Mass Effect: Andromeda Review Roundup

It's been nearly five years since the last entry in the Mass Effect franchise. Mass Effect 3 launched in 2012 to mixed reception, with fans disappointed by BioWare's ending to the trilogy and characters they'd grown to love so dearly.

The latest in the series, Mass Effect: Andromeda, brings the series to a whole new galaxy, with new locations and new personalities to explore. We recently interviewed BioWare about the controversy surrounding the end to the original trilogy and how that affected the development of Andromeda--check out The Story of Mass Effect: Andromeda - Episode 1 and Episode 2 to find out more.

For now though, let's dig into reviews for BioWare's latest sci-fi adventure. In our own verdict, critic Scott Butterworth said the game "feels like a vision half-fulfilled." He said it contains "a dizzying amount of content, but the quality fluctuates wildly." Find out more in our full Mass Effect: Andromeda review.

For a selection of other critics' opinions, check out the roundup below--or for a wider view on critical opinion, you can take a look at GameSpot sister site Metacritic.
  • Game: Mass Effect: Andromeda
  • Developer: BioWare
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
  • Release: March 21 (March 23 in Europe)
  • Price: US $60 / £50 / AU $100
GameSpot -- 6/10

"In many ways, Andromeda feels like a vision half-fulfilled. It contains a dizzying amount of content, but the quality fluctuates wildly. Its worlds and combat shine, but its writing and missions falter--and the relative strength of the former is not enough to compensate for the inescapable weakness of the latter. As a Mass Effect game, Andromeda falls well short of the nuanced politics, morality, and storytelling of its predecessors. For me, the series has always been about compelling characters and harrowing choices, so to find such weak writing here is bitterly disappointing. Yet even after 65 hours, I still plan on completing a few more quests. The game can't escape its shortcomings, but patient explorers can still find a few stars shining in the darkness." -- Scott Butterworth

IGN -- 7.7/10

"Mass Effect: Andromeda is an expansive action role-playing game with a few great moments that recapture the high points of the landmark trilogy that came before it, and energetic combat and fantastic sound effects contribute to a potent sci-fi atmosphere. Without consistently strong writing or a breakout star in its cast to carry it through the long hours and empty spaces, however, disappointments like a lack of new races, no companion customization, and major performance problems and bugs take their toll." -- Dan Stapleton

Game Informer -- 8/10

"When taken as its own journey (and not in comparison to Shepard's saga), Mass Effect: Andromeda is fun, and the important parts work. The narrative isn't astounding, but keeps you invested and drives you forward. The combat is entertaining whether you're in single-player or multiplayer. The crew isn't my favorite, but I like them and they have some good moments. Even with its other problems, these are the largest forces shaping your experience with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and they make it worth playing. At the same time, I was often left looking through a haze of inconveniences and dreaming about the game it could have been." -- Joe Juba

Polygon -- 7.5/10

"After a number of complaints, it might seem odd to end on such a positive note. Let's be clear: I'm conflicted about Mass Effect: Andromeda. There's a lot of roughness throughout the game, and the technical issues, while not game-breaking, are often incredibly distracting.

"But it's my time with the cast that I'm still thinking about, and the mysteries about the world that haven't been answered that make me feel like I'm waiting once again for a new Mass Effect game. And if I'm judging a game by where it leaves me, Andromeda succeeds, even if it stumbled getting there." -- Arthur Gies

PC Gamer -- 80/100

"In the end, Andromeda still manages to be more than the sum of its parts. As a critic I can point to the things that don't quite work, the things that could be better, the things that should be better after 10 years and four of these games. I can also appreciate where improvements have been made, the basic pleasure of an improved combat system and a full-feeling, spectacular sci-fi world to explore.

"Yet I'm also aware that when I'm in Mass Effect's zone a lot of these dry pros and cons don't seem to matter as much. This is a series that has always been good at getting under your skin, that has built its reputation on the moments when all of those disparate elements, good and bad, cohere into an adventure that feels like it's happening to you. Andromeda can still do that. It's not perfect. It's not consistent. But for a story about vast journeys and fresh starts, it also feels a little like coming home." -- Chris Thursten

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Early review: Mass Effect: Andromeda is Dragon Age: Inquisition in space

I got the press review code for Andromeda on a Saturday, and the game unlocked that evening.

“Perfect,” I thought. “This will give me at least six days to play. Plenty of time to beat the game, write the review, and have it edited and scheduled to run when the embargo lifts!”

I look back on my stupid optimism with chagrin. My (dumb) impression was formed by my experience with Mass Effect 3, which I beat in a caffeine-fueled two-day marathon (and then immediately re-played for another two days). I thought I had so much time that I opted to do some family stuff and run some long-overdue errands on Sunday, blowing most of the day adulting. “Plenty of time,” I thought, settling in on Sunday evening and loading the game up.

