Finishing Andromeda was deeply satisfying. It’s the first Bioware game I’ve played since the original Mass Effect trilogy and, by any measure at all, it is very much a Bioware game. That said, it is – if you’ve been paying attention to all of the conversations around it – a very polarizing game.
Despite what you may have heard, however, it isn’t all bad. Indeed, the majority of Andromeda’s content is good, a portion of it is even excellent. But there are very many flaws, simply because it is very much a Bioware game. Like all Bioware games, it does some things very well, and some things very poorly simply because that’s just how Bioware makes games.
First, here’s what I think doesn’t work.
1. The filler
This has been talked about before and it’s a problem that has plagued Bioware games for a good while now. Unless a quest involves either the protagonist, the antagonist, or one of Bioware’s usually rich cast of supporting characters, questing is downright crap. There are so. many. varieties. of fetch quests that my head actively hurts from trying to think about them.
Here, of course, they’re scanning quests. You find a thing, scan the thing, are told to scan two more things like it, are given an objective after scanning all three, you then kill a few things, get XP, and cross one item off the dozens and dozens of superfluous crap that clutters your space-journal.
I see no reason at all to have these pointless tasks in the game other than to pad out the world itself, but the worlds that Bioware has created are not made more meaningful in any way by telling me to hit rocks for science. For the inevitable Andromeda DLC + sequels, please give me actual quests.
2. The variety of enemies
I consider it mildly ridiculous that I run into roughly the same variety of dinosaur and stealth-dog on most of the planets that I visit. It feels like the wildlife is something that someone decided to drop into the game ten minutes before release, as opposed to something that was thought out and built into the world as the game was being developed.
Andromeda’s main antagonists also suffer from the same problem. There are 4 flavours of Kett – Kett with gun, occasionally invisible Kett with gun, buff Kett with chaingun, miniboss Kett with shield and energy orb. Later, depending on a choice you make (skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want spoilers) you may face Krogan Kett with gun, but that doesn’t really add a lot of variety to the enemies you face.
And all of the non-Kett humanoid enemies might as well be a homogeneous gun-wielding blob because it doesn’t matter if they’re Asari, Turian, Human, Salarian, Angara, or Krogan. They fight in exactly the same way – shoot, run for cover, leave their flanks exposed, and scream when I detonate a fire combo on their outlawed arses.
At least with the Remnant, the unfortunate aliens that are required to fill the empty shoes that the Reapers left behind, there are a few more varieties. There are little drone Remnant, two-legged they-remind-me-of-puppies Remnant, floaty laser-beam Remnant, angry shielded tripod Remnant, and big hulking stompy Remnant. It isn’t a whole lot, but it’s better than the Kett.
The lack of variety is grating because after the first few hours – the first few of very, very, very many if you’re going for a completionist playthrough – combat stops being challenging. Once you’ve seen every variety of enemy that the game has to offer, there’s little that the game does to surprise you. Sometimes someone will pull out a big stompy mech in an attempt to be intimidating, but after forty or so hours even the stompiest of mechs fail to impress.
Bioware has, traditionally, done consequences very, very poorly. And Andromeda’s wonderful open worlds are a terrible missed opportunity because of this.
As an example, when you finally unfuck Eos enough to set up your first outpost there, you’re presented with a choice: to prioritize either a military or scientific outpost. The choice, the game tells you, is significant. The first outpost set up by a Pathfinder is a statement of sorts about the intent of the initiative itself – so will you make that statement with bullets or with bunsen burners?
I was deeply excited by this. Eos was a world that needed scientists. I had found all sorts of cool Remnant crap, so I decided to plonk down a bunch of scientists to study it. Now let’s fast forward a couple of hours to Voeld, which is basically Hoth but with stealth-dogs. It was overrun by the Kett and was home to a military base of Andromeda’s native species, the Angara. If ever there was a world that needed a military outpost, it was this one. Turns out, there was no choice.
And that’s an incredible waste, because it could have resulted in such terrifically dynamic gameplay. What if we were allowed to set up a scientific outpost on a world thoroughly unsuited for it? It could have opened up quest lines about Ryder fighting off Kett simply to help the outpost survive. A military outpost, on the other hand, could have resulted in quest lines about Initiative and Angaran forces working together to drive the Kett off Voeld and actually liberating the planet.
But ultimately, the choice you make is largely irrelevant. It didn’t matter that I prioritized scientific research because Andromeda did not – in any way – respond to my choice. And this problem permeates the entire experience.
