Mass Effect Andromeda released with a mixed response from gamers and the gaming press alike. Here’s our take on the game in our Mass Effect Andromeda review.
Mass Effect Andromeda Review:
I’m kind of all Mass Effect Andromeda burnt out. It’s been a long haul and after all of the mudslinging I’ve witnessed prior to owning the game and beyond on Youtube and in the gaming press it seems opinions are very much divided on whether this is a game worth investing in or not. Well, after 50 hours playtime (according to my save file) and 100 hours according to Origin’s (not sure which is correct) I can quite safely say I do not want to see or hear any more about Andromeda for the foreseeable. So, for this Mass Effect Andromeda review I am going to break it down as I see it free from the shackles or preconceptions of popular belief.
To begin, the opening like many other role playing games has you choose a character from a bare bones selection of preset face types. Once more, the choice for a male or female lead presents itself and the option to use a default Sarah or Scott Ryder character – that’s the main hero or heroine here – or attempt to try something more customized. Frankly, the options are pretty limited as far as RPG standards go and even after extensive messing around it’s not easy getting the character to look “attractive” considering you’re going to be partnering with this face for a massive number of hours; so best to get it on point before you venture any further. Bioware decided to present a rogues gallery of default horrors to tinker with which is an interesting choice indeed.
Once the game begins proper and after an introductory tutorial mission you become the Pathfinder, following on from the footsteps of your father. It’s a role that beguiles the player into a position of galactic do-gooder and harbinger of peace among the alien and human races. To be blunt, it’s not a role as intriguing or exciting as the hard-nosed Spectre agent as seen in the previous games. Still, it’s a good excuse to explore the game world with a little more purpose aside from merely acting as a wandering agent of solving the many problems presented, although that role is still here in abundance. The core idea behind the Andromeda Initiative and Ryder’s goal is to seek out new planets for habitation of the human and alien species in the newly explorable Andromeda system – the previous games were set in the more familiar Milky Way galaxy.
Ryder is joined by a number of alien and humans for the adventure who you meet early on, each with their own personalities and side stories to explore. Without offering spoilers all I can really suggest here is some are far more interesting than others. When you take them out into the field you’ll garner a greater understanding of how they tick. A special note has to be mentioned here with regards to the Angaran Jaal (that’s one of the new alien races) and Krogan Drack who offer the most interesting side-kicks, the others simply feel a bit dull in comparison although this is perhaps due to personal taste. Ryder and crew are given a new ship “The Tempest” and are offered the choice to explore planets and jump between them at will. Searching through unknown planets on the galaxy map is a slow and supposed relaxing process as you’re shown in real-time the movement between each planet. You’re then able to rotate and scan the planet in the hopes of finding something interesting. It does look great, however, it’s such an automated and slow process it loses its appeal quite quickly and fast becomes dull and uninviting which is a shame.
It has to be said right away here the flow and pacing takes quite a number of hours to find its feet and allow you the option to explore more freely, to the point the opening feels quite restrictive. However, once you’ve progressed through the story far enough the galaxy map opens its doors and you’re able to search planets for resources and land on about five of them with the meta-game of making them habitable through AV points which are gained from completing tasks. There’s an underlying recurring theme based on an ancient and mysterious Remnant technology which terraforms each location after Ryder is able to interact with their strange devices thanks to the AI SAM who resides in her head (yeh I know). There’s quite a lot of repeated gameplay here where players scan for glyphs, solve minor puzzles to gain access and then head deeper into the Remnant zones before escaping. It’s overused and could have had a bit more variety but at least there’s some consistency. I’ll say no more about the Remnant tech here save for spoilers.
We’re also introduced to the main villain, the Archon or leader of a new alien force the Kett who effectively replace the AI driven Geth. The details are kept to a minimum for the most part and act as cannon fodder at every turn until the latter part of the story. Sadly they are presented to be typical, kill everything that doesn’t fit our agenda type beings which is incredibly cliche. Thankfully the Kett aren’t the only enemies you’ll be shooting up in spades.