Now, as I write this, it’s six exhausting days later and I’m 30% of the way through a game that’s even longer and more packed with stuff to do than BioWare’s previous epic, Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’ve got about 30 hours of game time committed so far, and, based on a quick bit of back-n-forth with BioWare General Manager Aaryn Flynn, I have probably 90 more hours to go before I really finish the game. That, more than anything else, should help answer one of the biggest outstanding questions about Andromeda. Yes, it’s big.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves—let’s back up and take this from the top.

Mass Effect: Andromeda puts you in the shoes of either Scott or Sara Ryder, a “Pathfinder” for the human portion of an initiative to colonize the Andromeda galaxy. The initiative (called, appropriately enough, “The Andromeda Initiative”) is the brainchild of eccentric billionaire Jien Garson, who aims to push forward the evolution of all sentient life by sending a colonization expedition to the Andromeda galaxy. By utilizing some advanced technology to turn mass relays into long-range faster-than-light telescopes, the Andromeda Initiative was able to locate seven habitable “golden worlds” in a region in Andromeda called the “Heleus Cluster.” That’s where you and tens of thousands of hopeful colonists were sent.

Dispatched in 2185, shortly before the events of Mass Effect 2, the expedition’s colony arks arrive at their destination in 2819 only to find that the “golden worlds” have all changed (or been changed). In the last 630 years, they’ve gone from idyllic life-rich worlds to barren hellish nightmare rocks. Humanity’s colony ark takes damage after colliding with an energy cloud they name “The Scourge”—which may or may not have something to do with the golden worlds’ conditions. The Initiative’s central hub—a huge space-based structure called the Nexus, almost as large as the original trilogy's Citadel—turns out to have arrived early and has been waiting for you and the other arks for 14 months. The Nexus is starved for resources and has lost a chunk of its population to a rebellion (the rebels have been exiled, but you’ll run into them eventually). Worse, none of the other arks—one each for the turians, salarians, and asari—have shown up.

The game opens with your father, Alec Ryder, ordering you into action. Alec Ryder (voiced by Clancy Brown) is the human ark’s Pathfinder—sort of a combination of lead troubleshooter and emergency governor. The Andromeda Initiative’s rules state that if things go sideways, each ark’s Pathfinder is given effectively unlimited power to figure out how to un-sideways them—and since things have definitely gone sideways, Alec steps up.

Of course, Andromeda wouldn’t be much of a game if things went off without a hitch, so Alec is quickly killed off in the game’s tutorial level, leaving you as the new Pathfinder. See, Alec designed a super-fancy artificial intelligence named SAM (for “Simulated Adaptive Matrix,” which is about as clunky a backronym as “Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer”), and SAM connects directly to the Pathfinders’ brains via a neural implant. SAM sees and experiences what each Pathfinder sees and experiences (every ark has a SAM, but the human ark SAM is special and more sophisticated). And because you have a neural implant similar to Alec’s, the whole thing falls onto your shoulders when he dies.

Wait, what? Aren’t artificial intelligences outlawed in the Mass Effect universe? Yes—and Alec Ryder created several of them anyway. The set-up seems deliberately designed by BioWare to provoke audience questions about what’s going on and why, and the pat “for the good of the universe!” answers each question gets in-game are nowhere near enough. Troubling mysteries swirl about the genesis of the Andromeda Initiative and the people behind it.

Speaking of people, you have a twin—you are one of two Ryder kids, which is how the game handles giving the player a choice of gender. And the Ryder twin you don’t choose to play as is conveniently knocked into a coma that lasts for the entire first third of the game. So that problem takes care of itself.


Mass Effect: Andromeda review

I really like Mass Effect: Andromeda, but I don’t know that you will.

Mass Effect has a passionate following, but you’d be hard-pressed to find just one reason for that passion. Some people love the characters; others, the sci-fi world it creates. Others loved the RPG systems of the first or the power-based combat of the second, or the cooperative multiplayer of the third. Change has been a constant, and in that respect, Mass Effect: Andromeda has shifted more than its predecessors in the five years since the series’ last installment.

That change hasn’t been an entirely smooth one, though. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a game with problems, both lightly floating on the surface and, sometimes, deeper, and they get in the way of different things it does well to varying degrees. But what Andromeda succeeds at, it does very well — maybe as well as the series has ever done.

The original Mass Effect trilogy told the story of Commander Shepard and their crew’s attempt to save the Milky Way galaxy from genocide at the hands of the Reapers, averting a recurring cycle of death that played out every 50,000 years.

