PlayStation 4
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Game Info:

Mass Effect: Andromeda
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Bioware
ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Violence
Available on: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, XBox One
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Genre: Action/RPG
Number of Players: 1+
Price: $19.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Mass Effect: Andromeda is the latest title in the Mass Effect franchise, with an entirely new setting, new characters and story. The story begins in the time between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, but the bulk of the story and all of the gameplay takes place six hundred years later in the Andromeda Galaxy.

Let's just get this out of the way first: yes, the game feels a bit unfinished. Yes, there are problems with facial animations. Yes, some bugs remain and yes, the story seems a little disjointed. There is no shortage of articles and videos on the Internet going into minute detail about the company's production issues, management issues, schedule issues, directorial changes, etc. If you're interested in those things just use your favorite search engine and you can look up all the information you like. I'd rather focus on the resulting product here in this review, and whether or not those problems mean the game isn't worth playing.

The real question is: Is it a fun game? Is it worth buying and playing? Let's talk about that.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is the story of an effort to colonize the Andromeda Galaxy by sending out four massive colony starships called Arks, each carrying 250,000 colonists in cryogenic freeze. Each Ark represents one of four races from the Mass Effect universe: Human, Turian, Salarian and Asari. The journey takes six hundred years and the Arks are meant to arrive in Andromeda and link up with the Nexus, a massive space station that was pre-built on site to support colonization efforts. There is a number of Krogan who came with the crew constructing the Nexus, which is how we have them in the story.

Things... do not go as planned. A mysterious dark energy cloud wends its way through the Helius cluster and the "Golden Worlds," planets that had been selected for colonization, are no longer habitable. The Ark Hyperion collides with this dark energy and is damaged, but still manages to reach the Nexus. Scott or Sara Ryder (whichever one the player does not choose to play the game as) is badly injured in the collision. To make matters worse, of the four Arks, only the Ark Hyperion (the Human Ark) has reached the Nexus which is itself in a terrible state after a mutiny had all but halted progress in construction. The Nexus is undermanned, underpowered and on the verge of losing hope.

Mass Effect: Andromeda
Highlights:

Strong Points: Plenty of good characters, beautiful environments, solid gameplay 
Weak Points: Could have used more QA testing, lack of support
Moral Warnings: Language, violence, nudity

The player takes the role of the Pathfinder, whose job it is to scout out new worlds for colonization, defend the colonies and perform miscellaneous missions. The main villains are a race of beings called the Ket, who have a terrifying story of their own. All of the classic Mass Effect elements are here, just reworked for the new environment and story. The Nexus (totally not the Citadel) is the home base for the Pathfinder (totally not the Spectre) team. Transportation between worlds is provided by the Tempest (totally not the Normandy) and land transportation is in the Nomad (totally not the Mako). The biggest difference in terms of the feel of the universe is that there are no Mass Relays in the Andromeda galaxy, so the physical scope of the game is shrunk down. Instead of playing on a galactic scale, the story is kept in the Helius Cluster, a group of star systems around a massive black hole. The Tempest (and other spacecraft) are capable of faster-than-light travel between these worlds which, being relatively close together, doesn't break the fluff too badly. It is weird not to have the Mass Relays and hurts the feel of the setting a little even though it does make sense in the story.

Essentially the game is a story where you have to work your way up to defeating the Big Bad and save the colonists. At the same time, you have to oversee the terraforming and colonization of five particular worlds in the Helius Cluster. In four out of the five the program is pretty much the same: the planet is not very habitable due to extreme cold, radiation, heat or poisonous water. (The fifth is different in terms of the steps but the idea is still the same.) An ancient alien civilization has placed structures and machinery on each world that can be unlocked and used to terraform the planet to greatly reduce the environmental problems, and each of the planets has a quest to activate it. In addition, the player has to perform missions that increase the habitability of the world and complete specific mission threads, which unlocks the ability to establish an outpost on the planet. Oddly, it's possible to raise the planet's habitability enough to establish an outpost before terraforming, but terraforming is still a necessary step for the planet to count as being colonized.

What really took me by surprise is that it is not necessary to colonize all five worlds before unlocking the final quest chain and defeating the Big Bad. I was actually on the final mission before I realized this, because I had assumed that having all five worlds completed was a necessary step. As a Mass Effect veteran I should have realized this from the love scene, which traditionally comes right before the final push in this franchise, but what can I say? I thought they were changing that too. After beating the final boss it is possible to keep playing, doing quests and colonizing any remaining planets, but by that point the story felt complete and I wasn't really interested in doing so.