(Big spoiler here, by the way, in relation to the Salarian Ark. Skip to the next heading if you want to avoid it.)
During the rescue of the Salarian Ark from the Kett, you’re presented with a choice not unlike the one Shepard faced on Virmire. Either save a bunch of Krogan scouts or rescue the Salarian Pathfinder. I chose the Pathfinder and Drack was pissed. He growled at me angrily, said he didn’t want to talk about it when he got back to the Tempest and … well, that’s it, really. I could still take him out on missions, still chat with him (as if nothing at all happened) on hub worlds, and basically faced no consequences at all for the choice that I made.
Honestly, he should have left the Tempest. He should have been angry enough that someone from the Initiative – someone he was fond of, making my betrayal even worse – put his people second again. And it should have cost me something to make that decision. Instead the only thing that happened was, later on in the game, I had to shoot the occasional angry Krogan in addition to all the other Kett I was shooting.
Bioware, if you’re reading this and wondering how to make your next RPG better, consequence is how you do it. Consequence, not choice. Because there are choices a-plenty in Andromeda. But none of them really seem to matter.
God, how I hate that woman. Bioware, if you stealth patch in the ability to pop her out of an airlock, I will love you eternally, with all of my tiny, blackened soul.
There are other things that don’t work about the game but those are the ones that stood out for me. Now, here’s what I think works.
1. The filler
Okay, okay, okay, bear with me. I know I said the filler doesn’t work and I meant it – those are garbage quests. I only enjoyed them because of how I went about completing them.
When I finally decided to tackle most of the filler, I had visited all of the planets, completed about half the loyalty missions, and was utterly sick of my increasingly loaded space-journal. So I’d hop onto a planet, pick a marker, and start driving. And it was then, in those quiet moments between all the plot stuff, that I really fell in love with the worlds that Bioware created for Andromeda.
Those places are gorgeous. Jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly, drool-inducingly gorgeous. I loved the quiet moments in between doing things that were ‘important’, during which I would turn my brain off, drive around a planet, and mindlessly scan and shoot things until a page of my journal was less full. No matter which direction you look in, no matter which planet you’re on, every goddamn frame is screenshot-worthy.
Those quiet moments made me really appreciate the Nomad as well and brought back memories of how much fun it was to drive around planets in the original Mass Effect, never quite knowing what I’d see when I got to the top of a particularly big rock. The difference is that in the original ME, I would typically have seen another rock. In Andromeda, there was always something to stop and admire.
So when you need to take a break in Andromeda, pick a planet, pick a marker, and drive. It doesn’t matter what rubbish task you’re wrapping up. The scenery will make the trip worthwhile
2. The combat
It took a little getting used to because of how the cover mechanics were changed between the original trilogy and Andromeda – and also because I came to Andromeda fresh off a Gears 4 playthrough. Once I got the hang of it, though, I enjoyed the combat more than I have in any other third-person shooter I’ve played, ever.
The entire experience is an incredible power fantasy. There are satisfying weapons that handle differently, both across weapon types and within subtypes – the Avenger, for example, is markedly different from Valkyrie, and both are different from the Thokin and the Sweeper. Combat finally encourages movement around the battlefield. Enemies will flank you, sneak around cover, and generally try their best to shoot you in the back of your head.
And the powers. Oh ho ho ho ho. By the end of the game I had a 1-2-3 combo that could shred through everything except the toughest enemies in the game. First, Overload to prime a tech combo. Then Incinerate to detonate the tech combo and prime a fire combo. And finally Energy Drain, to detonate the fire combo and restore my shields. Basically, I was nearly unkillable and things were slowly dying in pools of supercharged electricity while choking on the smoke of their own roasted meat.
It. Was. Glorious.
While very little you do actually matters, Andromeda does a very good job of making you think that something you do is going to matter. I gave you the example of Krogan vs. Salarian in a previous section. There’s another in which you have to decide whether to destroy a Kett facility and kill the prisoners inside, or save the prisoners but leave the facility intact. Another in which you decide the fate of the Asari Pathfinder. Another still in which you decide the fate of the Turian Pathfinder.
These are all things that are made to feel like they matter and they’re incredibly powerful moments when you actually experience them. When you realise how minimal their impact is on the overall narrative later, though, it’s hard to keep from feeling a little bitter.
But Andromeda also gives you plenty of opportunities to make terrible, spur-of-the-moment, snap decisions. The interrupt system returns, but in a manner that is much more meaningful than the Renegade/Paragon interrupts of the original trilogy. Again, I’m going to present you with a spoilery example. Skip the next few paragraphs if you don’t want to know something interesting that happens on Kadara.
