Mass Effect: Andromeda Xbox One Review
Humanity has made its mark in the galaxy, but now the time has come, once again, to set our sights even higher. Welcome to the Andromeda Initiative. Our goal is to set a course for the Andromeda Galaxy to populate and find homes for the people of the Milky Way Galaxy. Do you have what it takes to face the adventures that Andromeda will offer?
The time has finally come! Mass Effect: Andromeda has finally been released after a 5 year wait since Mass Effect 3. After the announcement in 2015, many fans were very welcome to the idea of a new Mass Effect game, and many of us had been suspecting it since the end scene of Mass Effect 3 gave us a hint that there might be another one coming, despite making it clear that Shepard’s story is over. Working with Electronic Arts, BioWare’s marketing strategy for this game was done well, gradually releasing teasers, gameplay reveals, eventually leading to cinematic trailers and the like. BioWare also set up a promotional website in the latter part of 2016, serving as a mock training program for the Andromeda Initiative, where videos would gradually be released telling us about the different aspects of the Initiative, such as the Arks, the Nexus, the Pathfinders, the Tempest and Nomad, Habitation plans, First-Contact Protocols, etc. and if you “completed the program”, you would be rewarded with armor to use in the game. The hype had a constant growth, despite many sceptical fans. Many of us true fans decided to stay open minded, and as of the 23rd of March 2017, when the game was released to the rest of the world, I find it safe to say that we were not disappointed!
A New Beginning
The Andromeda Initiative was launched in the year 2185, the same year as the events of Mass Effect 2, 2 years after Saren and Sovereign’s defeat at the Citadel by the hands of Shepard and his team. Humanity has made it’s mark among the races of the Council and is being taken more seriously. And so the Andromeda Initiative was created to send multiple species on a one-way trip to settle in the seemingly resource-rich frontier of Andromeda, specifically, the Heleus Cluster, and eventually create a reliable way back to and from the Milky Way. Four Ark ships equipped with cryo-stasis pods were made for this venture, where the trip will take approximately 600 years. The Founder, Jien Garson, along with teams of different individuals of most species, traveled in the Nexus, which will serve the same purpose as the Citadel in Andromeda.
Upon arrival in Andromeda however, Ryder awakes on the Ark Hyperion, and the Ark gets struck by a dark electrical cloud, later referred to as the Scourge, and interrupts Ryder’s sibling’s wake-up protocol (depending on which of the Ryder siblings you choose to play). Ryder’s sibling is kept stable until such time as when they’re able to fully awaken them.
You then discover that the planet you were meant to scout, namely Habitat 7, is drastically different from what the long range scans originally showed. Your father, Alec Ryder, the Human Pathfinder, deploys a team with his second-in-command; Cora Harper, and involves you and Liam Kosta, as well as a few more people. The shuttles get hit by an insane stream of lightning on the way down unfortunately, and you get split up. You and Liam later find one of the downed shuttles, and encounter a hostile alien race named the Kett. A rather nasty bunch who prefer to shoot first and not give a rats ass about it, and all seem to love the colour green. After rescuing a few more of the downed crew, you are reunited with Cora, and help her fend off an alien attack. Before meeting up with Cora, you are given the option of exploring an alien ruin, not belonging to the Kett. It’s here that you first learn of the Remnant, a mysterious and advanced synthetic species who built monoliths and vaults that control the weather systems (and more) on the planets.
You later find and join Alec who went to scout one of the monoliths. They storm into a Kett outpost that was built around the monolith, and take out most of the enemies before they retreat, giving Alec a chance to interface with the monolith using SAM (Simulated Adaptive Matrix), the A.I. integrated with the Pathfinder’s neural implant to increase the physical abilities of said Pathfinder. After shutting down the lightning on the planet, Alec and son/daughter Ryder gets blown off a platform, which smashes a hole into Ryder’s helmet. Alec uses his helmet to save his child, sacrificing himself, and tells SAM to pass over to and merge with his child and initiate the succession. You wake up on the Hyperion without Alec, and rise as the new Pathfinder. You later reach the Nexus, learn that all the Habitats are deemed uninhabitable, and are tasked with finding suitable worlds to live on whilst finding out what has happened to all the other Arks that have gone missing, all while dealing with the Kett threat, and their leader, the Archon, who happens to look a little bit like Po from Teletubbies (just less cuddly). No pressure!