In terms of gameplay, Andromeda feels like an effort to take the best elements of all of the previous Mass effect titles and roll them into one game. There's the ability to drive around planetary surfaces in a vehicle (like in Mass Effect), but there's also a feature for sending probes to gather resources and data (like in Mass Effect 2 and 3). Online multiplayer is handled through missions that contribute experience, loot and materials to the player's campaign (like Mass Effect 3). The list goes on but the net effect is that instead of all of these great elements coming together to form a coherent and excellent gameplay experience, they tend to feel like a series of disjointed features. That isn't to say that it makes the game bad, it's just that it feels like the gameplay struggles with its own identity.

That said, I did enjoy the gameplay. Combat is basically what one would expect in other Mass Effect titles in terms of overall flow and strategy. Ammo is a concern but there are ammo crates scattered around battlefields and merely getting close to one fully replenishes your supply. You can direct your team mates (2 of them) to different positions on the field but no longer have the ability to tell them which powers to use, though you can have them attack the same target you have selected. Shields and health work the same way as previous titles, with shields replenishing after a few moments behind cover. Similar to ammo crates, there are crates around battlefields that can also replenish shields and health in the same way. Ryder automatically takes cover whenever you move behind an item that can be used for that purpose, which is useful and annoying all at the same time. Sometimes I would want to vault over an obstacle and Ryder would take cover instead.

A new feature is a jetpack which allows Ryder to jump very high or hover briefly. I never really used the hover feature but the jumping was incredibly useful.

Mass Effect: Andromeda
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 58%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

Driving the Nomad is vastly easier than it was to drive the Mako in Mass Effect, and with multiple locations on each planet, it makes sense to have such a vehicle in the game. I do wish the Nomad had some kind of weapon though. It has nothing to defend itself with and the only way to deal with external threats, even minor ones, is to stop, disembark, fight and then jump back in and drive away. The Nomad is essential when traversing the planets before they've been terraformed, by protecting the occupants from exposure to the outside elements. This protection isn't indefinite, and the more hostile the environment, the shorter the protection lasts.

The non-action gameplay is just like every other console based Mass Effect title, with the player running around the various environments and interacting with equipment and other characters. For roleplay, there is no longer an alignment system. Instead, Ryder can choose conversation options based on the tone desired. For example, one can choose a joking tone or a technical tone, depending on player preference and personality. This feels more flexible than the simple paragon/renegade/neutral system of choices, and focuses the consequences of a conversation on the future of the story with that individual instead of keeping a running tally on the player's attitude up to that point. You can choose to be sarcastic and cold toward one character, but warm and helpful to another without future encounters with different characters being affected by it.

The roleplaying is definitely one of the stronger aspects of Andromeda and is as robust and complex as any Mass Effect title. I got into the characters and their stories. I enjoyed the voice acting and the writing. It did get a bit corny at times but I didn't mind it. The atmosphere created by the diverse crew of the Tempest was actually laugh out loud funny sometimes (in a good way) and I found myself actually interested in the results of the crew's occasional poker games or whether or not borrowed equipment on board the ship got back to its owner. I really liked the characters on the Tempest especially, and found some of the characters in leadership posts on the Nexus to be abrasive and irritating. This is where I loved that I could be nice to some people and nasty to others.

There is also a romance mechanic, like previous titles in the series. There is a fixed set of characters in the game who can be romanced, and a player can always attempt to flirt with any of them, though the results vary. Some characters only respond to flirting by one sex or the other (and all combinations exist) while some will respond to either sex. Some characters can be romanced aside from the main "committed" relationship the player can ultimately choose while others will expect a commitment and don't share. More on that below.

Mass Effect Andromeda has a very robust and interesting system for crafting weapons and armor. By using a scanner, Ryder can gather data on the various flora, fauna, minerals and technology encountered in the Helius cluster. This data can be used to research weapons, armor and equipment upgrades for later crafting. By gathering materials on missions, sending out probes, salvaging equipment or purchasing from vendors, Ryder can use recipes that were researched to craft better and better gear. It's a great system in theory, and I wish it wasn't competing in the game with looted gear and vendor gear. For players who love to devote a lot of time to comparing gear to maximize their equipment loadout, this is Wonderland. The flaw there is that the interface doesn't allow the player to compare items before investing in researching the recipes, so it's hard to know whether to bother. Also, most gear comes in one of three categories: Helius tech, Ket tech and Milky Way tech. To me, this added an additional layer of complexity that wasn't really necessary. I just picked Milky Way tech and stuck with it. Another reason not to bother too much with it is the interface felt wonky at times and I had to keep relearning how to add attachments to weapons and armor.

