Mass Effect: Andromeda. Courtesy of BioWare

Seven Impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda

The anticipated sci-fi role-playing game has some big shoes to fill, but with a little polish, it can shine.

In the past month, critics haven’t been too kind to the much-anticipated Mass Effect: Andromeda. Complaints of cringey character animations, bland dialogue and tedious missions hamper what should’ve been an immediate success, considering the series’ Game of the Year winning past. As I’ve discovered though, first impressions aren’t everything. So after four weeks of playing pantsless on my couch (by hour five it just sort of happens), here are seven impressions I’ve gathered.

1. Andromeda takes time to hit its stride. You know that feeling you get when you return to a house you haven’t lived in for years and nothing feels the same? That’s Andromeda. Adjusting to characters and storylines 600 light years away from the original Mass Effect trilogy proves tough. Protagonist and galactic pathfinder Ryder isn’t the series’ iconic Shepard; and the ship crew aren’t the diversified collective from the Normandy. I wasn’t wild about the first few hours of the game, mostly because of the pacing. But once you hit double-digits, Andromeda embraces its heritage, prompting you to say, “Now this is Mass Effect.”  

2. Side missions overwhelm you in the best way. Just landed on a new planet? Kudos. Just don’t stretch your arms or you might hit some poor bystander who needs a favor. Side missions make it possible to sink 20-plus hours into Andromeda without scraping the central storyline’s surface. Fetch quests, as in all RPGs, prevail, but with some digging, richer encounters await. I met one of the game’s toughest bosses just doing a side mission. Stay woke, friends.

3. Playing the alien for once is refreshing. On your quest to colonize planets, you’ll meet all kinds of blue-skinned, reptilian-born creatures, but they’re not the aliens here—you are. As a human, Ryder’s seriously outnumbered in the Andromeda galaxy, and the game doesn’t let you forget it. The subject creeps into every conversation, creating a divisive obstacle you’re inspired to overcome.

4. Combat almost feels too good. Andromeda’s overhaul of character classes and skill sets gives the series a freedom it’s never had before. Versatility matters when you’re fighting different enemies, and a blast when you’ve got the means to do it. Another plus to combat is the newfound verticality. Ryder’s jet pack launches pretty high, so you can easily take that ground battle you’re losing to the rooftops. Developer BioWare makes greater use of this during missions; some are very platform-heavy.

My one gripe with gameplay comes from removing the all-encompassing power wheel. This used to let you freeze live battles to not only execute your powers, but access more of them. In Andromeda, you’re dealt a meager three powers at a time, unless you change your set. With so many abilities to unlock, this just seems counterproductive.

5. Scanning adds five years to my life. Andromeda’s crafting system runs deep and rewarding once you find all your resources, but first you need research points. One way to get them is by scanning items with Ryder’s handheld device. Most games have a variant of this, but none execute it as tediously as Andromeda does. It would help if Ryder could run while doing it. It would help if I knew what to scan, instead of jabbing buttons and oscillating my arm around like a fleshier Walmart fan. As central as scanning is to gameplay, why not make use of it in a meaningful way? My suggestion is with loot crates. It takes me sniffing every bush on the planet to find them because A), the scanner ignores them, and B) I have the vision of a potato. Help me out here, BioWare!

6. The best writing’s hidden in plain sight. There’s a moment early on in Andromeda where Ryder, recovering from a traumatic event, receives a pick-me-up email from Drack, a creature of Krogan species (sort of resembles a buff-daddy iguana). I open it to find … a bunch of low-resolution pictures of Drack’s favorite guns. Moments like this remind me why I love this series. The writing evokes a kinship with your crew. There’s entire terminals dedicated to chat logs with them, which update for your amusement.

7. Relish exploration because no planet feels the same. As a pathfinder, it’s your job to locate and vet out planets for colonization. These worlds vary vastly in terms of size and climate. Everything about the icy recluse of Voeld conveys it’s bitingly cold, and damn near uninhabitable. Meanwhile Havarl bears a strong resemblance to Avatar’s Pandora; all lush rainforests and vibrant backdrops. It’s beautiful —  especially when something from Jurassic World isn’t making you its chew toy.