Reporting For Duty!
The gameplay in Mass Effect: Andromeda is different in many aspects, whilst bringing back some older systems that have been tweaked slightly. Many of you will be happy about the return of an upgraded Mako vehicle, now called the Nomad. I’m starting off with this because I remember one at of the first reveals that Bioware did, people went berserk when they said the Mako was returning, and admittedly, I was excited too. It now comes with four-wheel drive and six-wheel drive, for when four wheels just won’t cut it; Which most of the time, when you are trying to drive up a mountain, it won’t. Six-wheel drive is marginally slower than the four-wheel drive, but helps to get you up the steeper slopes. Some slopes don’t seem very steep, and still requires six-wheel drive, but I realised in most situations that it made sense, because you were either on sandy or snowy slopes and it needs the extra traction. Eventually you figure out a rhythm with switching between modes, and it happens so seamlessly too. The Nomad has jump jets like the Mako did, and also a forward thrust, for when you’re extra impatient.
You’ll be using the Nomad a lot when exploring the numerous planets, going from side-quest to side-quest to side-quest to main quest and then switching back to the side-quests. Seriously, the side-quests are quite enjoyable, and incredibly numerous, though I found a few bugged side-quests, such as the one on Eos where I needed to scan the bodies of deceased colonists who were exposed to radiation, but the bodies were oddly transparent, as though they were missing from the spot that Ryder tells me they were meant to be in. I learnt that I wasn’t the only one with this problem. I must be honest, I’m scared of when Bioware fixes this bug, because it’s obviously some type entity misplacement, and I was very fortunate to see this in action, when one of the local wildlife, on another planet, very gracefully fell from the air and hit the ground oblivious to the fact that it just fell to, what should have been, its death. In fact, it looked bored with its recent trip. Needless to say, I was marvelously amused and had quite a good laugh. There were a few graphical glitches too, such as Peebee’s arms doing the mamba the once, but I suspect Bioware will be fixing a majority of this on the 4th of April.
Now introducing the Scanner! Finally, we get to use the tool we’ve seen everybody else use in the other Mass Effect games, and we use it pretty often in all the quests. The inclusion makes sense in this game, because it’s all about exploring, and finding new life and a habitable place to live. When scanning certain objects, it grants you Research Points which you later use at the Research Station to research blueprints for equipment such as Weapons, Armor, and Augmentations. This gets crafted by, and works in conjunction with, mineral gathering, which we saw a lot of in the first two Mass Effect games. Mineral gathering is back, but isn’t a drag to do at all. The Nomad comes in handy here once again! When traveling on planets, you discover locations where automated Forward Stations get set up, and you are able to fast-travel to these locations. These Forward Stations also reveal areas with mineral deposits. Your Nomad has a Mining Scanner, which, when opened, will show you on a lined graph you how much of a certain mineral is in a specific location when driving over it. When you’re happy with the steepness of the lines on the scanner, you press a button, and a Mining Probe gets launched to your location and gathers the minerals. Element Zero is the most difficult to come by, of course, so naturally the best things need that.
Exploring Is Deadly!
The Tempest is the Pathfinders ship that you’ll be using to explore the galaxy. Mass Effect 2’s system of scanning for anomalies and sending probes is back again too, which I found relatively fun. You get to explore the systems with a really well done cinematic inbetween each planet. Traveling between these planets feels a lot more realistic than before. When you’re running around outside of the Nomad, planetside, you have the standard sprinting ability, but now you also have a jetpack which you can use to boost you both horizontally and vertically. If you’ve boosted into the air while aiming, you will hover for a few seconds, and you know what, it’s pretty fun to kill an enemy mid-hover and then boosting behind cover. Leveling up is much the same as always, except you are now able to choose abilities from all trees in Combat, Biotic, and Tech! The difference is that you can only assign 3 abilities to use, but you are free to change these abilities in and out of combat. I will miss the ability wheel, but I’ve found this to be pretty handy. Thanks to SAM, you can switch between Profiles, and no longer have a set “class”. If you want to have a conversation with your enemy while stabbing/punching him to death, switch to the Vanguard Profile, or if you prefer to strengthen your Tech abilities and have an additional Combat Drone at your side, switch to the Engineer Profile, at will. This was pretty fun, and in no way feels like you’ve been made overpowered. Your squad is also now a lot more independent of you. You can order them to go to certain locations or to prioritize a target, but you can’t tell them when to use an ability or not. My favourite squad selection is Cora and Vetra. The conversations that these two have are so much fun, they even seem like BFFs.
