds filled to the brim with side content. After completing a few missions a new colony will be established and from their what feels like an endless amount of quests will make themselves available. This would be great if even some of that content were more than the typical fetch quest or small combat encounter, but that is everything these planets offer. I will say that the actual driving across the landscapes in the Nomad is one of the few aspects of the game that captures the feeling of being in an alien place. It’s too bad that these trips are mostly empty space artificially extending the length of quests without offering anything of note. For a game supposedly about the thrill of discovery there is very little to truly discover.
The combat system is easily the most active the series has ever had with a lot of mobility that adds a layer of controlled chaos to enemy encounters. Dashing around the battlefield launching biotic combos feels undeniably cool even if the lack of encounter design variety makes it feel a little less special as you get deeper into the game. The inability to command your two AI partners beyond simple “go here” commands keeps the combat from reaching its full potential. The new profile option, which essentially allows you to switch classes whenever you like, attempts to alleviate this. Yet the fact that you have to go into the menus to do this and then wait for the powers to cool down makes it an imperfect solution. In multiplayer combat shines brightest as the ability to communicate with a squad of humans gives the tactical layer the single player combat lacks. The multiplayer itself is a well made wave based mode like that found in Mass Effect 3. Some missions even tie into single player offering rewards upon completion. I enjoyed the few matches I played and a wealth of unlocks and classes offer some incentive to those that put the time in.
Throughout my time with the game I was plagued by a constant stream of technical glitches and poor animation, both small and large. The character models fail to emote in a way that feels anything close to natural. The human faces are the worst offenders with the most soulless eyes you can imagine. Every interaction involves Ryder staring directly into the soul of whatever unlucky person decided to strike up a conversation. The frame rate can barely handle a camera pan or a load of a planet image. The simple act of traveling to a new planet involves four separate things that feel like they should be masking a load but the inability to skip anything suggests otherwise. Cutscenes are poorly edited and character models can’t decide which idle animation they would prefer. Twenty minutes into the game my character turned into a human Segway and in the very last mission an enemy fell through the world making me unable to progress until I reloaded. In one of the final cutscenes my two squad mates combined into something only thought possible in nightmares. This is the most technically troubled game I’ve come across in a long time and it’s almost unbelievable it came from a well respected developer like Bioware.
In the months after the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda many of the technical issues I mentioned will hopefully be fixed. A year from now a lot of those complaints might not exist at all. That doesn’t solve the basic structural problems the game suffers from though. The first three games suffered from more than their fair share of technical problems as well, but the quality of the writing and gameplay allowed them to rise above it. In Andromeda‘s case even if it released in a perfect state what’s there is a disappointing adventure trapped in the shadow of what came before it.