Last generation's Mass Effect trilogy proved a successful sci-fi saga could exist sans Skywalkers, lightsabers, and Death Stars. Much like the original three films from a galaxy far, far away, though, BioWare's action-RPG series also set the bar very high, burdening future instalments with soaring expectations.
Mass Effect: Andromeda — a fresh start for the franchise on more powerful hardware — doesn't quite clear that bar, but nonetheless offers a compelling reason to revisit one of the interactive medium's most immersive, richly-realised original universes.
Upon creating your own galaxy-saving hero or heroine, Andromeda tasks you with finding a safe, inhabitable place for humanity to hang its collective space helmet. This is only the big picture objective, of course, as the game's massive size, scope, and open-ended structure will see you forging your own 50-plus hour character-customising, alien-combating, quest-filled path to that goal.
As with previous entries, you'll spend much of that time chatting up space-faring folks of various species — including your own AI teammates—and blasting holes in extraterrestrial evil-doers. Andromeda's branching conversations feel deeper, offering more nuanced dialog selections and player agency, but the narrative stakes don't feel quite as high as they did before. While the choice-and-consequence dynamic isn't as consistently nerve-fraying though, there's still plenty of plot-shaping exchanges that impressively come back to help — or haunt — you many hours on.
Combat clicks far better than it did in previous instalments,however, providing a twitchy experience more akin to a dedicated third-person action game than an RPG with some shooty elements tacked on. Credit is due to responsive controls and snappy character mobility, combined with cool cinematic touches, such as the ability to hover in the air, peer down your sights, and pick off enemies with style to spare. Coupled with its character-shaping skill trees, brimming with cool active abilities and passive perks, Andromeda's superior combat allows you to play like a space marine, Sith lord, or the best combination of both.
Other elements can be a bit hit or miss depending on how much time you invest in them. Scanning planets for resources is a slog best experienced in small doses, for example, where exploring the far reaches of uncharted planets from the pilot's seat of your all-terrain, upgradeable Nomad never gets old.
More status quo instalment than groundbreaking evolution, Andromeda is a good, sometimes great game that allows existing fans to dive back into one of their favourite universes from a fresh perspective, while getting the series off to a solid start for a new generation of armchair space adventurers.