The universe of Mass Effect is known for its vibrant collection of colourful characters, a collective of individuals and groups that shaped an immensely complex story with real meaning and purpose behind your characters decisions. Six hundred years down the line, and an entirely new galaxy to explore, there is a host of new identities to explore in Andromeda. We analyse if the new cast of characters lives up to fans expectations, or whether the Arks left behind the soul of the franchise to die with the Reapers. All aboard.
We start with the main protagonist of the series, the new human Pathfinder of the Ark Hyperion. Like other Mass Effect titles you can assume either gender, placing yourself in the shoes of either twin; Sara or Scott Ryder. Entrusted with leading a galaxy of clueless geniuses the Pathfinder has one clear goal: casually stroll through Andromeda's familiar backdrop in pursuit of the Kett Archon, and also pursuing every sexual conquest the new world has to offer.
If you haven't already checked out the review of the campaign it will fill you in on Ryder's half-hearted mission to save the new galaxy...and their ruthless ambition to pick up Andromeda's first recorded STD.
In Mass Effect: Andromeda your gender specified Ryder becomes the galaxies favourite errand boy in between stopping the Kett's devastating exaltation of all life in the Heleus Cluster, your new home. Scanning rocks and plants becomes your favourite new hobby, as does running the scanners enthusiast club. The reason we bring this up is because during the course of the entire game there is a repetitive pattern that emerges.
Be it with a data pad, scan, or conversation with useless alien it goes:
1. Acquire mission from random NPC you don't care about.
2. Start mission.
3. Go to the Tempest.
4. Go to world on nav point.
5. Drive/Fast Travel to destination.
6. Investigate / Scan / Destroy / Negotiate with target.
7. Go back to Tempest.
8. Go to another world to speak with someone else.
9. Repeat step six.
10. Go back to Tempest.
11. Go to back to world with NPC.
12. Speak with useless NPC and finish mission.
A huge chunk of the 50+ hours of content packed into this game forms somewhere close to this routine. The actual main campaign isn't that long, so with such investment in remedial missions you would want a character of whom was engaging and could carry you through endless side quests. You'll quickly discover that in Andromeda your main hero isn't very interesting, he is there to anchor their team who engage in all the important dialogue. After trawling through endless side missions there is little payoff with Ryder because it is just a slog to complete, the character of Ryder just gets on with his job like any obedient civil servant. At it's core the Mass Effect universe is about engaging characters...not graphics or frame rates as the publisher will tell you all about. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Ryder character, or wrong; they just fall flat and appear to not take their job seriously at all.
Comparisons between Shepard and Ryder are unfair because they are two characters, but the real undertone isn't about how great Shepard was, it is about the benchmarking of what the Mass Effect fanbase expect from their storyline. Shepard had a relatable character that was fun to play as, and Ryder was hit and miss. By deviating from the usual Mass Effect formulas the bigwigs at Bioware had ignored the core principle of character development which really hurt Ryder's mass appeal. In contrast the only thing that made Ryder irreplaceable was his connection to the SAM node, they also had the support of everyone to begin with due to their Pathfinder title. Shepard earned it by doing it alone and accepting the danger of the Reapers head on. Without Ryder another Pathfinder would have come along, but if Shepard dies then the Milky Way is doomed. This is the best way of saying that the developers admit that their new leading character won't be missed if they were to suddenly be killed off.
Alec Ryder was the evolved character that was more interesting and they did kill him off, he was irreplaceable. The game might have been different playing from his perspective.
We can't ignore this. Some of the things you choose to say during dialogue options aren't actually what you actually say. If given the option to agree or disagree there is more times than none a patchy grey area Ryder just simply evades without having hurt anyone's feelings or making a firm decision. There is little charisma from Ryder in parts, and almost no variation in his dialogue choices. Unlike previous titles you can't be paragon or renegade, what that means is Ryder can't be sarcastic, a jerk, legitimately thoughtful, or a decent person. The dialogue is lazy and predictable, and you are left scratching your heads about some of the one-liners he casually delivers in key moments.
