Mass Effect goes intergalactic planetary, dropping some tasty exploration beats along the way.
There’s no doubt about it – the new Mass Effect is bigger in every way. After a few hours with the game – I played it until 3am last night, not because I wanted to write about it today, but because I completely lost track of time – it’s clear that Bioware had a simple mission statement in mind while developing the game.
There are more ways to move, including a very satisfying jump-jet ability. There are more ways to fight, thanks to a dizzying array of weapons, mods, and combat skills, not to mention the fact that combat is now a lot more vertical. There are more skills to unlock and explore, more gear and equipment to master, and what appears to be a deep crafting mechanic. The planets you’re exploring are open worlds in their own right, with more NPCs, more dialogue, and more things to do, from mining while zipping about in your shiny new rover to scanning new lifeforms and technology with a handy tricorder-like device. There is more of everything in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
At the same time, what may be the game’s greatest strength may also be its greatest weakness. It is, essentially, more Mass Effect.
Welcome to the new galaxy, much the same as the old one
In a lot of ways – and I will admit, I’m only a few hours into the game – Andromeda is almost a reimagining of the first Mass Effect. Sure, you’re in a new galaxy, six-hundred years after a massive interstellar journey, but the narrative is eerily familiar. After discovering that the so-called Golden Worlds you were expecting to settle are all a bust, you end up as the Pathfinder for the entire colonisation effort, tracking down lost colony ships and bringing people together. So, like Shepard, you’re thrust into a new role, with an epic responsibility to save the whole Andromeda project.
But it’s the tone of the game that’s making it all feel extremely fresh. You are not a grim military veteran, like Shepard – you might have a military background, but the Ryders (you, your sibling, and your dad) are explorers now, and that’s your first priority. The first missions after the introduction are all about, well… exploring strange new worlds. There’s more than a little bit of Star Trek DNA in Andromeda. The dialogue, for instance, is much lighter, more banter-y, than previous games. Space flight has been entirely revamped, too. It’s not a longer a top-down view of a map – when you move between worlds or star systems, you’re literally flying through space, and it is simply gorgeous. In these visuals there’s more than a touch of Interstellar’s amazing space sequences, even down the massive blackhole in one of the first star systems we encountered.
And, again, that’s no bad thing, bringing to the game an entirely welcome sense of real wonder.
But for all of the new meatiness of combat, and the tastiness of exploration, the real treat is in how rich the game’s RPG mechanics are. It’s both more complex, and more fluid, than any Mass Effect game has ever managed. You choose a basic class at the beginning of the game – I went with Technician, for a very nifty ranged attack that drains shields and stuns enemies – but depending on how you spec your character, you can unlock new specialties. So, if you focus on, say, the sniper rifle, you’ll be able to become an Infiltrator. The trick is that you can spread your skills around, and unlock multiple roles, which you can switch between at will. I was a bit dubious about this when it was first mentioned by Bioware, but the in-game rationale is actually quite elegant. And it’s nice to be able to pick the right specialty for different challenges.
If I have a criticism – and I am sure I will have more – it’s that like a lot of recent games (*shakes mailed fist at For Honor*) the game seems to want to obfuscate a lot of what you can do. For instance, you’ve got all this stuff, like blueprints and raw materials, but it’s not immediately apparent what you can do with them, or how those systems interact. On the flipside, as you craft new items you can actually name them, so I guess at some point my rifle-toting Pathfinder’s going to get an epic sniper-rifle called Killdeer.
"I went with Technician, for a very nifty ranged attack that drains shields and stuns enemies."
That said, the game hangs together wonderfully, the learning curve of new systems and ways of playing really pays off that first time you can call in a new settlement one a newly reclaimed world. In true Bioware style, even this is all about choice – you can decide the direction these colonisation efforts take, military or scientific, thus shaping who the Andromeda Initiative will move forward in its further explorations of its new home.
And do far, that horizon is looking bright indeed.