Exactly how that turned out depended somewhat on decisions you might have made over the course of the three games as a player, which means the actual, "canonical" ending of Mass Effect 3 doesn’t necessarily exist. Mass Effect: Andromeda neatly sidesteps the nebulous end-state possible in those games via its premise: In 2185, after the events of the original game but before Mass Effect 2, the Andromeda Initiative sends 100,000 cryogenically frozen crew composed of a host of alien species aboard massive "Arks" through dark space. Their destination? The galaxy Andromeda, which is home to multiple "golden worlds" — planets capable of sustaining life.

The (mostly) human Ark, the Hyperion, is jolted awake to a different-than-expected reality, and it’s up to you as the newly minted Pathfinder Ryder — a brother or sister, depending on the gender you select, both of which are more customizable than ever — to find out what’s gone wrong, and, more importantly, to find a new home for the thousands still asleep.

It’s an elegant concept, but Mass Effect: Andromeda stumbles in its opening hours. Each previous game had its own hook — a new fictional world, returning from the dead, the invasion of Earth — and each succeeded reasonably well at getting its premise off the ground. But Andromeda leans immediately on character relationships that it doesn’t spend nearly enough time establishing. The result is "heavy" moments without a lot of punch, and a lot of time spent on story and hand-holding tutorials to Mass Effect: Andromeda’s systems before you can really see much of what the game has to offer.

A lot of the weakest parts are very front-loaded as well. Andromeda is littered with some vestigial bits of Mass Effect tradition that are sloppily implemented here. The inventory system is still a disaster, with dozens of types of weapons and armor with additional tiers (I-VI) applied to them, along with weapon and armor modifications. Each of these can be found, bought or crafted, but crafting takes research and development separately, which require different resources ...

Does this sound like a mess? Because it’s a total goddamned mess. This isn’t helped by a UI that feels poorly equipped for the task at hand, along with some truly confusing design decisions. For example, you can’t change your gear unless you’re at a loadout station, which means no equipping that new sniper rifle or changing your weapons to something better suited to the task until you’re no longer in a mission. Flipping between your ability profiles requires pausing the game, picking the profiles option and making a selection, which is an awful lot of menus down for something you’ll probably want to do in the heat of the moment. You can also only have three abilities equipped at a time, and changing them out once again requires digging into a menu.

This all sucks. It’s cumbersome and slow, and discourages the use of some gameplay elements that are given fairly prominent placement. But the most emblematic example of mind-bogglingly bad implementation goes to planet scanning, which remains in Mass Effect: Andromeda despite an apparent lack of any good gameplay-related reason for it being there. You still navigate the galaxy via a (visually stunning) virtual map on the deck of your ship, the Tempest, and each system will likely have half a dozen or so planets in addition to whatever objective you’re looking for.

But moving from one system to another requires a good 10-15 seconds of unskippable animation as your ship travels through space to get there. And once you’re in a system, your ship goes through another 10- to 15-second animation hopping from planet to planet. And unless there’s a colony present on that planet, you can only look at it and read a small bit of fiction related to the world in question. You can still scan for "anomalies" ... which are basically good for bits of crafting materials or research points.

Even if you don’t have the need to check off every planet in the galaxy — and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you? — just going from one place to another can take a lot longer than it seems like it should. There’s a huge amount of friction early in the game that kept me from getting into things.

Once I did actually get to play the game, rather than struggle with a fair bit of extemporaneous build-up, things improved.

Mechanically speaking, there has been some simplification. Mass Effect: Andromeda is, like its predecessors, a combination of third-person and first-person shooting and exploratory, action RPG elements. The companion characters you’ll spend the game with have their own abilities, but unlike in previous games, you don’t really have much control over what your teammates do in battle, or the weapons or equipment they take with them. You can decide how to level them, and what powers they’ll have available, but otherwise, it’s a mostly hands-off situation.

This is a bit of a letdown, as combining different abilities between characters has been a big part of the fun in the series’ encounters. Andromeda moves this sense of experimentation entirely to your Ryder’s shoulders. The class system of previous games has been broken down a great deal. Instead, you select abilities from one of three trees: combat, biotics (think telekinesis-based powers) and technology-driven skills. As you spend points in these trees, you’ll unlock profiles that can be changed at will, offering you different bonuses. These are available both purely to augment the three ability types and in ways that mix them together — and it’s where players of previous Mass Effect games will find their Vanguard, Soldier, Adept and other recognizable class breakdowns.

The practical rub of all this is that you can make the Ryder you want to, with the abilities you feel like taking. There aren’t any requirements or prerequisites. My fate felt a little less predetermined, even as I focused primarily on biotic abilities to throw gravity-flipping black holes and seeking balls of telekinetic force to go along with my shotgun and assault rifle combo. These abilities mesh together in ways that yield additional rewards as you play with them and level them up, and by the end of the game, I was like a force of nature.

Andromeda has also added the ability to jump and boost in any direction, which lends a sense of momentum and versatility to the game’s combat. This mostly compensates for the "auto-cover" system, which, ostensibly, makes your Ryder take cover behind any object that should provide it when their weapon is drawn. In practice, this ... mostly works, though I had the most problems when I could least afford them, and I desperately missed the ability to select discrete safe points to hide behind.

