If you loved the Mass Effect trilogy's music you'll be pleased to know that Andromeda's soundtrack is similarly superb. The voice acting too is strong, for the most part, although some dialogue – mostly from Ryder's AI, SAM, can often trail off before its finished. Incomplete dialogue and other audio bugs prove irritating.
Granted, there are a lot of bugs and some of the character animations are odd (the constant darting eyes, the slightly weird running), but Mass Effect: Andromeda has moments of genuine beauty, from lovely extra-terrestrial vistas to the view from the bridge of the Tempest.
Andromeda's combat is awesome, granting unfettered mobility, tight gunplay and powers. The power wheel being excised means less of an emphasis on tactics, but I found myself not really missing it all that much. Travelling across the Heleus Cluster and tooling around in the Nomad is also great fun.
Andromeda is huge and the variety of side quests, additional tasks and priority ops (main story missions) is impressive. There's about 60-70 or so hours here if you go off the beaten track, although the bugs put a bit of a downer on things. The game could have used about another month or two of polish, and the character creator is a bit limited, as it happens.
Why the game's story achievements aren't secret is beyond me. Spoilers aplenty if you're unfortunate enough to read through it. But that's not the only problem – a lot of the list revolves around grinding out different kills in combat. 100 while hovering, 100 melee, 250 scoped weak point shots, 2000 overall kills... You get the idea.
March 20, 2017
As our own world plunges ever deeper into a seemingly unfathomable mire of shit, the idea of taking a one-way voyage to another galaxy seems like an incredibly appealing one. Right out of the box, Mass Effect: Andromeda is an inviting proposition then, telling the story of the Andromeda Initiative and its mission to locate a 'golden world' for the inhabitants of the Arks that have departed the Milky Way in a bid to start anew. Set 634 years on from the events of Mass Effect 2, Andromeda represents a whole new beginning.
As a fresh start for the series, Andromeda's set-up is ideal, but the first few hours are incredibly slow, meaning it's a long time before anything of any real consequence happens. Granted, there are some major incidents that occur within the opening moments as you explore the uncharted Habitat 7 and set in motion a series of escalating events, but the game only occasionally manages to build a genuine sense of momentum and urgency as you bounce between planets, gradually uncovering a plethora of mysteries. Put in about 15-20 hours, though, and Mass Effect: Andromeda soon starts coming into its own, taking in lost ancient technology, warring factions, and a lot of planetary exploration.
Ryder and her krogan buddy, Kesh, having a chat. Yesterday.
Ultimately, the goal is to locate a viable planet to settle on, which means establishing forward bases and outposts on any that might fit the bill. And there's something inherently satisfying about improving a hostile planet's viability from zero to one hundred percent, injecting each mission and activity with meaning above and beyond being straight-up busywork designed to reward you with loot and XP. Unlocking and exploring long dormant vaults is part and parcel of all this too, so there's a nice bit of variation to proceedings. Whizzing around in the six-wheel drive Nomad is good fun too, while dropping in forward bases enables you to fast travel all over Andromeda's sprawling planet surfaces, facing hazardous environments and unfriendly wildlife.
Despite all of this good stuff, there's something strangely absent from Mass Effect: Andromeda, from the lack of extreme dialogue choices – Ryder seemingly adopts a diplomatic response regardless of the option you choose, especially early on – to the slow-paced narrative. Andromeda only starts to hit its stride after you've invested some significant time, by which juncture you might have made only one or two truly meaningful decisions. Discarding the Paragon and Renegade options in favour of Emotional vs. Logical or Casual vs. Professional dialogue responses has resulted in something that feels somewhat anodyne by comparison.
Much has been made of Andromeda's animations too, but I encountered no real problems in this department beyond the occasional lip sync issue and strange constantly moving eyeballs. Slow loading textures and pop-in reared its head far more regularly, but I encountered nothing game-breaking. Andromeda's primary weakness is a storyline that fails to grab you until you really get deep into its narrative web, and to that end the game is packed to the rafters with side quests, loyalty missions and other diversions to flesh things out. You'll soon find yourself hopelessly enthralled; drawn into BioWare's colossal universe.
There's always something to do in Andromeda too, whether it's scouring planets for minerals, scanning objects for research points that can be put towards developing and crafting new weapons and gear, or resolving all manner of problems among the inhabitants of the worlds you visit during your travails as the human Pathfinder. Every one of your actions while exploring planets feeds into your AVP (Andromeda Viability Points) that can be used to help the Andromeda Initiative, awakening cryo pods aboard the Nexus (Andromeda's own version of Mass Effect's Citadel) to help bolster scientific endeavours, trade options, or military concerns.
Not that your squad's own military might is at all lacking. Mass Effect: Andromeda's combat is superb, giving you the tools you need to take the fight to the game's hostile alien interlopers, the kett. Ryder is incredibly mobile thanks to a new jump boost and strafe manoeuvre, but the removal of the power wheel and dilution of the squad commands has resulted in something a lot less tactical. Andromeda plays far more like a straight-up third-person cover shooter, albeit one with awesome biotic abilities and other skills at your disposal. Your AI squadmates aren't all that smart either, yet you'll rarely feel hopelessly outgunned.
And what Andromeda might lack in battle tactics, it more than makes up for in RPG depth. You can happily get swept away in earning AVP, making every planet habitable, embarking upon every side mission and additional task, building the codex, sending Strike Teams off on missions to earn bonus XP (this also ties into the game's multiplayer), taking a peek at every one of the Heleus Cluster's dozens upon dozens of planets, and tailoring the perfect loadout for whatever troublesome scenario you might run into. Spending skill points feels like more of a return to the first Mass Effect's more traditional RPG leanings, with proper skill trees, individual pieces of gear (for Ryder, not your crew), weapon and armour mods, upgrades for the Nomad, and loads more.
There are loads of options for levelling your Ryder any way you choose.
Meanwhile, the relationships you'll develop with your crew steadily become more and more involving, as you slowly get to know each of them. Assembling the full crew early on in the story is a good idea it turns out, as you get to spend an almost equal amount of time with each member. Mass Effect: Andromeda might be a slow burner to begin with, but once it does get going, you'll find yourself completely immersed in swooping across the galaxy on your search to find a new home. Once you're finished with the story, you can continue exploring too, finishing up any unfinished business you might still have.
Then again, there's also multiplayer to delve into, which like Mass Effect 3, pits you against waves of enemies while completing various objectives and staying alive long enough for extraction. Get a full squad of four together and multiplayer can be good fun, but you'll need to level up a few times and acquire some upgraded skills before having much of a chance at success. Unlocking new characters and consumable gear by earning and opening loot boxes helps out too, although you can't beat a team working together properly and communicating. You'll need to as well, because beating Gold difficulty is bloody hard.
By no means perfect, Mass Effect: Andromeda still succeeds in being an exciting new beginning for the series, tarnished only by some wonky animation, a few annoying bugs and glitches, and a story that takes its sweet time getting properly underway. Having finished the story and a chunk of the side content after 40 hours, I'd grown attached to the cast of characters, the universe and the direction the story eventually takes, keen to reach 100% completion. Yes, it has technical issues and some bizarre foibles, but Mass Effect: Andromeda is nonetheless a fine return for BioWare's sci-fi romp that sets things up perfectly for more to come. It's good to be back.