It's safe to say that Mass Effect: Andromeda isn't the game that most players were expecting. It's full of (sometimes hilarious) glitches. The worlds you explore are surprisingly Star Trek cookie-cutter to come from a whole new galaxy. And after the wide variety of fleshed-out, fascinating alien species in the original trilogy, Andromeda gives you just one major new race. You'd expect an alien race from another galaxy to be crazy weird, but the Angara are another bipedal species that could have come from the Milky Way.
And don't even get us started on SAM, the new artificial intelligence. He's so maddeningly repetitive and obtuse, he'll have you pining for EDI within the first hour of the game.
Despite all that (and more), Andromeda is worthwhile for the astounding amount of innovation it offers. There are so many smart changes to the Mass Effect formula, so many great ideas and tweaks and enhancements, and significantly more three-dimensional realism that the final result is far more than the sum of its parts. Taken on its own merits, it may not be perfect, but it's got the best gameplay and features of any title in the series.
Here are fifteen reasons why.
Taking some of its cues from Destiny, BioWare's development team was determined to deliver the best combat experience that Mass Effect has ever crafted. And boy did they succeed.
Andromeda's combat is finely-tuned to near perfection like no game BioWare has ever made. Enemy A.I. is cunning, vicious, and will out-flank you easily if you don't keep moving. Fortunately, your movement options are fast-paced and powerful, settling you into a rhythm of moving and striking. A full host of new abilities — such as Biotics and Tech powers — have been added, all of which enhance firefights tremendously. There's nothing like shooting a couple rounds into an enemy and then using your Charge power to instantly zoom across the battlefield and hit them hard enough to send them flying.
With endless variations on how you can fight (more on that later), Andromeda presents a combat experience that outshines the original trilogy in every way. Put simply: it's just more fun.
14 Open World Exploration
You could argue that Mass Effect has always featured open world gaming. Locations like the Citadel and Omega allowed you to wander freely, selecting missions when and how you want. But once those missions were selected, everything from the story to the level design became linear.
Andromeda changes this by presenting you with four enormous worlds (and a few smaller ones) in which you can climb into your all-terrain Nomad and roam. See something interesting? Drive over and check it out. It might be a small Kett camp to clean out, or it might be a resident with a task for you that unfolds into a larger mission.
The first Mass Effect's exploration mode plopped you down on endless nondescript planets to drive your Mako around, search for minerals, and enter tiny enemy bases to raid. There was no flora, no fauna, no bodies of water; not much of anything but mountains. It was a fun idea, but tedious in execution. Andromeda is the perfect realization of the explorative ambitions of that first game. No two terrains are the same, no two bases are alike, and everywhere you go, you'll always encounter something new and different.
The original trilogy told a sprawling tale of massive machines that come to the Milky Way every 50,000 years to wipe out all organic life. It was bold, epic, and a tough act to follow. How do you tell a new story worthy of the name Mass Effect, yet make it fresh? Andromeda presents the Kett, a ruthless alien species who, without giving too much away, does something to their victims that's similar to the Reapers. There's also the Remnant, robots guarding the worlds of Helius and the mysterious Vaults they hide.
It's also the story of the Andromeda Initiatve, hundreds of thousands of individuals from the Milky Way from multiple races, who move to a new galaxy 600 light years away, and its complex infrastructure. There are missing ships full of colonists, a rebellion against Initiative leadership, and mysteries galore to solve.
Finally, there's the story of the Ryder clan, which starts with patriarch Alec, a man full of secrets and surprises. Every character on the Tempest has his or her own story as well, each of them with major personal stakes. And truthfully, these side stories include some of the most compelling and best-told parts of the game. If you enjoy good science fiction stories that are well told with colorful characters and sparkling dialogue (most of which is heard when your two chosen companions interact while riding in the Nomad), you're going to find plenty to enjoy in Andromeda.
Whether you play as Sarah or Scott, you'll find Ryder to be a worthy successor to Commander Shepard. That's no small feat, as Shepard was near and dear to the hearts of Mass Effect players, and nearly synonymous with the game itself. How do you invent a new protagonist to follow in the shoes of a legendary one?
Andromeda's solution was to start over from scratch, and let you invest in the character's growth and development from the start. Ryder was never intended to be the Pathfinder, an all-important figure within the Andromeda Initiative whose job is to find habitable worlds and make them viable for colonists. So the learning curve is on the steep side for your very green Ryder — and for you the player. By paralleling the character's journey with the player's, Andromeda makes it easy to take possession of your version of Ryder.
Both Scott and Sarah have terrific voice actors and are allowed to emote freely, and they're both appealing characters with a lighthearted, fun-loving approach to adventuring that's a pleasure to experience. There's nothing legendary about these two when you start the game, but by the end, Ryder is the best-known and most-admired human in all of Andromeda.
There's no replacing Tali, Wrex, Liara, or the beloved Garrus. Comparing Andromeda's characters with the originals is inevitable, and can be off-putting at first. Players invested three games into the classics, and came to learn their personalities, quirks, catch phrases, and abilities intimately.
