MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA
By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on March 28, 2017
For some, there is no greater mystery than that held by the vastness of space. Ever since man looked up at the sky for the first time, some of us have deemed traveling to far-off galaxies and visiting alien planets the highest goal mankind could possibly strive to achieve. And, of course, ever since that day, mankind has asked itself the most important question: are we alone in the universe?
Well, according to the good people at BioWare and Electronic Arts, we are most certainly not! Apart from the usual suspects, as far as alien races go, that we have come across in previous Mass Effect games, we now encounter a brand new one! Oh, and did I mention it is trying to kill us...?
Yes ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, earth-bound creatures and aliens; Mass Effect: Andromeda is here as heir to the throne of the Mass Effect series. But, will it succeed in what it set out to do, or will it float silently and aimlessly through the vastness of space until it is sucked into a black hole? I know, I know; enough with the pretentious drivel! Let's just play the game, shall we?
As we start off, we can choose between one of two protagonists: Scott or Sara Ryder. This brother and sister-team has just made a six hundred year trip through space, in search of a new planet for mankind to inhabit. Their father is the leader of this particular mission and carries the lofty title of Pathfinder. He is responsible for finding what is named a "Golden Planet"; a planet that can sustain human life and provide a new and lasting home for our species. As one might suspect, this plan runs into trouble fairly quickly and the Pathfinder team is forced to explore the planet ahead of schedule. The aforementioned trouble also means that whichever Ryder you didn't choose to play as, will stay in stasis for now. The other Ryder gets into a selection of shuttles, together with the rest of the Pathfinder team and sets out towards the unknown planet. After this, the fecal matter quickly hits the apparatus with rotating blades that creates a current of air for cooling or ventilation!
Mass Effect: Andromeda is, much like its predecessors, a space themed Action RPG that revolves around gathering resources, exploring unknown galaxies, meeting strange alien races and, more importantly, set aside all of your differences and work together to overcome a mutual enemy. The series has always been about the immersion in said galaxies, elaborate back-story elements and conversations, stunning vista's and cool characters. Luckily, Andromeda is no exception to that rule. Quite the opposite, actually. The scale of the environments feel much larger than ever before, giving you a much greater sense of freedom when playing the game. In addition to this, the character building system has changed quite a bit. Instead of selecting one of the predetermined classes, the player can now freely build his or her own character and distribute skills as they see fit, giving them a lot more freedom to build a character to exactly match their preferred play-style.
Also, the conversation system has gotten an upgrade. Instead of the well-known Paragon/Renegade actions of previous games in the series, the conversations feature more finely nuanced conversation options. There's no longer a right or wrong answer, but more a feeling that you are building your protagonist's character with every answer you give. The answers are categorized in terms like "casual" and "professional", giving you a general idea of the directions you can choose when engaging in conversation.
Like the conversation system, the combat system has been overhauled as well. With Mass Effect being what it is, it is unlikely that you won't be firing a gun any time soon. So yes, the shooting is still there and it is as good as ever... just a little more mobile. Where previous games in the series relied heavily on cover-based shooting and selection wheels that let you select special abilities for you and your team to use while, at the same time, pausing the game for you to easily make your selections, Andromeda's mode of combat is more about moving around, attacking your enemies from all sides. To this end, the developers have given the protagonists a jet pack, that enables them to jump high and leap over big obstacles. This jet pack is also a very helpful tool when engaging an enemy force. It lets you get around very quickly, so you can flank your enemies or even attack them from the back! You can still order your team around and make them do what you want, say: take certain positions. Only, this time around, everything about combat and team-based mechanics feels faster and somewhat more streamlined.
Which brings me to my one issue with the game: the protagonists. Now, before I say anything else, I must stress that I don't think that they are bad or boring. Quite on the contrary, they're both fine examples of upstanding characters. It's just... they aren't Commander Shepard! Yes, yes, I know, I know; you can't go on forever with just one protagonist, but I just liked the guy! This might have something to do with the fact that I was born in 1980 and grew up with the late 80's, early 90's action heroes and Shepard would have fitted nicely into that category. Now, the Ryders, while both playing their part to the best of their abilities, just don't do it for me. When I started playing, I had a hard time connecting to my character and really feeling the necessity to keep it alive, apart from the obvious reason of not having to start over from my last checkpoint. Again, don't get me wrong; The Ryders are fine protagonists! I think I'm just too old-fashioned (damn, I'm starting to sound like my dad...)
Visually, I must say that Mass Effect: Andromeda looks great. Sure, s few minor glitches may appear here or there, but they are not what I would consider a huge issue and they are certainly no game-breaker. On the whole, the galaxy created by BioWare looks awesome and is truly worth of exploring. And while we're on the subject of exploring; how does that work? Well, when on a planet, your main mode of transportation is to walk or run, but you can also (at certain points in the game) explore large open-world environments in an All-Terrain buggy with six wheels, which goes by the appropriate name of "Nomad". When in space, your ship will bring you where you want to go. This ship, called the Tempest, can be controlled when players stands on the ship's bridge and interacts with the star map in front of them, enabling them to travel to literally dozens and dozens of worlds. As we've come to expect from Mass Effect games, these world offer tons of quests and side-quests, assuring you can spend hours on end in this beautiful galaxy.
The Galaxy is a dangerous place, so be prepared when you visit any planet. Some planets are fine and you need only worry about enemy troops. Other planets however, are absolutely not fine and add an environmental hazard to the already lethal mix. Elevated toxicity levels, lightning bolts Zeus himself would be frightened of or scorching heat will all do their very best to make your time on certain planets as challenging as possible! Add some trigger-happy enemies to that cocktail and you have yourself a party that you might not return from. To this end, Andromeda lets the players find blueprints for additional weapons and armor which, in turn, can be crafted. This makes your life a bit easier, but be sure to keep an eye out for said blueprints, or you'll have one hell of a time surviving in the long run! Also, Ryder is equipped with a wrist scanner that can reveal certain facts about things and enemies you encounter. This scanner is linked to S.A.M., the AI controlling the Ark in which you made your 600-year journey.
With all of this said and done, I can only conclude that Mass Effect: Andromeda feels a lot more grand than its predecessors. The environments are beautifully crafted and the characters look really good. There has been somewhat of a debate going on about the facial animations of the characters in the game. I must honestly say that I didn't think they were bad at all. As far as I can see, they work just fine and are actually up to par with those of any other RPG that I've seen. Anyhow, if you're a sucker for an immersive story, awesome third-person shooter action, cool characters and stunning environments, I would heartily suggest you give Mass Effect: Andromeda a try. And, oh yes, be sure to have quite a lot of hours of free time at your disposal, because you are really, really, REALLY going to need them if you want to explore this vast, dangerous and beautiful galaxy!