New beginning in a new galaxy

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a game that can get very addictive, warts and all.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a game that can get very addictive, warts and all.PHOTO: BIOWARE

You don't need to have played the original trilogy to enjoy Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect is a role-playing game franchise that I really love - I even bought its licensed merchandise, such as hoodies and figurines.

Launched in 2007, the first Mass Effect game garnered critical acclaim, thanks to its superb story-telling, deep character development and epic game universe. Its two sequels, released in 2010 and 2012, met similar critical acclaim and commercial success.

Long story short: In the original Mass Effect trilogy, you play a human soldier, Commander Shepard, who saved the entire Milky Way galaxy. Go play it if you haven't, because it is really, really good. But you do not need to play the original to enjoy the new Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Set between the events of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, humanity along with other races of the Milky Way have embarked on an ambitious plan, known as the Andromeda Initiative, to colonise our nearest galaxy, Andromeda.

You play as Ryder, a member of the Andromeda Initiative team and you are joined by your twin sister (or brother, if you play as a female Ryder) while your father is the leader of the expedition.

  • 9/10


    PRICE: $69.90 (PC), $79.90 (PS4; Xbox One, version tested)

    GENRE: Role-playing

As we all know, things never turn out as planned. After a 600- year inter-galaxy journey, you and your team wake up from cryogenic sleep to discover that planets previously identified as great for living have proved otherwise. And, through a chain of events, you are tasked to find new planets in Andromeda that are habitable.

Mass Effect: Andromeda continues the franchise's emphasis on dialogue, building relationships and open world exploration.

Like previous games, you command a spaceship with squad members that you can choose for your missions. The new spaceship is called the Tempest. It is a beauty, but I still prefer the design of the spaceship Normandy of previous games.

With the Tempest, you will be busy shuttling around Andromeda looking for new planets to inhabit while navigating internal politics, befriending other races and fighting a belligerent race known as the Kett.

Decisions affect the storyline, whether you choose to side with certain factions or react differently during dialogues, which have more grey areas in moral choices, unlike the distinct good and bad options in previous iterations.

There are also clear flirtatious dialogue options to make romancing other characters a tad easier.

Quests are pretty varied but time-consuming, whether it involves being the "delivery man" in side-quests or activating new alien technology in main ones.

The art direction is superb, with great use of high dynamic lighting that makes the planets you are exploring seem like those in the Avatar movie. Equally well-crafted and varied are the flora and fauna of the planets in Andromeda.

However, playing the game on Xbox One, I found some texture "popping" issues. In other words, detailed textures are loaded late. Also, the textures do not look as smooth as they should be.

Audio effects are superb and all the voice actors did an excellent job voicing their characters.

Unfortunately, the splendid voice acting is marred by some facial animation issues, such as expressions that do not sync with dialogues or eyes that shift about.

Combat has never been Mass Effect's forte. It is still a third-person take cover-and-shoot combat system. But, in Andromeda, automatic cover is implemented. You will instantly take cover when you move near a wall or crate. At times, it did not quite work and I ended up taking damage.

On the bright side, your armour now has jump jets allowing you to jump quickly away from danger or charge head-on into your enemies for a surprise attack.

Unlike previous iterations where you choose a certain class like soldier or sentinel, you can now spend skill points gained during level-ups on the three main fighting skills - Combat, Biotics (something like the Force in Star Wars) and Tech. So, you can combine your assault rifle finesse with a little dose of Force push during combat.

For a game that is centred on finding new places, the exploration system can be improved. Moving from system to system is bearable, but flying from planet to planet is a chore - there is a 10sec wait to zoom out from one planet and zoom in to another, which I find a waste of time.

And when you land on a planet, you sometimes need a six-wheeler to traverse the different terrain. It is as difficult to drive as the ground vehicle of previous games. Nothing has changed here.

Yet, despite all the game's technical flaws, I find myself wanting to play more. I want to find out more about the new races, gain insight into a particular squad member's background, romance another squad mate, and keep the sci-fi soap opera going.

• Verdict: Mass Effect: Andromeda is still a story-telling medium like no other, one that makes you feel you are very much part of the story and dictating the outcome. That, in itself, is a compelling reason why you will keep on playing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline 'New beginning in a new galaxy'. Print Edition | Subscribe