Thanks to Xbox for the Code!

Troubled Stars

Love it, or hate it, the end of Mass Effect 3 left a lot to be desired for many people. Bioware created a generic cut-paste end to a beloved franchise that caused a lot of sour reactions from gamers, and fans alike. So Mass Effect: Andromeda was a chance to put all that behind them, clean the slate, soft-reboot the ME franchise and chart a new course to the Andromeda Galaxy.

It kind of worked, but the game leaves a lot to be desired unless you update to patch 1.06.

It's not hard to see that ME:A has some problems, since it had a very troubled development - however - what we have is a decent-enough sci-fi romp with some flaky story-telling and flow issues wrapped around the Frostbite Engine and a lot more shooting than in previous ME games.

Exodus

You take the role of the female or male Ryder twin, Sara or Scott and to begin with you're tagging along for the ride with your dad, Alex. Without delving too deep into spoiler-ville, things happen and you end up taking on Alex's role as Pathfinder here in the Andromeda Galaxy where things have gone to hell in 600 years, and all of your Golden Colony worlds are frankly a bust.

You're catapulted into a big adventure that has you face off against the Kett, a new alien race.

Limited Customisation

One of the cornerstones of the ME experience is in character customisation, and frankly, the character editor is pretty vanilla with a lack of options. Bioware have promised they're going to add more options and features to the character editor, but it comes to something when you can get a better looking character out of the Elite: Dangerous Commander Holo-Me editor.

Also the ME:A character editor suffers from the same issue as the previous editors, in that what you may make in the editor doesn't directly reflect to what you'll see in the game.

It's by no means terrible, but it's certainly not as stand-out as it could be. Which is pretty much my same feeling for the whole game.

First Steps

There's a decent prologue that introduces you to some key characters, a few mechanics and opens up with a nice free-to-explore tutorial area. It gives you a good grounding and lets you feel your feet with the new movement, traversal and combat system. Without dwelling overly much on the mechanics of it, you can boost jump, dodge boost and generally move around a lot more. Whilst there's still cover in the game, it encourages you to keep moving and never hunker down in one place for too long.

Skill Up

You're going to earn XP from battles and doing quests/side missions/tasks - you can put that into any of the skill trees you fancy, from the tech tree, the biotic tree and so on. You can build your own Ryder and choosing skills reminds me of ME 3. Later on you can also respec your character and then there's Profiles too, which let you save a skill loadout storing up to 4 of those profiles to get bonuses later on as you switch between them to adapt to various combat situations.

It works, and it makes combat a lot more tactical on the harder difficulties.

New Ship, New Frontier

Once you acquire your new ship, the Tempest and get the early moments of ME:A out of the way you're left to chart a new course in Andromeda, landing on various planets that open up as the story progresses. You build a team of new companions and build up your relationships with them, so far, it's pretty much Mass Effect 1 without the military campaign background and Shepard. You'll romance crew members if you like and interact with a vast cast of characters off the ship.

Some are better than others, but I won't dive into that too deeply - spoilers and all.

I do like the new ship, it looks nice, it has a different feel to the Normandy inside and out and once you get used to the layout it's easy to get around.

What I really like is the way that ME:A captures the feeling of exploration, of the unknown, and of alien worlds. Some of the planets are massive and will take a long time to explore fully, find every secret and do a plethora of side quests. Fortunately for those planets with a lot of explorable terrain there's a new vehicle on the block, kind of like the Mako only a lot better.

Nomadic Wanderers

Early on you'll get access to the Nomad and this ATV is a great addition to the game. It can be toggled between 4 wheel drive (fast) to 6 wheel, which provides more grip and allows the vehicle to climb steep slopes and zip over terrain that other vehicles would find troublesome. The Nomad can also boost and jump, it can be upgraded and fitted with a variety of addons - like the Tempest it has no weapons which further ties into the idea that the Andromeda Initiative are explorers and not a military force.

Whilst the Pathfinder can fight, the Imitative prefers to equip its vessels with stealth tech and other exploration tools, as well as mining probes - which you can deploy in various mining zones around the planet to get some resources you'll require for the hefty research and crafting system.

A New Way to Get Around in Space

In ME:A there's a new way to move around in space, and since Bioware built the map as 3d space you can traverse, you control the Tempest from the galaxy map by selecting a system to begin with, then the ship will fly there. Once you arrive in-system you'll be able to navigate from planet to planet, choosing (thanks to a patch) to skip that flight animation if you've seen it one too many times.

You're able to scan certain systems and find secrets on the map. Scanning things is a little tedious and after you find something interesting on a planet - often the reward is just not worth the time you've invested finding that secret/location.

The new traversal system for the Galaxy Map is a welcome addition though and a nice change from the 2d space piloting of the old series.