Whilst we’re on the subject, the combat is a lot more refined and easy to get into this time, although it takes a few steps backwards by removing the tactical wheel for more pronounced combo attacks with your team mates. You can still order them to specific locations and get them to focus on targets of your choosing but this all happens in real-time. The combat is satisfying and with a pleasant range of customizable guns and powers to choose from means you’ve got a lot of offensive options to play with. Your character is no longer tied to a set class which means you can change role on the fly for some scenario specific bonuses. Whilst this in itself is neat, it does take away from some of the potential replay value being a jack of all trades rather the specialist.
With regards to the customization it’s a take it or leave it element. You have the option to hunt for or purchase resources required to research and then build items of interest, but if you’ve enough credits then simply buying from a vendor skips all that. There’s choice here to delve or ignore and although manageable, the menus aren’t the most intuitive and seem overly complicated. That said, if you’ve come this far then it’s a minor detail to have to overcome.
There are some other elements to work in the background such as AV Points which grant bonuses over time and strike team missions which allow you to send off troops on various missions. The neat thing here is if you want a more hands-on approach you can seamlessly drop into the multiplayer mode. To be honest, with so much to do in the single player, the multiplayer (whilst an accomplished horde mode type affair) takes a back seat.
Perhaps the biggest change with Andromeda is the settling of planets via exploration of the open world. As mentioned, there are five main areas to inhabit with each one offering its own set of problems to overcome. There is a grand sense of accomplishment once squabbles and other elements are solved but it’s the fact you can drop in and out of missions, side quests quite easily which makes the open nature fitting for the Pathfinder goal. In terms of the story though, it’s a bit a of mixed bag with a collection of interesting themes to explore and others that are rather uninspiring nonsense. You’ll encounter side quest after side quest which in many instances feels like filler content considering you might be tasked with flying or driving to and from one location to another and then back again. After so many hours adventuring the will of the player is certainly tested, but thanks to few moments of genius keeps you ploughing through.
So, the big white elephant in the room lies with the game’s visuals which for the most part (on PC at least) look absolutely fantastic especially in 4K with HDR. There’s a massive sense of scale and variation across each planet with excellent attention to detail despite some reused assets throughout. The character models look great, but many of the NPCs or quest givers are too similar which is a bit jarring. For the main cast there’s some fine visual details, but the animations are abysmal at times. Considering there’s a massive amount of conversations to direct, having characters that look like rejects from Thunderbirds is a complete turn off. Whilst not game-breaking in any way, characters who animate all silly or stare unrealistically into oblivion kills the story telling. That said, it’s something you get used to, but still after so many hours I scratched my head and wondered why, what and who thought these were acceptable for such a story focused game.
The voice acting is also of varied quality with some decent performances for most of the main cast, but sadly the script is poor in places. There’s an abundance of intended or forced humor taking away from the serious nature of what’s happening which doesn’t sit well or is ill-timed. On occasion, when it does work and is used correctly then some interesting points of discussion can bring a smile to the face. Music is rather subdued here but does the job with its sci-fi themes. It serves to compliment the action and moments of wonder and simply accomplishes what it sets out to do. However, the audio is deeply flawed when your party members are too far away when a conversation is initiated. If they have any lines of dialogue then they will be muted or speak so quietly it’s impossible to hear them. This happened many times for me and was annoying as hell. The game does have its fair share of glitches but surprisingly this was the one that occurred the most and got under my skin. Many issue others have complained about never happened in my many hours playing.
Mass Effect Andromeda comes under fire from fans with high expectation and gamers alike who demand more from an established IP with such a big budget and high pedigree background. However, despite numerous niggles, when looking as a whole there is a decent game here. There are moments of brilliance and even wonder, but the bottom line is, despite some gameplay changes for the better the overall experience fails to fill the big shoes laid out before it. Some of the technical issues will no doubt be addressed which will make for a more polished adventure, but the soul of the game can’t be changed and whilst it’s still very much “Mass Effect” , there’s something not quite right with the writing, the cast, and most importantly the execution which prevents it from being a fantastic and must have game.