This is a guest post by: Sally aka Liara Tsoni’s Waifu.
Let us venture boldly forth, frozen for 600 years, into a brand-new galaxy. Over-run with zany aliens, super creepy hostile aliens (that we swear totally aren’t the Collectors from ME:2 with a new skin), ship-dissolving energy clouds, and an alternatively aloof/hostile alien robot race that that basically reminds me of the Geth. If the Geth had sex with a couple of next year’s Razer peripherals and cases.
The path to Andromeda is littered with the picked over remains of the Trilogy’s plot. You’ve got your weird monolith beacon thingies that control other thingies. You have a crazed alien overload dedicated to tossing wave upon wave of his limitless and super-expendable underlings at you (and everyone else, but mostly you), and you have a rag-tag group of plucky bastards you call your team. Your team features an incredibly diverse array of one-dimensional nudists (Liam), obligatory angry krogran (Drack) with no backstory, obligatory turian who’s great at shooting stuff (Vetra – a cute lady turian this time), a one-dimensional biotic (Cora) whose major driving force is basically the fact that she wants to hang out with you because she totally-didn’t want to bone your dad, rather than murder you for stealing the Pathfinder spot from her. There are a few other shipmates who are honestly a bit more interesting with respect to backstory. One of them, Lexi, the ship’s doctor, has possibly the most insufferable-yet-adorable personality. She reminds me of Dr. Crusher on TNG. Basically at this point, you’re left with two reasonably well-written squad-mates: Jaal, the only Andromedan to join your crew (though the speed at which he speaks is obnoxiously slow), and PeeBee, the Asari who looks and acts like she’s half raccoon.
“Oooooh shiny technology! Can I have it Ryder, puhhleeeeeeeaaaasssseeee??????” I’ll be honest, you’re either going to find her annoying as shit, or she’s going to remind you of a few people you dated before because the sex was great, but dumped because they were way too trashy and disorganized, did too many party drugs, spent their rent money on tattoos, and “forgot” their debit card (but still brought their ID, for drinks, tee hee) on one too many dates. I felt that this was my chance to risk a happily ever after this time around, or at the very least, get to see an Asari boob. (I saw two, and they were great, as far as vidja game boobs go).
Shepherd is uniquely playable as a male or female twin (I chose the latter for my first tour of Andromeda). You can use the character creator to make them very disparate-looking indeed, ie: make them two wildly-different skin colors and then select primary colored hair, bizarre tattoos (I say this as a fairly well-tattooed person), bizarre makeup (you can choose from either kind of normal, but too-subtle makeup or bizarre ICP-meets-cyberpunk, and there’s no middle ground). Or you could try to approximate a medium brown skin tone like I did and just pick a weird hair color for Ryder. Either way, Ryder is well-acted, interesting, capable of a fairly broad range of emotion and expression. You don’t get to choose between Paragon and Renegade. Instead you have 2-4 responses, which can range from romantic, autistic, brusque and businesslike, hilarious, or nasty. After a few minutes, you’ll know how you instinctively want to respond to NPCs and squad-mates. I often felt frustrated, that I had no idea how my responses would be perceived. What effects they would have on the plot of the game, or what impact major decisions would have on any potential sequel. At a few points in the game, you’ll need to make a relatively binary choice with zero knowledge of the potential ramifications, and the decision comes down to siding with the option that will avoid pissing off the party you think you’ll need most.
The voice acting, for the other NPCs as well as Ryder is stellar. Sometimes I wished the Ryder sister had been voiced by Natalie Dormer (who voiced Lexi) instead, simply because I enjoy how her voice sounds the most. There’s no lack of good talent anywhere, however. Since this review is coming about a month after the release (I know, I know, I’m sorry), I previously had written a bunch of mean things to say about the animators’ lineage and to offer insights into spurious theories about their romantic encounters with farm animals. Since the recent release of the 1.05 patch, I’ve elected not to carry that over from my first draft. I’m not kidding, the prior facial animations were BAD. You can and should YouTube that shit. With the new patch, eyeballs no longer look like ping-pong balls with the retina drawn on. Plus, the anti-piracy stunt 1.05 pulled is downright hilarious.
I played this game in 4K, using an NVIDIA 1070. My gaming rig was more than adequately prepared for the gloriousness and supreme beauty of Andromeda, and hoo-boy, did Bioware ever deliver. This game is GORGEOUS. You need to play it in 4K. You want to. And, you will thank me each time your retinas are seared right out of your skull with beautiful renderings of alien worlds. You’ll need to change your underpants. However, there are frame-rate issues, even on a PC with high-end hardware. Certain actions predictably stutter, like fast movements in conversation, or intense battles where everyone is dashing about and shooting. However, I only had the game crash twice in 70 hours of game play. Once when it refused to load a save after 10 hours of non-stop play, and once when something particularly intense was occurring about 2/3 of the way through. There are a few buggy quests. 1.05 fixed some of the them, and added a few more buggier quests. Which I’m sure Bioware will patch, because they seem like simple fixes (quest can’t be completed) and they’ve been responsive as of late.