Ryder does well to knit everything together, but most people the Pathfinder encounters feel very 'generic' and hate the fact they are now at Andromeda. Everyone is annoyed, everybody doesn't seem to embrace challenge, or change despite travelling dark space for new beginnings. Ryder's biggest strength is that he is up for the challenge and out of all the people who traveled the only one that can apparently solve a problem (usually with a quick scan). Some choices you just wouldn't say yourself, and they aren't choices. Sometimes it is the same answer, but said in different emotional range. This doesn't inspire a great deal of choice with the game, and it is more about how moody you want Ryder to be in a fixed plot-line and outcome regardless of Ryder's input. The game gives you a collection of middle-ground options and then disregards what you want to say anyway. You are left wondering why you are even picking dialogue options in the first place. The difference with Shepard was that his dialogue was more meaningful and impacted on the relationships with people. As a result of Ryder's inability to be anything other than what Bioware wanted him/her to be, a dull anchor to the Pathfinder team, we were massively disappointed in their new leading character. Should there ever be a sequel nobody should lose any sleep if a new Pathfinder took Ryder's place.
A play-through with the female Ryder would be an interesting journey. We wondered if anything would have differed, or if they were the same character. Doesn't matter too much because the tame writing looks like it infects everyone, and it looks as if the choice of assumed gender is just for the purpose of choice as it was with previous games. Both appear to have similar roles and act in different ways. Any Youtube video search confirms these suspicions which is why the rating for Ryder applies to both genders.
Pathfinder Ryder rating: 5/10
Pathfinder Team: Squad Ratings
Drack: 10/10 (Good loyalty mission)
The question asked within the team was about Drack was: is Ryder's Pathfinder team any good without the grizzled krogan?
The resounding answer was no. Without the veteran warrior there would have been a huge void to fill in Ryder's team, and a real struggle to have a favourite squad mate to bring with you planet-side. Drack is an essential part of the game and a staple to your three man fighting squad, he is the strongest and most powerful ally on the battlefield and also the most colourful personality off it. Drack's dialogue is sharp and witty, he always has the perfect answer and adds a steeliness to Ryder's team. The difference between him and the other members of the team is that Drack is not conflicted in any way; he knows who he is, what he can do, what he likes, who he likes, and what he wants to do. His loyalty mission isn't about solving any personal hang-ups but instead about securing a future for his people, he may not know it but he is the real hero of the story. He talks about living the last of his life to the fullest and shows unwavering loyalty to Ryder who he comes to respect if you make the right choices. We also found that many major decisions relied on Drack being there to make the biggest impact, like choosing between the Krogan scounts or the Salarian Pathfinder, and also the entire story on Elaaden and the new established krogan colony. Mass Effect: Andromeda would be a much more hollow game without the presence of Drack, and our review of the game wouldn't be as good without him in it.
The more appropriate question in relation to Drack is who fills the third member of your planet-side party because the experienced krogan should be a firm lock in every team.
Jaal: 9/10 (Great loyalty mission)
Step forward the angara, the newly introduced 'friendly' race of the Heleus Cluster. We are not going to lie, Bioware needed to add in a new alien race to the mix within Ryder's team to even have a worthwhile Pathfinder team. Truth being told there would have been huge disappointment if they wanted to have a traditional team with no insight into the new galaxy you were invading from one of its own citizens. Safe to say Jaal lived up to the billing as this alien ambassador and a real asset to Ryder's team, we usually found ourselves teaming Drack and Jaal up on missions because they were an unstoppable brute force duo and complimented each others dialogue nicely.