The other way to customize one's character is by purchasing skills. With each level the player is awarded skill points which can be used to by abilities in categories like soldier, biotic and engineer. This allows a huge amount of flexibility and the player isn't limited to a rigid class system. Want to specialize in assault rifles and biotic powers? Go for it. Prefer heavy weapons and demolitions? By all means. Crew members level with Ryder and can have their skills allocated in a similar way, or the game can auto assign skill points if the player prefers. Team members also use the same equipment Ryder has, so there's no system for assigning different weapons to different characters.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The game also includes a profile system where the player can allocate skill points in different configurations, then choose which profile to use on a mission. For example, one profile might have most of their skill points in various biotic powers while another focuses on weapons and damage. The player can then select which profile to use when heading out on a mission, or even switch profiles during the mission. It's a great idea, but I never bothered using it. The game just wasn't difficult enough that I felt the need to put that much effort into that kind of fine tuning.

The thing is, as good as the crafting and the profile systems are overall, they're not crucial to playing the game. I went through most of the game using just equipment I got through looting and I never bothered to set up separate profiles. I also didn't bother to put much thought into which companions to take with me even though they had different skills and abilities. (I tended to choose my companions for story reasons rather than tactical ones.) To be honest, I didn't find the encounters to be particularly difficult even when I'd leveled several times without upgrading my gear or allocating skill points. So a particular foe wasn't more difficult to kill at level 30 than it was at level 10... And that with my skills and gear lagging by 5 or more levels. I speculate that the intent was to make these elements have a much bigger impact, but that takes a lot of time and tuning which just wasn't available to the game developers. I suspect the system was only in the game to begin with because veteran Mass Effect players expected it. Of course better gear does help, but you can get by just fine on looted gear. I hardly bought anything at all from vendors and ended the game with almost all of the money I'd accumulated selling loot.

I did upgrade the Nomad with a snappy blue coat of paint, though.

All of these options do make the gameplay feel more individualized if not less difficult, and to be fair, in a roleplaying game that means something. I just didn't feel like it would be worth spending much time min-maxing because the difference just wasn't that noticeable. To be honest, the whole game felt much easier than in other Mass Effect games I've played (normal difficulty set). Getting killed incurs no penalty other than having to repeat whatever was done since the last autosave, but autosaves are frequent and this was never a hardship.

Minigames are another staple of Mass Effect titles and this game did have one. To interface with an ancient alien technology, the player gets to play a little mini-game that is basically Sudoku with alien runes. If you like Sudoku, you will have absolutely no problems here. If you can't stand Sudoku... Well, I have bad news for you.

Multiplayer is completely optional. The advantage to it is a gain in experience, gear and crafting materials. You essentially join a strike team to complete a mission on behalf of the Nexus. If you can't stand multiplayer or don't want to shell out for a premium subscription, not to worry... Strike teams can be sent out on most missions with no player involvement at all. The benefits aren't as good, but they run in the background while you play the game anyway.

So let's talk about the bugs and graphics.

I played the original Mass Effect trilogy on an XBox 360 and I played this on a PlayStation 4. I can't honestly say there's a huge graphics improvement. Yes, the shadows render better and fluids look great, but everything else looks only slightly different to me. The characters' facial expressions is one of the features that gets heavy criticism from the community and there's a fantastic video by the Extra Credits folks on YouTube that explains what happened there. I strongly recommend watching it. That said, I think I'd rather have less expression than weird expression, and in this, I actually prefer Andromeda. The other Mass effect titles sometimes had some bizarre faces, especially on Shepherd, and I don't miss that. Full disclosure though, I'm old enough to have had a Pong console when I was a kid so it isn't hard to impress me. Still, environmental elements like rocks, plants, buildings, etc. sometimes floated in the air rather than rested on the ground and clipping was a problem at times.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The sound was good and immersive but none of the effects were that memorable. The voice acting quality was okay, not spectacular. I liked the engine hum of the Nomad and the banter between characters during long drives was entertaining, though frequent glitches left me hanging on how a conversation was going to end. It's worth it to bring different combinations of companions on surface missions just to listen to how they talk to each other.

The music was good but not as memorable or beautiful as the original Mass Effect trilogy. The haunting tune of Ilos or the soothing notes of the Galactic display are so memorable, and their Andromeda counterparts just don't live up to them. Still, it does the job and suffers more from a very high initial standard than from any real problems of its own.

The bugs weren't as bad as I was expecting, though there were a couple worth mentioning. At one point on the newly established outpost on the planet Eos, I wanted to enter the Tempest but the button to do so didn't work. Even saving and then reloading didn't fix it. The ultimate solution was to commit suicide by jumping into a nearby lake which reset the game control elements and I was able to enter the ship.

