EA Games and Bioware invite us, once again, into the universe of their grand space opera.
Without spoiling it, the ending of EA and Bioware's acclaimed sci-fi Mass Effect RPG trilogy, provided a definite conclusion to the story. It was controversial amongst players at the time, making a direct continuation very difficult for the developers.
Mass Effect: Andromeda features a new set of characters, new ships and a very different scenario. Set some 600 years after the events of the first trilogy, this new chapter follows the adventures of some intrepid colonists looking for a new home in the Andromeda galaxy.
After 634 years in cryostasis, the guardians of the 20,000 passengers of the mainly human ark ship, Hyperion, are awoken to find that things have not quite gone to plan. Not only is the supposed “golden world” inhospitable, but there's no sign of the other three arks. Also, their base, the Nexus, which arrived over a year earlier, is still not up and running, having suffered civil unrest amongst the crew.
Choosing either the male of the female of the Ryder Siblings, players take on the mantle of Pathfinder. Charged with finding a new home for the colonists and finding out what has happened to the other missing arks, you must skip from planet to planet exploring and unlocking their secrets.
Interplanetary transport is served by the elegant-looking Tempest, whilst the tank-like Nomad ground vehicle gets you around planetary surfaces. The environments seem a bit larger this time, making use of a vehicle worthwhile. The Nomad is a far cry from the Mako from the first game, handling more like a proper APC.
For most of the game, however, you and your AI team are on foot. Like in previous Mass Effect games, whilst you can order your team, they act independently. The AI isn't bad and generally they do a great job. It would have been nice, however, to try out playing as some of the other characters, similar to Bioware's Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Whilst tagged as an RPG, you spend a lot of your time playing the game as a third-person cover shooter. I never found the shooting aspect of the first games particularly good and I can't say this one is that much better. However, your character's jumping skills do add a platforming element to some of the game's puzzle sections. Andromeda's gameplay is nothing if not diverse.
Visually, the game looks superb, especially on PC. The environments, vehicles and characters all echo the first three games, but build upon the designs rather than just reproduce them.
Rather disappointingly, the human character facial models and animations let down the otherwise impressive visuals. They look awful and, dare I say it, they seem worse that Mass Effect on the Xbox 360. I'm not sure what happened, but in an age where game characters are starting to look almost indistinguishable from real people, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a massive step backward.
Dodgy-looking faces aside, as with its predecessors, Mass Effect: Andromeda is all about the story. Carving a new adventure into uncharted space opens up the series to new situations and protagonists. Whilst the story is good, it isn't as epic as Shephard and co.'s. The developers really don't seem to has exploited the fact that they've whole new galaxy to explore. Instead we have a story, well-told, but lacking the stakes of the first three games.
Your character, either Scot or Sara Ryder, depending on your choice of gender, is not the established hero that Shepherd was in the first trilogy. This allows for some good character development and offers an in-game explanation for EXP advancement and ability unlocks.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good game, there's no doubt about that. But for me, Mass Effect was more about the setting. By displacing the action, isolating the characters to a new galaxy, a lot of the lore from the first games just doesn't make an appearance. The game is probably a better jumping in point for new players than a sequel for veterans.
If you enjoyed the previous Mass Effect games and go in with an open mind, there's no reason why to won't enjoy Mass Effect: Andromeda, it just that it's probably not the best Mass Effect game that you've played.