The launch of Mass Effect: Andromeda was met with the typical mixture of optimism, pessimism, the usual critical acclaim from magazine publishers to make endorsement money, and most importantly, keen eyes from a hardcore fan base crossing their fingers that Bioware's latest entry into a beloved, and later reviled series, would be a success. Rather than being presumptuous and drawing to early conclusions, we have been patient in formulating a review as we attempt to dissect the game in a manner that fits the game - after a lengthy, and at times, drawn out campaign play-through on a high difficulty. The Hype Train investigates the good, the bad, and the ugly, of Bioware's latest science fiction attempt, and whether the series has any sense of a legacy or a future in light of its studios latest developments. All aboard.
In a galaxy far, far away...
Bioware dodged the awkward question of the Mass Effect 3 ending by creating a universe where it didn't happen; welcome to Mass Effect: Andromeda where the problems of the Milky Way galaxy are just a faint memory. As the player, a Pathfinder by the name of Ryder, you don't exist in a world where Shepard's preferred choice of Instagram filter didn't decide the fate of the Milky Way; instead the new adventure Mass Effect: Andromeda takes you into the heart of the Heleus Cluster of our neighboring galaxy in an attempt to restart after the widespread criticism following the end of the third installment of the Mass Effect universe.
Spoiler Warning: If you love ruining the plot details of games that focus on why aliens are killing other aliens then you have found the right place. If you have however stumbled across this review by accident and intend on keeping the secrets of Mass Effect: Andromeda hidden until you play it then we strongly advise that you finish the game before reading this review.
After the Milky Way was ravaged by the Reapers and assimilated as part of their regular harvest of organic life, the residents of the galaxy who got out via the Andromeda Initiative dodged a bullet by skipping out on the disappointing finale of Mass Effect 3. A group of arks left the galaxy and fled the Crucible's ability to change the Mass Effect relays colour, looking to the Andromeda galaxy for a fresh start. Skip forward six hundred years, enough time to forget who Commander Shepard is, and you are thrown right into the heart of a conflict where a group of elitist aliens known as the 'kett' are assimilating the local species of the Heleus Cluster as part of their ongoing harvest of organic life. Different place, different timeline, same problems.
Now, here is the ridiculous logic of the Mass Effect: Andromeda plot. Given the chance to tell an entirely new story, the writers could have done anything to avoid the lingering question of genetic assimilation, anything. After clearly exhausting all other development ideas the powers that be in Bioware opted to scale the size of a Reaper warship down to the size of a man. The kett are a carbon copy of the Reapers, and they are led by an Archon who fills in as Andromeda's version of Harbinger. Welcome to Mass Effect 3: Andromeda edition.
As Pathfinder Ryder of the human ark Hyperion your mission is simple...establish a new home for humanity and prevent bone-headed aliens from stealing your genes. Simples. You'll do this with a team of specialists of whom you'll painstakingly win over their easy loyalty in six rather different missions. Your Pathfinder team will do all this, plus all the exciting scanning of 'unique' items only found in Andromeda like plants, rocks, blood spatter, wires, and several frying pans as Ryder turns part-time investigator for all the galaxies remedial problems. Whilst the evil kett Archon plots to exalt the galaxies newcomers Ryder will have himself occupied by Andromeda's largest problem: having a social life.
Help Ryder start a pleasant garden with Cora on Eos, cheat at poker to thwart good guy Gil, dance the night away in boozy underground clubs, flirt with a dreamy Hispanic nomad who goes by the name of Reyes on high stakes missions to solve the galaxies most easily solved murders, find hops to make more beer for the Nexus, engage in several bar fights with your new best friend Drack, then help his granddaughter find love with a shy botanist, attend cramped family functions as Jaal's plus one on Harval, partake in a documentary so you can get closer to a seductive asari journalist and cheat on your partner, and if your itch for even more asari action hasn't been scratched you can visit Peebee and have zero-gravity NSA fun in an escape pod, and purchase snacks for a lazy crew so you can host movie night on your advanced scout ship, the Tempest. Yes, it's all a mouthful. If that doesn't tickle your interest, Ryder can make himself happy all over again by ignoring the distress calls of your newfound allies, the aliens known as the angara, as they struggle to defeat small groups of kett scattered across their planets and recall any shred of history before the mysterious Scourge arrived at their doorstep.