Ryder, Pathfinder, Errand Boy/Girl

There's a lot to see and do in ME:A, much of it doesn't feel as though it's there to advance the story though - a lot of the tasks are downright irritating and I've left so many unfinished compared to the quests and side-quests on offer, some of which are pretty neat and I won't spoil anything here. I just feel as though Ryder has become the Galaxy Errand Boy/Girl for this cast of characters and no one can do a damn thing on their own.

Help, my space cat is stuck up a space tree in space!

I think at least some clearer pointers for the tasks would help people out, because at the moment, many are random locations on the large planets and frankly the game isn't that absorbing to drag me back to find every thing I missed as I completed the quests and side-quests.

But hey, there are some great quests here and being able to establish colonies on viable worlds adds to the whole vibe of being Galactic Pioneers a long way from home looking to put down roots.

No More Paragon/Renegade

This kind of makes sense, this isn't Shepard. Ryder is different and to model this Bioware have introduced a dialogue system that has various types of choices, logical, emotional, sarcastic (not the real name). There are interrupts, but they're rarely as interesting as the Paragon/Renegade ones in the original trilogy. They work though in the context of this one.

R&D

As you explore the various worlds you'll scan things of interest, you'll build up a nice collection of Research Points from the various tech trees. These can be used to research new weapons, equipment, armour, augmentations and so on for the crafting system. The development part of the console brings you into the build menu, where you can craft the newly researched weapons/armour etc.

It's pretty simple on the surface, robust and allows for a nice slew of combinations to make very interesting weapons later on.

Enemy Interactions

There are various types of enemies in the game, some of them are more dangerous than others and they'll all provide a swift demise if you're playing on the harder difficulties. Their AI ranges from good to downright stupid at times - though some of the Kett enemies are pretty clever at popping you out of cover with some decent tactics now and then.

The combat is fun, it can be frenetic and with the boost jump you're able to use a new layer of tactics to get the drop on your foes.

Friendly Fire Support

Your AI team-mates have been improved since patch 1.06 and they function a lot better now. They can trigger combination power attacks with each other, and you, and with a simple orders system they can be told where to go, who to attack. You can't order them to trigger individual powers as you were able to in the original trilogy.

Beautiful Vistas

ME:A has a few frame-rate issues on Xbox One but the game's worlds and graphics are pretty impressive. Some areas slow down more than others and Bioware are working on fixes for this, the last patch didn't seem to improve these areas yet but it did help bring the game up to spec.I really do love some of these planets though, and once again in that area ME:A nails what I imagine it'd be like to stand on an alien world -- even if radiation is going to burn my skin off regardless of my suit or shields.

Shoddy Animations

Until patch 1.05 and 1.06 many of the game's facial animations and animations in general were frankly shoddy, they really dragged you out of the immersion and just brought the cut-scene crashing down to Earth. If you're interested at all, Youtube is full of ME:A animation fail videos. I've said all I will on this subject - it's a shame to see in a AAA game.

The Sound of Music

The sound, the voice acting (except for Addison) is pretty good. I'm really liking the music to the game and it's got that right vibe for me. There are some stand-out performances in ME:A and I'm quite fond of the VA for Sara and Scott Ryder, though Scott's VA does remind me of Nolan North.

Seamless Multiplayer

You can ignore the ME3 style multiplayer and you won't lose out on much save for the co-op experience. You can still interact with the Apex Strike forces via the single player Strike Teams and that lets you send out squads in a system that's similar to some of the Assassin missions from AC: Brotherhood and so forth. You'll get loot, credits and materials/resources from the system to use in single player and you can access it from the Nexus space station, or your central R&D console on the Tempest at any time.

You can also jump into Multiplayer by launching the Apex missions as a MP mission.

The MP is very similar to ME3 and for fans of that particular style of MP it should go down a treat.

Save Anywhere?

Someone asked me if it was Save Anywhere - yeah, kind of, you can save at most times during the exploration of most places unless you're on a particular story mission, side mission, or exploring one of the game's many dungeons (Remnant Vaults) where the game will switch to auto-saves, which are pretty good and you don't have to backtrack too much when/if you die.

Pathfinder

I've had fun with ME:A and whilst it has quite a few problems in terms of the story flow, and glitched out missions/progression blocking bugs (fixed in p 1.06) - it's still a fun game for me. If you treat it as a stand-alone experience, a new take on Mass Effect and don't try to compare it to the original trilogy of games you might find a lot to enjoy here.

It's hard however not to compare it to the likes of Witcher 3, or Horizon: Zero Dawn - and when you see what those games accomplished you kind of wish that Bioware had taken a lot more care with ME:A. This may or may not be the last ME game in a while if rumours are true, we'll see though, I for one enjoyed it enough to want to see where Andromeda takes us next and hopefully for ME:A 2 when that rolls around eventually, it'll be on a slightly better journey than ME:A.