Andromeda has the unenviable task of starting over with an entirely new cast — and living up to not just Mass Effect's standards, but BioWare's. One of the developer's signature traits is its memorable, three-dimensional heroes that fans fall in love with. For Andromeda, that results in some fascinating new variations on the species we know.
The Asari are typically calm and cerebral, so Andromeda has an impulsive, reckless one. You think of Turians and you think of Garrus. Andromeda introduces a female Turian with a strong personality of her own. As for your Krogan, well... Krogan are Krogan. But Andromeda stirs up the mix with a crusty old Krogan that's 1,400 years old and has seen and done it all. Your human companions are mostly just as compelling — especially strong-willed Cora and soulful scientist Suvi. But the new fan-favorite is Jaal, the lone Helius native among the crew. This purple Angaran has a sincere openness and sandpaper-dry wit.
You won't leave Andromeda as invested in Peebee, Drack, and Vetra as you were with Garrus and Tali. That's okay. Just give it time, because they definitely grow on you. And the ingredients are all there to be explored in future games.
This much-hyped game feature may not be everything players expected, but it's more than enough to give you an edge and some unique abilities when needed.
The idea behind Profiles is that you're never locked into a single class of player, like Sentinel, Adept, or Vanguard. It's a whole new concept for RPGs that presents countless possibilities, because each Profile unlocks a unique ability of particular use to that kind of player. You can assign three powers to each Profile, and best of all, you can change Profiles on-the-fly, even in mid-battle. So if you're fighting Kett as a Soldier and some Remnant show up, you can quickly switch to Engineer to take advantage of abilities that are more useful against tech-based enemies.
With any four Profiles available to call up instantly from an in-game wheel menu, you can pick your favorites and always have them handy. Take full advantage of this feature, and it will change the way you play entirely.
Mass Effect has always let you customize the appearance of the character you play, and Andromeda is no different. Fans have cried foul at the customization options offered this time around, as many of them are unattractive. BioWare is reportedly working on a fix for this, but fortunately, Andromeda's customization options go way beyond your character's aesthetics.
For the first time, crafting of weapons and armor is available, and for the most part, it's entirely worthwhile. The armor options aren't bad, but it's in the weapons department where crafting really shines. There are three classes of weapons, based on where they're from — Milky Way technology, Helius Cluster tech, or Remnant — and each class has dozens of available instruments of destruction.
When you add in mods and augmentations, the possibilities multiply exponentially. From extending your various powers' duration, strength, or accuracy, to giving added stats to your weapons or armor, the possibilities are vast. You can craft mods as well, and with some careful consideration, you can churn out some weapons that suit your play style perfectly and allow you to decimate your enemies with ease.
8 Moral Realism
One of the original trilogy's most important features was how you could tailor Shepard's personality in a virtuous or ruthless direction. The choices you made, mostly in dialogue, would slowly make Shepard good or bad. You could be nice, friendly, and understanding, or you could be cold, harsh, and unforgiving.
Andromeda throws out the light-vs.-dark morality system altogether. It's a little jarring at first, but when you understand the developers' reasoning, it makes a lot of sense. Real life is rarely as clear cut as choosing "good or evil." Reality is found in gray areas -- subtle decisions and tough choices that might find you doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
Mass Effect: Andromeda presents you with multiple potential responses in every conversation. You could be the all-business, by-the-book soldier, or go for the touchy-feely response. Maybe you'll inject a little humor into the situation, or you might even show incredulity at someone else's ridiculous ideas. It's up to you, and while it doesn't always affect your standing with that character, it adds more realism to the game, and gives you a much more personal investment into what kind of person your Ryder becomes.
7 Loyalty Missions
A favorite feature of Mass Effect 2 was the personal side missions your enormous cast of characters would ask you to undertake. Complete these "Loyalty Missions," and you earned that character's unwavering loyalty — increasing their chances of surviving the game's climactic battle.
Loyalty Missions were nowhere to be found in Mass Effect 3, but they're back in Andromeda, and the game is better for it. Like before, these side stories prove to be some of the most enjoyable parts of the game.
Cora, who was trained by Asari commandos, is deeply concerned with the missing Asari Ark; her quest to find it leads to a dramatic and morally ambiguous twist that deepens her character significantly. Jaal wants to confront an Angaran terrorist about his xenophobic beliefs and extreme tactics, and what plays out is a real chance for him to shine. The best thing about these missions is that how you carry them out will affect your relationship with that character. Will you trust them, or will you do what you think is best? It's up to you, and the consequences are yours as well. Speaking of which...
6 Choices Have Consequences
One criticism that's been lobbed at Mass Effect over the years is that despite its huge focus on RPG-style player choice, the ending showed very little evidence of all those accumulated actions you'd undertaken across the trilogy. Some of that was a little unfair, but the point was taken.
Likewise, some have expressed the opinion that Andromeda's choices have no real weight to them, because the story still unfolds in the same way regardless of what you do. While it's true that the main, overarching story always plays out basically the same way, the details can vary wildly — and those details are where the meatiest drama is found.
