“Mass Effect: Andromeda,” the fourth in the “Mass Effect” series, takes place 600 years after “Mass Effect 2.” The Milky Way species try to find a new home in the Andromeda Galaxy. In a change from previous Mass Effect games, the storyline does not focus on the end of the world. It’s a more hopeful tone, with colonization as the ultimate goal.
BioWare made a big change for the series with “Andromeda” by turning the game into an open world. The shift to an open world helps move the series past the “rooms filled with chest-high walls” gameplay of the previous iterations. Yet the open worlds rarely feel like anything other than depressingly empty tracts of land between outdoor chest-high walls.
The few planets players can explore contain shockingly little diversity or dynamism. Everything looks like a slightly different earth equivalent. You work with bipedal aliens. An unacceptably limited number of alien critters appear on each planet. Everyone mostly stands around. Snipe an enemy from far enough away, and no one reacts. None of the worlds feel alive.
The planets don’t inspire much awe, either. Swap the snow on one planet for the sand on another, and you wouldn’t notice the difference. The weather stays the same. One mission on an asteroid lets you drive (not walk or fight, mind) around in near-zero gravity, which only serves to highlight that all the planets have the exact same gravity as earth. Basically, there’s little incentive to or enjoyment in exploring these open worlds.
But explore you must, because the game’s side quests often ask you to visit several planets to complete them. That usually means an exhausting sequence of conversation, planet-hopping, scanning (a game mechanic that could use a breather), new conversation, XP. All this with loading screens to depart the planet, traverse the galaxy, and land on another planet. Few of these quests have any sort of payoff. They feel like filler; they clearly are.
On the other hand, the “loyalty” missions with squad members are fun. One of these takes place aboard an enemy spaceship. The dialogue is sharp. The jokes are delivered as jokes instead of words read from a script. The cutscenes are entertaining. The mission’s shifting gravity adds a twist. It made me think the game would have been twice as good if the developers had made it half as long, but with more missions like this.
Most of the initial criticism focused on the lack of polish, mainly because of laughably bad and glitchy animations. They’ve admirably fixed many issues with patches, though it’s painfully obvious this game had a hard deadline (of course, a character’s “romance” scene won’t have any issues. Priorities!). The animation glitches could have been charming in a deep, fully realized game (other than the conversation transition that I could never get past). But for “Andromeda” it only adds to the notion that the game was rushed and that its scope was overwhelming.
Fans of the “Mass Effect” trilogy or BioWare will probably still enjoy this game. It contains the usual: almost all the species from the original trilogy, awkward pansexual pursuits, deep lore, enjoyable-enough crew members, a tweaked but familiar combat system, etc. It sets up an interesting story about surviving and thriving in a new galaxy that could be expanded in subsequent games. But BioWare either needs to shed the “open world” mechanic or find a way to liven it up, because exploring a new galaxy should be invigorating. “Mass Effect: Andromeda” made it tedious.