Available on PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2017
I knew that Andromeda was going to be a big game, but after spending several hours with the near-final build, I realise I vastly underestimated the scale of Bioware’s next space epic. This game is ginormous, and is about to eat up every second you have.
Until last year’s E3 we’d seen hardly anything of Andromeda. This led to some concern about how it was shaping up, but producer Fabrice Condominas explains why the project remained under wraps for so long.
“The real challenge and why people were exposed to the game so late is the complexity and sheer size of it. Bending all the elements together and to actually do proper balancing comes extremely late in the development cycle, so it took years to build the parts and then months, if not years, to bring them together.”
I was also wary of Andromeda’s secrecy, but am relieved to say that those fears have been put to rest after playing it, even if some issues remain.
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The game starts with humans embarking on the Andromeda mission to find a new hospitable planet for the human race to inhabit. Pathfinders will lead our brightest and best in search of “Golden” planets. Each ship is sent carrying hundreds of thousands of people to different planets across this new galaxy to investigate their viability.
After a 600-year cryofreeze, Scott/Sara Ryder (our choice of new lead protagonist) awakens aboard a ship orbiting the chosen Golden planet. Ryder comes equipped with a SAM (Simulated Adaptive Matrix), a neural implant AI that acts as your assistant throughout the game – like Destiny’s Ghost, but far less annoying. Scott barely thaws before the mission goes awry.
The Golden planet is inhospitable and surrounded by a giant energy cloud damaging to the ship. Luckily, Scott’s dad, Alec Ryder, is ready to be the hero. An N7 commander and lead Pathfinder, calls for a small team to head down to the planet to investigate. Scott is able to engage in these conversations, though thankfully the dull Paragon/Renegade dialogue choices are gone, replaced instead by a “tone wheel”.
The tone wheel allows for much greater variety in conversations, and also prevents players focusing only on the outcome, as Fabrice points out. He also notes that, while the overall outcomes are the same, the increased subtlety allows the player to focus on the journey as well as the destination:
“The problem with the binary system is that it becomes a game within a game. Anything binary forces you to take a side and once you’ve taken a side, you don’t really care what you’re saying. People will just close their eyes and make those choices. We didn’t like that, as the original intent of the system was giving people the freedom to make a choice without being judged.”
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Fans of the original trilogy will understand this change, and it drastically improves interactions. I’m no longer defining a personality by blue or red text. Being free to respond to characters based on what they’ve actually said and how it made me (or Ryder) feel adds weight to conversations.
I then head into the main menus, and see the changes to how players build characters. In terms of creating Ryder, the choices at the start of the game are purely aesthetic. Rather than also choosing a combat class, all remain open, with players able to unlock and switch between them throughout the game. This increased freedom means I won’t get 50 hours in and still regret choices made in minute one. It’s liberating.
Eventually, the first fight kicks off. Combat has also been given a makeover to become much more fluid. Ryder is now equipped with a “jet jump” which can be used to move around terrain but also dodge enemy fire and leap over obstacles.
Outside of combat, the jet jump simply gives Ryder a means to reach higher ledges, adding a vague sense of verticality to the exploration, but it’s still pretty linear in moving throughout objectives. In combat, it feels more effective, as I’m encouraged to move out of combat and play less like I would in Gears of War and more like DOOM.
Some encounters revert to the classic cover-shooting system of old, but strangely there’s no button for taking cover; this is done automatically. At first this makes taking cover feel very floaty and random – sometimes I would move to an object and Ryder would hide behind it, and other times he would simply stand there waiting to be shot. Another big problem is popping out of any cover which is bigger than you. Crouching behind obstacles is fine once you get used to the mechanics, but Ryder can’t spin left or right from a tall point, shoot, then sidestep back behind a wall.
Ryder is also equipped with plenty more Biotech skills in Andromeda. As this is the start of the game, only a few abilities are available, but the ones that are proved very useful. Concussion shot and other classics return, but my new favourite is Charge, which sees Ryder focus on an enemy, then teleport to them and deliver a vicious melee strike. It offers the dual purpose of dealing heavy damage and also escaping dicey situations.
