Mass Effect: Andromeda — a video game review


I’ve finished playing Mass Effect: Andromeda.

I guess.

I mean, I finished my first playthrough of the campaign, which I have been playing since the game was released. Not playing fanatically. I always take my time on a game, I feel I should point out. Plus, I’ve been switching off with at least four other games, so I’ve been playing MEA only a couple of times a week. Taking my time with it, exploring and completing side quests, in addition to the main campaign.

I have played all of the Mass Effect games. I began with Mass Effect 2, which blew me away. Since then I’ve played Mass Effect 3 and the original Mass Effect after it was available for download on the PS3. I’ve played all three more than once, even earning a platinum trophy on Mass Effect (I’m still one Insanity run away from a platinum on ME2 (the same position I was in a year ago), and maybe a handful of tropies away on ME3). I’ve played all of the downloadable content available to me as well. This doesn’t include the Pinnacle Station DLC, which was available only on the PC-version of ME. I own and have read all of the Mass Effect comics published by Dark Horse (and have the ME: Andromeda trade paperback preordered). I’ve read all of the Mass Effect novels published to date except for Mass Effect: Deception , by William C. Dietz, which I’ve heard is riddled with errors and is not considered canon by most Mass Effect fans. I’ve preordered Mass Effect: Initiation, the second novel set in the Andromeda galaxy, which publishes later this month, and I will read the third, Mass Effect: Annihilation, when it is published next year.

These are my bona fides to show you that I am a true Mass Effect fan. No, I don’t cosplay and haven’t, so far, written any fan fiction or created any Mass Effect artwork. But, I’m still a fan.

I’m also not really finished playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. I’ve earned around 70% of the achievement trophies and have already begun my second playthrough in order to earn a few more. I’m not really finished with the games that came before this one, either. These are games I never intend to trade at GameStop.

Trust that anything I say about the game comes from the perspective of someone who loves the Mass Effect Universe.

Short review: I like this game. A lot.

This is the same way I felt about Mass Effect 3. On a scale of 1-to-5 stars, both games would earn a 3.5 star rating from me. Today, at least. The original Mass Effect would be slightly higher—perhaps a 4—just because of its worldbuilding and wonderful climactic scenes. Mass Effect 2 was a solid 5-star game. Still my favorite game so far. My favorite Mass Effect game and my all-time favorite video game. Period.

After five years of development for the much more powerful PlayStation 4 system, you might be disappointed in this rating. I’m not. 3.5 is a better-than-average score, and I think this is a better-than-average game. There are things I am disappointed about, and I’ll mention those shortly. I’d rather concentrate on the positive aspects of the game first.

These are the most fully-realized planets we’ve ever had in a Mass Effect game, and each of the planets has a huge amount of space to explore. I’ve never had this depth of feeling of true exploration in any of the other ME games. The graphics are nothing short of amazing. I’m still not a huge fan of the Star Wars-inspired one-biosphere-per-planet idea, but I get it, and it’s done well here. Desert planet, ice planet, jungle planet, and so on. We get it.

The combat is also the best of the series to date. At least it was after I understood that taking cover didn’t involve pushing a button. I got killed several times before I understood that my Ryder character took cover automatically once I approached something I could take cover behind.

The story is initially confusing, which still feels right since your character has just come out of cryosleep. Plans to colonize “golden” worlds in Andromeda didn’t go as planned, and the Nexus and the human ark ran into some sort of dark energy obstacle known as the Scourge, which really threw a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans of the Andromeda Initiative. For me, this backstory was enriched by the first novel in the new Andromeda series, Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising. This helped explain the tenous situation with the Nexus leadership, something I didn’t really understand before reading the novel. It also explained what happened during the uprising and with the Exiles, especially Sloane, who becomes an important character in the game, pretty much ME: Andromeda’s Aria T’Loak. Once you immerse yourself enough in the story of the game, it is rich and multi-layered, just like the one we were used to from the Milky Way galaxy.

