Mass Effect: Andromeda starts off by dropping you into the middle of the action. You’re part of a large-scale colonization mission in a new galaxy, things have gone wrong upon arrival, you’re part of a team sent out to investigate, and your ship has crashed. This sort of opening is one of the series’ strengths: each game alternates between active sections and quiet sections, and when it’s on, it’s on.

The game puts on the brakes right after that beginning, though. You immediately learn a scanning mechanism, and so, instead of dealing with the consequences of the crash, you’re stopping constantly to look around in your environment. Which slows things down, but at least it does so in a way that fits into the narrative context: it’s your first time on a planet in a new galaxy, so of course you’re going to look around! And it’s not so far out of character for the series: Mass Effect games have always been dumping facts into your codex, so while it’s more extreme here than in prior games, it’s a difference in degree instead of in kind.

One of the codex entries that you have the option of reading discusses first contact protocols: you’re supposed to do everything you can to avoid shooting at new species that you meet. And, sure enough, a few minutes later, you meet an alien in a tension-ridden setting.

At which point the first contact moralizing goes out of the window: your options turn into shoot first or else let them shoot first and return fire immediately. Which wasn’t surprising: you’re playing an action series, it’s pulpy, it’s a lot more in character for the series to introduce an alien species that’s mysteriously evil than to build a game where finding ways to avoid shooting was a real possibility. I’d like to see a game that seriously grapples with that sort of First Contact question, but I don’t expect Mass Effect to be that game.


Equally unsurprising but more disappointing was what that intro mission gave me next: the alternate objectives. If this were from the original Mass Effect trilogy, you would have had a straight shot through the level, and the game would have used that to excellent narrative effect. But this is the BioWare that made Dragon Age: Inquisition; that meant an open world map, multiple objectives to choose from, and with some of those objectives in active conflict with the dramatic direction of the level.

I thought about skipping the objectives that didn’t fit into the flow: I didn’t trust the game to give me alternate objectives without losing the flow of the level, and I figured that I’d have another chance to explore the world later. Ultimately, though, most of the objectives were close enough to my path that I completed them. And, as it turns out, you actually can’t return to that initial world; I have no idea why.


I liked the game as a whole more than the initial segment; but this game really is not what I’m looking for in a Mass Effect game. Specifically:

  • They’ve added back in a manually managed inventory, and made it worse by sticking in a crafting mechanism.

The environments aren’t quite as littered with objects to collect for crafting as Dragon Age: Inquisition was, but it’s pretty bad: the scanning (which feeds into the research part of crafting) is a constant distraction, and there are ores to gather to feed into the construction part of crafting. And, of course, there’s an augmentation slot aspect of crafting, so you can’t even do a straightforward survey of weapon types and focusing on the ones that fit your playstyle, there’s a significantly more constrained resource on top of that.

  • The ability usage in combat was surprisingly restrictive.

They give you full access to the ability tree; there are some nudges towards limited specialization, but that’s fine, it still sounds like an improvement. Except that then there’s the way you use the abilities in combat: unless I’m missing something, you don’t have easy access to all your abilities during a fight, you have to put your abilities into loadouts, so for any given fight you can only easily get to three of your abilities. So, in practice, what that means for people who don’t really want to dive into combat is that we pick our three favorite abilities and never use any others, which is a disappointment: I don’t want to become an expert in the combat system, but I’d like to play around with it more than that, but instead a system that could have been freeing compared to earlier games turned out to feel more limiting.

  • The world building was way too pulpy.

I don’t expect a Mass Effect game to be the most subtle in terms of the questions it asks, but Andromeda is a step down, and the First Contact question that the opening sequence fails to range is at the core of that. You’re exploring a new galaxy, trying to build a home there with no backup; so if you run into trouble, you’re screwed. And it turns out that things go wrong right from the start: you don’t have to make trouble, it’s finding you already.

I didn’t like the way you had to fight with the Kett right at the start, but I can accept one unexplained bad guy. But there were these machines you have to fight, and I start to have more questions: we’re trying to learn about a new galaxy, focus on learning! And there’s a friendlier species that you meet in the galaxy; mostly you’re on good terms with the Angara, but there’s a group of them that you need to fight as well. And then then there are groups of criminals and other breakoff factions who came with you from the Milky Way: you get to kill your fellow humans too.

I could justify any of these individually, or maybe any of them other than the last one; but, except for the Kett, they all work squarely against the dramatic setup of the game. You’re a small, isolated group of settlers from the Milky Way, and are in an environment that’s already tearing you apart; given that, you need to understand your environment, you need to make allies, and you need to just stay alive! I’m certainly not going to claim that humans have historically always behaved peacefully when exploring new territories (quite the contrary), but this game isn’t setting up thoughtful historical analogies, either: to me, the thought process felt like “this is an action game, so we need to be able to shoot people, so shoot away”.

  • Too many fetch quests.

You show up on a new world, start at a big settlement, and everybody has something for you to do for them. And then you explore the world more, run into smaller settlements, and are given more tasks that actively work against the grand scale of the plot. (And then there are the cross-world tasks: find these minerals hidden in out-of-the-way places.)

Honestly, I’m actually surprised I didn’t mind this more: it turns out that, as long as I was given a reasonable emotional reason to go along with a quest, I was willing to do it. The only ones that turned me off were the ones that were telling you to do a certain number of a thing (find five crashed drones, or whatever); so I skipped those.

Which, you could say, is a strength of the game: in this as in many other areas, the game gives you a range of possibilities to explore, and it’s up to you as the player to decide what part of that range of possibilities you actually do want to explore. I think that’s mostly a cop-out, though: games as a whole give me a fine range of possibilities, so once I’ve picked a game to play, I want it to be the best of its kind of game that it can be, rather than being a half-assed mashup of lots of different options that it expects me to choose from.

  • The plot is either pretty good or pretty bad, depending.

It’s pretty good compared to the overall range of games I play; but this is a BioWare game, so a good plot is what I expect. And, compared to other BioWare games, this was definitely on the weak end: the overall story didn’t raise any interesting big questions (or, to the extent that it did raise such questions, it actively shied against taking them seriously), the companions and loyalty quests on average don’t reach the quality that I expect, and the major plot missions felt by the numbers.


Having said all of that: I’m still happy to have played the game. But I’m happy in the sense that the worst BioWare game is still a pretty good game; and this is the worst BioWare game I’ve played. This plus Dragon Age: Inquisition make it clear that the studio is going in directions that I’m not interested in, that play against their prior strengths, and that the new directions aren’t executed well enough to draw me in; and Mass Effect: Andromeda is a worse Mass Effect game than Dragon Age: Inquisition is as a Dragon Age game.

So BioWare is squarely off of my “will buy without asking questions” list. (Even for their RPGs; and I almost certainly have no interest in whatever Anthem turns out to be.) And I’m starting to seriously wonder to what extent BioWare still exists: it’s been long enough since they were acquired by EA for their previous culture and knowledge to have been significantly diluted.

They had a glorious run, though…

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.