When your gender defined Ryder is bored of their wild party lifestyle they can take in the sights of the uncharted Andromeda galaxy by scanning and learning the tame secrets of hundreds of already archived planets in the Heleus Cluster. Planetside is also a blast as you and your two top wing-men will revel in the sounds of kett wind turbines on Eos, go thrill seeking by jumping craters on the cracked habitat of H-047c, push the local wildlife to the brink of extinction on Harval, dare each other to go skinny dipping in the lakes of Kadara, and if your three man party of destruction want something with high stakes they can always visit the krogan colony of New Tuchanka on Elaaden and place bets on animal fights and watch the carnage unfold.
There is something for everyone in the new galaxy of Andromeda, so much that you forget an evil warlord is patiently awaiting you to complete priority missions so he can use your SAM implant to unlock the shield world of Meridian and take control of the Heleus Cluster. Patiently tapping his foot, the kett Archon conveniently awaits your arrival everywhere you go in an attempt to mock you, and when Ryder gets serious with his mission he will stumble with an AI induced hangover into Meridian for a showdown of luke warm proportions with the Archon over ownership of the Remnant vault network. Defeat the kett Archon by watching him fail at disconnecting himself from the Meridian network, and then proceed to throw the wildest party this galaxy has ever seen on the Hyperion to celebrate humanities short lived victory over the kett. The bits in between Ryder's attempts at seducing every living organism in Heleus and the uninspiring death of the Archon involve saving the other Initiative arks, choosing other Pathfinders, and choosing how to annoy Director Tann with your antics. This is a pretty cut and dry campaign...Ryder shoots his way through mini Reaper-like beings and navigates his way through Mass Effects politically inept institutions on his way to the party of the century.
Every good idea that Mass Effect: Andromeda has is stolen from the previous three titles. The Jaardan are Andromeda's Prothean, the Remnant are an escalated Geth, the Kett are the Reapers, the Nexus is the new Citadel, Kadara Port is the renegade Omega, Drack is the older version of Wrex, the Tempest is the upgraded Normandy SR2, and Ryder is meant to be a funny version of Commander Sheppard. The list goes on and on. Even the new bits added to the universe are obvious steals from other stories, the big one is the Angara who are a beefed up version of the aliens from the Avatar franchise, they even inherited the ability to store memories and live experiences felt in other bodies. Truthfully, there isn't a single shred of originality in the new title, most of the games assets, powers, weapons, armours, and aesthetics are all derived from previous games. Andromeda is the Milky Way galaxy to the letter, and all those people traveled all that time and distance to essentially repeat history which defies the purpose of the entire Andromeda Initiative. The overlords at Bioware it seems were more intent on recreating an identical Mass Effect universe than creating a brand new experience full of surprises. The moment you see that angara strung up at the kett exaltation facility the proverbial cherry drops; you have teleported back in time to the moment where you see that human impaled on a spike during the opening Eden Prime mission of the original Mass Effect. No attempt to create a lasting legacy was attempted in the new game, just rehashing the same concepts and ideas found in the Milky Way.
Too much is kept the same, which means it is open season for direct comparisons. Everything just falls under the standard of the previous three titles with Commander Shepard. Bioware had no originality in their attempts to diversify the Mass Effect universe found in Andromeda and this was a huge, wasted opportunity. Instead, they just took the same old problems to a new place and tried to sell you apples by labeling them as pears, but the taste is all the same.
