Mass Effect is a brand that is synonymous with exploration, decisions with heavy consequences, intense combat, and fully realized lived-in worlds. With the exception of Mass Effect 3’s ending, the games have been well received by both critics and players. They are regarded as masterpieces of storytelling with an endearing cast of characters set in the backdrop of the highest-stakes in the galaxy.
With the end of the Mass Effect Trilogy in 2012, it was not long before speculation began to swirl around the future of the franchise. While 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition was delivered to players on the Frostbite 3 engine, fans began to dream and speculate of what developer BioWare’s next Mass Effect game could achieve on the newest hardware. After 5 years of teases of the franchise’s future, Mass Effect: Andromeda finally arrived on the scene and was a game-changer in every sense of the word.
Set in the new galaxy and separate from the confined ending of the last game, the player assumes the role of Ryder, a human Pathfinder looking for a new home for humanity. In this way, Mass Effect: Andromeda acts as a thought-provoking bridge to both 8th generation consoles and new fans of the series, offering an intriguing fresh start for players.
The following list outlines more than mere innovation on the previous games: it goes over the ways in which Mass Effect: Andromeda has re-shaped the beloved brand for the better while also laying the groundwork for an exciting future to the franchise.
15 Size Of Worlds
When you first land on a world in Andromeda, it may take some time to get acclimated to the idea that everything you see is not only reachable but also fully traversable and probably has a quest or enemy outpost waiting to be discovered. There is, of course, a link to the game’s narrative, which comes in the form of the planet’s viability. Upon completion of missions, clearing outposts or even bosses, the viability for human life on that planet increases. In this case, the game literally encourages you to simply explore and discover new areas of the map and doing so rewards you in setting up forward stations. These forward stations in turn act as a fast-travel point, allow you to edit your loadout, and even summon the Nomad, a six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle used for mining and traversal. One aspect of the game —that offers a healthy sense of scale for the vast worlds— are the patches of Remnant technology in the form of large, black looming towers and structures that offer their own challenge and rewards.
14 APEX Missions
As an ongoing side expansion to the main game, APEX Missions are unique and limited-time narrative-driven multiplayer matches set parallel to the main campaign. They play out similarly to the standard horde-based multiplayer matches with the exception that there is potential to earn mission funds for new gear in multiplayer.
With every new APEX mission, new mission details are provided that come in the form of new weapons, characters, limited-time consumables, and perks for the missions in question. These could also come in the form of a new boss character or playable character. Thus far, each APEX Mission has only been active for one week before switching over to the following one and, to keep things fresh, the mission details and maps have been unique to each specific mission. This ensures that they have a certain amount of predictability, but still keep the experience fresh week to week…if only Mass Effect 3 could have done this instead of relying too heavily on the Galaxy at War indicator.
13 Range Of Romance Options
From the moment you’re on your ship, The Tempest, and can walk around, Ryder has complete freedom to chat up anybody in the crew. Whether or not they reciprocate is up to the game, but the range is staggering.
In past Mass Effect games, romance options were limited to the squad members and a small handful of other characters. In Andromeda, however, if you are introduced to the character, and they are even a little important to the world, chances are good you can chat them up, which makes it become a wealth of choice for who you want Ryder to get to know them intimately. The developers either wanted to provide players with as many options as possible or they’re quite serious about increasing the general population. Of course, not all romances offer promiscuity, as most of the squad requires a commitment in order to see the romance complete across the game.
12 Never A Dull Moment
Between the deep exploration, romance options, combat encounters, side-quests, loyalty missions, remnant decryption puzzles and the main quest itself, Mass Effect Andromeda truly knows how to occupy every second of your time. Why not drive around in the Nomad and complete a few side-quests en route to your primary objective. You could take care of a couple of Kett outposts, and then hunt for minerals to craft that new piece of armour you patiently researched earlier only to be side-tracked by a mysterious Remnant structure? This is all in the realm of possibility in Andromeda. Where the other Mass Effect games were either too streamlined like in Mass Effect 2 or too empty like the original, Andromeda has so much crammed into it with so many easter eggs that it’s impossible to get bored. The amazing thing is that all of this content feeds into the main drive of the story, allowing this world to feel alive in its own right.
