Five years after the final controversial Mass Effect 3 episode, Bioware’s Sci-Fi RPG is aiming for a comeback and its first launch on the latest console generation. A brand new galaxy to visit, with revamped mechanics and new narrative system, the franchise gets a new look with Mass Effect Andromeda and tries to do what most “reboots” do in the industry: to not disappoint its fan base while attracting newcomers to the series. The question here is simple: is it a success?
Before we start, it is necessary to give you a bit of narrative context of Mass Effect Andromeda especially for those that didn’t play the original trilogy. The singularity of the adventure experienced by each player during the first three Mass Effect forces Bioware here to find a way out of the trilogy, without having to decide among a string of choices and possible options like it did in Dragon Age Inquisition. Instead, Bioware created the concept of the Initiative, an organization with a single goal to provide a new home for humanity and its allied Milky Way Alien species (Asari, Krogan, Turian, Salarian), by colonizing potential “golden” planets in Andromeda galaxy. Thus began a 600-year journey thanks to Cryogenic sleep, where each major Milky Way race was put in stasis throughout the long journey, before reaching Andromeda. This is how your adventure begins, in the skin of a newly awoken human colonist (Ryder will be your family name, whether you choose the default male/female names, or edit your own), which you can, like all other Mass Effect, design from scratch at the start of the game.
Mass Effect Andromeda is probably the franchise entry with less oomph than the iconic adventures of Commander Shepard, which you can feel directly within the early hours of playing the game. Slow-paced and unattractive, they put us in command of a group of characters that have the heavy burden of arriving after the brilliant team that was in the original Mass Effect trilogy. Thankfully after a few hours, the first story trigger reminds us to recall memorable moments of the Mass Effect saga, and soon discover that Mass Effect Andromeda is also a more joyful Mass Effect game, pitting us against new enemies, with uncharted territories and unknown Alien races to discover, that ends on well-paced and convincing final chapters, but leaves us with many questions unanswered. Is that a sign that Mass Effect Andromeda is laying the stones of a new trilogy or multiple-episodic adventure? Probably, and I highly doubt it won’t. In any case, without spoiling the story for any of you, Mass Effect Andromeda is a game that starts slow, but ends up having a proper pace within couple of hours, reminding us why we love the series, and will take you anything between 20 to up to 60 hours if you take the time to carry out all the side missions and tasks (estimated based on my current playthrough).
Mass Effect Andromeda’s success is all thanks to its universe and lore which is still as captivating and interesting as it was in the original trilogy. The iconic elements that made the series are reused again so as not to disturb the fans, and so the Nexus acts as a new Citadel, the Tempest replaces the Normandy ship and even the Mako Land Rover from the first Mass Effect returns in a new design and name as the Nomad. The overall structure of Mass Effect Andromeda meets the typical specification of the saga, which will make you chain long dialogues with multiple choice, exploration of planets, lots of return to the Nexus but also events and relationship building on the Tempest. Like Mass Effect 2, and in contrast to the third episode that is more stingy on this point, Mass Effect Andromeda decided to make us live more events that deepens the relationship between the characters on the ship, whether it is through sidequests (which are sometimes fun and refreshing) or simple exchange of dialogues between Ryder and the other crew members. The result is very convincing and even compensate in part the lack of charisma of most new characters, especially for those that got used to Garrus, Liara and others from the original trilogy.
Mass Effect Andromeda like every previous title offers a great load of missions and quests to do. If Bioware has not skimmed on quantity, it must be recognized that the quality of the latter varies greatly. You should know that a lot of effort was put into the writing and the overall narration of these missions, which avoids at any time to see you inherit a task without knowing the reason behind it. Similarly, a handful of lighter and shorter quests help you “chill” a bit between major chapters of the story, bring a bit of freshness to the whole ensemble, while others, more copious, can have an impact – although often minimal – on your main story mission. But like previous Mass Effect game, there’s still so many fetch and deliver sidequests, and an abuse of the scanner ability in missions, even if it has further usefulness which I’ll talk about more later on.
