Game franchises are strange. For some, like Call of Duty or FIFA, it’s easy to keep going, because masses of fans are loyal sheep, desperate for their next fix.
The case of Mass Effect, however, is a bit different. Between 2007 and 2012, the epic space opera spanned three games and wowed players worldwide with its fresh take on life – and death – beyond Earth.
In those magnificent five years, we followed Commander Shepherd right to the very end. That, sadly, is the major problem that his spiritual successor, Ryder, faces in Mass Effect: Andromeda, the franchise’s quasi-reboot.
You see, Shepherd’s story gave us closure. Mass Effect 3 had a truly magnificent ending, worthy of concluding any franchise.
Five years later, Andromeda feels a bit disrespectful – a bit like grave-robbing. All the best things about the original trilogy have somehow been bastardised into a game that’s not really a sequel, but not a reboot, either. So what is it?
Andromeda takes us beyond our own galaxy, into the great unknown of the Andromeda galaxy in search of a new home for the sentient beings of the Milky Way, thousands of whom have endured a centuries-long voyage to get there.
The problem? You can’t just barge in on someone else’s party, duh! As it turns out, Andromeda’s Helius Cluster had enough problems before the humans showed up alongside old favourites like the Asari, Salarians, Krogan and Turians.
A warm welcome. Credit: EA
To be fair, the colonists don’t anticipate any sort of welcome to their new home, let alone an unfriendly one. When the crap hits the hyperdrive, the destiny of our wayfarers falls in the hands of Ryder – humanity’s pathfinder.
Jaal, an Angaran - one of the species introduced in the game. Credit: EA
No, seriously. His/her title is ‘Pathfinder’, and their job is to, well, find a new path to safety and prosperity.
As before, you can select the gender and appearance of your Ryder at the start of the game, but this time, there’s a twist!
With the help of a trusty, diverse squad, each equipped with their own unique skills and backstories, Ryder takes on a new alien enemy that threatens to end any hopes of a new life.
A custom Ryder and his squad. Credit: EA
As in its predecessor, parts of Andromeda’s story depend on how Ryder interacts with others. Don’t get ahead of yourself, though - unlike in Mass Effect 3, the final outcome of the game is set in stone. Bummer, right?
Andromeda takes basically all of its cues from the mechanics of Mass Effect 3, with a few improvements and expansions.
Taking on a walking tank. Credit: EA
Unlike before, your character won’t be locked to a single class for the entirety of the game. Instead, you can assign any of the several-dozen skills to your hero as the game progresses, combining biotics, tech and combat abilites at your own discretion.
Of course, that means you can choose to invest in some abilities more than others, ultimately shaping the way you play the game.
Experience points are awarded for completing tasks and missions, while research data can be collected to help create newer, more powerful weapons and upgrades.
The game’s weapon and armour upgrade options are vast, which is a good thing for serious players, but a bane for people just trying to get through the story. Obtaining the materials required for upgrades can also be a daunting task, which takes away from the fun of open combat. It’s a deep, intricate game, yes – but certain aspects may appear overcomplicated.
Ryder and his/her squad explore Helius in the Tempest, and the galaxy map gives you access to a selection of open-world planets that form part of the story. On-planet, you get around in the six-wheeled Nomad, which can also be upgraded.
Driving the Nomad. Credit: EA
Combat is strictly over-the-shoulder, and there’s a strong focus on cover and mobility. Enemies are tenacious, and fighting is in real-time – changing weapons and abilites doesn’t pause the game. Overall, your combat strategy is guided by your unique combination of weapons and abilities. Because you’re never locked to one class, you can change it up in-battle.
Conversations are guided by a command wheel that offers several responses at any given time. It’s not as black-and-white as before, but once you realise that your answers don’t really change anything, dialogue can become dreary and frustrating. It’s kind of superficial.
Chatting with Peebee, a member of the squad. Credit: EA
The upside of the dialogue wheel is the return of the romancing mini-game, which allows you to form relationships with NPCs. It’s a fun way to pass time between missions, and there’s always a surprise at the end.
I’m going to be brutally honest here. Andromeda is glitchy, and it sucks.
Ryder casually floating in mid air. Credit: EA
Sure, the interstellar settings are beautiful, and a lot of attention has been paid to creating realistic weather phenomenon and several contrasting environments – no easy task when conceiving alien worlds.
Sadly, however, the intricacy of dialogue is overshadowed by the terrible, one-dimensional facial expressions. Combat is marred by disappearing enemies and misfiring sound effects. I also had to restart on several occasions after becoming stuck in one place.
Once again, floating in the air. Credit: EA
Glitches don’t define games, but they definitely take away from the fun, and in 2017, we expect better.
If the Nomad suddenly goes quiet, it’s not a secret stealth mode – it’s another damn glitch.
In the game's defence, cutscenes are quite spectacular. Credit: EA
I might be blinded by love for the original trilogy. Heck, I may have even enjoyed Andromeda for a few fleeting moments. But it’s just not that great.
It’s an unnecessary re-hashing of the same old story, and it’s a smear on the legacy of the original games. While the trilogy brought a fresh take on interstellar combat to the gaming world, Andromeda’s spin-off storyline and slightly upgraded gameplay brings virtually nothing new to the table.
In isolation, it’s a decent game, with hours of fun(ish) gameplay that make it more worthwhile than many other games out there, but in reality, it’s a sad, underwhelming successor to one of the more satisfying series’ of recent times.
Go out and buy it, but don’t expect to be blown away. Stuck in sequel/reboot limbo, Mass Effect: Andromeda is, frankly, average.