11 Traversal With The Nomad
After the clunky integration of the Mako in the original Mass Effect, and the hovering Hammerhead in its sequel, the Nomad is truly an all-terrain vehicle built for traveling long distances in Andromeda.
There are two main settings in the Nomad that lends itself to all sorts of difficult terrain: standard and all-terrain, which engages the Nomad’s impressive 6-wheel drive for steep inclines at the cost of speed. The Nomad, however, is much more than simply a vehicle: it is also a scanner. At any time while in use, you can activate the Nomad’s mineral scanner and then mine said minerals at the touch of a button. The Nomad also comes equipped with additional life support than your typical armour, so it is wise to use it well if life support is a factor on the planet in question. To top it off, there are a variety of different upgrades to increase overall performance as well as customizable skins so you can ride the sand dunes of Eos in style.
10 Frostbite 3 Graphics
Using the same engine as Battlefield 1 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect Andromeda benefits from the Frostbite 3 engine, which brings alien worlds to life with breathtaking scale, allowing the environment to shape the story of the Andromeda Galaxy. From the dense foliage on Havarl to curved architecture of Aya, the Frostbite 3 engine is the fulfilled promise of the density of Dragon Age Inquisition’s Thedas mixed with the stark details of Battlefield 1’s many theaters of war. The enemies, the draw-distances on the worlds, and even Mass Effect’s signature galaxy map benefit from a wide range of colours that lovingly show off the game’s technical prowess with pride. Even the combat runs smooth and clear in the world when a variety of enemies of different shapes and sizes come gunning for Ryder and their squad. Where the edges of past entries in the Mass Effect series seemed a little rough and unpolished, it is clear that the technical hardware leap has paid off in spades for BioWare on all fronts.
9 Ryder's Scanner
Many improvements of Andromeda over past games include specific activities in the world, but none are quite as personal as Ryder’s scanner. At the tap of a button, a scanning window appears courtesy of Ryder’s arm-mounted omni-tool that paints certain items in orange, indicating the possibility of a scan. Simply scanning an item allows Ryder to learn about it, or, as in many cases, only add to the mystery of the world. Fortunately, Ryder is linked to SAM, an A.I. that is fed all of the scanned data directly and will often chime in on the item in question. The game even features a prompt for the scanner with a slight vibration on the controller and an indicator in the corner of the screen to activate the scanner as something new is nearby. In fact, using a portable scanner, Ryder (and the player) can become more aware of their surroundings and even find hidden secrets to expand the rich Andromeda Galaxy.
8 Over-The-Top Powers
Combat powers in Andromeda have been afforded a couple of powerful upgrades that are sure to be the highlight of many combat encounters. While the biotic, tech, and combat powers have always been accessible for players to chain in a limited capacity based upon character class, there has never before been such freedom to do so. This is in large part to the fact that there are no more character classes in the truest sense of the word. Instead, after players are invited to mix and match classed based on how they upgrade Ryder. It doesn’t stop there - up to four Pathfinder profiles can be saved at once (each can be a different class with up to three different powers) and then be swapped on the fly in the middle of combat. Because of this exciting potential to chain combat, biotic, and tech powers with a variety of specialized profiles, combat is very over-the-top. Andromeda's combat has been perfected to a science.
7 Traversal With The Jetpack
As heroic as Commander Shepard may have been in the Mass Effect Trilogy, jumping was not one of their strong suits; in fact, the simple act of vaulting was a staple of the cover-based shooting, but not for environmental exploration. Fortunately, Ryder is much more nimble this time around, and it is in large part to the jetpack. It allows for an extended jump across the chasms of ancient Remnant vaults as well as a powerful vertical boost to reach difficult ledges and heights. There is even a dash that can send Ryder in a desired horizontal direction…and it all feels right and incredibly natural. In fact, it is difficult to fathom a Mass Effect game without scalable terrain now that it has been given such prominence in Andromeda. There is a deep and natural satisfaction to getting to a relatively out-of-reach destination with the jetpack and Ryder makes it look effortless and fun.