The really annoying bug was on an ice planet where I was attacking the main Ket base. Approaching the base was incredibly difficult due to terrain and I must have managed to reach it using an unintended path, and completed one of the steps to the quest out of order. This seemed to paralyze the quest and I was unable to complete it. Fortunately it wasn't critical to the main quest line so skipping it didn't stop me from finishing the game, but it felt like unfinished business. I could have rolled back to an earlier save point and tried again but by the time I understood what had happened, I had no desire to repeat all the work on it I'd done to that point. Since I knew I would probably do a second playthrough anyway to try different story options, I decided to just enjoy that part of the story next time.

When the first Mass Effect game was released, there was some controversy over the sexual content in game. Most of that controversy was exaggerated with the love scenes being much tamer than what some believed. That being said, Andromeda has pushed the envelope. The love scenes in this game are considerably longer and more graphic than previous Mass Effect console titles. Is it porn? No, I wouldn't call it that... it isn't THAT explicit, but it definitely goes farther than before. The length of the scenes seemed unnecessary to me, and felt like they lasted longer than the endgame victory cutscene.

Romance options are available with members of both sexes, though the specific range of options varies depending on whether the player chooses Sara or Scott Ryder. Some characters will only respond to flirting by Scott, others by Sara and some by either one. Both homosexual and heterosexual relationships can be pursued.

It's become common for roleplaying games to have the option to choose both gay or straight romances these days. As long as the player isn't steered toward any particular relationship I don't have a problem with those options existing. The player doesn't have to choose them, or any relationship at all for that matter. There's no advantage or disadvantage either way. That being said, this is why parental guidance is so critical in any roleplaying game. Mind you, I do not recommend this game to the kiddies due to the nudity and language issues anyway, but if you choose to allow your adolescent or teenage child to play this game be available to them and give them frank answers to their questions.

Unusually for a game of this genre, there is a small amount of discussion concerning God and His existence. The science officer on the Tempest expresses openly her belief in God. The player has the opportunity to use dialogue options to either agree with her, respectfully disagree or mock her faith. As I said above if the game is trying to be realistic, it makes sense for all options to exist so that a player can express themselves in their decisions here. I chose to take the "agree" route, but that choice only means something if I could just as easily have mocked the character for her belief. The discussion between the characters is actually intriguing given the way she reconciles her career as a scientist with her faith. What bugged me a little was that later on, when an in-game event shakes everyone's understanding of the origin of life, her faith is still strong, but in explaining how that can be, she more or less states that faith is believing something even if it isn't really true. I think maybe whoever wrote that line was making an honest effort to be fair, but missed the mark in terms of explaining what faith really is.

One other thing that I found interesting about this character is that while she is the only human character in the game to express a belief in God, (except for Ryder, if the player chooses) she is also only available to romance if you're playing as Sara, which makes her both religious and gay. It's an intriguing narrative choice because it feels like an effort to avoid a stereotype, in that the writers were clearly trying to do something interesting here by avoiding common tropes. Certainly there are plenty of people in real life who are both actively religious and gay, but very often in entertainment media religious characters are portrayed as hostile toward homosexuals or a gay character often expresses contempt for religion if the subject comes up at all. I am grateful that at least faith does have a place in this game and its story and is portrayed positively and not according to any insulting stereotype.

The language in this game is solidly in 'R' rated territory with F bombs being dropped freely. It's not like watching The Big Lebowski or anything but still frequent enough that I wouldn't recommend playing with the kids around even during action scenes.

The violence is on par with the Mass Effect series, with plenty of killing. Not too much in the way of blood and gore but the body count is incredibly high.

There really isn't any occultism in this story as such. There are plenty of alien races who have their own spirituality, but nothing I would describe as troubling. Where spirituality is portrayed, it's peaceful and noble. One might describe the biotic powers (a sort of psychic ability) as occult but it's treated as just another tool to be used to fight evil, and doesn't come into conflict with any morality or spirituality.

Since this game lacks an alignment system every interaction is more or less isolated, and it's possible to be nice to some and mean to others. Mass Effect has always been a game of choices, and one reaps what one sows. One thing I did find a bit uncomfortable is a romance option available on the Nexus, who is perfectly happy to be in a relationship with Ryder "on the side" regardless of any other romantic connection the player is pursuing. There do not appear to be any negative consequences for doing this. That said, the storyline doesn't seem to go anywhere and feels unfinished. We can only speculate about where that thread might have gone. Like other romances, this is entirely optional and the player is free to avoid that aspect without losing anything in the overall story.

So the overall verdict? Well for me, the verdict is that Andromeda is a fun game and worth picking up a copy if you're a fan of Mass Effect already. It doesn't succeed in everything it set out to do, but it has a lot of great elements that make it more fun than one might expect because of all the bad press and word of mouth it gets. It's a true Mass effect game, and if you're a fan of the franchise, it does scratch the itch. Just beware of the content, don't play with the kiddies around and you'll be fine.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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