OBLIGATORY SPOILER ALERT
If you haven’t played the game yet, then the following words and images might spoil some of the fun for you. Here’s a picture of Eddie the Elcor but be warned: after him, you’re on your own. Good luck, traveller.
Set 600 years after Shepard’s galaxy uniting exploits, Andromeda focuses on the Ryder family and their role in the terraforming and colonising the Helius Cluster, set on the fringes of the Andromeda galaxy. Complete with its own well-developed and morally ambiguous dialogue system, as well as a host of new and interesting companions to romance the spacesuit off, Bioware have managed to exceed the expectations of fans of the previous games in areas such as design ingenuity and the endless conversations between NPC’s and our newest protagonists; in short, they managed to outdo themselves on what they do best. This is where praise for Andromeda ends for some players: bizarre and game-breaking bugs were rife, particularly on PC version; Ryder’s dialogue was poorly written and both the voice actors for our new hero were lacklustre, each lacking Commander Shepard’s virtue and charm. The biggest disappointment, it seems, was that in trying to create a new story within an established universe, Bioware somehow managed to make it feel too familiar, like a rip-off of the worlds and characters we came to know and love in previous games.
Experienced Mass Effect players encountered all too familiar themes of betrayal, sabotage and matriarchal dominance, where big boots had already been filled; There was a reason I dubbed Kelly Sloane “Discount Aria” and Kadara “Discount Omega”. Whilst some themes felt overused and tiresome, I enjoyed the wide variety of Easter eggs available throughout the game, so kudos to the writing team at Bioware for their use of intertextuality. Again, this is where praise for the writers often falls short. In the original trilogy, even the banalest tasks gave the player an interesting titbit of information regarding a character, a species’ history or indeed information about another key quest within the story; you never felt overstretched and most quests had meaning, even if it was just for the laughs. In Andromeda, however, many of the quests felt cut short and hold very little meaning for the player, as they just aren’t engaging enough by any means. In one quest, you are tasked with fetching a heat lamp for two guys growing some space cannabis. Obviously, an attempt at a “4:20 blaze it” joke, I found myself rolling my eyes back into infinity waiting for the shit jokes to end and the story to begin.
Ryder’s own back story is left mostly covered up. We know that Ryder Senior is a disgracefully discharged N7 soldier whose insistence on developing AI and the technology to allow for a neural link between it and an individual, scared the Alliance to Reaper-occupied space and back. We know that Ryder Jnr worked on a Prothean dig site and she hints towards possibly her own dishonourable discharge or familial disgrace – Ashley Williams to the bridge, please – but never really goes into what her past life was, despite grilling various other characters on why they came to Andromeda and abandoned their families/ previous jobs/ fish tanks. The Ryder family’s storyline comes to a screeching halt about 80% into the main quest with an ending that still has me mouthing “WTF?!” to myself at least three times a day.
Another ultimately annoying feature of the game is the lack of diversity between races; I’m seventy hours into a game where I haven’t managed to knock over even a single Volus nor have I heard a Quarian stutter nervously. Bar the new additions of the Kett and the Angara (see: space cats), you are stuck with the Asari and their Botox-rigid foreheads, Salarians and their sarcasm and arrogance and the Turians, which I’ll allow because I’m a massive Garrus fan. The other non-council races are hinted at being in distress at the end of the game in a recording from another ark, but we will need to wait for EA to decide when it will release this probable DLC from his icy, cash-cow, vice-like grip. This leads me to your crew on the Tempest, arguably the least well-jelled together bunch since that time Commander Data was the acting captain of the USS Sutherland and his first officer was a total dick for no reason. Far from the days of the Citadel DLC where Shepard and co. were the absolute best of buds, this crew of mishaps is exactly that. The best people on board are Vetra a.m. Space Bae, Jaal the Angaran and Drack the Krogan, who is, unfortunately, the only companion you can’t romance, despite our pleas. Everyone else could be thrown out of the airlock and I wouldn’t give a flying V about it. Peebee irritated the life out of me with her childishness and Natalie Dormer’s performance as Dr Lexi T’Perro was wooden and forced – where was Margaery’s charm here? Don’t even get me started on the Salarian helmsman; how do you go from Joker to that? What happened in the boardrooms in Bioware HQ where they thought a) The most short-lived and arrogant species would make an excellent pilot and b) let’s make him the moaniest, boring bastard ever. Joker and EDI were an integral part of the plot and most running jokes throughout the previous games, whereas I literally ran from Suvi and Kallo whenever I could.
It’s also worth noting that the over-hyped “soft porn” romance scenes were, for me anyway, nothing of the sort. They felt rushed and unconnected; like Ryder and your chosen beau had a quick kiss just for the hell of it, but no real relationships were formed. Jaal’s romance was probably the sweetest and he had new romantic content with almost every conversation, rather than keeping you waiting for forty hours like Vetra’s storyline did.
