Mass Effect: Andromeda Electronic Arts 3/5 stars The latest release takes the third-person shooter, space-epic video game series Mass Effect to an entirely new galaxy: Andromeda. Humans and other sentient species from the Milky Way galaxy have sent ships – “arks” – with tens of thousands of beings in an attempt to ensure human life continues. The arks are led by a single individual tasked with finding new, habitable worlds. In Andromeda , you are that person – the “Pathfinder” – and it’s up to you to find a new home for humanity. I’m a long time Mass Effect fan; I put hundreds of hours into my version of Commander Shepard across the original trilogy. And that’s important for one reason: my expectations are unreasonably high. Mass Effect: Andromeda is essentially a stand-alone game. You don’t have to play the original trilogy to follow the events here (though there are plenty of nods to it if you did). But I’m not approaching it as a stand-alone game, and that’s because I spent so much time investing in the original trilogy. There’s a good argument to be made that you’d like the opening to Mass Effect: Andromeda more than I did if you didn’t play the original games. Right off the bat, the characters feel lifeless – like they’re going through the motions. There’s little time for plot or character development as Andromeda rushes through the introduction. This guy’s my father? And apparently my brother is hurt? And who are these squad mates? And why am I shooting at these aliens? Believe it or not, the politics of the Nexus – the “Andromeda” equivalent of the original trilogy’s Citadel, or hub area – are what hooked me in. Characters like Jarun Tann (voiced by HBO’s Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani) and Nakmor Kesh (voiced by Allegra Clark) immediately reminded me of the best aspects of the Mass Effect series: characters with history, who respond in realistic ways, who are just as likely to be honest as they are to be manipulative. It’s not the time spent shooting aliens in Mass Effect that’s so engaging – it’s the intellectual sword fighting in between missions, and the split decisions with long-term consequences. The meat of Andromeda is touching down on various potentially habitable planets, exploring their massive environments, and figuring out whether or not humanity could survive there. It’s a major change from previous entries in the series, and the game feels more like the first Mass Effect game than anything else. There’s an almost “western” feel to the game, albeit a space western – a little like Westworld , but with aliens. This is especially true as you start encountering aliens. Which, yes, there are aliens. Of course there are aliens. There are a lot of question marks at the start of Andromeda . Your first encounter with an alien species is lethal. No conversation, just straight up guns drawn let’s fight. While that might be typical in other games, the Mass Effect series tends to go deeper. It’s rare that your first encounter with a new alien species is immediately hostile. As a result, after my first five to 10 hours with the game, the goals of the antagonists still aren’t clear. I have some faith in the game to dig in on that relationship, but the first introduction is sadly underwhelming. My character’s lack of shock (and the lack of shock on the faces of those around her) didn’t help either. Your combat situation is going to vary pretty seriously depending on how you play Mass Effect games. Since the series mashes up third-person shooting with RPG elements, you’re picking a class and various “powers” that apply to that class. Since I am playing with a focus on “biotic” skills, my character is able to do stuff like throw people with her mind. This stuff isn’t new to the series, though – what’s new to the series is how your character moves through the environment. Between a combination of sprint, jump jets, and a dash, you have more movement abilities than ever before. These can be strung together in delightful, spontaneous ways; escaping from enemies, or traversing a puzzle, or exploring for secrets are all much more interesting endeavours as a result of the change to movement. It’s clear that the new Mass Effect is a good looking game. I took dozens of screenshots while playing the first 10 hours (or so), and they’re all ridiculously attractive. What those screenshots don’t show you is moments where the game outright slows down, or things in the game world “pop” into existence in front you, or a squad mate decides to walk somewhere bizarre for no reason. I have countless examples of technical issues to share. This is stuff that can (and should) be fixed with an update. After a disappointing first few hours, I’ve fallen much more for Mass Effect: Andromeda . Characters like Nakmor Drack are part of why the Mass Effect series is so fantastic, and had me genuinely laughing and smiling – that’s the real reason the series is so fantastic: emotions! I remember characters like Mordin Solus from the original trilogy because he was so memorable. How could you not? That’d be like forgetting Egon Spengler from the Ghostbusters . The Mass Effect series is so effective specifically because it traffics in smart storytelling, starring fully-developed characters. By the end of the my first 10ish hours of the game, Andromeda got there. Here’s hoping that trajectory continues.