Mass Effect has had its fair share of haters over the years, as have many Bioware games. I’ve always been a fan though; there’s a certain something to the world, the characters that draws me in, even past their glaring faults (such as the combat being a drag sometimes). I was actually surprised to see another Mass Effect game get announced, especially considering the trilogy wrapped up so nicely, but hey, it’s the games industry so if stuff is selling, we’ll likely see more.
After the events of the second game, it seems a whole group of many of the primary races got about “arks” and set forth to the Andromeda galaxy to start a new, safer life away from the upcoming menace to the Milky Way. Fast forward 600-odd years, and all the arks arrive to a series of Golden Worlds, a term given to planets with excellent viability. Turns out that these worlds are actually kind of terrible and dangerous, and when you away from cryo-sleep rudely, with damage done to the human ark due to an energy anomaly in space. Add to this that you’ve just become the Pathfinder, the person responsible for giving the entire human race somewhere to settle, there’s a bit of pressure on you.
That’s the hook of this game. Where previously you’re just flying around space sorting out people’s problems, this time you’re doing that, but it’s all about making the planets viable. Turns out there was an ancient race who built all the terraforming machines and a bunch of machines to defend them, and the SAM (AI module) in your head makes you the Pathfinders the only people who can activate them. I actually really dig the viability stuff; making the planets livable is cool, but I never felt like they went far enough with it. Early on you choose if you want the settlement to be focussed on science or military, and despite them building a settlement when you’ve done enough on the planet, that’s all that really happens. Even the terraforming (I get it, it takes ages) makes you able to move around the planet a bit more because the temperature is better, or there’s no radiation. I just wish there was a lot more done with it.
Andromeda feels like a flip from the previous games. In the first games, the story really drives you along, and combat isn’t great so it feels like it’s just filler for the next story section, most of the time. This time around, there is a hell of a lot more customization available, as you’re not tied to the skills from a single class, and the introduction of jump jets makes combat more fluid, giving you some chance for manoeuvrability, but the story has suffered. Not because of this, obviously, but I found it incredibly difficult to care too much about the story. Maybe the thrill of a big “unknown evil” (this time, the Kett), or maybe it’s the lack of variety in the aliens, as most of the “primary races” have not arrived yet at the Nexus. Maybe it’s because after one or two planets that are meant to be great end up being crap, you kind of get over it.
Not even the characters felt really involved to me. This is only the first in what I assume will be multiple games, so maybe I don’t have the strong feelings like I had toward Space Boyfriend Garrus, or Best Girl Liara T’Soni, but most of the cast here feels kind of flat. Peebee is fun because she’s an absolute nutter, Liam is a bit of a cheeky sod from London, but I didn’t connect with anyone else. Cora is a trained soldier, Jaal I literally just had to look up his name, because he’s that dry alien who doesn’t really trust ‘outsiders’. They’re all fine, but they’re certainly not wonderful.
I’ve gotten this far and I haven’t even started talking about bugs, and holy shit there are some bugs. I had bugs a few times where I had to completely roll back to a previous save as mission NPCs were there, or my character was falling through the floor during cutscenes, or NPCs and enemies were way above their normal elevation point. Hell, I completed the game and I still don’t have half the “mandatory” achievements for story, because the game just didn’t damn well register them. Often when I died, it wouldn’t register I was dead and would give me half a shield as a corpse on the floor unable to do anything. It’s infuriating, and I really hope they sort these problems out soon. Don’t even start me on the facial animations, which are a train wreck of dead eyes and jilted looks. I actually end up watching another screen when I was playing and just listening to the dialogue, as it was that off-putting.
I don’t want to speak too ill of this game. As I said, the underlying stuff is pretty decent. Getting set up in a new galaxy is shaky and you actually feel like you’re making a difference, and that’s cool. The crafting, and even the exploration is ok. The core story about the Kett and whatever the hell is going on with the Remnant is interesting and it’s laid some good groundwork for future games. Truth be told though, with all the problems this has, unless they smart up their act, take a good look at the previous games and what made them great, I’m not convinced I’ll be back on the ship for the future of this franchise.
A copy of this game was provided as a promotional disk for review purposes. The entire game was completed with 96% completion before the review was written.