Jaal's intrigue into the other members of Ryder's crew from the Milky Way makes for really interesting and sometimes quite funny dialogue. Jaal's emotional temperament and vivid personality makes him a really good addition to Ryder's team and the game as a whole. Due to the importance of the angaran story we felt indebted to involve him as much as possible to provide context to the ongoing story, there were definitely times that we didn't have him in our squad that we felt he could have had additional dialogue to enhance the situation. Jaal's loyalty mission was also one of the most intense and satisfying to complete, and the ramifications of the choice with Akksul's death a big turning point for the trust of the angaran in Ryder. Of the two separate campaigns completed for this review we decided to spare Akksul in one, and off him in the other, and the difference of decision was stark in the aftermath with Jaal either choosing to hate or thank Ryder based on his decision; it was one of the moments of the game where it made it feel like Mass Effect was rewarding you for a hard choice, something that we found the game was lacking.
Jaal was an integral part of the team and due to his involvement in the story and fresh perspective into the Mass Effect universe, especially towards the end of the game where you feel dirty even considering dropping him from the team going to take on the Archon. Jaal was a worthy component of the game and he easily kept out the Milky Way invaders out of Ryder's team in the main campaign missions.
Peebee: 8/10 (Good loyalty mission)
We liked Peebee, her introduction as a go-get-them adventurer really fit the tone of the whole story and her addition to Ryder's team is largely positive. The Asari is the kind of person we could imagine thriving in a place like Andromeda and of all the characters had the best reason about being in the new galaxy. Most of the characters you meet throughout the campaign are either running, hiding, or trying to change themselves. Peebee come to Andromeda to learn new things, make history, and be a pioneer; these traits are actually hard to find in the Heleus Cluster when you actually delve a bit deeper into most of the characters you meet on Ryder's journey. Peebee links together the Remnant story nicely, and provides the only legitimate female personality in the core Pathfinder team. You also have the chance to romance her with either gender defined Ryder in either a series of hot airlock flings or a more teasing long term relationship, so nobody should have any complaints about this charming Asari explorer.
Cora Harper: 6/10 (Best loyalty mission)
Breaking the hearts of lesbians everywhere is Cora Harper, a new character in Mass Effect who could be any number depending on your viewpoint of her overall contribution to the game. Pushed as the primary love interest for male Ryder (sorry ladies!) she is armed with that seductive voice to try and push you into her arms and reject Peebee; and in hindsight the real romance option for any Ryder as you can make a more worthwhile romance out of it with the actual asari, and not the one pretending to be one.
The main difficulty with Cora is that the game doesn't reward you for keeping patience with her, the mandatory loyalty mission comes way too early in the game for Cora as Bioware continues their relentless push to have Ryder fall for her early on in the campaign, but once this has been settled there is still a huge portion of the campaign where you begin to drop her from your team to focus on other loyalty missions. Should you choose to be a biotic and favour a more brute force style with your other two squad mates then there may be limited action for Cora for the rest of the game in your team, and if you choose her in your team you might grow weary because she is a weak team mate on higher difficulties and choose a more sturdy fighter like Drack of Jaal so that you don't have to keep reviving her. Cora's actual story of her asari commando roots is actually surprising and very good compliment to the character, her loyalty mission we regarded as one of the best, but she suffers due to the games booking of the character which is non-existent halfway through. Bioware don't encourage you to take any of your human squad-mates on missions because Cora suffers the same curse as Liam which is that the human contingent of the Tempest are flat; they don't offer Ryder any advantages in terms of dialogue or combat that the other alien races also offer.
All we'll say on the matter of Cora is that if you are the type of player who likes a flash experience rushing the campaign, and plowing through the main content then you'll see everything of Cora and your rating of her will change because your relationship with her will be more rewarding because of the short term implications. If you are the type of player who enjoys playing Mass Effect and completing it fully and taking your time to achieve one hundred percent completion then you'll soon grow bored of Cora who becomes irrelevant soon after her loyalty mission and you'll wish that you had taken the time to romance Peebee instead because she was more worthy of your time.
