Ten years ago, we were treated to Mass Effect — the first in a trilogy of sci-fi role-playing games that had (for the most part) solid story-telling, exploration, player choice, and a fantastically envisioned universe. Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest game in the series features an all-new cast of characters and an intriguing premise — instead of the age-old trope of fighting an alien invasion, you’re tasked with exploring a fresh galaxy named Andromeda. Set 634 years after the events of Mass Effect 2, does Mass Effect: Andromeda recapture the spirit that made the original trilogy stellar? Not if its opening hours are anything to go by.
Sure you could complain about the lacklustre character creator that offers barebones customisation options, you could rail on the absence of an actual history or background to set for Ryder (the protagonist you play as), and you could even make some meme-worthy content as you weep about the game’s sloppy animations. Nonetheless, these pale in comparison to Mass Effect: Andrmeda’s biggest concern: its mission structure.
Much like The Legend of Zelda and Ghost Recon, Mass Effect: Andromeda follows open-world design principles. You explore vast planets, gun down hostile aliens, and solve some puzzles along the way. This worked in the case of Ghost Recon, thanks mainly to the amount of freedom you had at your disposal, but the sheer number of systems in Zelda made it busywork. It seems like that's the problem with Mass Effect: Andromeda as well.
Some of the environments you explore are replete with gorgeous scenery and an air of mystery, but the game isn't able to sustain this. You start off trying to piece together clues about the disappearance of the people of abandoned settlement, but this quickly devolves into merely finding alien structures and activating them by solving the same puzzle three times over, while killing the generic-looking enemies who seem like the malnourished equivalent of Locusts from Gears of War.
For all the promises of freedom an open-world should have, there’s very little of it here. You criss-cross a planet doing the same things, as you reach to an inevitable reveal that takes the story forward. So far, the gameplay bits to get to the main narrative are a far cry from what fans expect. A wonky quest system that switches between main and side missions at will doesn’t help matters either.
It gets worse. Unnecessary and unwanted elements from previous Mass Effect games such as planet scanning make a comeback. To do this, you view planets from a distance, scan them for items to use, and then deploy drones to get the resources. That might sound straightforward enough, but the use of exaggerated zooming and animations makes it a cumbersome mess that left us wishing for the monotony of Mass Effect 2’s implementation instead.
The controls in Mass Effect: Andromeda are also in need of some fine tuning. For example, you need to use the same button for boosting forward and climbing up a platform. But climbing is only possible when the button prompt shows up on screen. As a result, you'll end up spending a lot of time ramming into walls and cliffs, instead of actually scaling them. This makes traversal a pain for most part, leaving you dependent on the floaty controls of your jet pack to jump and hover around obstacles. It's really disappointing considering how fluid Mass Effect: Andromeda is in terms of combat.
When it comes to a fight, you’ll zip across the battlefield, switching between classes at will, much like another EA-published role-playing game, Kingdoms of Amalur. There are a number of classes to pick, from the standard soldier, to the infiltrator (who has sniping skills and cloaking), or biotic (Mass Effect's equivalent of a wizard), it makes for entertaining gameplay. More so when you chain attacks with your squad mates — each of whom has different talents. Combat is definitely one of the game’s stronger suits.
However, the Mass Effect series is best known for its enthralling plot and sense of wonder, and that's where Andromeda let us down. Without spoiling much, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s weak and cliched characters, along with tired dialogues, do little to inspire confidence. In fact, Mass Effect: Andromeda made us fire up the first game on the Xbox One, which made us realise that despite dodgy combat, it holds up quite well even today.
Hopefully, Mass Effect: Andromeda recovers after its poor opening hours. But as it stands, both Mass Effect diehards and newcomers should approach this with caution.
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