Mass Effect Andromeda – replaying a divisive game

In view of the Mass Effect trilogy remaster being released in a few months I thought it’d be nice to re-play the fourth entry in the series, Mass Effect Andromeda to see how it’s aged given some of the controversies from it’s release and that have subsequently come to light in the years since it was originally released back in 2017. I initially played it on the Playstation 4 upon release where this time I’m playing it on an Xbox Series X, though it’s not a game which has been upgraded for the new hardware.

It’s been interesting in the time after the initial release reading about the difficulties that were experienced during development, learning to use the Frostbite engine which was apparently not very well suited to this style of game so the team had to learn to use it while getting it to work which sounded like a nightmare. I’ve also read recently about how budget limitations had an impact on things like the number of new alien races included in the game and the galactic travel elements too. In some respects in seems like a miracle of sorts that the game was completed at all.

In the interests of full disclosure I had mixed feelings upon the initial announcement of the game, on the one hand more Mass Effect was definitely something I wanted but by setting it in a brand new galaxy and having it take place 600 or some years after the events of the initial trilogy I had misgivings due to feeling like I wanted to stick with stories post the Reaper invasion and to be able to continue to see characters that I’d come to love. I was also still a little disappointed with the ending to the the third game, which while the extended cut dlc did improve things it was still very underwhelming.

The most jarring change is the removal of the paragon and renegade dialogue system, you don’t get alignment points anywhere based on your actions and dialogue choices which is a bit of a shame as this was one of the things I really loved about the trilogy. That being said the replacement dialogue system offers more choices with how you respond to things, you can choose to be emotional, funny and that sort of thing, it’s similar system to Dragon Age Inquisition and it works really well in both games. Whatever other issues I have with Andromeda, I absolutely love the dialogue, it’s something that Bioware is definitely very good at doing.

Let’s start with the negatives first, the key one being it’s buggy as hell. I’ve multiple crashes so far and I’ve had instances where all the sound in the game cuts out to be replaced with just a loud buzzing noise which requires the game to be reloaded which obviously impact the playing experience quite heavily. I’ve had stupid ones like the Nomad vehicle spawning inside a building where you can’t then use it, cutscenes where people are holding invisible weapons and instances of speech starting unprompted and seemingly totally out of context all of which are irritating but thankfully not game breaking.

Human characters (with a few exceptions) look appalling, they look kind of like wax dummies to my mind and the facial animations when they’re talking isn’t the best which doesn’t help with the immersion when playing. There’s a lot of back and forth between worlds which can get a little tiresome when trying to do all the quests and some of the quests are quite uninspiring while also being unhelpfully marked meaning alot of traipsing around hoping you’ll get lucky and stumble across what you’re looking for in order to scan it and move on to the next item.

You also seem to get the same animal enemies over different planets just with a different look and name, which if talk of budget issues is true then it’s not a bad way of making your assets do more work without having to create brand new ones but also does also feel quite jarring. The inventory system is a bit crap too, you just end up accumulating loads of shite that you seemingly never actually need to use so just wind up selling and there’s not really much need to buy anything given the rate you collect items with, the only things I’ve really bought in this play through are starship models and quest based items that have cropped up.

On my first playthrough I wasn’t overly fond of the story, at times it feels like a bit of a re-tread from the trilogy with the Kett being the antagonists rather than the Reapers, they’re essentially trying to use other races to incorporate their DNA into the Kett, though their ultimate motives aren’t revealed so there’s jumping on points for a potential sequel. I appreciated it a bit more the second time round as there were just little bits and pieces over the course of the game which I initially didn’t appreciate which make it more individual. I will say that the Archon is a poorly defined main villain in my opinion though, there’s nothing done to make him anything other than pretty generic which is a shame.

Now there’s actually a lot I really like about the game too, the combat is as solid as 2 and 3 with the jump mechanic adding some variety even if it’s largely unnecessary. There’s an absolutely enormous selection of combat powers to sink skill points into so there’s alot of scope to make a very personalised combat set up. The combat you’ll encounter over the course of the game is largely pretty well paced too, they never get to a point where they’re a slog and that appreciated, though I appreciate this may not always be the case on higher difficulty settings . Also the battles against the giant architects are particular stand outs which are pretty satisfying to win.