Vetra Nix: 6/10 (Good loyalty mission)
The female Garrus Vakarian joins the Tempest crew by default, she just happens to be on the ship when you arrive at it for your voyage into the stars. There is no formality about it, or grand design, Vetra is just introduced and you take her aboard as part of your team...just because. Some stories just come naturally with characters of the Mass Effect universe and Vetra is a character that is marmite to the fanbase, you'll either really enjoy her company, or you won't. Players fond of calibrating Ryder with a turian squad mate will enjoy Vetra on the whole, there is nothing wrong with the way they tell or story and how she conducts herself on missions. Her powers are good if you are looking to unleash salvos of tech combos, and she has a cool look with the sentinel shields that enhance her prowess as a mercenary. Kadara is where Vetra thrives, she is at home on the outlaw planet and having her planet-side with Drack is really rewarding as she provides insight into the Nexus revolts, smuggling, and general ways of the exiles you don't get from the other characters. Elsewhere though her contribution is very limited aside from her loyalty mission where Ryder is once again cleaning up the messes of his team.
Vetra isn't really a romance option for male Ryder, it isn't forced or pushed, it is just a case of player curiosity. Involving her in your main team normally means pushing out either Jaal or Peebee, or potentially Drack, and that is where the problems are with the character. Vetra is there if you want her, she is the lingering alien that is always in contention for planet-side action and that is down to player preference. You'd be forgiven for not taking her on missions as most of her dialogue is tame, and with Sid present in particular, very cliche and monotonous. We expected a more tough personality from a rogue like Vetra, she is a character that comes with a big reputation, but one that doesn't follow through when you get to know her. Vetra is better than average, but overall we are not sure if she makes a telling contribution to the Ryder's team.
Liam Kosta : 2/10 (Average loyalty mission)
Despite him trying to organise the Tempest movie night there isn't many positives things to say about Liam Kosta, the simple truth is that we didn't care for his involvement in the duration of the entire game. There are so many comparisons to Jacob from Mass Effect 2 it is a painful comparison, and they tried to overcompensate by having Liam be the 'cool guy' with a spunky attitude who likes old British sports cars, cracking wise, and having a drink. The levels of generic that Liam reaches is unbearable, and quite frankly we couldn't wait to drop him from the Pathfinder team you took planet-side when enough squad mates became available. Liam was the bad kind of cringe that we couldn't deal with, aside from some funny interactions with Jaal there was nothing but just awkward moments of having to put up with Liam and validate his existence. The underlining issue with Liam is that there is never an option to be strict or tell him to grow up from Ryder, a clear example of the Pathfinder saying the same thing in two different ways happens constantly with Liam. Equipped with the worst animations, most cliche dialogue, medium-strength fighting style, and most tedious loyalty mission they went wrong with Liam by not making the character unique. You'd prefer taking Drack, Vetra, or Jaal for brute force and tech combos; or Cora, and Peebee for biotic firepower. Liam simply didn't have a place in the team, and he proves that during his loyalty mission where Ryder has to get him out of a serious jam of Liam's own making, only to end up on a captured Kett ship fighting for your lives to escape. Liam by definition was a liability in the team and for the sequel we don't mind him being involved in the game, but not as part of the Pathfinder team.
What we are saying about Mr. Kosta is that no sleep would be lost if he had stayed behind in the Milky Way to be harvested by the Reapers.
Non-Playable Characters: Ratings
Simulated Adapted Matrix, or SAM, was one of the best additions to the game and the linchpin to the whole game. Ryder would have been nothing without his new AI companion allowing him to operate Remnant artifacts; and his prominence in the campaign was felt throughout, particularly towards the end when the Archon steals the AI's capabilities for his own dastardly use. Ryder was just the puppet to SAM's ingenuity and forward thinking, there wasn't a problem that couldn't be solved in Andromeda without SAM asking for you to scan a wire or activate a switch. SAM was so ruthless he even showed he had giant grapefruits when he boldly killed Ryder during a mission without any knowledge if he could resuscitate him. SAM even practices jokes on you during downtime on the Tempest, and even states his desire to have an AI baby...and if you romance Cora he'll graciously gives you some 'alone time' in your quarters with her to try and make your own. SAM is everything Ryder needs in the new galaxy: irreplaceable asset, glorified sociopath, budding comedian, smooth wingman; and we can't imagine an Andromeda without the AI's inclusion.