The more interesting missions are generally those at the core of the narrative axes of colonizable planets, which percentage of viability makes it possible to evaluate your influence on them. To boost this viability number, you will have to venture on the surface of these semi-open worlds with the Nomad. The latter can be improved throughout the game to facilitate your navigation and has two configurations, depending on whether you are looking to climb steep trails or to speed through clear terrain. On that note, the planets are less generic than the large empty areas of the first Mass Effect, and Andromeda playgrounds are more carefully designed, playing effectively between large deserted areas and dense populated areas for missions and enemies, as well even the game’s version of dungeons which are called Vaults. In the end, there’s so much to do on each of the five planets that can be colonized in the Andromeda galaxy, done by clearing important missions, field analysis, exploration of vaults, clean-up areas from hazardous environments, optimize local outposts, and more to reach a 100% viability level.
While the roleplaying part of the Mass Effect series was gradually toned down in favor of a more pronounced action-based gameplay, you’ll be happy to know that Mass Effect Andromeda actually puts its RPG core first, while dusting off the rest to make it a more dynamic gameplay. The difference is as noticeable in combat as it is during your travels, as our main character now has a jetpack sort of booster, which helps him take longer jumps but also can be used in fights as a way to strafe away from danger. These new gameplay elements singularly changes the fights which are more exciting and dynamic, yet still requires you to smartly use cover like the previous games. The new automatic cover system struggled to convince me initially, but was finally much more enjoyable over time as I got used to it.
When it comes to combat tools, all major weapons and powers of the series are back in the game, but the latter have been revamped to offer more variety of playing style. Level progression is once again done thanks to a skill tree, where you spend points in each talent branch, as extensive as the original Mass Effect. On top of that, Bioware decided to add even more depth, with something called profiles, which are activated and upgraded depending on how you distribute your skill points on the talent tree, and activate some extra bonuses, rather than forcing you to pick one distinct class at the start of the game and end up stuck with it until the end. These profiles are very similar to the classes for the original trilogy, and range from Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Sentinel, Vanguard to Infiltrator, plus a new jack of all trades profile called Explorer. Each profile (which can be switched instantly even during combat) has its weaknesses and positive traits, which can be either extra weapon damage percentage if you’re using the Soldier profile, or even turn temporary invisible when dodging properly as an Infiltrator profile. On top of weapons, armor and improvements that can be equipped, the scanner now makes it possible to analyze different elements of the environment, whether it is fauna, flora, enemies, machinery, or anything else and accumulate research points to initiate technology research. Finally, it will be necessary to use minerals recovered via probes or mining systems, direct extraction on planets or from merchants against a few credits to create these newly designed or researched weapons, armors, and mods before equipping them on your character.
Sadly, the interface has some questionable ergonomics on that front, but the research and development system is easily tamed after a few hours and proves invaluable to improve your equipment, especially if you intend to complete the title on higher difficulties. Despite its problems of ergonomics, the entire interface is not as unpleasant as you would expect from a Bioware RPG, and can be handled at ease on the long run. Other options add to the title’s RPG elements, such as the management of strike teams that you can send on missions to gain additional resources, which reminds me a bit of the Assassin’s Creed III’s contract missions. These missions can be directly played via the multiplayer mode, which makes its return by using the basis of Mass Effect 3, or can be dealt with by the AI on its own with a real-life timer. On top of all that, the final RPG elements is in terms of the Nexus itself, which gains levels by colonizing planets, and allows you to unlock different military, commercial or scientific bonuses.
By abandoning its guided system ranging from the pragmatic character to the model of virtue that is the Paragon, Mass Effect Andromeda gets rid of a Manichaean system in favor of a new model of personality building according to your preferences. This system certainly suits the style of our character in this opus, but it is a bit disappointing when it comes to the consequences of our choices, which are more difficult to perceive, often masked by tricks and illusions of change. For example, one of our first core mission objectives allows us to choose between two different “path” for your colony outpost, which is either focus on a military or scientific objectives. This will then activate secondary quests, but there’s not really any major differences depending on your choice, except very basic dialogue lines. Sure, while the previous Mass Effect played an illusory part in this type of decision, the trilogy still offered a better balance between your choices and its real consequences on the game, your character and his crew. Wish it was the case, but in Mass Effect Andromeda, even choices that have a real influence on your team are rare, and I have a feeling that these consequences will only be visible in the longer term, in an upcoming and probable sequel.
