Cruising Andromeda: My Time With the New Mass Effect

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Cruising Andromeda: My Time With the New Mass Effect

Recently, EA dropped the newest Mass Effect title, Mass Effect: Andromeda. Much of this week, I took a little time every day and saw just what was under the hood. While I was actually quite satisfied for the most part, some strange issues cropped up that left me more than a little cold.

Mass Effect: Andromeda starts 600 years after Mass Effect 2, and actually started just after that game, so you're playing a branch of Mass Effect that doesn't immediately follow Mass Effect 3. An interesting note, really, and one that makes it worth paying attention to. Basically, someone--a group called the Andromeda Initiative--was paying attention to all of Commander Shepard's dire warnings about the Reapers, and thus decided to make humanity a multi-galaxy concern.

Naturally, it doesn't go as expected, and the "golden worlds", a set of Earthlike planets found in various chunks of the Andromeda galaxy, turn out to be a whole lot less golden than projected. But there's potential in these golden worlds, and your character--either Scott or Sara Ryder, a brother-sister duo with some family issues--finds him- or herself unexpected promoted to the rank of Pathfinder, who basically handles the initial landing and clearing of potential outpost space. Your Ryder also has to figure out just what happened to the other major arks, giant spacefaring vessels sponsored by the major scientific races: Asari, Salarian and Turian. Where the Krogan ark is is unclear, but I suppose it's assumed that the Krogan are still wobbly from the Genophage. Interestingly, these Krogan have used the time traveling to Andromeda--a 600 year trip spent in cryo-sleep--to build a natural immunity over time to the disease which has improved their viability from something like 0.001 percent to a hefty four percent.

That's the kind of face that could launch a thousand plot ships, but it's not without flaw. EA Character designs are as creepy as advertised, for example, and watching eyes bulge and roll crazily in their sockets is a woefully unnerving experience. It's not so hard to get used to, though, and I found myself saying, before too much longer, this is just bad animation; let's get back to the story.

The monolith challenges posed another problem; frankly, if I wanted to play Sudoku, I'd buy a newspaper. Reactivating monoliths is a big part of the game, and necessary to advance the plot. In order to do so, users have to "hack" the consoles that activate the monoliths, done by finding the equivalent of alien numbers and inserting them into a grid in which no row, column, or sector is repeated. Yes, that's the same rule as Sudoku, and I hate that so much of this game depends on a number puzzle.

My first encounter with an Architect, a largely optional boss battle, gave me another point to note. Advance warning of ultra-high-level monsters would be welcome; fighting an Architect is a multi-stage battle that takes a lot of gunplay to win, and I got about two thirds in before getting socked by a combination of attacks that couldn't be blocked by cover, element exposure and multi-enemy ambushes.

Yet with these points in mind, there's still little doubt that this is a broad and sweeping science fiction epic with twists and thrills enough for two games or more. Some significant problems are here in terms of balance and gameplay, but EA has offered up a lovely little package that doesn't do a bad job at all of carrying on a new branch of an old, familiar continuity, taking idealism and both destroying it--Andromeda is a bet against Shepard's success--and embracing it, in that they expect to build thriving colonies in a whole new galaxy. In the end, it's mostly fun, and that's what Mass Effect: Andromeda offered.

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