It could be argued that it a sequel should be judged on its own, and not against previous installments in that series. And that assertion carries extra weight with such games as Mass Effect Andromeda (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), a third-person sci-fi adventure that’s a sequel to a self-contained trilogy. It’s too bad the world, and my critical lizard brain, doesn’t work that way because while Mass Effect Andromeda is a solid adventure, it’s no Mass Effect.
Set six hundred plus years after the previous games, Mass Effect Andromeda cast you as Ryder, part of a deep space colonization mission to the Andromeda Galaxy. But after arriving in Andromeda, and learning that the planets there aren’t as hospitable as you’d been led to believe, you realize that finding a new place to live isn’t going to be as easy as logging onto a website and searching for a two-bedroom apartment.
In many ways, Mass Effect Andromeda feels like the previous games in the series. Combat is still of the cover-based, gun fighting variety, with some special abilities that would be called “magic” if this was a Dragon Age game. You still create a custom character with upgradable skills, though you can just as easily skip these parts if you prefer. You also have a wide variety of side quests, main story missions, and random skirmishes, all of which are driven by a hard sci-fi/space opera story that mines the same tropes that informed the Halo series as well as such sci-fi novels as Ian M. Bank’s Culture series, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, and John Scalzi’s Old Man War books. Which works perfectly with the game’s clean, ’70s sci-fi novel cover-esque, Omni Magazine-ish design sense.
While the previous paragraphs apply to Mass Effect Andromeda as easily as they do the original Mass Effect trilogy, the former does have some new mechanics inspired by its unique setting. Where before you just visited a small part of any alien world, or ran around a mostly linear building, now you get to explore huge chunks of a planet, much the way you used to wander around The Citadel: talking to people, buying stuff, and getting side missions that required you to run around The Citadel and talk to people. Except now you may have to shoot other people as well.
Aiding you in your planetary exploration is Mass Effect Andromeda‘s other big addition: your jetpack. Granted, it’s only good for short distances, it doesn’t turn you into Boba Fett or anything, but it does make for some fun if simple platforming. More importantly, it helps cut down on the frustrations common in such open world adventure games as Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim where having a jetpack, even a little one, could save you from having to walk miles out of your way just to get somewhere on the other side of a steep hill. Though it’s odd how Ryder never seems to get the hang of her jetpack, and always kind of stumbles when she lands, like she’s never done it before.
While having open worlds you can explore with relative ease does make Mass Effect Andromeda feel a bit different, it also makes for what I feel is its biggest disappointment, though it’s decidedly more of a personal preference than a problem. The original Mass Effect games, especially Mass Effect 2, worked well because they felt like third-person shooters with role-playing elements. But because your mission is now one of exploration, Mass Effect Andromeda ends up feeling more like a third-person role-playing game with shooting.
Part of the reason it feels this way is that there are far fewer combat engagements in Mass Effect Andromeda than there were in the previous games, relatively speaking. You probably get into a many shootouts as you did before, but you spend a lot more time running, driving, and just generally looking around, which makes it seem like this is less action-packed. Though it also doesn’t help that the gun battles here are typically shorter and less frantic than the ones you got into in the earlier installments.
As a result, Mass Effect Andromeda isn’t nearly as exciting or exhilarating as its predecessors. Well, at least to someone trigger happy like me. Though it does get a better once you get past the first world. It wasn’t until then that I actually found myself excited to play this, as opposed to struggling to do so like I was when I started.
While preferring action over adventure may be my own personal preference, there are other, more universal issues with Mass Effect Andromeda. For starters, the game throws a lot at you in the beginning, and doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself. It also has menus that aren’t all that intuitive. The mission menu, for instance, is especially uncooperative, since it sometimes doesn’t indicate if a mission is taking place on the planet you’re currently visiting.
Then there’s the handy scanner you now have in Mass Effect Andromeda. Like Detective Vision in the Batman Arkham games and the “Survival Instincts” in Rise Of The Tomb Raider, you use this visual augmentation to solve problems, as well as to gather info on all of the new animals, vegetables, and minerals you find. But like when you’re Batman or Lara Croft, it gets annoying how often you have to turn the scanner on just to make sure you don’t miss something.
There are also a lot of little irritations in Mass Effect Andromeda. Like how scanning a planet from orbit is still tedious. Or how there are missions during which you can’t save for no good reason. Or how the voice of SAM, your A.I. assistant, sounds exactly like Fart from Rick & Morty.
There are also numerous technical issues with Mass Effect Andromeda. While most are just aesthetic flaws — such as the much-discussed stiff facial animations, or how the audio sometimes cuts out — there are some that actually impact the gameplay. Chief among these is how, on several occasions, the game froze me in place. The camera still worked, so did the menus, but I couldn’t move or shoot or do much of anything until I quit and restarted the game from my last save.
But the biggest problem with Mass Effect Andromeda — and this is a real problem — is that the text is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — it’s impossible to read your mission objectives, the button prompts, the menus, the subtitles, text messages…heck, nearly all of the text in the game. It’s like this was designed and tested by people who sat two feet away from a 100-inch TV.
Oh, I almost forgot, Mass Effect Andromeda also has the same kind of team-based survival multiplayer as Mass Effect 3. Except that unlike Mass Effect 3, this multiplayer isn’t essential to the story, nor does it contribute to it in any meaningful way. Especially since you can, within the context of the game’s story mode, opt to send other characters to play multiplayer while you reap the rewards. Which is why I almost forgot about it.
In the end, Mass Effect Andromeda is an epic, exciting, and engaging sci-fi shooting adventure. It’s just not as epic, exciting, or as engaging as the original Mass Effect games. Especially if, like me, your lizard brain would rather shoot things than run around, looking for a rock to scan. But if you can get past the slow beginning, and don’t mind that this is more about the adventure than the action, you’ll find that while Mass Effect Andromeda may not be Mass Effect, it’s still really good.