This long-awaited follow-up to BioWare's critically acclaimed space epic meets and even exceeds some expectations but falls short on others. Mass Effect: Andromeda continues the franchise's tradition of rich, multifaceted storytelling by introducing dozens of new and complicated characters, each with colorful backgrounds, knotty motives, and personal agendas. And they're involved in authentic, relatable conflicts that range from frictional relationships with colleagues and political rivalries to splintered political beliefs and ideologies, even as they face the broader mysteries and menaces of their new galactic neighborhood. The heart of the experience is getting to know and care about these people, watching as they overcome differences with friends, foes, strangers, and even aliens to create bonds and build a better home in Andromeda.
Where the experience occasionally falters is in some of its nonnarrative elements. Exploration of Andromeda is a blast. Whether you're surveying planets amid jaw-droppingly beautiful space vistas in Ryder's state-of-the-art starship, the Tempest, or piloting the six-wheel-drive Nomad, cresting craters and glaciers on any of a handful of enormous, free-to-explore alien worlds, the sense of discovery is rarely less than enthralling. But the frequent combat that Ryder and his (or her) team is forced to engage in feels a little too forced and frequent, especially given the colonists' desire for peace and harmony. Plus, beyond some cool "biotic" abilities -- some of which feel like pilfered Force powers -- fighting isn't particularly compelling, thanks to finicky controls and simple enemy AI. Still, most people aren't playing Mass Effect for its futuristic shoot-outs. They're more interested in its expansive universe, authentic characters, relevant -- and sometimes even topical -- conflicts, and fascinating sci-fi ideas. And in these areas, Mass Effect: Andromeda rarely disappoints.