Speaking of combat and squads, the load has been lifted somewhat by having your squad complement your style, instead of you controlling them, that’s another reason why I like Cora and Vetra. I’ve hardly ever needed to revive either of them, so far they both have only 1 “down” to each of their names, and it was for good reason, not because they ran off and got themselves killed. The NPC’s are very clever and were brilliantly programmed. Each enemy felt like they had their own purpose for taking you down. Except for the Remnant of course, these machines just seem hellbent on killing you just because you stepped on a rock it happened to like. Fighting an Architect is a different story though, but these fights are probably the most fun and stressful fights. The first time I encountered one, it made a fool of me, and not because it killed me, no… Because I was on the frozen planet Voeld, and if you’re not near a heater long enough, your life support systems fail and you die a slow and painfully cold death. They weren’t kidding when they said these planets weren’t habitable. That vault sure took it’s time on this planet, meanwhile, Eos is radiation free! The hazards on these planets can be annoying, especially on Voeld, but it brings back memories of the first Mass Effect, and also makes sense in the context of the story.
Later on you meet the “peaceful” native alien race, the Angara, on the planet Aya, and they have a pretty peculiarly intriguing look. I wasn’t certain, at first, if they had trouble deciding on an accent, until I later spoke to the leader (of sorts) who explained that most Angara came from different worlds, and as a result, had different dialects. Now I quite enjoy the diversity even amongst the Angara. This makes them relatable, because we as humans also have different accents and dialects. Their approach to us was sceptical at first, but I couldn’t blame them. The Kett were kidnapping their people, and were merciless to them. Fortunately, I played my cards right, and they love me! Well, most do. You always get one or two stubborn people, but with time I’m sure they could see we are alike in many ways, besides walking on two legs (which some thought we stole the idea from them, ridiculously enough!). This is where you get your final crew member, Jaal. He made a rather amusing first impression, and I saw potential in him being a great friend towards Ryder. His personality is quirky, with his strongest traits being his humility and unintentional humour, and despite his attempts to look tough, he is a big softy who really wants to be accepted by you and your crew.
Oh, The Comraderie!
We see the return of Multiplayer in Mass Effect: Andromeda too, but there are differences in this game. The same difficulty system is in place, with Bronze, Silver, and Gold, though the amount of Waves have been lessened, which I approve of actually, because during the harder difficulties, the gradual incline of enemies and enemy types during each wave would sometimes become insanely hard to manage, and not in a fun way; 7 waves “feel” good, and it also reduces the amount of time every match takes, giving you just enough of a thrill to want more. Players are encouraged to move more instead of defending in key points like in Mass Effect 3, which is why they’ve made Jetpacks available. The map layouts compliment the inclusion of the jetpacks, allowing you to gain higher ground, and adding the element of “verticality“, as it’s been termed. Players are able to switch between Single Player and Multiplayer freely through the “Strike Team” menu. During Single Player, you can send Strike Teams to complete missions of variable difficulty, which will yield rewards for the Single Player campaign.
It’s worth mentioning that Multiplayer does, in fact, affect the Single Player campaign, but not to the extent that it did in Mass Effect 3. It’s not as compulsory to play for it to affect the story, however, there is a meta-story contained within the Multiplayer that reveals more of what is really happening in Heleus. The playable characters and classes are divided by rarity and sorted as such, and the Prestige system is introduced as a new EXP system. While playing, you gain Prestige alongside the normal EXP points. This Prestige EXP accumulates across character styles, which is quite a handy introduction. When you reach Prestige Level, you will be granted rewards for the characters, such as increased health, the most common prestige bonus, I might add.
When you’re away from the game, you can download the Mobile Companion App for the Multiplayer mode; Go to your App/Play Stores and search for “Mass Effect: Andromeda APEX HQ“. This allows you stay connected outside of the game, allowing you to customise your characters and your loadouts or skills to prepare for when you log back in to play. You can stay up to date with Multiplayer news, and even send the Strike Teams on missions, or debrief them, for your Single Player campaign. I’ve made use of it a few times now, and it’s a welcome addition to the Mass Effect experience!
