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Game Review | Mass Effect: Andromeda

Ryder (Fryda Wolff) takes in the view in Mass Effect: Andromeda

Game summary: The Andromeda Initiative sets a course for a new galaxy, hoping to find a new home for the species of the Milky Way. (IMDb)

This was my second time through Mass Effect: Andromeda and I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot - although this is mainly because I'd already suffered through my original play-through. You see, this is a really, really big game and there's not really enough quality content to make doing everything worth that time investment.

How big? I stopped my first time through with just the one quest left, because it required hoping a random item would show up in an enemy location and, after giving it more time than I should have, I gave up. In total, that first time through took around 75 hours, doing as much as I possibly could in a single play through the game - never skipping any dialogue or cutting conversations short.

In comparison, to do the same for the original Mass Effect (and its meagre DLC) takes around 22 hours. Mass Effect 2 and it's much, much better DLC? Around 35 hours. Mass Effect 3 and DLC? Around the same as the second game. Or to put it another way, you could play through the entirety of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, both games' DLC, and be 18 hours into the third game in the time it would take you to completely clear Mass Effect: Andromeda once.

That is just ridiculous and there's no reason for it other than to try and match other huge open-world games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. There are too many side quests that offer nothing but XP in return, adding nothing to the setting. It takes forever to move from location to location with canned animations that become boring after the first couple of journeys (you could trim several hours from the game just by removing these and making travel like the other Mass Effect games).

There are huge spaces indoors that look amazing, but feel empty thanks to a lack of NPCs to fill in the space. There are massive areas to explore with lots of little bits to do, but only empty space between them - unlock fast travel locations as soon as you can to avoid tedious trips back and forth. You have to wonder how much the developers working on this suffered having to create so much that feels so pointless.

So why did I enjoy this latest play-through? I knew what to skip. If a quest didn't have a marker on a map, I simply didn't do it. I unlocked the fast travel points as soon as I could to save time travelling. I sprinted through larger locations, knowing there was nothing hidden to find and not bothering to investigate every nook and cranny because I knew not to bother.

Even then, there are still a lot of quests that do have markers that are relatively pointless and offer nothing in reward apart from some XP to help you level up your character. At least the map lets you know what quest each marker refers to so you can still skip them if you want, or only do them if they're close to another, more interesting, mission to do.

Ryder (Fryda Wolff) survives a crash landing in Mass Effect: Andromeda

The core missions that make up the plot, and the personal side missions for your crew, are pretty enjoyable though, if only because they feel like they actually matter - the quality of each mission may vary, but at least you might get some more character work, world-building or fun little scenarios to play through.

As for said characters, one improvement made to Mass Effect: Andromeda from its initial launch is a vastly-improved character creation tool that lets you make your protagonist look like a human, rather than some kind of failed genetic experiment leading you to just use the default avatar. Neatly, both male and female choices exist in the game, with them being brother and sister.

I played through as the sister both times, enjoying this second time through more thanks to being able to make Ryder look like I want. Fryda Wolff puts in a pretty good performance, and I'd suggest playing a more humorous character for some great line deliveries. Much like Jennifer Hale as Shepard, Wolff's performance is pretty good for every situation you find yourself in and never grows unwelcome even after dozens of hours of play.

As for Tom Taylorson as your brother, Scott, what little I've heard also sounds pretty good, but I haven't spent anywhere near enough time with that character to know if his performance matches Wolff's. Will I ever find out? Let's just say it took 3 years to get me to give this game another try and I have an even bigger backlog of games to get through than I did then - so probably not.

Then there's the crew of your ship, the Tempest, who all have their own little stories and character arcs, which vary hugely on quality. They're also another example of Mass Effect: Andromeda trying to do too much, giving us a pretty big cast from the start rather than letting players get to know a smaller team first like the original trilogy.

It doesn't really help that, odd moments aside, none of them feel as interesting or as lively as pretty much any of the squad members from the previous games. Aside from Drack (Stanley Townsend) - he's pretty great and should be a permanent fixture in your party thanks to how much fun he is to have around in addition to just how damn good he is in combat.