So, you've just traveled six hundred years to a new galaxy; among you are some of the greatest minds ever produced, and what do you find when you arrive in Andromeda? A bunch of self centered interests who have no idea how to solve their own problems and just make them worse. Engaging with the characters of this new universe was a different experience than other Mass Effect titles, mostly because the quality of the dialogue has taken a sharp decrease. You'd think that the greatest colonisation mission ever undertaken would have spawned some brilliant conversation, but all you find in the new galaxy is a group of people who are all very non-shallot who generally don't take their roles seriously.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is guilty of spending way too much time justifying why useless non-playable characters came to Andromeda in the first place, after a while every reason is the same: everyone is either running from the past, or was bored it and wanted change. After listening to the many new faces of the Mass Effect universe explain their shallow reasons for leaving the Milky Way you come to realise that being selected by the Andromeda Initiative for the six century journey required no background check, compliance, or psych evaluation; most of the people you meet, bar a handful, are just a bunch of generic nobodies that you constantly debate if they have skills to flourish in the new galaxy. The universe in Mass Effect: Andromeda feels a whole lot dumber for it.
Not as dumb as the overkill of swearing used in the game. Should you have the patience to reach the mission entitled 'The Little Things That Matter' where you are hunting satellites for Director Addison there is a part where you speak with her on vidcom and the overkill is underlined. This Addison example of over-swearing annoyed us the most because a character of her stature shouldn't be reduced to just cursing when something goes wrong; in this case she used the 'S' word so many times it broke her character as this hard headed assured woman. Another example is when Suvi, towards the end of the campaign, repeatedly used the 'S' word when SAM can't be used.
There is no reason why you can't use swearing in games, and other Mass Effect titles have used it, but so much swearing is used out of context and pushed too vigorously to drive home a characters point. Whenever a character in Andromeda is faced with a crisis the only way the writers of the game think a character can handle the situation is by blurting out every expletive in the dictionary. Even some of Ryder's dialogue choices randomly through throw in swear words for logical options he chooses, and you are left thinking 'Why did he just say that?'. We did that a lot in our play-throughs of the new title, the levels of cringe were unreal, and we believed the developers wanted a more light hearted approach to the game but it just felt so unnatural in portions of the game where characters needed to be more serious. The final showdown with the kett Archon proves this...Ryder, faced with the option of declaring victory over the Archon, or telling him to go to hell, produces two consequential dialogue quotes that just make you sigh as they are nothing close to what you had just chosen. As the player there are so many times where your dialogue options aren't translated into respective speech.
Ryder doesn't care about what you wanted to say, he is going to say what he wants to say irregardless. Bioware made it very obvious that they only wanted one road the Pathfinder could take, and this is evident in Ryder throughout the whole game where he is faced with so many options of saying one thing but in two different ways. There was a point of the game where Liam Kosta is begging for approval and we wanted to make him work harder for it, or potentially tell him that Ryder was all business and for Liam to not get emotional, but no. We'll go a lot deeper into the characters and their strengths and weaknesses below.
Despite all the cheese, and cringe, and overkill, there is still some dialogue that is good. Mostly within your core team where they have better explored the primary characters, especially when they are in dialogue with each other and Ryder is just listening. These are nice touches, especially when Jaal or Drack are involved. Should you take Drack and Liam out in the nomad on Elaaden you have some funny back and forth with Liam once again looking for someones approval and Drack just doesn't care enough for Liam to give him it. The independent krogan are the best addition in this respect because you actually get to see their progress on the new colony, their dialogue is sharper, and it meshes really well with the Drack character. Angara as well offer fresh perspective and dialogue but it becomes old quickly about the repeated questioning of the alliance that Ryder has to justify. There is solace to be found in small pockets of character dialogue, an oasis from the otherwise desert of mediocrity which is the biggest off-putting aspect of the games characters.
Every line is a cliche, anyone could write this game in retrospect. Pirates act and behave like pirates, directors act like horrible bosses, general populace are a bunch of mindless drones. Sid Nix is a big example of this...foolish child, her and Vetra's exchange during the turian's loyalty mission is pretty much every family argument ever had. The asari bartender on Kadara, the Turian traders, in fact every trader, Liam's dream of a British sport car and his bumbling personality and insistence of having a movie night, and countless other examples start showing you the light underbelly of a script that is wasted on such a beautifully molded game. You start wondering if any of the citizens they brought to Andromeda should have come at all. People rising to the challenges of this new world doubt themselves constantly, take the story of Avitus Rix who doesn't want to become turian Pathfinder until Ryder has a sobering word with him. Nobody is capable of thinking for themselves. There isn't even a guess, the new galaxy would have failed should Ryder not have turned up with the human ark. Before the emergence of the Pathfinder everyone fell to infighting and chaos ensued, none of the other arks were found, and when you speak to enough people you assume that if Ryder hadn't have showed everyone would have died or been exalted, period.
