'Mass Effect Andromeda' starts slow, builds to fun exploration adventure

The “Mass Effect” franchise appears to have been a lightning rod of sorts for people who swear by its rich, deep content and others who point to numerous flaws in the game’s construction or player choices.

“Mass Effect Andromeda” hits both sides, providing a galaxy to explore while technical bugs plague the visual aspects of the game. After spending more than 60 hours in the Helius cluster, I can honestly say I had a lot of fun in the game, but it was also a hard road to get there.

The premise of the new entry into the franchise is not to continue the story of Shepard but to tell the tale of human exploration outside of the Milky Way galaxy. Players take on the role of a pathfinder, a leader of extraordinary talents and abilities who is charged with helping humanity establish thriving colonies in the Andromeda galaxy.

Like any good adventure narrative, events go sideways at the very beginning, and the protagonist, Ryder, gets thrust into his leadership role and is forced to learn on the job. Along the way, he entices others to join his band of merry aliens and help his rid the area of the Kett, a race of beings intent on assimilating other species into their own biology.

Using technology left behind by an ancient race, Ryder and his crew face many dangers in their attempt to make planets hospitable for life while doing their best not to upset the locals. In grand “Mass Effect” tradition, how Ryder gets there depends on how the player chooses to play.

The tale of exploration is a worthy topic to tackle in what will presumably be the first of a new trilogy. Establishing a baseline for who are the good guys and who are the alien scum bent on destruction is important for quest lines through this and potentially future games.

However, the first part of the game bogs down in reliving the journey of getting to Andromeda. The characters feel flat, and their expressions aren’t engaging enough to be interesting. Maybe it is the cryosleep hangover, but the writing lacked any impetus or heart.

Yet, I pushed on.

About 25 hours into the game, it seemed like the action and the dialog woke up, creating an exciting atmosphere of tension, drama and emotion that was lacking in the first part of the game. I started having a hard time putting the game down and felt drawn into an adventure that was worth exploring.

My Ryder ended up being the guy who gets things done on the side of justice with a touch of sarcasm. In a way, he became what I would hope to be, given the time, opportunity, and a choice wheel to provide options.

The variety of planets, from desert worlds to barren ice landscapes, provides variety in how best to deal with the harsh environments. The maps were extremely helpful in pointing out locations for quests and missions.

While populated with dangerous animals and sometimes hostile humanoids, the worlds presented varying challenges on how best to establish colonies and help the former Milky Way residents find a home.

This is where the game finally found its footing. Once Ryder and his crew figured out how to use Remnant technology, the tech left behind by an ancient race, the planet missions felt progressive and helpful to the team’s goals.

The planets changed to become more hospitable. The lives of the people on the planet improved. There was a tangible result to completing missions, whether it was additional resources, improved moral, or a closer tie to the indigenous people of the planet.

It also opened new missions to take each planet to 100 percent viability, providing a new goal with each step of the way. While not technically part of the main mission, it made my experience feel useful, helpful, and more in line with what I thought a pathfinder should be.

The success of exploration gave the game its humanity and presented opportunities to interact in meaningful ways with the other residents in the cluster. The growth and expansion of the Milky Way ark residents, some that had to be rescued, provided incentive to complete the missions.

I only chose to progress in the main quest when there were no other secondary missions to accomplish. By doing that, the game didn’t become overwhelming with so many quests, and I didn’t feel like I missed any chances to have another enjoyable experience.

Were there technical glitches to the game? Yes. Just for fun, I looked back at my previous stories about other “Mass Effect” games, and they also had technical glitches.

However, none of them were enough to ruin the experience. A character looking off in a different direction or walking in an unusual manner wasn’t a deal breaker. It was an opportunity to laugh or sigh and move on.

The combat is flexible, depending on how Ryder is tricked out. Tech, biotic and combat skills can be mixed and matched to provide buffs and abilities. My tech Ryder feasted on using his skills to generate turrets that not only cut down foes but provided another target for the enemies, instead of targeting me.

Relationships are typical “Mass Effect” style with lengthy backstories for each of the members of the Tempest’s crew. Completing personalized missions for each deepens the bond between Ryder and his team member, and romance can bloom for certain match-ups.

The Angaran are the new race of beings who have the potential to be a great ally in the galaxy. Free with their emotions, they also possess a sense of caution to the new arrivals and need to be swayed to be convinced of the Milky Way galaxy residents’ intentions.

“Mass Effect Andromeda” isn’t the best game ever. However, it is a fun game if you stick with it. The early slowness did not push me to stop, and I’m glad it didn’t. Much like the pathfinder, the evolution of the game grew into something that was a fun exploration adventure.

Is it what we've come to expect when it comes to the "Mass Effect" franchise? After a tumultuous ending to the first trilogy, I'm fine with something different. Instead of expecting more of the same, I decided to embrace what was new and exciting in "Andromeda."

I’m very curious to see what comes next. The story doesn’t end with the main foe vanquished, and hopefully, the choices I’ve made will carry over into the next adventure. We’ve explored the Helius cluster. Now, it is time to make it a home and put down our roots.