A defense of Mass Effect: Andromeda's tired faces and cat-squid loverboys

I stared at the TV in disbelief. My Mass Effect: Andromeda save file stared back at me. "15 hours," it read. Had I really been playing this game which had been widely panned (it holds a Metacritic score of 71% from critics and 4.9 out of 10 from users), for 15 hours? I looked again. Yep, I sure had. And you know what? I liked it.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was set to be a soft reboot for the series after the original trilogy wrapped in 2012. Featuring a new protagonist, new supporting crew, even set in a whole new galaxy, it shot for the stars both literally and in terms of scale. You play as Ryder, and it's your job to find humanity a new home in the Andromeda galaxy. As a Pathfinder, you'll need to explore planets, gather resources, face off against dangerous aliens, and rescue missing ships carrying other species from the Milky Way. All while bringing the most sex-able aliens aboard your ship, of course.

On a scale of one to ten, Andromeda certainly is a video game. All the foundations from previous Mass Effects are there, plus some new wrinkles to keep players engaged. That said, it is definitely not without flaws.

Tired faces abound, with plastic-looking humans and aliens alike staring straight ahead in dialogue, stiff and expressionless (if you're curious, Eurogamer has an excellent article summing up why that is). Textures sometimes pop in or fail to render at the correct resolution. Visually speaking, it's an unappealing game. But that's not the worst of its problems.

Twice I had to reload the game because I couldn't interact with a critical door or call for an extraction. Combat is a slog at higher difficulties, but not because the AI feels like it's employing complex tactics - enemies are bullet sponges while you feel as fragile as wet paper. I find it annoying to have to switch gears in the Nomad just so I can go uphill. Platforming, which the game demands a surprising amount of, feels imprecise. Crafting takes too long and the process is convoluted.

And yet I can't deny I'm having fun. Certainly not as much fun as I've had with other games, or even other Mass Effects. But I've circumvented the game's issues where I can (always making sure I have a backup save and turning difficulty down, for example), focusing on what I've always liked most about the series: characters and story. And Mass Effect: Andromeda has both of those in spades.

Mass Effect Science Theater 3000

In Mass Effect: Andromeda, your main crew consists of:

  •  Peebee, a blue-skinned manic pixie dream girl 
  •  Jaal, a let's-all-talk-about-our-feelings cat-squid guy who wears a high-tech monocle 
  •  Vetra, a military brat who hides a heart of gold behind a tough girl persona 
  •  Drack, who is basically just Clint Eastwood if Clint Eastwood was a lizard-dinosaur-man 
  •  Cora, a no-nonsense psychic warrior who's frustrated with her position 
  •  And Liam, who... okay, I'll be honest, I can't think of anything to sum up Liam aside from "kind of boring" 

Then there are the secondary characters, who stay on the ship:

  •  Suvi, a scientist and believer in intelligent design with a heavy Scottish accent 
  •  Kallo, the quiet but knowledgeable Salarian pilot of your ship 
  •  Lexi, a practical and to-the-point doctor 
  •  Gil, engineer and all-around flirt who knows the ship couldn't run without him 
  •  And SAM, your artificial intelligence, who is definitely not going to go all "humanity must be destroyed" on you (I swear!) 

These are all unique individuals, with their own reasons for being part of the Andromeda Initiative. They're well-defined, and I often find myself picking squadmates not for their combat prowess, but because I figured they would have interesting things to say to one another.

If you think you can safely ignore some of these, the quest ‘Movie Night’ will show you just how wrong you are. An optional quest, Movie Night becomes available shortly after Jaal joins the party. Liam presents Ryder with the idea of an evening with Space Netflix and popcorn so that the crew can have some downtime to relax and bond. From there, players need to fetch a film, snacks to munch on, better snacks, alcohol, a sound system, and so on.

In Andromeda, I was actually getting to know everyone. What's more, I liked them.

Actually acquiring each item is incredibly easy, but you won't be able to move on to the next piece of the puzzle until you've exhausted all dialogue options with your crew. In other words, you need to get to know these people in order to make progress on the quest. Oh sure, you could just mash buttons to skip over everything, but where's the fun in that?

As I followed each step of the quest, I found myself caring far more about my crew than I had anticipated. Playing through the original trilogy, I'd limited my attention to one or two crewmates - but in Andromeda, I was actually getting to know everyone. What's more, I liked them. My reward was this heartwarming and genuinely funny scene, where every member of the crew gets a moment to shine:

(Note: video is from FluffyNinjaLlama, not my own playthrough)

Watching that, I can't help but smile. So maybe Andromeda is rough around the edges. Janky, even. It's not pretty, combat is just okay, and the crafting system is a grind. But it's got heart, and I love it for that.

Oh, and jump jets - those are pretty fun too.

Feeling inspired to give Andromeda a try? We've got several guides to help you out, including where to find the missing Arks, a loyalty missions walkthrough, and a collection of all the Mass Effect: Andromeda glyph solutions (trust me, unless you're big into Sudoku, you're gonna want that one).

Sam Prell

Sam is a former News Editor here at GamesRadar. His expert words have appeared on many of the web's well-known gaming sites, including Joystiq, Penny Arcade, Destructoid, and G4 Media, among others. Sam has a serious soft spot for MOBAs, MMOs, and emo music. Forever a farm boy, forever a '90s kid.