Having had two campaign experiences to make up our mind on the ending it is clear that they didn't want to take away the end experience for the players who rushed the main storyline, all the key components and squad members are there and after the main story finishes you can then play the rest of the campaign to earn the loyalty of your squad if you were intent on taking down the Archon quickly. This does question what the point of the loyalty quests was unless it was there just to fill hours in the game?
Should you opt for the 'traditional' Mass Effect route of completing every aspect of the game before moving onto the final mission, the main difference is that it offers a more tailored ending; albeit this route doesn't differ the ending at all but dictates who turns up at the final mission to aid Ryder in his fight against the Archon. The actual endings are identical no matter what you choose, the Archon gets fried and you don't get any instagram filter ending choices to decide the fate of the Heleus Cluster. There are variances in dialogue depending on how your relationships have grown, and we have the suspicious feeling that this game is more of a prologue for the second title where you might start to see some of your choices fleshed out further. In many ways it is an ode to the original Mass Effect where there was a one-track ending and at the end you choose your ambassador.
In terms of the reward of your efforts if you take the long, slow approach, the big differences were found in the small details in the priority missions that really build up momentum for the ending. Should you have made the more 'renegade' choices (which we don't really think there are in the game) you have a much different experience. The small details are in the accumulation of choices you make if you spend time committed to doing everything, and characters appear in the end that you don't get if you just skip through the other missions that have a small impact on the ending.
Did you support the Primus or tell her to go to hell?
Did you allow Reyes to assassinate Sloane Kelly or did you save her?
Did you save the Salarian Pathfinder or the krogan scouts?
Did you destroy the exaltation facility or save the angara?
Did you convince Avitus Rix to become turian Pathfinder?
Did you choose Sarissa or Vederia as the asari Pathfinder?
Did you choose to save Kalinda or the mysterious Remnant device?
Did you let Annea keep the water source on Elaaden?
Did you give the angaran resistence the ancient AI or keep it for yourself?
For us the biggest decisions were if you let the krogan scouts get exalted, you end up fighting many more Beserker boss battles as the kett learn how to properly exalt the krogan. You don't fight any more exalted krogan if you let the salarian Pathfinder take their life in the battle. Also, the leadership race for Kadara port is just as significant with Reyes turning up instead of Sloane at the final battle, and also changing the power structure at Kadara when you return.
These choices feel very Mass Effect as they actually have an impact on the game you are playing, so we can actually see the effort made to differentiate player experiences if you want to do things differently. Allowing the scouts to get exalted and the assassination of Sloane Kelly are the renegade choices so it depends if your Pathfinder fancies doing things the hard way, as most of the 'right' choices are actually just the logical way of doing things and whenever you debate doing the 'wrong' thing it is normally just a case of questioning 'why would I do that anyway?'. Take the krogan exaltation example, it is pointed out by your crew (especially if you have Drack with you) that leaving the krogan to be exalted is ethically wrong and that the salarian Pathfinder is making a brave sacrifice, so choosing the salarian is actually a tougher and more illogical choice than saving the krogan and losing the trust of Drack in your team.
Mass Effect is guilty of this a lot, it tries to push you down the more obvious path; when you encounter the Primus and she offers you her help against the Archon it is an idiot move siding with the Kett and once again your team are there to object against it and push you towards the 'right' option. Mass Effect: Andromeda has a morality crisis in that the universe wants you to follow the righteous choice every time and your crew and every NPC will hound you like a pack of internet liberals until they have what they want. You want some examples? Here are some examples.
Let Sloane be assassinated? Get berated for it by SAM.
Let the salarian Pathfinder live? Get Drack feeling betrayed.
Let the ancient angaran AI live? Get berated by the AI itself.
Kill Akksul, the evil Roekkar leader? Get Jaal resenting you for it.
Don't give the Remnant drive core to Morda? Everyone says you made a bad decision and you don't get a colony on Elaaden. You don't get any real reward for not giving into Morda's demands and just get more hate.
Even when you make the tough calls you are reminded about Ryder's morality behind the choice, being bad isn't an option because you are just made out to be an uncaring monster instead of the hard-headed Pathfinder who made the tough calls to survive. In every instance the renegade call is made you are made to feel guilty for it. Who knows, dealing with the Primus could lead to further negotiations down the line with the kett, where was any level headed team member saying that this proved the enemy could be reasoned with? Every team mate will say it is the wrong thing to do regardless, not one said that there could be a positive ramification. The title of 'Pathfinder' is a very dubious one because Bioware do it's best to force you down the 'right' path, and unlike previous titles you would always have different crew members supporting different arguments and decisions. In Mass Effect: Andromeda all the crew have the same opinion about everything: bad aliens are bad, and don't trust bad people.
The bigger question...
Of course, biggest question though is if you have the patience to go the distance with the game to get the the point where you can get to the ending. The most obvious criticism is the repetitive nature of the game. Spend long enough doing every side quest, every mission, every task, speaking with every NPC and leveling up properly; and constantly watching cutscenes of skipping between the worlds and it will eventually drive you mad. Of the two playthroughs the one where we did everything in the traditional way ended up becoming a marathon where we just wanted to cross the line, it feels like the amount of side quests and loyalty missions drags on forever. So much that you actually lose focus on the main mission which is lingering a million miles in the distance, by about planet four/five of colonization it becomes a struggle and we found that it was tedious having to repeat the same monolith quests and identical side missions on five different worlds. The only surprise was that by the time we got to Harval we were thankful that it was a different mission type than just scanning glyphs to activate the monoliths.
You would be forgiven in giving up on the game if you lacked the patience to endure a strenuous amount of time in repetitive missions. The insanity of this game is doing the same missions in five different backdrops, there was little to no variety other than the scenery of these worlds and as much as we appreciate the grandeur of it all it doesn't take away from the nature of what you are doing which can wear you out and break you down. We've been fans of all the Mass Effect games since launch and this has been the hardest one to play because if you want the full experience it requires reserves of patience to plow through a horde of side missions that make no difference to the end game. We cannot stress enough that there are too many side quests which all follow the same patter: travel, scan, shoot, return. Sometimes less is more, and it was evident that the developers wanted to utilise the massive spaces they had created, but in doing so just clogged it up with uneventful side quests. Eventually, when you get to Meridian it does restore normality but has your hard work been justified by the ending? No.
As mentioned they don't spare the detail even if you have rushed the campaign. Playing the game in its entirety makes aesthetic differences to the ending but in terms of the outcome the players who have invested little get as much of a payoff as those who poured their souls into the game. Most of the choices you make are more of a prologue for future games so the long term payout for games should hopefully be there in future titles but the ending of Mass Effect: Andromeda in its simplest form isn't biased towards the type of player or their commitment, it is a blanket finale which is meant to keep everyone happy. In many ways this placating of the fan-base is irritating because it is clear that Bioware didn't want the same outrage delivered after the ending of Mass Effect 3, but in not being bold enough they delivered a very unfruitful ending to what was a promising game.
There is nothing bad about the ending, Ryder does what they said they would do which was stop the Archon, but to once again have all of your choices make little to no impact on the ending does feel like a kick in the teeth...especially if you have tried to reach one hundred percent completion. Normally, after completing a Mass Effect title we would be thinking about our next playthrough and doing things differently but due to the lack of diversity in the game, the repetitive nature of missions, and the one-track story delivered from all angles there isn't enough pull to convince us we should play it again. We are quite thankful that is the case because to put yourself through fifty plus hours of switching between five colony worlds on purpose feels like torture if nothing really changes. In an age where you can Youtube the difference of outcomes you begin to realise that you'd be insane to start it again and switch genders, there isn't much point as the game doesn't reward being different...it just pushes you down the one path that Ryder must follow.
