Mass Effect: Andromeda has an exploratory spirit, an optimistic enthusiasm, that mirrors a soft reset for the series. A total newcomer could be forgiven for not noticing the venerated RPG trilogy that came before it. Those who left the Milky Way to find a new home in the Andromeda galaxy, 600 cryo-sleep years away, talk about the thirst for adventure that brought them. They look upon new worlds and star systems with awe--the first witnesses of planets that could become homes. They approach terrestrial challenges with vigor. Who’s got time for world-ending, soul-harvesting threats when there’s sand to convert to soil or a settlement running low on food?
Despite setbacks and frustrations, they push on. The journey and reward are worth it.
And what a roller-coaster journey it is. Andromeda boasts the series’ highest highs and lowest lows. Thrilling action, memorable characters, and dense lore are tempered by a laundry list of annoyances and frustrations. But every head-scratching moment of bewilderment at some design choice or glitch is buried by several more that remind me why Mass Effect is so easy to love. From one angle, a potential masterpiece fails to lift off, grounded by a overarching sense of being half-baked. From another, the sci-fi epic reaches a new standard of excellence, with player agency, deep RPG systems, and remarkable flexibility behind a strong, adventurous story.
That story, and the Andromeda setting itself, manages to welcome newcomers while rewarding veterans for their time. Between Mass Effect 2 and 3--before that trilogy’s galaxy-ending threat becomes known to the general public--a technological breakthrough allows Milky Way scientists to witness “golden worlds” fit for habitation in the far-flung Andromeda galaxy. From a host of backgrounds, a team of space-age pioneers comes together. Experts in science, engineering, and economics are welcome alongside any settlers willing to permanently leave behind their Milky Way homes. Mainstay species--humans, turians, asari, and salarians--assemble in Arks to make the long journey in cryo-sleep. Each species elects a Pathfinder to serve as ambassador and make first contact with new, alien worlds.
You are the human Pathfinder, Ryder. Upon arrival, you find the Andromeda Initiative’s stability is threatened and its hopes for success are dim. Internal and external forces threaten this cause that hundreds of thousands gave everything to, and the “golden worlds” are not what they seemed. With a team assembled, it falls to Ryder to chart the Andromeda galaxy, searching worlds for something livable.
On paper, it’s dire; there’s a desperate urgency to Ryder’s mission. The people of the Nexus, a Citadel-like city hub, are measuring their time left in months. To its credit, the story doesn’t shy away from the darker side of people who’ve lost their hope, and the struggles expressed by Nexus leadership and residents feel earned and realistic. Expressive writing sells the weight of expectation; when my hero hits the stars with his crew, I feel that burden. But above all, Andromeda is a hopeful story with a great deal to say about curiosity, diplomacy, and brotherhood; about galactic cooperation toward survival; about the spirit of adventure that drives it all.
In this vein, a fresh freedom permeates the game, invigorating everything from character development to exploration. You can create and name a Ryder hero, but also their twin. Gone are the Paragon and Renegade choices of the original trilogy, which railroaded you into making the same dialogue choices for gameplay benefit. Now, your choices are personality-based (casual, emotional, calculating, or professional) with no gameplay effect on character development. You’re free to react authentically to every choice the game gives you. Even big-ticket quests and tasks that would be required in most games are surprisingly fluid here, with the plot advancing naturally in spite of that main planet or two you decided not to visit or that faction you didn’t befriend.
Andromeda’s RPG systems boast the same freedom. No longer does proclaiming yourself a “Soldier” or “Engineer” inhibit or railroad your growth. Instead, Andromeda offers an interesting inversion. Every talent and power is open to you at the start, and you’re free to apply skill points toward anything. As you concentrate points in one or two areas, the aforementioned classes appear as “profiles” that are freely swappable. After putting a couple dozen points into various Combat and Biotic talents, I can activate the Vanguard profile for an extra stat boost, merely complementing the way I’ve decided to play. Or, because I’ve invested more points in Biotic talents than all others, I could switch to Kinetic Channeler for a boost to biotic power and recharge speed. Over time, your many choices form a couple distinct pictures. You merely become what you enjoy--a welcome change from having to find enjoyment in a single early choice.
The role of Pathfinder opens other interesting choices with gameplay implications. Completing tasks on planets, generally improving the Andromeda Initiative’s chances of survival, means the galaxy can support more colonists being awoken from cryo-sleep. As Pathfinder, you’re trusted with deciding who wakes up first--do we need scientists to expand research efforts, merchants to improve the Nexus economy, or another group? As your Nexus Level increases, you make these choices and reap the corresponding gameplay perks, like a regular delivery of crafting resources or improved prices at merchants. Story filters into these choices; Nexus leadership stresses the decision’s importance, and side quests emphasize the effect on people of being woken up while their families and friends remain stowed away.
