We will be going over the Mass Effect: Andromeda in detail on an upcoming episode of The Alpha Build. Until then, here is my review.
On March 21 (March 23 in Europe) EA will release the newest entry into the Mass Effect series, Mass Effect: Andromeda. In advance of the release EA Access subscribers (or Origin Access on PC) a 10 hour trial starting March 16. At first I resisted the temptation to dive in, afraid that I would use those 10 hours up immediately and make the wait more difficult. But…that didn’t last long. A measly 3 hours after it was ready to play on my Xbox One I threw in the towel (In my defense, this is longer than most would’ve guessed I was capable of).
Note: I will try to keep this high-level to avoid spoiling anything major, but there are potential spoilers ahead.
For those who aren’t familiar with the premise of Andromeda, it follows the adventures of the Ryder twins, Scott and Sara. They are part of the Pathfinder team of the Andromeda initiative, led by their father Alec Ryder; which is an expansion of the main races from the Milky Way into the Andromeda galaxy. The goal is to “find a new home”. Initial previews seemed to suggest the Andromeda Initiative was a response to the Reaper threat in the Milky Way but in-game dialog doesn’t seem to emphasize this.
The story picks up at the end of your 600+ year slumber en route to Andromeda. You start aboard the human “Ark” Hyperion. As you near your destination things take an unexpected turn for the worse. What was supposed to be an easy road to one of the “golden worlds” quickly turns to a dangerous situation as the ship collides with a dark energy cloud, later known as the The Scourge. With your ship ailing, you and your team then go on a mission down to the planet to check it’s viability. Things again take a turn for the worst as you learn the planet is far from “golden.”
On this planet, known as Habitat-7, you run into one of the new enemies in Andromeda known as the Kett. While the goal was to stay diplomatic things go south after all of one line of dialogue. I won’t go into the rest of the details to allow you to enjoy them yourselves.
I was quickly drawn in to the story and was itching for more by the time I reached the endpoint of the trial. The beginning of the game does a very good job of instilling the sense of urgency, danger, and excitement that comes from the plot twists. While some of these early beats are easy to anticipate they are necessary. Unless the game was to be a “Galactic Diplomatic Simulator” you have to get to the conflict quickly.
There are a few large changes that make a significant difference to the traditional Mass Effect formula.
The biggest change is to the class system. The days of being pigeon-holed into using one of a handful of classes with set abilities are over. Now known as “Profiles,” they exist separately from your traditional skill points and skill trees and merely enhance skill points associated with that profile. Even better: you can switch Profiles on the fly meaning you can change your Profile to adapt to the situation. The ability to use both Tech and Biotic powers is fantastic, as that was always a difficult choice for me.
One area of opportunity would be in the Journal, which lists all active missions and objectives, and the heads-up-display (HUD). Locating things using the map and HUD doesn’t feel super refined. The journal doesn’t seem to list a ton of details on the where, unless it is something that was spelled out in dialogue. But, this could all be growing pains to getting used to something new, and could be patched if it’s deemed necessary.
Also: jumping. Who knew that jumping could be so great? Being able jump, dash, and hover makes a huge difference. It might sound silly, but it is a large change from games 1-3 where your feet were glued to the ground. Combat spaces have adapted to this new mechanic so that fights are less reminiscent of the corridors of cover, a la Gears of War.
The world design has ditched the linear nature from the original trilogy. Instead it has gone to a more of an open world approach similar to Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Finally, in an evolution of the effort to prepare the allied forces against the Reapers in Mass Effect 3, one of your main tasks as Pathfinder is to increase the viability of worlds you find and as well as locating supplies for the Nexus (Andromeda‘s Citadel) so that you can wake up more colonists.
One word: phenomenal. I am playing on an Xbox One, obviously packing less firepower than a PC, and the visuals are breathtaking. I found myself looking around at the scenery on Habitat-7 for quite some time just drawing it all in. The color scheme and weather effects on this planet stood out in a very positive way.
That being said, I have seen instances where the game seems to lack a bit of polish. There have been a couple of times during dialog where my character didn’t render properly which was quite jarring. I’ve also seen a few scenery textures that didn’t look quite right. Finally, at times the Xbox One does struggle to maintain a solid framerate which seems to suggest that Frostbite 3 (which powers Inquisition and all recent Battlefield games) is maxed out on the hardware.
Overall, the good very easily outweighs the bad. The issues are far from damning.
I have yet to find much that I don’t like. So far the story is engrossing and the gameplay is fun and intuitive; it’s just an all-around blast. I’ve seen some people online who are more critical and even they admitted that they still weren’t able to put it down. I think this speaks volumes to the quality of the game. I haven’t gotten a chance to explore multiplayer yet, due to limited trial, but it looks to be very similar to that of Mass Effect 3, which is a very good thing.
Bottom line: I highly recommend picking this game up. If you find yourself even remotely intrigued by it, you will not be disappointed.