Alec Ryder: 7/10
We wanted more of the original Pathfinder, he was made out to be invincible during the opening mission, only to be fallen by his own love for your gender specified Ryder. Still present throughout the campaign through every character you meet declaring 'You aren't Alec'; but more importantly through the memories and logs unlocked at the Hyperion. Some of the best story and context of Mass Effect: Andromeda come through Ryder's father and we wish he had a bigger role to play in the game, especially because a lot of the marketing was based on his strong voice.
Dr. Suvi Anwar: 5/10
Does every game or television project launched since 2016 have a diversity requirement to have a red haired female with strong Scottish accent to be green lit? She is there, she does her job with Kallo to pilot the Tempest and narrate the galaxy. Andromeda's 'Brave' stereotype would have been rated lower were it not for well written dialogue about tea, the meaning of the universe, and the existence of God in the new Andromeda galaxy.
Kallo Jath: 5/10
Like Suvi she is present, and there is nothing wrong with the salarian pilot of the Tempest. We have a sneaking suspicion his inclusion was to ensure there was a salarian influence on the ship, and that is it. Any other race could have filled the boots that Kallo did during the game, but his feud with Gil over your ships modifications was somewhat entertaining, but ultimately meaningless as it didn't really impact on anything.
Gil Brodie: 6/10
Thankfully Mass: Effect Andromeda had only one engineer instead of two to contend with, but it is clear that Gil was an addition that was made to add content and 'meat' to the crew of the Tempest. You can lie to him at poker, have drinks with him, even romance him. Pretty standard character with adequate dialogue. Would have been a rated a five, but if you are romancing Gil with male Ryder you can foster a baby with him which is probably the biggest edge the character has if you pursue it.
Dr. Lexi T'Perro: 3/10
Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones my voice the asari doctor but there is little she can do to save a character who acts as nothing more than a piece of furniture aboard the Tempest. Aside from questioning why Ryder trusts SAM after killing him to escape Kett custody you could remove her from the game altogether and it wouldn't make any difference. Ryder can't even romance her because she takes herself too seriously as the ships doctor and only sees your character as a patient.
Director Foster Addison: 3/10
We couldn't stand the human Initiative's Director, this wasn't about being a character who you wanted to root against and written well...far from the opposite. Bioware knew what they wanted from the krogan, salarian, and turian representatives aboard the the Nexus. What happened to Addison? She was dumb, and her character was ruined during the satellite mission when she suddenly has a lethal outbreak of tourette's syndrome when the situation doesn't go in her favour. Addison is an annoying story anchor and nothing more in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Director Janus Tann: 7/10
Voiced by the brilliant and eccentric Kumail Nanjiani, the Director of the entire Andromeda Initiative is one of the best performances of the entire game. Living up to the mantle as a hapless stand-in leader the salarian goes out of his skin to cause the Pathfinder problems like he is a newborn krogan child. Tann is smug, arrogant, and loathing of alien interests; but he does show to be progressive towards the new Pathfinder...eventually. Kumail nailed it. Only down is that it was hardly original writing but it was one of the best character examples where the species of the Mass Effect universe loathe and despise one another.