Add robust crafting, and Andromeda boasts the deepest RPG systems in the series. Initially, crafting is intimidating; there’s a cost to research a blueprint and a separate cost to actually develop the weapon or armor piece. You can research augmentations (think +5% weapon damage while in cover, or similar) and apply them when a gun or armor piece is first crafted, but loot is plentiful while exploring, weapons are quickly outpaced, and merchant stock is always improving in quality--for relatively few credits. Over time, crafting’s role is crystallized as a min-max solution for RPG enthusiasts looking to optimize their play. But with a poor introduction and little in the way of context, it contributes to a general sense of density. Andromeda is a really satisfying RPG, but far from the most accessible or thoughtfully presented.
Still, for series veterans, much of this new Mass Effect will feel familiar, right down to the clearly marked Loyalty Missions and romance paths. But it also feels flexible in a way the original trilogy never did. Following one romance path doesn’t necessarily preclude you from others, and there are flirtatious options outside the main cast. A meter in the background isn’t measuring your “completeness” en route to a best ending, and there’s no endgame meta demanding 100-percent completion a la Mass Effect 2. For the first time in the series, exploration can continue after the main story’s ending.
That freedom extends to planetary exploration--a big shift for the series. While the series has always reveled in relatively constricted levels played chronologically, the main planets of Andromeda give open-world maps with optional objectives galore. On the first couple, there’s a narrative impetus pushing you along. As the story’s scale expands, the planets themselves become endeavors all their own, with a host of activity markers on the world map, new missions to accept, and dangers like radiation or extreme cold to contend with. The on-planet objectives are fairly rote--every world has a few enemy outposts, areas to probe for resources, and other repeatable activities. Thankfully, they’re not the game’s focus. Side quests with thoughtful stories and well-written characters are far greater in number, and they tend to reveal or say something interesting about Andromeda or a planet’s people. There’s very little onus to play any content that doesn’t seem fun or worth a Pathfinder’s time.
Incidentally, that’s a very good thing, because while Andromeda largely comprises side quests that are fun and interesting, some of the game’s frustrations appear in the actual doing. A revised Galaxy Map now has the Tempest ship visibly traveling from system to system and planet to planet as you select them. The first dozen times, there’s a wonderment to watching the stars whizz past. Every time after, you feel the minute or two of travel it adds in any direction. The inconsistent fast-travel system also frustrates. The Nexus has multiple areas for questing, but the Tempest can only land in one of them; the others are an additional tram ride (loading screen) away. On-planet, it’s the same issue: Forward Operating Bases act as fast-travel points and loadout-swapping stations, but you can’t select one until you’re actually boots-on-ground. These feel like extra loading screens where none are needed and seem especially strange next to the fast-travel points within alien cities, which are so generous that you’re able to skip even a few unnecessary hallways.
The organization of quests doesn’t help efficiency. The interesting ones you’d like to keep top-of-mind are easily buried by the sheer volume given between story missions, and it’s easy to lose track of them within the journal’s folders. The folder menu is a good idea that breaks down in practice; quests that feel like they’d fit “Allies and Relationships” don’t always fall into that folder, and some game-spanning quests with an air of importance get lost within miscellaneous “Tasks.” In general, traversing menus feels like two or three clicks too many. This is especially true with crafting, where the specific Asari Sword you want to research is within one of three research “types,” then at the bottom of a dozens-long list, then among five tiers of Asari Sword quality.
On-planet, the six-wheeled Nomad is another frustration. It controls well enough as a serviceable transport out in the open world, but it falls victim to half-hearted, fun-sapping realism. Even small, gentle hills slow your speed to a crawl. This exists purely to justify the 6WD mode, which cuts your top speed for greater traction on hills. The very idea of two-mode driving is arbitrary. It adds nothing--no satisfaction from swapping at the right time, no fleeting reward from reaching the top of a hill. Besides that, a careening vehicle going from 120 to 30 in mere seconds because of an incline looks ridiculous. I generally enjoyed driving the Nomad--you feel power and inertia rocketing across a planet’s surface--but exploration suffers a bit while fighting the Nomad uphill or across weird terrain toward a mining node or quest marker.
What’s new comes with growing pains, but the perennial reasons to love Mass Effect are here. For its deep, thoughtful lore and memorable characters, this universe remains a joy to spend time in. Indeed, Andromeda’s supporting cast is outstanding: believable, relatable, well-developed. Small talk between crewmates fleshes out their personalities, and deeper layers are revealed throughout the game. I’m already thinking about some party members in the same rarified air as the original trilogy’s Liara, Garrus, and Mordin. Even outside the main party, Andromeda finds ways to surprise a veteran player, placing familiar species in unfamiliar roles and gently twisting expectations or revealing something new. A trademark cohesion remains (Mass Effect has always nailed world-building), but with an uncharted galaxy comes never-before-seen flora, fauna, and ancient relics. The codex is fantastic as ever, logging entries for characters, concepts, and technologies as they’re encountered. Yet not everything is explained; these explorers don’t have all the answers. The mystery invigorates the journey, bringing some innocence and wonder back to a series that introduced its first world-ending threat very early.