Spoiler starts here.
There’s a quest on Kadara that involves helping Sloane Kelly, the head of one of the criminal factions meet with the head of another criminal faction. My job was to ensure she wasn’t stabbed (or shot) in the back. Standard stuff. Since I needed to establish an outpost, playing nice with the locals was important – that’s why I was involved.
We get to the cave – because of course criminal-types meet in caves – and I find myself face to face with a guy I knew and liked. Well, thought I knew anyway. He was obviously the no-good sort, but in an entertaining sort of way. I had a bit of a soft spot for him. Turns out that he had been using me to disrupt Sloane’s operations. And he had a sniper hiding somewhere safe with a gun trained on Sloane’s head.
The interrupt told me to choose whether or not to save Sloane. There was a very short timer. I was trying to think about it. I liked the guy, but he used me. But he seemed like a decent chap. Sloane was plain nasty. But I came to make sure she didn’t get stabbed in the back. But wouldn’t the galaxy be a slightly better place if she had a bullet lodged firmly in her forehead? Perhaps this guy would do a better job of running Kadara’s gangs.
And then, because there just wasn’t enough time to think about it properly, I tackled Sloane, saved her life, and shot my traitorous ex-friend in the arm as he tried to make his escape. Because that’s what my gut told me to go. Good choice or bad, I went with her to keep her from betrayal. And, come what may, I was going to do my job. Sloane was grateful and, when she made her appearance in the final mission, I was pleased that I kept that bullet out of her head.
Spoiler ends here.
There are so many moments like this in Andromeda. One each with Jaal and PeeBee are among the best I experienced in my playthrough. They’re amazing, go-with-your-gut decisions that you only really feel the impact of afterwards once the dust has settled, the bodies have been counted, and you have a spare moment or two to really think about what you did. There should be more of those, but the ones that are present are done incredibly well.
4. The final mission
Obviously, this contains spoilers. You should avoid this entirely if you don’t want to know anything at all about the last mission. And I would recommend you go in blind, because it’s very, very good.
Anyway – this comes second to the ME2 suicide mission in my opinion. Whatever major decisions you’ve made in the game ultimately show their (somewhat meagre) impact here. You’re dropped into the area on the Nomad and you drive, like a maniac, with starships duelling in the sky above you. As you draw closer, characters you’ve saved make their appearance. The Pathfinders of the different Arks, the races whose Arks you’ve saved, the outlaws and their leader, the Angara – they all show up and fight beside you or in the skies above to buy you time to do what needs to be done.
In the boss battle itself, different members of your squad show up to help – not just the two you take with you. I distinctly remember seeing PeeBee and Vetra; there could have been others but it was such an almighty clusterfuck that I barely had time to drink in the details.
In that final mission, when you unite all of Andromeda to face the Archon and end the Kett menace in Andromeda, the entire goddamn cluster feels united. When you drop into battle, it feels like an all or nothing kind of moment. Even though I knew it wasn’t possible for me to lose – because it’s a Bioware game and it is impossible to lose a Bioware game – the experience was borderline terrifying.
In front of me, above me, all around me were Andromeda’s natives fighting for their home and Milky Way refugees fighting to earn their home because there was no way back and nowhere else to go. The stakes felt real, personal, and profound in that final mission. And as far as a culmination of an adventure goes, there isn’t a whole lot else I’d ask for.
5. Loyalty missions
Wow. Just wow. Bioware have unparalleled mastery of short-form storytelling. Give them a small scene, a simple set, and a couple of characters, and they go absolutely ham. The loyalty missions are easily the most compelling pieces of content that Andromeda has to offer. Even Liam’s mission – and I am unimaginably bored and irritated in equal measure by that man – even his loyalty mission is top notch. Heck, it’s probably one of the best missions in the game, second only (in my opinion) to Drack’s.
And speaking of Drack …
I love that old Krogan. I love him to bits. He’s the best. That’s all.
And that brings my incoherent thoughts to a close. You’ll notice that I haven’t talked about some things. Like the story itself, or SAM, or the companions. These are things I’m ambivalent about. They didn’t quite fit in a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bucket. But I do have things to say about them, oh yes I do. And I fully intend to talk about them. At some point. Later.
So if you stuck with this to the end – bravo, you glutton for punishment, I love you very much. What you can look forward to next are my thoughts on why Andromeda is a game of beginnings and why Andromeda’s open worlds are a missed opportunity. So do come back, won’t you?