A stumbling step in a galaxy far, far away.
Mass Effect: Andromeda on PS4 Pro
Bringing players back to a beloved universe is no easy task. You have to respect what came before, yet be willing to free the current project from its predecessor’s skeleton. It’s a tough battle between nostalgia and identity, but it faces an even bigger challenge. A new tale in an established world places everything on square one with the woes of a first entry, hurdles that Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest space-faring RPG from BioWare, was unable to avoid.
Mass Effect: Andromeda drops players into the magnetic boots of one of the Ryder twins, this time keeping both heroes as part of the canon rather than forcing players to eliminate one from existence. After the choice is made, you’re immediately thrust into the life of those who escaped the Milky Way during the threat of the previous trilogy. It’s one of those sort of rushed starts that many large, western RPGs have been guilty of in recent years. You boot up the game, create your character, and before you’ve even gotten a full handle of the mechanics you’re now the savior of millions of people, and all their troubles and concerns have been placed squarely on your shoulders. It doesn’t matter if you just tagged along to see some cool space rocks and maybe meet a fine, alien partner to spend your life with. You’re the hero now and, like it or not, you’re going to have to start acting like one.
It was a bit off-putting at first even though I knew it was coming; here I was, unceremoniously pushed into the driver’s seat surrounded by people I had yet to find a reason to care about. When I made my way to the game’s first real hub area, the Nexus, everyone there rudely told me how I needed to prove myself to them, yet I was still trying to figure out why I should bother saving a single soul.
Not helping matters was the realization that Mass Effect: Andromeda doesn’t have a well established cast of characters nor a villain worth fearing right out of the gate, something that the original trilogy took years and hundreds of play hours to create. This fresh start slows the speedometer down to a crawl so a new wave of players and returning fans can form bonds with an odd cast and develop a unified reason to hate the Kett, a race that, while violent, didn’t pique my interest much until very late in the game. Like with the first entry of any series, you’re stuck for a healthy chunk of the game meeting people for the first time and forming your opinions as you slowly make choices that will help to define your version of Ryder as the series progresses. It’s a drag that first reared its head during the EA Access demo, and felt no less daunting when playing the full release.
However, there was a bright light at the end of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s seemingly bleak tunnel. There’s a turning point where, without even realizing it, you find yourself really caring about the characters around you. Your squadmates seem superficial at first, with predictable wants and desires and often cheesy dialogue, but they have a depth to them that you can explore. Understanding why they are the way they are, and seeing the effects that your decisions as Pathfinder have on them draws you in. One particular character that really had me second guessing my methods was Nakmor Drack, a Krogan mercenary who is just a tough shell of a man, or at least that’s what you’re lead to believe upon first meeting him. Over time I was left genuinely distraught by a decision I made haphazardly, all because of how it brought out a sense of feeling and urgency in what I had only treated as a living shield up to that point.
Those hidden emotions spread into the story itself as meaningless decisions gave way to you controlling the fates of entire groups of people. Feeling the hopes and faith of thousands of people spread out across the Heleus Cluster starts to weigh on you, and it no longer becomes easy to just make a decision. Deciding to listen to the pleas of an NPC, whether they be one of your companions or not, or making the decision on your own of what you feel is the best move, lies heavy on the heart. It’s something that BioWare has been good at for some time, and it’s definitely Mass Effect: Andromeda’s biggest strength… for those with the will power to stick around long enough for it to matter.
The gameplay is the area where I’m left most divided. To be clear, I love the combat in Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s fast, fluid, the added verticality offered by the Jump-jet is much appreciated, and the different profiles that let you alter your playstyle are quite welcome. The Research & Development system, which serves as your crafting and weapons acquisition, works well also, letting you gather research to create weapons you’ve seen out in the wild, only with your own personal twists and perks.
Yet for all the fun combat and the enjoyable crafting, Mass Effect: Andromeda feels like a game afraid to let go of what it once was. There are moments of incredible stiffness, and the exploration is a step in the right direction but not quite as free as it could’ve been. Don’t get me wrong, the Nomad was surprisingly fun to drive around, and I found myself just jumping off of cliffs with it. But it also accentuated how barren things sometimes feel, and the weather conditions that forced you into vehicles felt sort of tacked on. The feeling as a whole felt limited by its predecessors and its need to be the Mass Effect game people remember. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s in the moments where you see it struggling to be its own entity that the game suffers most.
Then there are the bugs. Truthfully, the dead expressions during conversations didn’t bother me much. As I progressed, the story was enough to help me overlook Foster’s guppy face. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only issue I faced with presentation. Enemies constantly getting stuck in the environment (which can sometimes screw an entire mission and force you to reload), floating NPCs and enemies, AI seemingly being turned off at moments, issues with mobility, and more plagued my more than 70 hours with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Not many hindered my progress, just the odd endless loading screen and stuck enemies (which could sometimes be solved by an area of effect attack), but the bugs overall were frequent enough to pull me out of my emotional adventure and show me the ugly side of the game. With combat being one of the most refreshing portions of the experience, having enemies just stand there as you took them out one by one really ruined the entire affair.
As far as framerates go, the game held up very well on my PS4 Pro. I also put in some hours on Xbox One as well, and I can’t say the same for that platform. I also didn’t play on a standard PS4, so there’s a good chance that it’s the Pro’s extra processing power helped to provide a smooth experience.
Being the head of a new series is a tough spot to be in. It’s not a new IP, which would normally be a boon. Unfortunately its predecessor’s left some mighty big shoes to fill. Still, the story of Mass Effect: Andromeda is one that’s definitely worth playing through if you’re a fan of the franchise or just BioWare’s work in general. Also, the combat really helps the whole space savior adventure feel fun and engaging. But for its two stellar high points, everything else completely misses the mark. It’s held back by its older sibling, and that’s a shame. This can be something really fresh and new in a universe we were done with.
I will say that the end left me with hope for what comes next. The story will definitely pick up if my decisions were anything to go by, and that left me with a bittersweet smile as I watched the credits roll. I just hope that with the continuation, Andromeda 2, or whatever mantle the series decides to take on moving forward, sheds the skin of the past. There’s the elements of greatness in this latest installment, it just needs to step out of the shadows. Right now we have a strong set up, but with the slow start to the story, waiting for the payoff is going to feel like an even bigger drag.
Score: 3.5/5 – Fair