The Archon: 5/10
Given so much emphasis during the marketing campaign, but much like Atriox in Halo Wars 2, the Kett leader failed to show up to the party. The Archon was the best designed character; he had the voice, the look, ego, and the motivation to really push Ryder all the way in Andromeda. Ultimately it was a bit of a bummer because the halo'd psychopath was rarely featured, and the most disappointing aspect of the Archon was his 'death' at the end of the campaign. Grilled by some alien wires your character has no say in the manner of his death (or survival) by Ryder, he literally just can't handle the games overload of poor writing and calls it a day. There is no satisfaction in defeating the Archon which is why he is given the most neutral rating possible; for all the potential there is no follow through on delivering it.
The Primus: 5/10
Confusingly the Kett are meant to be gender neutral, but the makers label the Primus as a female. Bioware not only assumes the gender of the Primus, they also hold back on what could be big player in the game. 'She' was a good addition when you track down 'her' signal and get to arrange a plan to thwart the Archon, or you can tell her to stick it where the sun down shine, in what was one of the more traditional Mass Effect choices which rarely came about. The Primus was once again wasted potential as Bioware had an avenue to explore the Kett dynamic but they frustratingly put a lid on it. Until the studios disbandment the Primus was teased for a larger role, which is an apt way to describe 'her' character.
Moshae Sjefa: 6/10
Despite there being a whole range of new angaran characters none take prominence as much as the Moshae, revered scientific mind among their race. The mission to save her from the Kett facility was one of our favourite parts of the game, it was the intense firefight at the exaltation facility to save her that showed the silver lining in the game. The Moshae is a large arc of Jaal's story line and she is present until the end of the game where she is either grateful to Ryder or bemoans his decision making at the facility where you pulled her out of the fire. She is a real Mass Effect character and definitely our pick for Initiative Ambassador at the end of the game.
Sloane Kelly: 5/10
The rebellious leader of Kadara Port was everything you expected about a ruthless rogue leaders...sharp with her words, disapproving of your character, and easily unimpressed with an outsider coming in and saying how things should be run. Sloane had a decent look and story, but was a character more used to foster a crucial decision leading into a potential sequel. Choosing to let the Collective assassinate her and take control of Kadara Port was a throwback to the old Omega stories long time fans will appreciate.
Reyes Vidal: 6/10
The Latin heartthrob was stealing Ryder's attention all game long, the suave wordsmith turned out to be the Collective leader known as the elusive 'Charlatan'; which is not really a surprise when you consider he spent most of his time in-game lurking in the shadows influencing Kadara affairs from afar. You could romance Vidal with either gender and even shoot him in the back if you saved Sloane from assassination. Vidal offered more than Sloane Kelly in Kadara's plot so gets a slightly higher rating, but was yet again another stereotypical typecast in Andromeda's stacked deck.
Overall Andromeda Character Ratings:
Here is a summary and conclusion of our ratings for the cast of Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Male Ryder: 5
Female Ryder: 5
Alec Ryder: 7
Dr. Lexi T'Perro: 3/10
Director Tann: 7
Director Addison: 3
Moshae Sjefa: 6
Sloane Kelly: 5
Reyes Vidal: 6
The list goes on and on, but the point we are trying to make is that there are so many average characters that either just fall above or below expectations. We could have picked out another ten names and could come to the same conclusion, pointing out the same emerging patterns. There are a few notable exceptions (Drack, Jaal, SAM) to the ruling but the major pitfall of the game is that from a character development standpoint it is weak in ever direction. Among the venturing arks filled with pioneers and visionaries you find few characters that live up to their expectations, the problem is that there are so many predictable situational characters meant more to push an agenda than to develop good character. Ryder is the end result of this method, he is straight down the middle with everything and wants to avoid becoming like Commander Sheppard...even though it wasn't Sheppard that made that character great, it was the options Bioware gave the character which gave the player their own definition which made Sheppard so revered.
The Pathfinder was very much about choosing how you wanted to shape the new world, but all the characters and decisions do in Mass Effect: Andromeda is push through the one-track universe that Bioware was manufacturing. Should there ever be a follow up to the title there needs to be a significant improvement in the general writing, it quite frankly wasn't good enough.
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