This review will feature spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda as well as the Original Mass Effect Trilogy.
With the four year anniversary of Andromeda’s launch this Sunday and with the release of the Mass Effect remaster coming in a few weeks, it seems fitting to look back on the series’ black sheep title.
Released on March 21st 2017, Andromeda was immediately hit with a wave of backlash following its buggy launch, lacklustre facial animations, poor writing and weak characters. What had originally been intended to begin a new set of Mass Effect games, Andromeda was instead shelved, and the entire franchise was put on ice after launch.
But that was then, and with the franchise being worked on once more, it may be time to look back on whether any of that hate was justified, and if it was, why certain creative decisions were made in the first place.
To understand why Andromeda was even made, we look back to Mass Effect 3, one of the most anticipated games of 2013 and one that was to conclude the Reaper threat and Shepard’s character. Instead, ME3 ended up being a PR nightmare for BioWare, as the ending of the trilogy went down in history as one of the most disappointing and infuriating game conclusions of all time.
Players had spent hundreds of hours in this universe, making thousands of decisions and engaging in countless hours of conversations with NPCs and companions alike. Yet all that agency was destroyed by a decision which…produced a different colour beam of light? Players were left in the dark over what their chocie meant for the galaxy and for the characters they had invested so much into.
BioWare were not prepared to address ME3’s ending, but Shepard’s choice is so monumental that any game set after Shepard would need to address what is considered canon.
That left BioWare with one choice… they needed to leave the Milky Way and avoid interacting with Shepard’s timeline entirely – thus, Mass Effect: Andromeda was born.
Despite Andromeda’s ambitions, BioWare were not given the tools, workforce or budget to achieve their goals. This answers why Andromeda feels so empty and unfinished. Missing Milky Way races, unfinished or missing quest line development and buggy animations are still here, four years later.
With a limited budget, it makes sense why BioWare leant on combat as a primary pillar of gameplay. Combat is fun and feels more expressive than before. The introduction of the jump jet gives the open world and mission design a sense of verticality, as players zip around the battlefield.
The class system has been replaced with ‘Profiles’, allowing players to combine any abilities together to create some explosive combinations. However, this freedom comes at a cost. Before, combat encounters were crafted so that each class could be challenged. Andromeda allows such freedom with its abilities that it means no enemy can counter all of your attacks if you find the right triage of skills. Essentially, combat becomes trivial.
BioWare are known for their characters and the trilogy has some of their best. Garrus, Liara and Tali remain fan favourites. Unfortunately, Andromeda falls short. Too many characters feel like tired re-hashes of people we have seen before. Peebee is Sera from Dragon Age: Inquisition. Vetra is the female Garrus. Drack is an older Wrex.
There is also the disparity in the amount of screentime characters receive. Cora, your second in command, has some of the best animations in her romance scene and has plenty to talk about with you on the ship. But characters like Suvi, Vetra and Gil all feel sidelined, like they are missing half their content. It is clear who was prioritised, but this makes roleplaying harder.
On roleplaying, no longer are we controlling the tried and tested Commander Shepard. Instead we have the Ryder twins, one of which you choose to play as and who are as different from Shepard as can be. Mac Walters described Ryder as a “fish out of water” and this rings true. They are a new race in a new galaxy and the game tries to play with this perspective.
Sadly, it falls short.
Ryder is often not given the freedom to express more than one opinion about the people they interact with. You can go against a companion’s wishes or express disapproval over their methods, but they will always remain friends and reckless situations are played for laughs. Ryder cannot dismiss anyone or enter a rivalry, meaning they feel very weak as a leader. Ryder may be the Pathfinder, but by the time the credits roll, it does not feel like they have come into their own as a leader.
On the wider story, there really is not much to say. It introduces no new ideas and copies much of the original Mass Effect’s story, but with none of the compelling beats to support it. The Archon as an enemy is dull and uninspiring. Too many questions are left unanswered and too many plot conveniences are placed along the path to make it feel like a deserved victory after the final battle.
What makes this even worse is that this story is not about Ryder, or even the Andromeda Initiative at all. The game hinges upon your AI, SAM. Without SAM, the game literally could not work. Ryder serves as a host for SAM as the AI does all the heavy lifting – hacking, scanning, interacting with Remnant technology. Ryder is simply not special. Shepard may have interacted with Prothean beacons, but they were the one doing it. Not some vague AI we have no choice but to accept.
There is simply no reason to invest in Ryder when SAM could be implanted into anyone else and they could do exactly what Ryder does.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is not the worst game ever made, nor is it the best. It does have its good moments and its visuals and combat are some of the best this franchise has achieved. However, as a successor to the original trilogy, it falls short in many ways. From tired tropes to unpolished animations, its small improvements struggle to carry this game forward. The heat this game got is deserved in some ways, but mostly it suffers from being a dissapointment and a missed opportunity of becoming something truly unique.
Feature Image: Taken by me via PS4