Mass Effect: Andromeda - Impression

Vaulting Between Stars
by Alex Fuller

Mass Effect: Andromeda
Platform: PS4
(also on PC, Xbox One)
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: EA
Release Date: 03.21.2017
"Those expecting the fresh setting to provide something original or groundbreaking will not find it here, but those just on the lookout for another Mass Effect experience should find things to their liking."
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   Mass Effect makes its debut on the latest console generation this week, heading to a whole new galaxy in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Those expecting the fresh start to provide something original or groundbreaking will not find it here, but those just on the lookout for another Mass Effect experience should find things to their liking. Judging from impressions on the game elsewhere, I seem to be a lot higher on it than many others, and indications are that how well it's received depends a lot on what players want out of it, especially considering the bar set by other recent releases in a short space of time.

   There is at least a refreshing feeling about exploring the new galaxy with a completely new cast of characters, though it has to be said the writing doesn't start out great. Things begin with the chosen Ryder sibling emerging from stasis to find their 600-year trip to a supposed "new Earth" hasn't gone quite according to plan. Habitat 7 is now surrounded by a mysterious energy named The Scourge (which is also in abundance elsewhere in the Heleus Sector the game restricts itself to) and is rather inhospitable, while most of the other ships that made the trip have seemingly disappeared. Some Remnant tech from centuries before may hold the key to making things right, however, there is also the hostile Kett, who fill the role of the evil empire complete with an enigmatic leader. The overall starting plot and premise just aren't as strong as they could be, and holes can readily be poked when things thought about in any great detail. Those aspects regarding The Scourge and Remnant also feel a lot softer science-fiction than what was present the original trilogy.

   Fortunately, things start to get considerably more interesting once players have finished their initial visit to Eos — the first planet visited after the prologue — and get to meet the Angara, a new race native to Andromeda that has been fighting against the Kett for many years. Here is where Mass Effect does what it does best, letting players learn more about an engaging new species as well as their customs and culture. It also allows players to get more of an overview of the situation in Andromeda, and makes the game much more interesting for it. Angaran squadmate Jaal is easily the best of the bunch, and while all the other crew members are interesting, there's no others that immediately jump out as memorable in the same way Garrus, Tali, and company did. Mass Effect: Andromeda returns focus more to exploration, also taking a leaf out of Dragon Age: Inquisition's book on that front, albeit not being quite as busy. Each planet visited gets a large open-world area filled with areas of interest in which to explore and complete the various quests. Mass Effect: Andromeda also has its own Citadel in the form of the Nexus, which provides the usual collection of quests and side scenes, but isn't especially plot-critical, at least in the first half of the game.

   There is at least good variation in the quests, and a lot of them will take place over multiple chapters, particularly those involving squadmates or other key NPCs and factions. The altered four-axis division for potential responses from Ryder allows for more varied responses than the Paragon/Renegade system, which is appreciated. However, a not-insignificant percentage lack engaging aspects, not adding much by way of story, lore, or background information. Tasks, which involve things like scanning special rocks or native creatures, seem there for the completionists and will often not feature quest markers, which may grate on some who don't like to leave things unfinished but will likely have to. There is plenty of loot to find but it has the usual issue for the series in that a lot of it just isn't interesting or doesn't feel like much of an upgrade when found. That also goes for merchants, who will provide items no better than the loot and so their purpose just feel more flavouring for the locations than anything. It seems more worthwhile hoarding resources for the R&D aspect of equipment, but even that isn't overly appealing. The inventory UI is also not brilliant at allowing easy comparisons. That said, equipment was never really a huge part of Mass Effect's appeal.

   Combat has undergone a bit of a change, and feels even more devoted to action. Controls are no longer as concerned with cover, with the direct button presses to get into cover replaced by automatic contextual method that isn't overly effective. Combat areas are also now much more spread out, which can make it easy for players to get overrun if they fail to eliminate some threats quickly enough. The freedom of movement is enhanced by the jetpack, that lets players move vertically as well as dodge out of the way more effectively. The net result is combat continues the trend of the series towards a quicker pace and on the whole it's still very effective. Biotic and tech powers return in the game, and these work much the way they did in previous games, with effective use really helping out. The one main difference in powers is that now players are freely able to assign points to whatever skills they wish rather than being locked in to a particular class. Players will still want to have a primary focus, but having the freedom to mix and match where wanted is appreciated and options chosen can be changed later on.

   One thing that has come under scrutiny, perhaps simply because it's the aspect that can be most readily highlighted and made fun of on social media, is the game's animations. Yes, there are times when things look a bit off, such as some of the lip sync and eye movements or when players take an awkward angle down stairs, but these have never been distracting to my enjoyment of the game, providing a slight amusement more than anything. Otherwise, the visuals are great and the alien planets designs are fun to explore and wander through. Audibly, things are strong, with good music, sound effects, and voice acting in an appreciable array of accents. Fryda Wolff in particular is excellent as the female Ryder sibling.

   I'm currently thirty hours in (and likely around the halfway point), and despite its flaws I've definitely enjoyed the time I've spent with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Though it is a by-the-numbers approach to creating a new Mass Effect game, the refocus on exploring is certainly appreciated from my end. However, those expecting more will likely come away disappointed, the narrative is still far from a tour de force, and there is nothing that hasn't been seen before from a BioWare title. It's likely to be a divisive title for many, but on the whole my experience so far has been positive.

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