At first, activating these terraforming devices is a thrilling journey into the unknown. Yet while stepping out of a Vault to see how the world has changed never quite loses its sheen, the formatted nature of these missions turns what should be the crux of the game’s adventure into a galactic to-do list. What’s more, these repetitive missions teeter atop an already massive pile of busywork that has been poured into these open environments.
Boy oh boy, Andromeda sure loves its open-world chaff. From conquerable outposts to “collect three things” style side-quests to mining minigames to a crafting system that you need a degree in to understand, Mass Effect: Andromeda is absolutely stuffed with Stuff for you to do. It’s the antithesis of Mass Effect 2, which stripped out a huge amount of subsidiary systems to offer a more streamlined, focussed experience. Having sunk dozens of hours into Andromeda, I can see why.
The problem with all this stuff is twofold. Firstly, so much of it is obviously filler. Any time an NPC asks you to collect or scan more than one of something, you know you’re on the rush-hour train to busyworktown. It also slows the game’s pacing to a crawl, and comes at the cost of so much else.
For example, the galaxy map is more or less redundant. Remember how in Mass Effect 2 “Anomalies” would lead to interesting side-missions? Not any more! Now they just lead to some additional resources. In a way this is fortunate, because the galaxy map has also been redesigned so that it considerably less efficient than before. Now it simulates your ship flying from planet to planet, and consequently scanning an entire system is interminably slow.
The broader scope of Andromeda also has a noticeable impact on writing and characterisation. Your party is easily the weakest of the entire series. Your starting companions, Liam Kosta and Cora Harper have all the personality of an Apple store, and Turian Mercenary Vetra Nix doesn’t fare much better. There are a couple of interesting characters. Drack is easily the standout character, an ageing Krogan warrior with a no-nonsense attitude and all the best one-liners, while PeeBee is a likeable, scatter-brained Asari whose clipped dialogue and non-sequiturs bely a troubled past.
This distinct lack of character can be applied to Andromeda as a whole, too. Considering we’re in an entirely new galaxy, there’s surprisingly little to be seen that’s different. Of the three new races introduced, the Remnant are essentially robotic Protheans, while the Kett are what you’d get if the Collectors from Mass Effect 2 found religion. Yet even these vaguely disguised throwbacks to the original trilogy are innovative compared to the weapons-grade nonentity that are the Angarans.
The Angarans are the only new friendly race in Andromeda, which is a shame because I’d very much like to shoot all of them. They’re supposed to be a spiritual and deeply emotional people who have become hard and wary of outsiders due to the bloody incursion by the Kett. Unfortunately, none of this comes across thanks to the atrocious voice-acting. Not only are the vocals flatter than a piano in a Wild West saloon, the voice-casting is bizarre to begin with (an issue that affects the game elsewhere too, most notably the camp-sounding female Krogan). There’s no soul to it. You can almost see the actor standing in front of the mic, script held out at arm’s length. Given just how much of the story concentrates on the Angaran plight, it’s amazing that this didn’t get picked up on.