Note: This review was first published in GameAxis on 20th March.
After years on ice, the Mass Effect series is finally back in the spotlight once more. After Mass Effect 3’s less than satisfactory endings, Andromeda wisely sidesteps the issue about what happens next in the Mass Effect canon by fast forwarding to the future…and to another galaxy.
Set more than six centuries after the end of the original trilogy, Andromeda takes place in the aforementioned galaxy. It seems that before the cataclysmic events of the third game, massive ships containing the major alien races in the Milky Way galaxy decided to move to the Andromeda galaxy and colonize it. Calling themselves the Andromeda Initiative, the ships are packed with the best and brightest each race have to offer.
In Andromeda, you’re part of the contingent of humans on the Human ark, Hyperion, and assigned to the Pathfinder team. Pathfinders, as you might surmise from their name, are basically scouts and explorers. They’re meant to explore, survey and secure the unknown planets and moons in the new galaxy, and if feasible, help to pave the way for future colonization.
Of course, things don’t go as planned and soon enough, you’ll find yourself embroiled in a whole new conflict with whole new races of aliens, as well as the Andromeda Initiative’s dire need to find habitable worlds to settle on. Without going into too much details, let’s just say that the plot starts off rather slow but soon hooks you in with its twists. However, if you’re a veteran from the old trilogy, don’t go expecting many references to the older games. There are callbacks to the past titles here and there (like the Liara T’Soni logs you can find on the Hyperion) but for the most part, the plot in Andromeda is all new, making it the perfect jumping in point for new fans as well.
Still, Andromeda doesn’t eschew the traditional Mass Effect gameplay structure, which has you and your companions journeying across space like an intergalactic Scooby gang. As before, you choose two companions to accompany you on a world and depending on who you choose, will get different responses and dialogue.
Apart from the main plot, there are also tons of side quests. Most will play out differently, depending on how you handle them. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a BioWare title, though it’s nice to see some of the side quests in the game are incredibly morally complex, with no clear cut right or wrong answers. Loyalty missions for companions also make a comeback, which is a welcome addition. These missions unlock when you fulfill certain requirements with your comrades and allows you to flesh out more about the character and motivations. Plus, you get some neat gear and rewards for completing them.
In Andromeda, you’re no longer Commander Shepard. Instead, you pick which of the Ryder siblings to play at the beginning of a new game. Scott’s the default name for the male, while Sara’s the name given to the female. No matter which Ryder you pick, the other Ryder will still be a character in the game, though not a party member.
Speaking of reactions, you’re no longer forced to conform to straightforward Paragon or Renegade choices like in past games. Now, your responses are based on feelings and thoughts, whether you want to act casually or think logically for any given situation. Don’t worry, the game tells you what emotion you’re going to be using for a particular response so if you want to play like a Vulcan and choose only the logical responses, you can easily do that.
The biggest core change though, comes in the Skills and Profiles department. You no longer choose a class when you are starting the game. Instead, you now have profiles. Profiles are archetypes you can switch in and out of, allowing you the option of changing your play style on the fly.
Depending on what skills you choose, certain profiles might give you a better bang for your buck. For example, if you’re fully specced out in the Biotic line, using the Engineer profile (which gives bonuses to your Tech skills) might not be as effective as you using the Biotic-centric Adept profile. As you invest points in your skills, the Profiles rank up too, providing you with beefier bonuses.
On top of that, the Skills themselves are now much deeper and complex. They are broken into three different categories (Combat, Biotics and Tech) with 12 skills each, with each skill having its own skill tree. Nearly every skill in every tree is beneficial and the flexibility in choosing how you want to advance your character is one of the biggest draws of the game. Sadly, your companions aren’t as flexible as Ryder. They’re more archetypically Mass Effect classes and aren’t as customizable.
As you’d expect, some of the other aspects of the gameplay have changed as well, with the main being how the game now handles going into cover. The cover system’s been changed to an automatic one. Instead of pressing a button to snap to cover, the game decides for you. You’ll automatically go into cover once you get close enough to something you can take cover behind.
Sadly, this isn’t a change that’s for the better. There have been multiple times that I thought I was close enough to get into cover but the game didn’t do anything. The cover detection seems to really have trouble deciding whether to snap you into cover or not when you’re near curved surfaces. At the very least, this system should’ve been made an optional one, not forced upon everybody. On higher difficulties, the awkward and unreliable system will definitely prove to be a hindrance.
Coupled with the shoddy automatic cover system, combat can be a tricky affair. I don’t mean that in a good way.
Combat speed has been increased, which means the need to be quick and decisive in your fights. Luckily, Ryder can now jump with the aid of his (or her) jetpack, as well as boost himself to dodge or get around quicker. It makes combat much more fluid now since clambering to get to higher ground is now as viable a tactic as flanking the enemies.
Sadly, squad tactics have been simplified to the point where you can only choose the target you want your teammates to attack, form up on you or go to a specific point. You can no longer ask them to use their skills when you need them, which means setting up Biotic or Tech combos can be a pain if you don’t have the required trigger and ender skills.