The narrative choice to set the game in the Andromeda galaxy and the sandbox like elements of the planets you travel to allows for some really cool gameplay elements. It allows for a genuine sense of exploration and this is encouraged which is brilliant, there are quests and secrets to be found and the terraforming of the planet plays into this too. It’s one of the things I love most, I spent so much time just driving round the various maps seeing what quests I could turn up and unlocking fast travel points given how useful these always are. Honestly I loved making each planet viable for an outpost to be constructed, it’s something I’d definitely want to see more of in a sequel were one to happen.

There are some really cool moments too, the final push towards the end where you’re having to drive the Nomad to the destination to try and stop the Archon in particular stands out as you’re doing this while a battle is raging on around you. The moral choices you get to make over the course of the game are very much less black and white than the previous games too, hear it’s essentially it’s things like deciding between one group or another to leave to their deaths or to cover for someone that got people killed because she’s potentially useful or to be honest about it, it really makes you think though the fallout of these decisions isn’t always readily apparent in this game as I guess they planned for them to be more impactful in any potential sequels.

My absolute favourite part of the game though is the crew you travel with, while they’re not all as memorable as some of the crew mates from the trilogy there are some great characters here. The conversations you can walk in on between various characters really help bring them to life, as does the banter you get when you’ve got 2 team mates and you’re exploring the planets. I definitely can’t fault most of the dialogue on offer here as it’s largely superb and the different options you have for your Ryder make for a more personalised experience, you can potentially be completely serious or a bit of a joker or other options and the interplay just really worked for me.

There are loyalty missions for the team mates and then lots of little side quests for the people on your ship and these are really nice little distractions which further add to their personalities. Liam’s loyalty mission in particular is brilliant if you play it how I did as there’s a lot of bickering happening while ignoring the bad guy, who is progressively getting more annoyed at not being taken seriously and it was very entertaining. It’s helped by some great voice acting across the board, I don’t think there’s a single bad performance in there which is obviously a positive thing.

I honestly think the biggest shame about the game was how it was essentially dropped after the reception it received. All the downloadable content was canned and from what I’ve read one of the packs was going to be the hunt for the Quarian arc and that would have been cool as it in theory would have also brought back some of the other aliens that don’t appear like the Elcor and Hanar. I kind of understand there being a backlash but at the same time it’s always a shame when it basically kills of any plans for further support for a game that’s only real crime was being flawed.

And that’s ultimately the crux of the issue with Andromeda, it’s by no means an awful game but it has alot of niggly flaws which hold it back. I think the huge shift away from the setting and characters of the original games was massively jarring to people to which didn’t exactly help. I don’t know that it deserves the level of vitriol that’s been thrown at it since release, it’s fundamentally a solid game, I think my main issue with it is that it had the potential to be so much more but with that being said I enjoyed it alot and at no point during either play through did I ever consider not seeing it through to the end.

This potential is possibly the biggest shame of the whole thing, I have no idea if there will be any sequels to Andromeda but I’m now at a point where I’m torn. I’d like a sequel that follows on from the main trilogy but I’d also like a sequel here too where they tell the story they wanted to tell, with the features they wanted to include and to be given the time to iron out most of the flaws. I suspect it may not happen as I expect Bioware will opt for a safety first approach to any new Mass Effect games in future. Maybe they could change to a Call of Duty model of operating and alternate between new Andromeda and trilogy linked games but I very much doubt it.

Ultimately it was good fun to replay Andromeda, it’s definitely got me looking forward to the remastered original trilogy that’s for sure. I’ve also picked up the books that link in, one of which is apparently the story that one of the DLC packs would have used prior to everything being cancelled, so I’m looking forward to giving them a go. I guess beyond that it’ll just be a case of waiting to see where Bioware decide to take the series as all we’ve got to go on is a very vague teaser trailer that implies that things will be back within the Milky Way, so it’s going t one interesting if nothing else.

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