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So while the combat is much improved over the original trilogy, it still feels very much like a combat system within an RPG, and therefore isn’t the game’s strong suit.
After finishing the tutorial mission, I jumped ahead several hours in the game’s campaign, and was now playing as Sara Ryder, and a few more hiccups appeared. Andromeda’s reveal trailer showed some questionable facial animation, and while playing the game these problems continue. Sara can look terrifying at times.
Her lack of emotional expression, coupled with a ghostly, unblinking stare, makes Sara very distracting during many conversations, and at times the animations can be laughable. At one point Sara is listening to a radio communication aboard the Tempest, Andromeda’s Normandy, and her eyes dart around the room so much that I thought she had no idea where the noise was coming from. It completely breaks the mood.
After getting used to Sara’s often shonky animations, I went and met the crew. Having jumped straight from the first mission to here, I had no idea how this team was formed, but I knew one thing: I’d shag any of them.
Patrice discussed romantic interactions in Andromeda embracing both a lighter tone and the game’s “M” rating. In practice, this plays out like funny (and at times, cringey) 50 Shades in space.
PeeBee, an Asari, discusses an ex-girlfriend’s rejection that resulted in her joining Ryder’s crew. However, the details are scarce, and if Ryder wants to know more, PeeBee suggests a drink, because “who knows what might come out of my mouth?” Filth. I never bothered with Mass Effect’s po-faced romantic encounters, but this new, comedic tone made me want to flirt with everyone just to see what silliness would happen.
After risking a disciplinary from Tempest HR, I landed the ship at Kadara Market to actually start doing proper missions, and it was here where Andromeda’s scope really showed.
The main mission involves meeting a contact, Reyes Vidal, in a bar to get information on a prisoner held in the doldrums and how to negotiate with his captive. After a very unfriendly chat with the market’s dodgy boss, I failed to sway her into freeing the prisoner, but luckily Reyes knows a secret entrance to the cell. I’m able to chat to him and find out what I need to find to set him free – the solution lies on another planet.
However, after heading back onboard Tempest to head to this planet, a team meeting led to no fewer than four additional side missions – this is after the other five I picked up while strolling around Kadara. After listening to each of the missions offered by the team, I opted to explore Drack’s request: to head to a nearby planet and investigate a Krogan settlement.
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The brilliant thing about Andromeda is that every mission on offer has weight – there’s no filler on offer – and this was only emphasised the deeper down the rabbit hole I tumbled. Bioware doesn’t pander either, so you’ll need to pay constant attention to every interaction to be up to speed with the delicate political situations across the galaxy.
I’ll admit that, at times, it could feel a little like Star Wars Episode I Trade Negotiations, but when you stumble across a story that sinks its teeth in, you’ll follow it to the bitter end, just like I did with Drack.
While on this mission I got to drive around in the Nomad, which was a treat. While much of the terrain I explored was barren, simply riding around in this badass machine was fun enough. It has two drive modes: one for speeding across flat plains and an all-wheel-drive mode for overcoming steep climbs. I felt like I was on an episode of intergalactic Top Gear as I proceeded through the Krogan mission, and could picture myself driving around hunting scrap for hours on end.
After two hours exploring this side-quest, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t even finished the main mission – that poor prisoner was still holed up in the slums back on Kadara. But I’d become so enthralled by the Krogan story that I’d forgotten about everything else, and it is here where Andromeda clicked: I’m going to need to see everything this game has to offer, and it’s going to be absolutely huge.
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I’m flabbergasted by how big Mass Effect Andromeda is, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. To see even a fraction of what this game has to offer will take serious dedication, and God knows how many hours to see all of it. But from what I’ve played so far, it could very well be worth clearing your schedule for, well, probably from the end of March to mid-June, just to be safe.