Mass Ef­fect: An­dromeda

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES -

An­dromeda demon­strates the way the stu­dio’s craft has ma­tured; it just buries the lede a few dozen hours into the game

De­vel­oper BioWare Pub­lisher EA For­mat PC (tested), PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Ev­ery Mass Ef­fect game is the prod­uct of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and com­pro­mise. The cen­tral propo­si­tion of th­ese games – a space opera that you con­trol – has held steady. Yet BioWare has never set­tled on the type of game that should be built around that am­bi­tion. Is it an RPG? A lin­ear third­per­son shooter? An open-world game? With each new en­try, th­ese pa­ram­e­ters have shifted. An­dromeda rep­re­sents an­other at­tempt to an­swer those ques­tions – and again BioWare has some, but not all, of the an­swers.

The lat­est en­try up­roots the se­ries and trans­plants it to a new galaxy, 600 years af­ter Shep­ard’s cam­paign to de­feat the Reapers. You play as Ry­der, a young ex­plorer who’s thrust into the role of Pathfinder – a com­bi­na­tion of sol­dier, scout, diplo­mat and re­searcher – for the An­dromeda Ini­tia­tive, an ef­fort to find a new home for the races of the Milky Way in An­dromeda’s Heleus Clus­ter. All is not well in Heleus, as ark ships full of cryo-frozen colonists find them­selves con­tend­ing with an­cient alien relics and a hos­tile race called the Kett.

De­spite this new ga­lac­tic fron­tier, much about An­dromeda is fa­mil­iar. The Milky Way races bring home with them, as­sem­bling a new space sta­tion called the Nexus that stands in for the Citadel. Colonists in­clude the Asari, Turian, Salar­ian and Kro­gan, some of who serve as com­pan­ions and crew on Ry­der’s ship, the Tem­pest – a smaller, slicker, ex­plo­ration-tuned ver­sion of Shep­ard’s Nor­mandy. Even An­dromeda mir­rors the Milky Way in sev­eral re­spects. An­cient Rem­nant tech re­calls the orig­i­nal tril­ogy’s Protheans, and the lo­cals ad­here to the Star Trek-honouring tra­di­tion of be­ing es­sen­tially just weird-look­ing peo­ple.

This puts An­dromeda’s open­ing hours in the awk­ward po­si­tion of rein­tro­duc­ing the fa­mil­iar while also in­tro­duc­ing the sup­pos­edly-but-not-re­ally un­fa­mil­iar. Both pace and plot strug­gle to over­come th­ese early hur­dles, re­quir­ing the player to meet the game more than half­way. BioWare’s love for ever-larger open worlds packed with fetch quests doesn’t help, throw­ing scat­tered ob­jec­tives at an al­ready-clut­tered UI as Ry­der makes land­fall on his or her first alien world.

It gets bet­ter, how­ever – a lot bet­ter. You’ll play through a sub­stan­tial amount of story, and po­ten­tially in­vest even more time ex­plor­ing each planet, be­fore you re­ally hit the meat of what tra­di­tion­ally com­prises a Mass Ef­fect game. There are loy­alty mis­sions for your crew, vi­tal side plots, and mar­vel­lous set-pieces to be dis­cov­ered, but it could eas­ily take 40 hours or more be­fore you see any of them. The up­side is that the things you ex­pect from a Mass Ef­fect game are here, in­cor­po­rated into a game of greater scope than any pre­vi­ous en­try in the se­ries. The down­side is that they’re gated off by mid-cam­paign plot de­vel­op­ments that eas­ily dis­tracted, or com­ple­tion­ist, play­ers may take many hours to reach.

This is a trade-off that po­si­tions An­dromeda in op­po­si­tion to Mass Ef­fect 2, which pro­vided ex­cit­ing mo­ments and char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment at a stead­ier clip. Given that ME2 was the point at which the orig­i­nal se­ries came alive for most, this is a ques­tion­able change of di­rec­tion. It’s a shame be­cause An­dromeda’s char­ac­ter writ­ing is among the most ac­com­plished in the se­ries, and in Ry­der it finds a more nu­anced pro­tag­o­nist than Shep­ard. In true BioWare tra­di­tion th­ese mo­ments are con­trasted against some truly dire di­a­logue, and the main plot lacks the im­pe­tus of Shep­ard’s against-all-odds cru­sade. Even so, An­dromeda demon­strates the way the stu­dio’s craft has ma­tured; it just buries the lede a few dozen hours into the game.

Com­bat is much im­proved, too, mark­ing the most suc­cess­ful rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of the se­ries’ RPG and shooter roots. Ex­ten­sive char­ac­ter and gear up­grade op­tions change the way you and your guns op­er­ate, al­low­ing you to con­struct your own playstyle as you progress. Your choices also un­lock pro­files, which are top-level bonuses tied to spe­cific ap­proaches to fight­ing. De­spite be­ing lim­ited to three pow­ers at a time, load-outs and pro­files can be saved as favourites and switched out on the fly dur­ing com­bat. It’s a lib­er­at­ing al­ter­na­tive to the re­stric­tive, class-based sys­tem of pre­vi­ous Mass Ef­fects.

Ry­der has a rocket-pow­ered jump and dodge, which en­cour­ages you to get out from be­hind cover and en­gage with ene­mies in a more dy­namic way. Bi­otic charges can be chained into shot­gun blasts, leaps into pow­er­ful melee strikes, and side­ways boosts into ae­rial sniper take­downs. When you’re be­ing asked to in­vest up­wards of 50 hours into a game with ME’s repet­i­tive un­der­ly­ing struc­ture, im­prove­ments like th­ese are vi­tal.

How­ever, there are, in the se­ries tra­di­tion, caveats aplenty. Stiff and some­times glitchy an­i­ma­tion mars a suc­ces­sion of what should be im­por­tant dra­matic mo­ments, and in­con­sis­tent per­for­mance and tex­ture pop-in can spoil a fre­quently spec­tac­u­lar open world. Small qual­ity-of-life is­sues add up over the course of a long cam­paign, from voice lines be­ing cut off by in­vis­i­ble trig­gers to a fussy UI that can never seem to rid it­self of its ‘un­read mes­sage’ no­ti­fi­ca­tions. Though many of An­dromeda’s weak­nesses are the re­sult of its ex­per­i­men­tal ap­proach to the se­ries’ fun­da­men­tals, th­ese is­sues sug­gest that BioWare needed more time to smooth out the sharp distinc­tion be­tween An­dromeda’s peaks and troughs. Its pre­ma­ture launch, a con­ve­nient fort­night be­fore the close of EA’s fi­nan­cial year, has re­sulted in an in­con­sis­tent piece of work that has lit­tle chance of reach­ing the heights of its pre­de­ces­sors at their best. An earnest at­tempt has been made to cre­ate a new iden­tity for a se­ries here, but the ques­tion of how to best frame Mass Ef­fect’s nar­ra­tive strengths is, once again, left open.

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