There is however great optimism for the sequel if the choices you have made influence the follow up, the combat was the best part of the game if you started unlocking more of Ryder's abilities, but what they need to address is how they want you to play the game as many will be put off with having to undergo even more colonisation. We enjoyed Mass Effect: Andromeda, it tested our patience to the limits, but it wasn't the failure that many people wanted it to be. With some improvements to animation, dialogue, and bolder choices from the Pathfinder the sequel would be an amazing game. As a starting point for the new series Mass Effect: Andromeda is a welcome addition to the lore, and the fervent lovers of the game franchise should be happy it avoided the ghost of days gone by.
Update: The final part of our review would stand true, but in light of recent events that the developers who made Mass Effect are being broken up it has cast a long term doubt over a potential sequel to Mass Effect: Andromeda. The series has been placed on hiatus, and over the course of the past few months we played the game at a good pace around working hours. The volume of side quests just meant the game dragged out over weeks of regular intervals. The effort put into completing the game now technically means nothing as the course of the series has now changed before we even completed it, which leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. This is because the Mass Effect fan-base who have poured their commitment into the game have once again been put in a position where their choices don't matter, there may be no real ending. Some could argue the the franchise has now regressed back to March 6th 2012 where Bioware had given up on the series (and its loyal supporters); and started thinking for themselves. If Bioware was making the choice Shepard had to make in front of the star child at the end of Mass Effect 3 they most definitely have just opted for the fatal 'destroy' red Instagram filter.
Mass Effect: Andromeda - Overall Rating
We’ve waited a long time to digest our different intakes of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Sometimes you need to sleep on a decision, be it a night or by weeks, in order to make the correct decision. Then when it was announced that Bioware’s Montreal division was being dissected to help out other gaming IP’s in its infrastructure, it homed in on what I already believed about Andromeda. Given that the game franchise has potentially been canned, its internal teams sliced and diced, there is an overwhelming sense that in truth, the game, just like the studio, lacks any gravity, depth, or forethought for the future.
Andromeda succeeds in providing gamers with beautiful in-game landscapes, a soundtrack with replay value, and supplementing the already impressive graphics with a slick colour and lighting overlay that evolved from Mass Effect’s gritty, battle hardened characters of the past. Actual gameplay, although limited in its variations of previous Mass Effect entries, is engrossing enough to see you pass the finish line of a campaign that leaves you with no questions or options to consider surrounding the Archon’s predictable demise. In particular a highlight of the game was the addition of the Angara and Jaal, who are given a purpose to the story, and an avenue for exploration that you actually want to explore. Add in Drack as a third squad mate, and you have a trio that can stand tall when engaging the Reaper-like Kett.
Attempting to stand toe-to-toe with champions of the past are varied-yet-not-so-varied characters, soulless of heart with few exceptions to name, who are on the whole written with a high level of comedic atrocity that plays all too well into the hands of internet trolls looking for a good time. Layered with the already documented technical glitches that players experience in the game, and facial animations that look like these CGI models have been touched in all the wrong places, the game lacks any legitimacy in an argument with friends, colleagues, or professionals in the industry; everyone is finding it all too easy to laugh at the game – yet this is one step better than having the world enraged with its ending, even if we’re laughing at the game, and not with it.
Andromeda ultimately is playing it safe, to scared of another studio nightmare that might seal the coffin firmly shut, and thus we have been dictated a game that promises exploration and grandeur, but yet are told what to do, the places to go, and when. Finite details of your decisions, and the manner in which Ryder will say one of two good things when given an option (just in a different tone of voice), just do not match up with the expectations of the franchise, regardless of your opinions on Mass Effect 3’s ending. If you want the best ME experience to date you're probably best off purchasing the backwards compatibility versions of the original trilogy.
@RealHypeTrain’s rating: 5/10
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