Baggage still lingers with Andromeda’s third-person shooting, but it has meaningfully improved since Mass Effect 3. Jump jets for leaping, hovering, or dodge-dashing in any direction make combat that was once sluggish feel highly mobile. The jump jets slot neatly into the flow, allowing you to close a gap, create distance, or shoot an entrenched enemy from above. Level design steps up to complement this new mobility, with larger, more interesting arenas offering plenty of verticality and sightlines. Meanwhile, I suspect the auto-cover system will be divisive. Ryder automatically ducks behind or presses against cover objects, freeing up the L1 button for an additional on-demand power. Being in cover doesn’t noticeably change your movement speed, so moving between cover to close distance or collect ammo is very fluid. The system feels essential and invisible, granting protection without demanding careful alignment or breaking your flow.
Combined with a high degree of difficulty, combat elevates multiplayer to distinction. The experience boils down to 4-player cooperative survival against waves of aggressive enemies with sporadic wrinkles like VIP target or needing to access data consoles before being overwhelmed. Maps are small, but the jump jets reveal shortcuts and surprising verticality. The real thrill comes from coordinating to take down tougher enemies and detonating power combos--say, freezing an enemy with a Cryo Beam and watching it explode when hit by a comrade's biotic Lance. Progression is generous, with successful matches yielding healthy XP and credits, but the unlockables are inconsistent. Credits are spent on random-loot treasure boxes of varying quality, so better weapons and loadouts are locked behind random chance. You can improve your chances at the good stuff by saving up for premium packs, but it might take time before you’re playing the style and species you want.
Add memorable powers like Pull, Shockwave, or Concussive Shot, and Mass Effect has never felt more empowering. When dramatic moments sync up with combat, there’s a physical and emotional weight that’s practically chilling. The action falters in places; slow movement and a bit of input lag contribute to a general stiffness the series has yet to shake, and enemy diversity is pretty lacking. But combat is mechanically sound and delivers thrilling moments without getting in its own way.
The same can’t be said for Andromeda’s laundry list of glitches, unexpected behavior, and annoyances, which significantly detract from the experience. It’s a tale of two extremes with Andromeda. which expertly delivers story, characters, and RPG systems but struggles under the weight of so many technical and design flaws, I had to start a list to keep track. You’ve got to wait through the aforementioned Tempest flying to scan any planet, only to find that many don’t have anything to scan. You can’t track multiple quests or favorite ones to keep them above the bulk. The font size throughout all menus is dangerously small. There are long, awkward pauses between voices radioing Ryder and Ryder’s response. The story has several scene skips where gameplay halts in one place and the characters instantly appear in another. Suspension of disbelief occasionally asks too much, with characters making leaps in logic, interfacing with ancient technology, or knowing too much about plot elements before they’re explained.
The list goes on. SAM, Ryder’s AI implant, is a fine character but borders on incessant during gameplay, alerting you to nearby mining nodes every. single. time. All the doors in one city take three times longer to open than everywhere else. One party member’s door on the Tempest frequently refuses to open at all. The game’s tracking of optional events is inconsistent; characters mention “upcoming” concerns that have already been resolved. Emails to Ryder are only viewable at computers on the Tempest. Several times, enemies turned invisible (not cloaked) or were found floating in mid-air. Frequent, obvious pop-in occurs with plants and other details while driving the Nomad. I once came out of a cutscene standing still and unable to move. I once fell through a Tempest floor into space when the room failed to load.
Alone, each of these is a minor inconvenience, forgivable in an open-world vacuum. Together, they point to dismal quality control and break immersion on a regular basis. Animation quirks are especially guilty of this. Character movement and facial expressions range from truly great and wonderfully expressive to truly terrible and stilted. While examples of the latter are far, far fewer than early speculation suggested, they stick out like a distracting sore thumb against the higher baseline around them. Like the rest of Andromeda’s many quibbles, they don’t outright ruin the game’s excellent core experience, but at best, they’re distracting. At worst, when they compromise narrative ambition or rob a moment of its impact, they’re disappointing.
Somehow, Andromeda can be bogged down by all the above and still manage to be a technical showcase with wonderful art direction. Weapons, architecture, and computers are lavishly detailed and contrast wonderfully with the natural, minimal beauty of planets. Sand, snow, and foliage strewn across mountains and valleys make for inspiring vistas and diverse terrain. From the cloth in Ryder’s suit to the metallic sheen of Tempest features, materials are believable and well-crafted. All considered, it holds up remarkably well, with framerate drops mostly contained to hectic combat and busy settlements. On PS4 Pro, you could count dips below 30fps on one hand. The soundtrack, for its part, is generally quiet and understated but kicks in with emphatic, synthetic beats at the right time. It reaches the series’ high standard--a bit less memorable, perhaps--and puts a period on all the ways Andromeda stands beside the original trilogy as authentic and special.
The Andromeda saga begins with enthusiasm and the spirit of Mass Effect. It’s a credit to that spirit--to its truly great characters, gameplay, and fiction--that a staggering number of technical and design flaws don’t change the recommendation. If you love a good story, you should play Andromeda. If you love RPGs and shaping a world with choices, you should play Andromeda. If you’ve ever loved Mass Effect, you should play Andromeda.
|Mass Effect: Andromeda Review by Kyle Prahl|
-The Final Word-
Andromeda’s first adventure is plagued by frustrations. But memorable characters, a satisfying story, and deep RPG systems ultimately win the day.