Let me continue by saying this, and I know many will have the same feelings; I did not want to let go of the first Trilogy. Shepard’s story meant a lot to all of us, and we didn’t think we would be able to truly accept a new story with new characters, new locations, and … well, new everything. When I first went into the game, I battled to separate those games from this one, but given a few minutes in the beginning, the story intrigued me enough to see hope. I can now say, with confidence, that Mass Effect Andromeda is worth it! I liken this to how I felt about Stargate. I adored the SG-1 series, and when Atlantis came out, I was unsure if I could love this as much as I did SG-1. What I found was that I have a complete separate love for both branches of the series, and the same is in “effect” for Mass Effect: Andromeda. My love for the first Trilogy has not been replaced by this one. Instead, I enjoy both separately. Just like the purpose of the Andromeda Initiative, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a new beginning, and meant to be seen that way.
I grew to love all of the crew members. Liam was probably my least favourite, but hey, you always get that one guy I guess, despite his fun personality. Drack is by far my favourite to talk to, and I suspect the friendship between Jaal and Ryder to be the same as Garrus and Shepard. Depending on which gender of Ryder you pick to play as, he is romanceable. The choices of romantic relationships are pretty interesting this time round. I really liked Cora’s personality and depth. For those who wondered what it would be like to romance a female Turian, your wish has been granted with Vetra. A romatic relationship will be initiated if you stay consistent in flirting with your particular love interest, (a conversation choice indicated by a big heart), and completing their loyalty missions. You also have non-crew members that can be romanced.
Once again, Bioware has given us a game that pulls at your heart strings with the decisions you need to make. I am still trying to recover from an unfortunate choice I made, which caused me to see Drack in pain. It’s not everyday that you see a Krogan getting emotional, and even though it wasn’t particularly obvious, the voice acting made it noticeable. He said two words to a Salarian that I saved that made my heart sink. He forgave me later, but I still wish I could redo the choice – I stuck with it though, because that would be cheating. The choices you make feel critical, and so far, I’m enjoying every moment and seeing how this story unfolds. I do intend on correcting that choice in my second playthrough!
And now lastly, but not least, the new boy/girl in town: Ryder. I’m someone who really enjoys character development. Whereas in the first Mass Effect, your character is already a legend among the Alliance; In this game, you still need to gain the status of “hero”, and that I like. To exceed expectations and fill the shoes your father, who was an N7, left for you, makes for a really relatable story. Ryder isn’t ready to take up the mantle of Pathfinder at first, and neither would any of us, truly. I knew I wasn’t, and when I had my conversation with Addison on the Nexus, I couldn’t help but think, “How would I have reacted, or felt, if this was me?” The pressure of the role of Pathfinder is not to be taken lightly, the game makes that clear in the narrative, but with the help of your crew, and SAM, Ryder becomes the most influential figure. What makes it better, is that each of the Ryder twins have their own unique personality. I went with male Ryder of course, and his personality is very humorous, but knows when to take a situation seriously, or how to make appropriate emotional responses.
TL;DR – All ye nay-sayers that say your “journey to Andromeda stopped before it even started” should get your heads checked. If you approach this game the same way I described my enjoyment of Stargate, you will be pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye to Shepard, and to be honest, you don’t have to, but now we get a new journey, with new adventures. The goal of the Andromeda Initiative is “A new beginning”, which is exactly what this game is. And in the immortal words of Barney Stinson: “New is always better!” (Though of course we know there are exceptions to his rules, but this is not one of them!)
The graphics were a little underwhelming, surprisingly, though I wonder if it isn’t just because of how the XBox handled the new Frostbite 3 Engine, which is a pretty badass engine to be honest. Still, the environments were pleasant to the eye, and even on vast dessert-type worlds, was well crafted. The music scores have the classic Mass Effect feel to it, while still staying unique to it’s own story and series. Combat is fun as usual, and there’s a certain charm to being able to jump into the air and pound the ground to oblivion to give your enemy a world of pain. Multiplayer retains and improves on its fun factor. And the story is captivating! All-in-all, a huge thumbs up. From a very big Mass Effect fan, I say to Bioware, job well done. If there is going to be another sequel, I’ll be first in line, again, to get it! You can get Mass Effect: Andromeda on PC, PS4 and XBox for R915.00 each.