For example, if you're pursuing a romantic relationship with someone but make the wrong choice during their loyalty mission, romance is suddenly, irrevocably off the table. At one point in the game, you have to choose between the survival of a group of Salarians or a group of Krogan; you can't save both, and which one you pick will show up at the endgame to back you up. Likewise, the group you leave behind will suffer a fate worse than death that will come back to haunt you.
Choices do matter in Mass Effect: Andromeda. They may not alter the fundamentals, but the stakes are deeply personal and the consequences evoke real emotional responses.
5 Volume of Content
If you love open world games that are jam-packed with stuff to do, then you've come to the right place. In fact, Mass Effect: Andromeda has been criticized by some fans and reviewers for having too much to do. It's also true that the menu system meant to help you track your countless missions and tasks is a bit cumbersome.
But if you can get past that, the sheer volume of content is incredible. The best part is that you really have to explore to uncover every single quest. Some of them show up on on your map, but many of them are only findable if you scour every square inch of these vast worlds. You never know when a random NPC conversation will unlock some fun new quest.
There's no denying the fact that some of the tasks aren't too exciting (finding and scanning various minerals or animals, for example). But at least they make sense; there's nothing arbitrary about the fact that if you're exploring a new galaxy, your scientists are going to want data about the new things you find. But more often than not, you'll be engaging in one of those breathless fights against Kett, Remnant, or Exiles.
4 Simplifying the Small Stuff
In true Mass Effect tradition, a number of smaller tasks are always available to you, such as planetary mining or scanning worlds. These were many fans' least favorite parts of past entries, but Andromeda makes them more enjoyable by simplifying them.
Mining has been moved down to ground level, where it's handled from the Nomad. Instead of moving a scanner's reticle across a planet from orbit, you follow the pulse of various mineral deposits right on the ground you drive over. It's not only more satisfying, it feels more realistic. Scanning planets from orbit is pared down to the basics as well, basically just one or two simple trigger presses.
Other aspects of the system have been simplified as well, such as combat, ordering allies on the battlefield, and navigating your ship through the galaxy. Basically, everything that slowed the games down to a crawl in the past has been eliminated or condensed. And you can't discount the importance of the much-discussed Jump Jet and quick evade movements. They seem like simple combat enhancements, but they're so much fun to use, you'll find yourself employing them everywhere.
Everybody knows that gameplay trumps technology. It's a universal rule: you can have the best-looking, best-sounding, best-running game in the world, but if it's not fun to play, all those bells and whistles won't matter.
That said, it's always nice when there's some pretty eye candy to devour. And man oh man, is Mass Effect: Andromeda filled with awe-inspiring visuals. As the first game in the series made for next-gen consoles and PCs, BioWare put all that horsepower to good use by building stunning environments for you to explore. There's not one place you can't stop and spin, basking in the sumptuous vistas all around you.
The Nexus' size and the Tempest's huge windows are glorious to gaze at, but it's those gargantuan open worlds where you'll see the most breathtaking sights. Twilight on Havarl, the bright blue skies and detailed brown canyons of Eos, the rolling mountains of Kadara...there may not be a huge number of worlds to explore, but the ones that are there are simply stunning.
Similar to Mass Effect 3, multiplayer in Andromeda is presented as co-op team missions focused on concentrated front line arenas. It has no affect on the singleplayer game, other than the ability to earn some nice rewards.
Multiplayer in Andromeda is mainly about APEX, the elite strike force assembled by Nexus Security. Missions play out with you and your teammates defending against and taking down wave-after-wave of enemies. Sometimes you're tasked with taking down all of your foes, sometimes you have to stay alive until a timer runs out.
A half dozen firebases are where multiplayer battles happen, and there are almost thirty character types for players to choose from, spread across multiple species and specialties. There's a store where you can use earned credits to buy better gear, and like Ryder in the main game, you can level up your skills as you go.
But all that really matters is that Andromeda's multiplayer is a fast-paced, intense, adrenaline-rushing blast.
1 The Tempest
Like Shepard, another aspect of the original trilogy that's synonymous with Mass Effect is the Normandy, the iconic spaceship Shepard used to explore all those alien worlds. Andromeda couldn't just hijack the Normandy or clone it for the Initiative's use. That would never do.
So an entirely new ship was cooked up, one that takes obvious inspiration from the Normandy, but pushes things to the next level of sleek and cool. The Normandy was a great ship, but it felt a bit like a submarine — confined and closed-off to what was outside. The Tempest has enormous, wrap-around windows that always show whatever planet or celestial body you're parked at. It sounds like a small thing, but it goes a long way to enhancing the space exploration experience.
The ship has plenty of nooks, and each main NPC has his or her own room on the ship to call home. You'll rarely find them in the same place twice, though, as they like to roam the ship and interact — another little touch that brings the game to life. The most impressive room is undoubtedly the bridge, where the massive front viewport is seamlessly combined with the galaxy map to make you feel more in-control of your spaceship than ever before.
Are we crazy to think that Andromeda is the best Mass Effect yet? Let us know in the comments.