Preview

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Five Things We Loved About Our Hands-On Time With BioWare's Space Epic
by Javy Gwaltney on Feb 23, 2017 at 02:02 AM
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Bioware
Release:
Rating: Mature
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The newest, hotly anticipated Mass Effect game is here in little over a month and I recently had the chance to play a slice of the game. I played through the opening mission and then a section from the middle of the game, where I had almost complete access to my squadmates, powers, and The Tempest, the ship that functions as your base in the game.

I admit that I sat down to play Andromeda with much trepidation. Mass Effect 2 is, after all, my favorite game of all time. Seeing BioWare in the unenviable position of having to carry the series in a new direction while also upholding the legacy of the series had me wondering if the developer could pull it off. Now, with three hours of the game under my belt, I feel pretty excited about Andromeda for a number of reasons.

Let’s get to them, shall we?

The opening is strong
Before letting me get to the game proper, BioWare showed off the opening cinematic, which sets the stage for Andromeda. During the events of Mass Effect 2, the civilizations of the Milky Way begin the Andromeda Initiative, sending vessels for each civilization filled with thousands of explorers to find a new home in another galaxy. Each vessel is led by a Pathfinder, a person in charge of finding their respective species a new home.

A little more than 600 years later, these ships reach Andromeda, with humanity waking up to find itself in a strange, dangerous place. You play one of the two Ryder twins; their father, Alec, is humanity’s Pathfinder. Within half an hour of waking up, you, your squadmates, and your father are exploring the planet that humanity thought would be its new home. Surprise: It’s a toxic, deadly wasteland currently being patrolled by the Kett, a mysterious race that doesn’t take kindly to humans.

The introductory segment, both the cinematic itself and the mission I played on the toxic planet, did a great job of introducing the new cast of characters and making me realize how high the stakes are for humanity as well as the other races. I don’t want to delve too much into specifics here given that BioWare games are largely a story-driven experience but I will say that the setup that leads to humanity searching for other planets has its fair share of comedy, action, and tragedy, and is utterly enticing.

The characters are worth getting to know
During the second part of my demo, I was given free rein to run around my ship and talk to both the crew and squadmates I found. Cora and Liam, your human partners, are fun, passionate people who want to get away from the life they lead but also yearn to talk about it. Vetra, a Turian, acts as the ship’s stern mother, caring for her crewmates while also being coldly analytical. The Asari Peebee is impulsive and flirty, responding to my attempts to get to know her with, “Buy me a drink, and who knows what will spill out of my mouth.”

Squadmates often chatter amongst themselves when you’re out exploring places. I took Vetra and Drack, the squad Krogan, out on a drive and they chatted about a mutual friend and boasted about their own combat skills in an amusing manner.

Perhaps the biggest draw of BioWare games are its characters. The reason I was nervous about Andromeda was because I was uncertain about whether I could be seduced by this universe again and fall in love with a whole new cast of characters. However, after spending an hour talking with each of the squadmates and learning their anxieties and quirks, I found myself wanting to spend more time with these people.

The combat is more engaging than previous entries
While the gunplay is still a little disappointing, Andromeda embraces the RPG powers of the series and turns everything up to 11. You’re not locked into a class system like you were in the original trilogy, so you can mix and match both biotic and technical powers as well as health and combat buffs. With so many powers and abilities, you can create your various kinds of power loadouts and switch them on the fly.

Want to be an invisible rogue who can sneak around and deal critical damage while also throwing enemies into a wall with telekinesis? Or maybe you just like setting enemies on fire with grenades or levitating them and throwing them into their comrades or explosive barrels? These are all things you can do.

There’s simply a lot of variety in the skill system and combat encounters, so much so that I was disappointed when I had to put down my controller and leave the booth. In previous Mass Effect games, the combat was engaging enough to serve as a means from transporting you from story beat to story beat. However, in Andromeda, it’s wildly fun and I can’t wait to get back to hurling foes across great distances with super powers.

Exploring is actually an exciting activity and not a chore
Andromeda harkens back to the first Mass Effect’s sense of exploration, where you were allowed to roam entire planets and not the sort of corridors that 2 and 3 forced you into. This is another design decision that I was anxious about since, while bold, Mass Effect’s planet exploration could get quite tedious since they were largely just moons that occasionally had treasures or a single sidequest on them, and Dragon Age Inquisition’s large open-world segments, though filled with content, left me feeling cold.

During my segment, I was allowed to explore a single planet so I can’t speak to how much planets vary from one another. However, the one I rolled across in my Nomad, Andromeda’s answer to the Mako, was massive, lush, and filled with a variety of missions and random enemy encounters that were engaging. I passed massive geysers and green floral life, getting in firefights with pirates, as I searched for a transponder. There was a sense of wonder as I turned through valleys and peered up at the peaks of mountains, airships zooming across ridges.

Without having explored any of the other planets in the game, I can’t really speak to whether or not Andromeda as a whole does anything noteworthy with the ambitious scope of these planets. However, I was really impressed with what I did get to see during my time rolling around the plains in my ATV and exploring stations embedded in mountains. It's an activity that manages to nail that Star Trek feeling of being on an away team and exploring a dangerous, mysterious environment as opposed to the Star Wars-esque intergalactic war tone of Mass Effect 2 and 3. Hopefully it's a feeling that remains consistent across all the locales you can explore but we'll have to wait until release to find out.

It feels like a proper Mass Effect game
This is perhaps the hardest point to nail down, because it exists in that sort of nebulous, esoteric, and perhaps slightly nonsensical space: What does it means for a game to feel like something? Can’t you just simply put it into words and say “Andromeda is a Mass Effect game because it follows design principles the series has always followed” or something to that effect? Which, sure, yes, that is a thing you can do.

However, for someone who has an emotional attachment to Mass Effect, or any game I suppose, there’s also something that exists beyond logical. A sense of knowing when something is right or wrong within a series – it’s inherently emotional. And as someone who adores this series, Andromeda hit all those notes from the start. The revised theme music that played during the introduction, the sequences of characters slowly getting to know each other while also trying to navigate the chaos of their own lives, the ridiculous action sequences, the occasionally clumsy dialog and equally goofy character animations – it’s all here, for better and for worse. However, I think ultimately that's a net positive. What I played feels like Mass Effect, down to the bone.

Mass Effect Andromeda releases on March 21, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

For more on Mass Effect Andromeda, you can check out this list of 50 tidbits I noticed during my preview as well as our cover story content by clicking on the banner below.