Now that we’ve talked about most elements of the game, it’s time to discuss the biggest let-down of Mass Effect Andromeda which is on the technical front. Even within weeks of its launch, and after a bunch of updates, there’s so many collision, frame drop and even game crashing issues, without pointing out at facial animations that are very low standards in comparison to the previous Mass Effect games. Understandable in semi open-world planets where a lot of elements are loaded, but there’s even a lack of fluidity in enclosed areas (like the Nexus or your ship), which overall is unworthy of an AAA production. Strangely, none of these defects alone makes the game unplayable, but their number and regularity can annoy and break the immersion, and it’s the console users that suffer the most, especially on Xbox One. During the time I played, I sadly experienced a lot of these issues on my Xbox One (learned it’s the same as well on other consoles), and while even the progressive resolution system aims to reach an optimal frame rate cap of 30FPS, the game engine (which is Frostbite now instead of Unreal Engine) has difficulties to render in some instances, which are countered by an adaptive v-sync, which results in screen tears.
On PC, the performance is obviously dependent of your resources, and our testing machine is high-powered 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. For those of you that like to tinker with the settings and get the dials just right, Mass Effect Andromeda has you covered. The game handles ultrawide resolutions just fine, although the loading screens looked kind of strange. There’s also an FOV slider (a veritable must-have for PC gamers), although I was fine with the default setting.
In terms of graphics settings, the game offers four standard settings: low, medium, high, and ultra. Of course, if you want to change any of the specific settings within a preset, you’ll end up in ‘Custom’. ‘Ultra’ doesn’t actually max out the settings completely, as HBAO isn’t set as high as it’ll go. It goes without saying that you’ll need beefier hardware to hit those higher benchmarks. Once you scale your settings down, the game will automatically switch down your resolution, so be sure to disable resolution scaling if you want to keep higher resolution but switch out some settings.
The game’s higher resolution settings will need reasonably demanding hardware, as our GTX 1070 just barely managed 1440p, with some noticeable drops here and there. At 1080 FHD it managed remarkably, and I only recall a few fps drops throughout the game. In terms of visuals, FaceGate notwithstanding, the game manages to look incredible even on medium settings. The shadows, the AA, the textures – this is truly a masterpiece for the eyes. Just don’t focus on the actual eyes.
Even with all these technical issues, I cannot deny the fact that Mass Effect Andromeda is gorgeous in terms of artistic direction. Each planet, open zones, vaults and even the Nexus are gorgeously painted, and if you are lucky enough to have an HDR-compatible TV, do not hesitate to activate the option on your Xbox One S or PlayStation 4 Pro consoles to get that little pushed contrast that really pops the colors. In terms of sound effect and soundtracks, Bioware worked with John Paesano, better known for his recent work on Marvel’s Daredevil Netflix Original series. His compositions are in line with what was proposed in the original trilogy, perfectly accompanying the action, despite a less important presence of significant themes, and heavily influenced with the original Mass Effect with a nice blend of “space synth” and traditional orchestral work.
Mass Effect Andromeda was reviewed using an Xbox One digital code of the game purchased by the reviewer as well as a PC version of the game provided by EA Middle East. The main review was done on Xbox One by Nazih Fares while the PC version was tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 10, with an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 in both digital and retail stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• The lore and universe
• Good balance between colonization and action packed sequences
• Copious lifespan
• Solid and well integrated multiplayer mode
• A great return to Mass Effect RPG roots
• Life inside the Tempest
• Artistic direction
• A technical mess on consoles
• A cast that lacks charisma in comparison to the original trilogy
• Less percussive choices