And, I know she annoys a lot of people, but I also like Peebee (Christine Lakin), mainly thanks to how much she annoys the other characters. Sometimes she does it intentionally and sometimes not, but I found it pretty amusing anyway, mainly because I often acted the same way as Ryder, which is why it also made sense to pair up the two as a couple in the end.

Ryder (Fryda Wolff) helps out Peebee (Christine Lakin) in Mass Effect: Andromeda

The rest of the team is a bit of a mixed bag, but the size of the game and having so many people to speak to means that their stories are stretched too thin for characters we're meeting for the first time. And just what is it about the first male companions in each game (Kaidan, Jacob, Vega and Liam) being the least interesting of the bunch? Women rightly criticise female characters and how they're written in games, but BioWare really seem to struggle with men too - or human men, at least.

There's a new alien race to befriend too - the Angara - who also just aren't as interesting as others already existing in this setting thanks to, yet again, too many characters and being too spread out across too many locations to really connect with any of them. Your teammate Jaal (Nyasha Hatendi) aside, you'll end up only remembering maybe two or three out of the dozens you'll end up talking too.

As for the race intended as the long-term antagonists, the Kett? I'll admit they have a pretty decent figurehead in the Archon, who is your primary nemesis in the central story, but the rest are faceless henchmen that are entirely unmemorable. They don't even have the saving grace of cool appearances, weapons, ships or buildings to make them stand out either.

And I say 'long-term' because Mass Effect: Andromeda clearly sets up a sequel which it's unlikely to ever receive. It's a shame, as there's more than enough plot threads to continue with that I'd like to see picked up, but the question that lingers is would a second game do those stories justice or would we end up with another bloated mess?

To be more positive, I think I need to mention the visuals, which suffered from poor lighting, texture work and animation (especially with faces) that made things even worse - not even including the glitches. Now, the game looks absolutely gorgeous 90% of the time. It's quite frankly ridiculous how good looking this game can be most of the time.

To balance it, there is that missing 10%, where the game looks like it was from the previous generation and is a staggering contrast to how good the game usually looks. It definitely hurts the experience because the drop in quality is so jarring that it makes the problems stand out that much more. Again, if the game wasn't so big...

As for the audio, the music is pretty forgettable, with nothing approaching 'Vigil' (ME1), 'The End Run' (ME2) or 'Leaving Earth' (ME3). The voice work is pretty good throughout too, although some of the actors are stuck with some dreadful material. The shining light is the sound design though, and especially the sound of a couple of the shotguns, which are now how I want every shotgun to sound in every game they appear in.

Ryder (Fryda Wolff) and Vetra (Danielle Rayne) enjoy the view in Mass Effect: Andromeda

The one truly shining, unblemished light in Mass Effect: Andromeda is what could arguably be considered the most important: the gameplay. It looks like a remake/remaster of the original trilogy is on the way and I really hope they take this game as the template for how it should play. The highly-mobile combat in this game is a franchise high point and any future Mass Effect game should definitely follow this example.

One tip I would add is to make sure your teammates have abilities that can set up what the game calls 'combo primers'. The AI for your squad can be a little random in how they use their powers, but if they can put something in place for you to trigger? Big-bada-boom. Or, for greater control, set up Ryder with a primer and at least one detonator - Singularity, a biotic talent, is perfect for this.

There are a lot of major flaws with Mass Effect: Andromeda, but just keeping in mind that you don't have to - and really shouldn't - try to do everything in this game. Pick your favourites, stick to them and enjoy the fantastic combat and (mostly) fantastic visuals while racing through environments as fast as you can. Slow down and it really slows down.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was great fun the second time through, but only because of knowing what unnecessary filler content to avoid. There are also still quite a lot of issues with the game - especially visually - to recommend it too enthusiastically, but the game is nowhere near as bad as its reputation would suggest. A perfect example of more is less - stick to core missions and there's plenty to enjoy here.


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