Video Games Preview: Space Politics and Alien Sex Make A Grand Return In Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda is going to be one hell of a game. From the moment I was introduced to the space-bound crew of the Ark Hyperion, hurtling as we were to realms unknown, I knew I was in this for the long haul. I will admit to having little prior experience with the Mass Effect franchise, but the strong opening had me hooked from the start. As a member of the Ark crew, you find yourself cryogenically frozen, and travelling towards a distant planet 600 years away in the hopes of finding habitable land upon which to build your new colony. You, and those you journey with, have a one-way ticket, and there’s no turning back. Of course, once you awaken, everything goes wrong, and it’s here that Scott or Sara Ryder’s true mission starts.

Stranded on a hostile alien planet, the first thing I was struck by was how gorgeous everything looked. While this should be the last thought on your mind when you’re being set upon by mysterious electric clouds, it was impossible not to marvel at the lovingly rendered rocky plains, and the sheer graphical depth of the world. The opening level is brilliant and bright, and traversing the world is an absolute pleasure, with every space of the world filled with something new and exciting. Tasked with finding your wayward companions and avoiding the planet’s lethal storm system, as well as its toxic environments, Ryder sets off through the world with Liam, one of your many eventual companions. It’s not long before you encounter your first major threat, and are thrust into battle.

While fans of the franchise have often complained of the changes made to the combat system in Mass Effect 3, Andromeda seems to have rectified this issue with sleek and well-designed gunplay. The automatic ducking system and rocket-assisted boosts allowed for easy cover and defence while encountering the enemies of the first mission, new aliens known as the ‘Kett’. The cauliflower monsters present a rather generic challenge for the opening level, though their story will be expanded on in later missions. I was impressed by the targeting system, which was super stable, but still allowed for freedom of movement. Too often I’ve been wronged by shaky controls and wild shooting, but what most other games get wrong, Andromeda does with ease.

Once you recover your companions and fight your way through to the Kett stronghold, the action starts to heat up. Tasked with shutting of their main reactor, the system that controls the deadly clouds haunting the planet, Ryder must battle through waves of the Kett, strategically placing their companions to cover both flanks and protect the engineer in charge of the assault. While missions such as these often prove frustrating, with the correct technique and placement, Ryder is able to defend the engineer with little difficulty. But once again, nothing is as simple as it seems, and the shutting down of the reactor brings a whole new set of problems for the team.

Once you find yourself back on the Ark Hyperion, you’re given more of a chance to interact with your companions, building your relationship with them and gaining more of an understanding about their character. The binary dialogue system we were introduced to (which has since been adapted into a larger choice-based system) meant that Ryder was more of a reactive than incendiary force, and what I played of the game gave little indication of who Ryder was, or their motivation. That, to me, was the main weakness of the missions that I played. Often, the dialogue system meant that the main characters and their companions were bland and one note, with little to involve you in their story or make you care. A little of the character work in the later mission that I played worked a bit better to flesh out Sara/Scott’s relationship with their companions, such as Vetra Nyx, the Turian of the piece, and Nakmor Drack, the Krogan, however, I felt that it didn’t do enough.

The second mission that we played took place later on in the piece, with a lot of the politics and action of the game having been established in the break between these chapters. That was part of the reason why I felt so lost during these sequences. Those familiar with the franchise will be aware of the deep lore and strong political tensions that run through the franchise alongside the epic space battles. As one unfamiliar with this, I felt rather out of my depth, with the story thread building towards epic space conflict, warring galactic empires and petty squabbles between differing races that all seemed to meld into one blurry view of Andromeda’s complicated space politics. This played out on spaceport Kadara through various interactions with Sloane Kelly, your Turian and Krogan companions and a charming alien informant.

Now, speaking of aliens… there’s several brand new races in Andromeda, but one in particular has people talking, and for understandable reasons. It was in this later mission that I was introduced to my first Angaran, who Ryder meets on Kadara, a port that functions not unlike Mos Eisley. The minute he opened his mouth and a gravelly Australian accent came out, I knew I was in trouble. Looking rather like a man-lobster-shark hybrid, the Angaran is a beautifully designed and charming character, and I’ll honestly be a little bit devastated if he isn’t romanceable. With so many gorgeously rendered aliens roaming the worlds of Mass Effect, it’s a wonder that anybody gets any work done, let alone saves the world. I know where I’d rather be.

Once I’d been reluctantly pulled away from this gorgeous specimen, I found myself traversing the Badlands of Kadara in search of a Kett transponder, which would aid in our quest to find the Archon ship. Little information was given during this mission as to the mystery behind the Archon, but even without these details, the mission was greatly enjoyable. It was in the Badlands that Ryder encountered the Nomad, the spiritual successor to the much-maligned Mako of the original game. Thankfully, this handled brilliantly, and allowed you to traverse the sandy plains with ease. I was most amused by the Nomad’s ability to climb almost impossible vertical ledges. There’s something inherently funny about watching a ten tonne vehicle wheeze and struggle to mount a hill at an almost ninety-degree angle and stall halfway up. Amusement aside, the Badlands mission was a very Borderlands-esque level, with Ryder traversing a desert landscape, fighting through more bland enemies and being chased off by mammoth aliens, all while running on very little ammo. Eventually, I had to cut my losses and run for it, pursued by a particularly determined pink dinosaur-looking thing that only stopped its pursuit once I’d accidentally fallen several meters down to the plains. Once the transponder was found, the mission was over, and I was left to traverse the beautiful desert wilds of Kadara, exploring every brilliant corner of the world.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is going to be a massive release, and given more of a chance to get to know the characters and the worlds within the game, it could become BioWare’s pièce de résistance, eclipsing any expectations that may have been dampened by the relative disappointment of Mass Effect 3. With the barest glimpse into the multi-layered space conflict of Andromeda, it’s managed to make me an almost immediate fan, and I can’t wait for the final build. I was most impressed by its graphical capability, and believe that it has some of the most realistic facial animation and rendering of any title currently on the market. The combat is neat and handles well, and the range of characters to interact with is both impressive and daunting. Fans and non-fans alike are sure to be sucked by its eventual release with what is a gorgeously and lovingly executed game.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is released on March 23rd for Playstation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows.