The Mass Effect series is very near and dear to me and easily my favorite video game series. As a huge Star Wars fan, I am always on the lookout for new, vast, and exciting galaxies in which to be transported, and Bioware delivered just that with Mass Effect and its two sequels. When I first played the original in 2007, I was completely drawn into this new universe that Bioware (led by Casey Hudson and Drew Karpyshyn) had so painstakingly created. It has interesting and beautiful places, unique alien species, compelling characters, an intriguing and captivating plot, high stakes at every turn, biotic gods, the ability to punch reporters in the face, and space magic. What’s not to love? So naturally, when I first heard the announcement for the next chapter in the series, “Mass Effect: Andromeda”, I began counting down the days until launch.
Andromeda was originally scheduled for a late 2016 release, but as the end of the year drew to a close, it was announced that the game was going to be pushed back until March 21 the following year. At first, I was upset I had to wait a few more months to dive in, but I quickly reminded myself that holding back a game until it is ready is always a better option. Turns out Andromeda could have been held back a bit longer. As early game play footage and beta tester reviews of the game began coming in, many people reported encountering serious bugs, and even more had a strong level of dissatisfaction with the facial animations of the characters. Hearing and reading all of this, I was a little bit worried, but nothing was going to be able to keep me from picking Andromeda up.
In my experience with Andromeda, I only encountered a few bugs. Once, due to getting stuck in the world, I had to restart my game from a previous save, and one quest became bugged to the point of it being impossible to complete. Apart from those two issues, I did not encounter any others of note, although many have. In the department of animations, Bioware has never been stellar. Andromeda is no different; the facial animations can be exceptionally bad. Graphics and animations have never been high on my list of importance for a game, but even I found myself pulled out of the experience at times. The more I played, however, the less I noticed.
“Mass Effect: Andromeda” puts you in control of either Sara or Scott Ryder, twins taking part in a 630-year journey from the Milky Way Galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy for purposes of colonization. Upon waking from cryosleep in a new and unknown galaxy, it quickly becomes clear that plans of inhabiting Andromeda have fallen apart, and after an unfortunate turn of events any hopes of rekindling that dream fall on Ryder’s unprepared shoulders.
The combat is, by far, the best in the Mass Effect series. Andromeda blends gun play and space magic in the best possible way yet. The combat is fast-paced and smooth, the AI is much less predictable than ever, and the leveling system compliments it well. All that said, I still had a very hard time getting into this game towards the beginning. I found myself constantly putting the game down every hour or two. I have had a hard time exactly pinpointing what the problem was for me, but the best idea I have come up with is the following: the game focuses more on its sci-fi story and less on narrative force in the intro. In previous Mass Effect games, the story was a very compelling space opera from start to finish; this is not the case with Andromeda. If the original Mass Effect trilogy is the Star Wars of video games, Andromeda is the Star Trek of video games. It’s important to point out that this is not necessarily a bad thing, rather simply not exactly what I was expecting, and I think that may have been a large factor for why I had a hard time diving into Andromeda.
From there, Andromeda takes you on a journey to several key worlds throughout the Helius Cluster, in an attempt to make those planets viable, life-supporting worlds to colonize. You do this by completing quests, establishing outposts, and fixing the atmospheric problems within each world you visit. In each area, you primarily encounter two enemy factions hindering your way: the Kett and the Remnant. The Kett are a humanoid species who quickly take an interest in Ryder personally, while the Remnant are very mysterious, robotic entities guarding the tech Ryder needs to repair each worlds’ habitation problems.
You’ll eventually meet the friendly alien species, the Angara. It was at this point that I finally found myself fully invested in the game instead of forcing myself to move forward. I truly enjoyed visiting each unique world, and I genuinely felt like I was doing something worthwhile by making this new galaxy my new home while improving it for the Angara as well. With the introduction of the Angara, a level of narrative meaning began to surface. I finally felt like I was playing something worthy of the Mass Effect title.
The side characters of Mass Effect have always been something that shined, and Andromeda is no different. While there are a couple that I didn’t particularly care for, I was still able to see their dimensions and understand how other could like them. Throughout the course of the game, your team truly comes to be your family. Drack is the grumpy 1,300 year old Krogan and the team’s “dad”, and Vetra acts the team’s protective “mom”. Though not all of the characters were my favorite, I truly enjoyed each and every one of their companion missions, and the follow up quests were some of the most touching and sentimental moments of the entire series.
As you continue to progress in Andromeda, the game keeps dipping it’s toes more and more into the types of space opera themes I loved from the original trilogy. By the time you enter the finale, it is full-on space opera until the closing moments. It’s at this moment that I didn’t merely feel that it deserved the “Mass Effect” title, but truly makes its mark as one of the best in the series. Upon embarking on the final mission, you’ll find yourself looking back on everything Ryder’s team has accomplished and how far Ryder has come as an individual. It’s hard to not feel like you somehow just played a masterpiece without even realizing it. And that final mission delivers.
When I sat there watching the final credits roll, I immediately wanted to say, “This is the best Mass Effect game.” Without those first 5-10 hours of this experience, I think that sentiment would hold true. However, since those opening hours are still a large part of the game, they can’t be ignored, despite clocking at over 50 hours of playtime. Still, I can’t deny how the story resonated with me emotionally nor how I’m still craving more Andromeda. While I’m not yet sure how I place this game amongst the others in the series, I am confident in saying that it belongs there.