PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One - EA - £49.99

A once green planet is burning in the black of space, its atmosphere corroding further with every cycle of the sun. The occupants are troubled, worried for their futures as nations divide. Some are ruled over by a furious orange-skinned despot, others by an imperious ice queen. An imbalance has developed that could tear apart alliances that are already unstable.

Oh, and on this planet, there’s a new Mass Effect game being launched.

Casting aside the charismatic Commander Shepard after concluding his story in controversial fashion at the close of Mass Effect 3, Andromeda brings a new hero to the fore. Pathfinder Ryder is in charge of exploring beyond the Milky Way, trying to locate a hospitable world for humans and other allied species to colonise. Waking after six hundred years in cryogenic storage, Ryder has a twin who remains in stasis, providing an emotional undercurrent that develops as the narrative unfolds.

As ever, players must choose a pair of companions to accompany them on each mission, and most of the usual races are here – the cheerfully homicidal Krogan, the cerebral blue Asari and the inscrutable Turians all return along with a few new species, both friend and foe. 

 

The immediate threat from the previously unseen Kett is palpable, a nasty bunch of aggressive bone-carapaced zealots shown to experiment on prisoners of war. Meanwhile, the mysterious Remnant and their ancient monoliths hold the key to habitable life on a series of planets that were once deemed ‘Golden Worlds’. It is these habitats that the Pathfinder must locate and restore to their former glories so they can be successfully colonised.

The explorable planets range wildly in design, BioWare showing their aptitude in creating believably strange locales, from the barren deserts of Eos to the Hoth-like ice and snow of Voeld. I particularly liked the bioluminescent mushrooms, gravity wells and electrical circuitry of Havarl, home world of the Angarans, where huge creatures swim through the firmament above your adventure.

Perhaps taking inspiration from the way that The Force Awakens remixed familiar elements in order to restart the Star Wars universe for a fresh audience, Andromeda harkens back to previous games by introducing the Mako-like Nomad, bringing vehicular planetary exploration back to the series. The Nomad is able to scan the surface of any planet for resources, with deposits of nickel, copper and the familiarly valuable Element Zero.

Resource management is once again paramount to mounting an effective campaign, with weaponry and armour to craft alongside optional upgrades to the Nomad. Planet scanning is slimmed down from previous incarnations - personally, I almost miss the meditative aspects of mining from ME2 and even found myself craving the mini-Reaper attacks that kept players on their toes in the third game. 

Since the first ten hours of the game were released on EA early access last week, a lot has been made of the inconsistencies in the game’s presentation. There’s no doubt the lipsync can seem a little off at times, but I’m not sure Andromeda has deserved all the hysterical negativity surrounding it. There were minor incidences of enemies or teammates not quite behaving as they should, but in my play-through, it was nothing like the (space)shipwreck that some have suggested. 

The character creator is perfectly capable, although I admit somehow I unwittingly modelled my Ryder on swarthy Chelsea centre-forward Diego Costa. There’s perhaps a nagging feeling that the Frostbite engine that brought us Battlefield 1 could be working slightly harder to smooth over the rough edges in the visuals, but there are still picturesque moments as you holster your gun to stare into unfamiliar skies over alien landscapes.

Andromeda truly shines in battle, where the combat is meaty and enjoyable, the series’ much-loved biotic powers returning and better than ever. With a carefully chosen set of abilities and squad members, there are many different avenues of attack to explore, from stealth to melee with a number of variations inbetween. There is even the option to load up other combat profiles mid-game, perfect for the commitment-phobe who doesn’t want to keep one style for the whole campaign.

Aside from the firefights, the soap opera side to Mass Effect is also as effective as ever. Despite adjustments, the dialogue wheel won’t please everyone, but it still provides a decent amount of choice and variance, and the chance to romance your chosen squadmate (whatever bizarre anatomy they may possess). The storyline may not quite reach the heights of the original trilogy, but it is still an engaging yarn, concerned as ever with the themes of science against religion and nature.

All of this interaction takes place in a convincing universe, with dozens of available missions, ranging from galactic to domestic in scale. Taking on more open world features has both expanded the reach of the universe, making it feel more natural, but also slightly impinged on the travel to action ratio, which can stray close to frustrating at times.

While there are undoubtedly some major concerns surrounding Andromeda’s genesis, I felt it was still an enjoyable game with an almost fearsome amount of content, especially factoring in the excellent multiplayer that will hopefully prove the equal of its predecessor. Sent out like a probe into a fiercely contested market, this new incarnation of Mass Effect might ultimately fall short of the better titles already released this year. But for those already smitten by the Salarians or cuckoo about Krogans, there isn’t anything else that will satisfy like Andromeda.

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