Role-players have had a great year so far. First, Horizon: Zero Dawn, then The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Now Mass Effect: Andromeda has arrived after many years of eager anticipation. You can say goodbye to spring, that's for sure.
The last of those game is more accessible than the others. It's the only one of the three that is multi-platform, so finally Xbox One and PC gamers also get an RPG to sink their teeth into, alongside their PS4 and Switch chums. The big question is, would they want to?
Our answer would be yes, we think so. Although there are caveats. Several, actually.
Mass Effect Andromeda review: A huge game world
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a massive game, with so much to see and do outside of the main campaign that you could be lost in a fog of fetch quests for weeks. Much of it is unnecessary if you're the sort of player who couldn't care less about the detail and minutiae of the new galaxy in which it is set, but we're the sort of players that must complete everything on offer. Everything. And there is plenty.
After the last Mass Effect trilogy ended, was complained about, then ended again, Bioware knew that it had crafted a sci-fi mythos almost on a par with Star Wars, but what to do with it? The former trilogy came to a definitive conclusion, so a new adventure and setting was to be crafted, new characters too. That meant an awful lot of new backstory and exposition was needed, which makes Andromeda bloated at times.
Its pace suffers as a result. But in return you get a detailed, rich gamescape that, by the end, sets up future chapters well. Hopefully they will be leaner, presuming you have a lot of knowledge already, so the groundwork here should set you in good stead in future. Think of it as a new Spider-Man or Batman film – every so often we need to be told the origin story again as part of yet another reboot – but it pays off in the end (well, almost).
In terms of Mass Effect, the reboot/sequel this time actually has a simple premise. You are a human on a quest to colonise new worlds in a far galaxy, Andromeda, as part of a wider, multi-species initiative. Things don't quite go to plan though, with the giant space arks of the other races disappearing, and you are soon given the role of pathfinder and having to discover new planets to inhabit.
This brings you in contact with a few new alien races, including the biggest threat this time around, the Kett, and so your adventure begins.
One interesting aspect to the campaign is that, not only can you customise your lead character to your own visual parameters, you can choose to play as either Scott or Sara Ryder, brother and sister twins. Previous games in the series have allowed you to play male or female characters, but not one of two different people.
Mass Effect Andromeda review: Thunderbirds are go!
It doesn't really make much difference in the long run, but is a nice thought and much needed in a games market dominated by male heroes, with one or two exceptions. The only issue is, whichever you choose, they'll suffer from one of the game's biggest caveats: poor character animation.
To be fair, Mass Effect: Andromeda looks amazing on the whole. There are many planets to visit throughout the story, with huge open-world landscapes to explore, and they each look individual and stunning. From the ice-covered, Angaran resistance planet of Voeld (Hoth anyone?), to the sulphur-barking toxic playground of Kadara, the vistas are beautifully rendered – even more so on PS4 Pro in 1800p and HDR.
However, during conversations, animation can look plastic. At times, Scott or Sara look like Thunderbirds puppets, not only in their movement but with dead eyes and blank expressions. We particularly like Thunderbirds (Gerry Anderson's original anyway) but it does distract from an otherwise visually rich game.
The animations were tweaked a bit for a day one patch released by Bioware slightly before release, but we expect this to be addressed and improved further. It needs to be.
We also expect the litany of bugs to be wheedled out. Or, at least, we hope they will. Slightly dodgy animation aside, it is these that irk the most and stop Andromeda being the five-star game it could have been.
Having played the vast majority of side missions, as mentioned, we found a fair few that were broken – often to the extent that they couldn't be completed. Sometimes waypoints remained even though we'd completed that segment. Sometimes they didn't appear at all, so we couldn't continue. And sometimes characters we were meant to meet at a mission point didn't show, again leading us to a dead end.
We did find that some of these bugs could be circumnavigated through quitting and reloading, going back to an earlier save game or heading back to the Tempest (your ship) and to the planet again, but these are all experiencing-breaking fixes. The bugs shouldn't be there in the first place.
The same goes for graphical glitches, with the occasional shimmering texture, lackadaisical background pop-in and, at times, floating enemies sitting at odds with their Frostbite Engine-fuelled surroundings.
Of course, Andromeda isn't the first RPG to have such issues – not even the first Bioware game – but they are irritating to find after such a long development and testing phase. There has been a five-year gap between the last two Mass Effect games, after all, and this is a triple-A game we've been awaiting with baited breath all that time.
Mass Effect Andromeda review: Crafting and depth
Perhaps because of that wait we're willing to overlook some of the issues though. The size and depth of the game certainly lives up to the hype.
Combat has also been tweaked significantly to the extent where it feels more like The Division or Destiny than previous Mass Effects. Jet packs have been added to characters, so verticality comes into play during fast-paced skirmishes.
And while battles, like exploration, are conducted in a third-person view, they feel like multiplayer first-person forays. They can be tricky to get to grips with initially, they are so quick and you are so under-powered, but you soon get the hang of it. Better weaponry and powers help too.
Character development, in fact, is essential in Andromeda, as it is in 99 per cent of role-playing games, and Bioware has finely tuned its systems to ensure it is as smooth and quick a process as can be. It is easy to assign different abilities and powers to your lead, as well as the accompanying NPCs on your team – of which you can take two at a time into fights, as in earlier games.
You no longer have to rely on looting or vendors for the best weaponry though. Crafting has been introduced to the series and while it can be a chore to collect the right amount of materials, elements and augmentations to research and develop new guns, armour and the like, it is highly rewarding when you use something you build yourself to take off the top of a Kett soldier's noggin. It's not as intuitive as in some games – the latest Zelda especially – but a good addition that we think will be refined for future games in the series.
That's Mass Effect: Andromeda in a nutshell. It feels like a new beginning that holds great promise once the less welcome aspects are ironed out – partly through bug fixes for this chapter and partly through gameplay choices for subsequent outings.
It won't float everyone's boat, there's far too much bloat and noise for many, but there's no doubting its ambition. Bioware has exhibited a fine mastery over storytelling many times in the past and does so again here. The direction, over voice-acting especially, is also top drawer.
It just needed more polish to be a game of the year contender. As it stands, it offers a lengthy, in-depth and, ultimately, satisfying journey. You'll just need to accept that it won't always be a smooth one.