Honestly, the fantastic graphics and excellent voice acting make the game good enough for me. I’m a super-fan of Mass Effect (and several other franchises) for the saga, rather than the combat. The combat in Andromeda offers a lot of personal preference for how you want to approach it. You don’t pick a combat specialization at the beginning and love-hate it for the rest of the game. You can pay money to re-spec your talents. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with in-game currency so I finished with 171,000 credits having spent maybe 35,000 credits on model ships for Ryder’s bedroom, because nothing says “hey sexy humans and alien babes of all genders, I’m a fun guy/gal” quite like die-cast models. You can also customize your Adept/Vanguard/Engineer/etc… profile through your SAM interface. You’ll see. It’s pretty handy, if you can remember to do it.
You can scan/mine/research/upgrade/purchase/sell/mod through the most atrociously byzantine system, designed by the Dark Lord Him/Herself. You thought spending 10 hours of a 45 hours ME:1 playthrough on inventory management was unfortunate? Welcome back to nostalgia land, except more confusing. So you want to mod that cool gun you found? Ok. Well you’ll need mods. Do you have the perfect mod? No? You need to Research them in the R&D window. Well you need research points. And there’s three different types. You find them mostly by scanning your environment as you play, using the excruciatingly picky and slow omni-tool scanner. The Dark Lord help you if you’re color blind because you need to select the most orange thing on an orange/green field to scan. There may be multiple things so you will need to slow-walk and slow-rotate Ryder to fully scan the environment. It’s tedious and irritating. (Why can’t I just pulse-scan a room and click on the highlighted stuff? Or use Witcher senses?) Now, you need to Develop your mods in the R&D window. Damn, you need minerals and resources for that. It’s ok, you can obtain them on your journeys and by planet scanning. Also your load-out where you mod and check your inventory is located half-way across the damn ship from your buy/sell and R&D terminals, which are very close together and someone is always standing in front of them (usually Lexi, but sometimes Liam, Vetra, or Drack).
Quests vary from the repetitive to the highly repetitive. I felt at times that the number of hours needs to play Andromeda was artificially inflated by forcing the player to bop back and forth to the five colony worlds and the Nexus dozens of times. The basic idea, aside from the story line, is to complete fetch quests, kill-enemy quests, activate the tower quests, etc to gain both points to use to take colonists out of cryo, and achieve 100% viability for each colony. It’s honestly not difficult, just tedious. Many of the quests feel repetitive or contrived. If you clear an enemy area, it will probably be back the next time you visit the area again. At least you can drive around in the exceptionally cool Nomad, featuring zillions of neat paint jobs. You can upgrade the Nomad with different shields and other upgrades, but you can never shoot anything with it. It has 4WD mode and 6WD mode for rock crawling that would make any Moab-loving, Jeep enthusiast jealous. You can run over people and PeeBee will yell something hilarious. It doesn’t have guns. You don’t need guns, but they sure would make repetitive enemy areas easier because every planet has something massively wrong with it environmentally that taxes your shields quickly.
Meteorology is an integral part of the plot, which sounds weird, but it honestly isn’t once you understand why. Solving the meteorological issues involves doing an incredibly brain-taxing, extremely alien and unfamiliar, non-linear, non-Euclidean ancient-Andromeda alien puzzle:
Sudoku with fun shapes.
Combat is….weird. It’s like they tried to take the combat highlights of ME:1, 2, and 3, and put them in a juicer. Cover is automatic. Ryder doesn’t always face the correct direction. Cover often gets in the way of shooting. There are many situations where the enemy has the high ground and you’re left fighting in a basement. Some guns use plasma, some use bullets, some use charge packs, some use energy beams and cool downs. You have unlimited options for stuff to chuck at your enemies: bullets, beams, missiles, VI drones, stealth, shields, biotics, explosives, flamethrowers, omni-blades, katanas, Krogan warhammers (looks like a Super Mutant club from Fallout 4), and your squad-mates. I found the ability to reconfigure my combat abilities handy for when I wanted to choose squad-mates with varying specialties (ie: an engineer and combat specialist, so I reconfigured to be the team’s biotic). Squaddies are handy. Not super handy. Not totally useless. You’re clearly the most dexterous fighter, but especially at lower difficulty levels, your squad-mates will garner a few kills per enemy wave. There are at least three different factions of enemies (not including wild beasts), who will just fight each other, and they will kill each other. If you see this, feel free to hang back and let them pick each other off for a while before wading in to the fray. Once you get there, they all seem to team up on you.
TL;DR: Overall, I feel that ME: Andromeda is a solid stand-alone game, albeit an almost-inadequate follow-up to the epic trilogy.
The Pros: Fantastic music, 4K graphics that leave a light tingle in your fun bits, voice acting worthy of a new space opera, infinitely customizable combat (Ryder only), Nomad is awesome, infinite romance options
The Adequate: Combat is cool….I guess, some characters are great, some lack depth regarding certain squad-mates, politics of invading another galaxy then colonizing planets belonging to another space-faring race could have been handled better, though it wasn’t handled badly
The Cons: limited diversity of aliens, Andromeda is kind of empty, the ending feels either contrived or BADLY needing a sequel (unlike ME:1, which was could have been a standalone story), fucking omni-scanner, the R&D/inventory/scanning/mining axis is very frustrating, lots of stuff is still buggy
The Stellar: the one thing Andromeda does so exceptionally well is toss the player into a galaxy that is both incredibly oppressive and claustrophobic, yet simultaneously a bottomless yawning chasm of empty, perilous unknown filled with danger and uncertain choices. It provides both opportunities to be scared shitless by things way beyond your control, while the labyrinthine never-quite-done quests serve as giant “fuck you” to completionists.