At this point in the game I still don’t fully understand all of the different character classes, but the same was true when I played the original trilogy. I’ll fine-tune things on further playthroughs. The RPG components of the Mass Effect games have never been the most important parts of the games to me. I realize that this may be considered sacrilege by some of you; nevertheless, it is true. I keep using weapons that I like to use, regardless of their ratings and hit points and such. I don’t spend enough time planning out which weapons and armor and tech to research and develop. It’s just not my thing. So, I’m not the one to judge this game on its RPG merits. Perhaps it sucks: I don’t care.

Let’s talk analogs with the original trilogy. The Nexus is this game’s version of The Citadel. It has a surprising amount of space to explore. The Tempest is our new Normandy. It is smaller and can land directly on planets, which is a plus, and it has a vehicle aboard called the Nomad, which is reminiscent of the Mako, but is a much more souped up version. At least it’s more souped-up as far as driving goes. It has no on-board weapons, which seems like an oversight at times. I would love to have the ability to shoot things without leaving my car. Kadara Port, where Sloane the leader of the Outcasts resides, is kind of the Omega.

The Saren of this story is a kett called Archon. He is a kett who looks like he has a halo. He’s suitably villainous, I guess, and he has an agenda that he’s keeping to during the entire game.

The gameplay is similar to what I was used to. There were loyalty missions, to get all the Tempest crew on my side. Then there were big set pieces and epic battles. And, eventually, the Archon is defeated. Inside of a huge Dyson Sphere this time instead of on The Citadel. There is a familiar flow to the story.

Once I completed the campaign, I felt like I had accomplished something. I had been working towards this for months, and defeating the Archon felt suitably momentous. The Dyson Sphere was cool also. Big science-fiction ideas and an epic story. As I’ve said, I liked this game a lot.

But . . .

No Shepard. No Reapers. No Illusive Man. I know these are whiny complaints, but I’m still complaining. Ryder is no Commander Shepard, and the default Scott Ryder I played during my first run looks like someone’s wimpy kid brother. I’ve fixed that for my second run, but Shepard is still missed. Ryder feels like someone who achieved his rank due to nepotism rather than skill or experience. And that’s what happened in the story.

Likewise, the kett never feel like the same sort of Old God threat that the Reapers represented in the first trilogy. They never rise above the level of footsoldiers to me. Even the Remnants never feel like much more than target practice. Maybe the Geth rarely did either, but they had more backstory with the Quarians.

The Illusive Man thing, in addition to no Cerebus, is something that the game feels like it was building towards with the Andromeda Initiative’s mysterious “benefactor.” But, it goes nowhere in the game story. Maybe it was something planned for a DLC or sequel, neither of which seem to be happening.

That is my biggest disappointment in this game. BioWare has made the decision to scrap any work on the franchise for the near future. Maybe the sales weren’t what they expected, or the critical response was too critical. I don’t know or care. The company has announced that there will no DLCs to download, which makes this the first Mass Effect game to go without supplemental content. Also, there are no immediate plans for a sequel. It is quite possible that there will never be another game featuring the Ryder twins and the Andromeda galaxy, which means all of the “major” decisions made during this game (which never felt like huge decisions to me) will have no lasting effects over a series of games.

And that sucks. Even though this game didn’t. While it’s not my favorite game in recent years, it has been immensely playable. In fact, re-playable, as I mentioned before. Especially for fans of the franchise.

I know there were development issues on the game, and crucial changes in leadership at BioWare while the game was in development. Plus, there were initial glitches that seemed mostly cleared up while I was playing. All of this has been documented, and if you want to read bad things about Mass Effect: Andromeda on the Internet, it’s pretty easy to do. But, most of it is about making excuses, not truly reviewing the game itself.

In any case, this is my review. No one else’s. When I complete a run on a game, I ask myself: “Did I enjoy playing the game?” There are only two possible answers to this question (“I’m not sure” counts as a “No”).

My answer is Yes.

2 thoughts on “Mass Effect: Andromeda — a video game review

    1. I know very little about the business side of the gaming industry. I know there will more ME games because going back to the well is easier than creating new IP. It will be a shame if Andromeda doesn’t reach it’s potential.

      Liked by 1 person

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