Ultimately, I found Andromeda’s combat changes to be for the better — previous games, at best, felt functional mechanically, and the additional versatility on hand now makes for something that felt much more capable, especially as I found more powerful weapons.

However, if the most immediately apparent changes to Mass Effect made by Andromeda are in its basic moment-to-moment mechanics, it’s the big structural departures that make for a much different game.

Where Mass Effect 2 and 3 drove things down an increasingly linear path, Andromeda is primarily set in very large open spaces, spaces so big you need an all-terrain vehicle to drive across them. These worlds are full of things to see and do, littered with pieces of the greater mysteries of the Andromeda galaxy. There are some more isolated spaces that play out like traditional action-game levels, but they’re fairly uncommon. Instead, the bulk of the game comprises several big, open worlds that feel genuinely explorable.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a game full of small things to fixate on. This can cut both ways — many side missions are multi-system chores, for lack of a better term. Tasks that seem like they should be relatively simple become minor odysseys, and this would be about 10 times more infuriating if the payoff wasn’t frequently pretty great.

Mass Effect: Andromeda’s most effective weapon is discovery. This works both as a mechanic, as you guide your Ryder through the Andromeda galaxy, and as a reward. These games have always theoretically been built around the idea of discovery, and the new frontier of space, but Andromeda is the first of them that feels especially oriented around these concepts. You’re not a Council special operative here, looking for a threat to civilization; you’re a pathfinder, charged with finding a home for the intelligent species of the Ark. It’s a different kind of pressure that drives the game, but with it, a different, more positive kind of hope.

That shines through in the worlds you explore, which are frequently stunning, but it’s also clearest in the people you meet and interact with via Mass Effect: Andromeda’s conversation system and decision tracking. In Mass Effect tradition, you’ll have to decide how to react to the world around you — now with more granular detail than the previous Paragon/Renegade split — and, often, decide who lives and who dies. This only succeeds as well as it does because of the copious amounts of character development Andromeda undertakes. And, arguably more than any previous BioWare game, Andromeda provides opportunity after opportunity to invest in its characters actively.

I don’t want to dive into them here out of sensitivity to spoilers, but I loved most of Andromeda’s cast. They provided some new twists on my expectations of series staple alien races like the Krogan, Turians and Asari (and unsurprisingly, I was the least moved by human companions). In general, Andromeda’s characters feel less concept-driven — the repentant alien assassin, the biotic experiment gone awry — and more organic in their development. They’re parents and grandparents and children and friends and orphans, with very different views of the world they find themselves in — a world 600 years apart from the lives they’ve left behind.

Andromeda’s relationships also feel less binary, less make-or-break than they have before. I angered my companions on several occasions, prompting extended cold shoulders, but there were so many opportunities to further develop those relationships that I never felt on the precipice of total fracture. But I could see where the fault lines ran, where it seemed possible that things could fall apart.

I appreciated this because I felt like I could try to navigate complex situations without the overly petty politics of a less complicated system of social interactions, though this could just be the illusion of pretty good writing on BioWare’s part. Or maybe it’s just because, in a sea of games that feel determined to provide believable opportunities to see new planets and explore worlds, Mass Effect: Andromeda feels singular in the opportunities it offers to care about a group of characters.

The loyalty missions from Mass Effect 2 have returned, after a fashion, and they’re almost uniformly great, buddy-cop episodes breaking off from the main arc of the game. These are missions you’ll work toward over dozens of hours, and they feel appropriately climactic. They tended to be where relationships with characters reached their (non-sexual) culmination before, but loyalty missions are now supplemented by several additional opportunities to spend quiet time with them. One character wants you to meet their extended family; another to meet their platonic lifemate. Other crew are fixated on your team as a whole, on ensuring that your group becomes closer as the stakes become higher.

There’s a greater breadth of attachment present here. There’s love and lust, sure, just like in every other Mass Effect, but there’s also much more tangible platonic intimacy (which includes an almost taboo exploration of platonic male intimacy). It’s a crew of people that do things together, and grow to care deeply about each other across lines of race, gender, sexual identity and, since this is science fiction, species, in a way few games allow.

That caring is the thing that pulled me along arguably as much as anything. The story in Andromeda is pretty good, with a number of mysteries on the critical path and some really interesting optional content that can often shed an enormous amount of light on the politics of the Initiative and the Andromeda galaxy (I strongly advise you collect/complete the Memories tasks, for example). It’s also a game that doesn’t feel like it’s missing key pieces of narrative, and I really wanted to see how things would shake out. And Andromeda strikes a pretty great balance between answering enough of the questions it poses while still leaving threads hanging for the inevitable sequels.

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