6 Power Of Melee Weapons
Remember how slow melee weapons like the omni-blade were in Mass Effect 3? Shepard had to line up a perfect hit and trigger a short animation to bring on the pain. In Andromeda, speed and power are at the forefront of the combat — and no physical weapon in the game feels more powerful than the melee weapons. In the time it takes to press the melee button, the attack is done, and the enemy has lost a substantial chunk of their health. It feels less like a forced QTE and more like a rapid punch to go at the end of emptying your thermal clip. This time, we are not limited to class-based melee attacks either: there is an assortment of melee weapons that are faster and more versatile than ever before. You begin with an omni-blade, but quickly graduate to brand-new prospects including a Krogan hammer and Asari sword.
5 Research & Development
New to Mass Effect is a very flexible and open-ended R&D in which many of the game’s rarest weapons, mods, and armour sets can be researched and then developed. That being said, only if you put in the work to uncover all of the required resources, which are listed as ready to be developed after the research has already been conducted. Research is unlocked by spending Research Data based upon exploration of the many worlds. Exploration is essential to not only adding Research data, but also for finding the materials needed to develop the items in question.
The most powerful items in the game are accessed via R&D, so players will want to take note. The Mass Effect Trilogy never conceived of R&D on this scale, opting for the limited approach of acquiring weapons and armour in specific locations of select missions in the games, so Andromeda once again moves in the right direction.
4 Deep Customization
Players of Mass Effect will fondly remember choosing armour colours, and customizing their Shepard to suit their play-style, but it always felt as if more options could be implemented.
From player outfit style and colour, unlockable Andromeda Viability Points (AVP) with completed missions, armour, and weapon mods, to Pathfinder Profiles, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s customization is unparalleled. As the Pathfinder, the world itself is customizable - AVP gives Ryder access to choose which citizens should be woken up from cryo-sleep. This option grants a permanent perk in the world from lowering merchant prices to offensive combat perks. Andromeda now allows Ryder to have tattoos and integrate a robust colour palette into both combat armour and leisurewear. Combine these two elements with the wealth of narrative choice in the dialogue options, the passion of each romance option, adaptive combat profiles, and this is easily the most customizable game in the series.
3 Smarter Dialogue Options
Gone are the blue and red respective paragon and renegade options of the series’ past. In Andromeda, there are four responses that can be given in most conversations: emotional, rational, casual, and professional. These choices can be interchanged from conversation to conversation to develop Ryder’s personality the way the player wishes. Instead of choosing the top answer to be good, the bottom answer to be bad, these four choices shape the nature of the dialogue, making Andromeda’s characters feel more grounded in the world they inhabit. This case is particularly true with Ryder, who can jump naturally from empathetic, to laid back convincingly in seconds. What grounds Ryder so well, though, is that the NPCs take these changes in stride, calling things out that they don’t like, or sharing their opinion on what was said. It feels so natural, and the dialogue is delivered so eloquently that it is easy to see the complexity in even the smallest characters. Take that, Commander Shepard!
2 Combat Motion
Gone are the clunky cover-based mechanics of the past. In Andromeda, if you want to stay alive, you’ll need to stay on your toes. The combat is so frantic that you’ll need to move around just to get the edge on your enemies. The jetpack proves to be an invaluable asset with its horizontal boost being the equivalent of a dodge. This makes strafing around larger enemies much more manageable. The action is very fluid and responsive to the controls, and fortunately: taking cover is easier than ever. Instead of a button, approaching cover while engaged in combat automatically triggers Ryder to attach to it, allowing for a few seconds of health regeneration before continuing the fight. The jetpack is also useful for jumping to higher ground in a firefight. The movement even carries over into some powers like Biotic Charge, which sends you reeling towards your enemies in a powerful surge of energy. All in all, it beats cowering in fear of the Reapers.
1 The Story
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a breath of fresh air for new players as well as series veterans. The story expands at your pace with missions that allow for much-needed deviation and exploration, but when following the critical path, it is tense, urgent, and daring. The dual nature of finding a home, and preventing the Kett from gaining an even stronger foothold in the galaxy serve the narrative well. In fact, the missions feel more like they are a product of a vast world, rather than a singular quest forced onto the player. They add greater depth to the overall narrative.
With each mission type, the world and the stands that connect all of its aspects together becomes a clearer image. They allow for the narrative to stand on its own, apart from the Mass Effect Trilogy. And on that note, while the original games did have a strong, focused narrative, Andromeda boasts a narrative that is largely built upon the experiences you have as an individual player as you explore the world — and that is a feeling many games strive for, but very few achieve.