Ok, let me breathe for a minute; the game wasn’t all that bad. It had its funny moments, like when Ryder tells Vetra to “Let it go” whilst she moans about the cold on a frozen planet, and Ryder acts out most the iconic scene in Star Wars IV: A New Hope where Han tells the Stormtroopers it’s just “a slight weapon’s malfunction”. It is also a beautifully made game, with incredible vistas and attention to detail in the most minute ways. Ok, there were a few issues with the eyes at the start, but that was quickly repaired. The combat has also vastly improved, allowing for an enjoyable experience within the main game and multiplayer campaign. I spent the majority of my time blinking past enemies and using the jetpack to hover as I took out as many enemies as possible. Upgrading Ryder’s skills has also been streamlined and you can tailor make your own Soldier, Biotic or Technician and eventually switch between various profiles as you unlock them, rather than choosing and being locked with one static profile at the start of the game. My only complaint regarding combat was that you can’t alter your companion’s load outs, but they are pretty proficient in combat so I can let it slide.
You also have the option to research, develop and craft various pieces of armour, weapons, Nomad alterations and various other combat-beneficial trinkets, allowing for a personalised style of gameplay.
Strange side quests aside, the plot of Andromeda is solid. Bioware have endeavoured to make have as many twists and turns as possible whilst retain their usual style of linear storytelling that encourages players to undertake certain activities such as the APEX multiplayer games (that you can also just send teams to do remotely if you’re bad at multiplayer), or complete quests that for example increase a planet’s viability, in turn increasing Andromeda’s own viability points, leading to a better chance of having a life here in the new galaxy. It’s an improved effort on their previous attempts to engage players in the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer game, wherein their overall galactic readiness against the Reapers increased the more they played, meaning that they could theoretically spend less time doing “pointless” side quests and more time battering through the main story and pwning n00bs in the multiplayer arenas. The multiplayer itself is fast-paced and challenging, even for more seasoned online gamers. If you’ve played any Mass Effect games or completed the online Andromeda Initiative challenges from the games’ website, you earned more loot crates as recognition of your efforts. I find playing as a Krogan can be a little slow but packs a hell of a punch; it’s equally as fun to play as a sniper-toting Turian relive your wildest, Garrus-esque fantasies. My favourite multiplayer experience was when I first played it with a group of girls and we all died and ran out of revival packs in 1 minute and 48 seconds; I shouted, “FUCKED IT!” down the microphone and went back to the main game.
I must admit that I had a love/hate relationship with the game, just as I have with the Nomad a.k.a The Fako. Previous fans of the franchise will remember Mass Effects inoperable exploration machine, the Mako. Whilst useful for exploring vast maps and planets, it is the least manoeuvrable vehicle in the history of video game vehicles and machinery. The Nomad has proven to be a fast and reliable means of transport to check out the vast landscapes and colonies of Andromeda. You can even customise its skin, so you can show your true colours as an avid N7 supporter or don a skin in appreciation of everyone’s favourite Turian bad-boy, Archangel. Fall off a cliff often enough and your companions will even start to mock your driving skills or lack thereof, so be warned.
John Paesano lends his composing talents to the team at Bioware for the soundtrack for Andromeda and he does not disappoint, further elaborating and manipulating the themes and tones set by Sam Hulick and co. from the original trilogy; one of my favourite tracks is what is essentially an updated version “Uncharted Worlds”, the galaxy map theme, now dubbed “Helius”. As with many AAA game soundtracks, Paesano manages to capture the feel of the game well, matching the pace and tone of each aspect and area of the game. It hasn’t struck the same chord as the soundtrack from The Witcher 3 but it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
I’m aware that the worst standpoint to take when reviewing a game is to compare to previous instalments within the same franchise; Halo 5 suffered the same fate as dedicate fans of the series felt it was almost a Halo game, but just not quite hitting the mark. As a stand-alone game, I thoroughly enjoyed Andromeda. There is enough content to keep players engaged, despite the quality of that content sometimes lacking any depth or meaning. It is beautiful to look at and handles well; despite my earlier talk of bugs, I only encountered two in seventy hours of gameplay: The crazy eyes and Ryder occasionally getting stuck in doorways. Apart from that, the PS4 version was pretty smooth sailing from start to finish. The writers and developers left enough clues to Shepard’s story and the previous galaxy behind to allow new players to the franchise to quickly catch up and fall in love with the undeniably brilliant lore of the Mass Effect universe. However, the unavoidable truth regarding Andromeda is that it felt too much like a Mass Effect game and Ryder – regardless of gender – felt too much like a Shepard wannabe with a poorly written script and less than enthusiastic voice recordings.
I give Andromeda a 7/10 because if I’m honest I did love this game, but I think that’s because I am a massive fan of the previous games. The in-jokes and Easter eggs more than made up for occasionally shoddy writing and boring quests, though I feel that if this was your first trip into the Mass Effect universe, you would be left wanting more and possibly put off playing the rest of the games. My advice as always is to play the original trilogy whether you liked Andromeda or not, then see how you feel about it afterwards. Otherwise, I hope you too enjoyed a masterfully created, narrative-driven fan wank set in space with not a lot of space sex.
As a consolation prize, here’s a few more images to draw you in!