Time for spring break! Why not book a trip to the Andromeda Galaxy, where fun and adventure await on exotic planets no human has ever set foot on before?
Two problems: First, it takes 600 years to get there. Second, your travel agent may have exaggerated a bit, and those faraway worlds aren't quite as human-friendly as promised.
"Mass Effect: Andromeda" (Electronic Arts, for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, $59.99) invites you to take part in this grand adventure — but, like the journey it describes, it delivers mixed results. Occasionally it rewards you with the gosh-wow sense of wonder that every science fiction fan craves, but you have to work your way through some hoary genre cliches to get there.
You can play as Sara or Scott Ryder, the offspring of one of the galaxy's most renowned explorers. Early on, the young, inexperienced Ryder is thrust into the role of Pathfinder, whose job is to find a decent place to live for all these refugees from the Milky Way. Early attempts to establish habitats haven't gone well, so Ryder needs to figure out what went wrong.
The most glaring issue is the Kett, a race of lizardlike conquerors bent on destroying every other sentient species in the galaxy. More puzzling are the Remnants, robotic killing machines guarding mysterious monoliths that may hold the secrets to turning Andromeda's planets into livable worlds.
Your crew members include a couple of humans and some familiar alien types from the earlier games, and part of the intrigue comes from trying to figure out why they were so eager to flee the Milky Way. You'll also be joined by one of the locals, a creature called an Angaran that looks kind of like a lion, if you made it stand on two legs and wear clothes.
All your companions have different talents that come in handy in battle, and Ryder can be customized with psychic powers or tech skills that let her, say, fling turrets into enemy camps. The firefights are fast-paced and engaging, though I missed the previous games' ability to pause the action and issue commands to your squadmates.
Developer BioWare has built its reputation on compelling storytelling, and here's where "Andromeda" falls a bit flat. The overarching story doesn't quite have the urgency of the race-against-extinction plot of the franchise's earlier chapters. The Kett are a less formidable villain than the dreaded old Reapers, and the Remnant story line seems like a rehash of the discovery of Prothean tech that drove the original trilogy.
It's also bedeviled by some aggravating technical issues, like creepy facial animations and a clunky menu system. And yet, there are rewards. Some of the side missions recapture BioWare's storytelling magic, and the scenery — from the dusty wastelands of one planet to the lush forests of another — is eye-popping throughout. It's a rough journey, but I'm glad I took it. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter @lkesten