Mass Effect: Andromeda was developed by BioWare, published by Electronic Arts, and was finally released on March 21st after five years of work. I played through the game on PC, and I grabbed my copy off of Amazon.ca for $79.99 CDN. I have done my best to avoid all marketing, all leaks, and the sheer metric ton of bad press this game got up to and surrounding its release. I did this because I wanted to go into the game with no expectations; I find games much more enjoyable when I do this. It was hard, but I believe I was mostly successful. With that said, let’s talk Andromeda.
I want to start on a high note, so I’ll begin with gameplay. The gameplay in Andromeda is very similar to its predecessor, Mass Effect 3, with some core changes. Class restrictions are now removed. You can not only respec your skills, but also change your class on the fly as well, with the ability to set a few quick-access favourites you can swap between. Overall, I like this, it lets you switch up combat on the fly, and it’s even explained in the story, though in a rather shoddy manner. The next big switch up is the jump jets, the biggest tease in gaming for some time. Jump jets let you make high jumps, and they let you hover in the air. Overall, they’re fun, and they make sense in Mass Effect, but whenever I use them it makes me want for a jet pack – hence why it’s a tease of a mechanic. At the very least we should have been able to use our jump jets as a jetpack in low gravity levels!
Next up, we have Mass Effect 1’s ground exploration return with the Mako being replaced by the Nomad. I always enjoyed the Mako and exploring in the first game, and I was not disappointed with the Nomad. The nomad is fun to drive, and it’s customizable, but it does have its problems. Mainly, it lacks the ability to ‘light up’ enemy groups as you drive by. Andromeda is an open world game, and there are lots of small enemy camps around the map that you can take on. But every time you want to, you have to drive up to them and jump out of the Nomad. Both the Mako and the Hammerhead in past games had weapons you could use, and had some form of vehicle combat. To me, it was very noticeable that Andromeda lacked this. As fun as it may be to drive the Nomad, having to choose between jumping out to fight or just trying to drive away (harder said than done) kinda ruins it.
The final big gameplay change is the crafting system. Crafting begins with scanning things in the world with your omni-tool. This earns you research points in one of three areas, which you can then spend on weapons, armor, or augments, in each of those areas. Simply put, scanning is not fun. Its occasionally used in quests to find things, track power lines in the wall, or to analyze things, and that’s fine, but if you don’t want to miss out on research points, you’re going to have to have this thing running all the time. You can’t fight while scanning, you can’t jump while scanning, and you walk slowly while scanning. When you’re scanning, that’s all you’re doing and it’s pretty much mandatory if you want to keep your gear at level. Now, when you’re close to something that’s important to scan, such as something that gives a big chunk of research points, the game will flash a notification on screen, but it’s hard to notice, and you have to be more or less on top of the scan-able object anyways.
After you collect some research points, you need to get some resources. These can be bought, or found in the world. Some come from killing beasts, some from looting enemies or containers, and then some come from mining. Mining resources can be collected by looking for nodes in the world, are sometimes found in containers, or can be mined from the nomad. Nomad mining is Mass Effect 2’s planet scanning system in a nutshell. It’s not a bad implementation, but it’s hardly any more fun than it was in Mass Effect 2. Alright, so you have your research and your resources, now you can finally go and craft some new items. The crafting part of the process is mostly good, though it suffers from some very bad UI problems. You use research to unlock and upgrade weapons and armor. Basic weapons are unlocked by default, and upgrade to the appropriate rank as you level up automatically. You can craft anything in the game, but the limited availability of research points means you’ll have to be choosy about what you spend them on. When building weapons and armor, you can plug in augmentations to get some small stat bonuses. Some augments also change how the weapon works, such as a Mass Effect 1 heat sink which gives you recharging ammo instead of reloading, or a augment that makes each bullet a sticky grenade. You can also craft upgrades for the Nomad. Crafting is mostly a fun addition, but scanning needs to be made fun and non-intrusive, and the UI needs some major work. (It also would have been nice to see some upgrades or augments for the jump pack!)
The worlds in Mass Effect: Andromeda are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Every planet looks fantastic, and most things in these worlds also look great, from guns, to armor, to vehicles, to buildings, boxes, and whatever-you-like. Sadly, not everything looks great. Humans, especially human females, and even more specifically – Sara Ryder, do not look good. The best way I can describe it is that a lot of these characters must come from the uncanny valley. When looking at them, things just feel off. They appear creepy, and unnatural, to the point where I was starting to think that there was going to be a twist, where all the humans had been replaced by lizards in skinsuits during the trip to Andromeda. This problem is multiplied when you add in the dialogue, but I’ll discuss that later. Unlike humans, most of the aliens look fine. Asari and Salarians all look the same though the Asari suffer from some of the same uncanny valley issues as human females. This is all before the bugs and glitches have their way with your game, but again, I’ll get to those later.
While Andromeda doesn’t look bad, it does look uninspired. Looking at the main planets, we have a sandy desert, and a rocky desert, both of which look/feel rather similar. Then we have an ice and snow planet, and a city-overtaken-by-jungle planet. None of these really blew me away – any of them would be at home in any game. You would think that a city overtaken by jungle might be interesting, but it’s really not. It rarely feels like you’re even in a city, unlike both Ilos and Feros from Mass Effect. Then, we have a mountainous planet dominated by sulfur springs, with flora that is akin to coral, and an asteroid. The low-gravity asteroid was by far the most interesting in terms of gameplay, but less than a handful of quests happen there, so you actually spend very little time there at all, which is sad – it is very under-utilized. Then we have three alien races – the Kett, the Angara, and the Remnant. The remnant are very similar to the Protheans of the previous games, in that they are no longer around to talk to – just the buildings and robots are left behind. However, they are also far, far, far less interesting. The Kett are the ‘bad guys’, portrayed as monstrous conquerors *yawn*. Then we have the Angara, the one new alien race you get to interact with. The Angara are mostly fine as a whole, but I did find them visually boring. They’re just another bipedal-weird-looking-mostly-human race.
And now, we come to what I find the biggest problem with Andromeda: music. The music in this game is dull, uninspiring, and completely forgettable. There was a single scene, consisting of a couple lines of dialogue with one of my party members, where I actually noticed the music, and where it was used to good effect to enhance the scene. Music, I would argue, is one of the most important parts of any multimedia experience – whether a movie, an audiobook, or a video game. Picture these scenes without any music: In Mass Effect 1, driving along the corridor on Ilos where you meet, and talk to, Vigil. In Mass Effect 2, the final suicide run at the end of the game. Climbing Ganon’s Castle in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I could go on for ever listing parts of games and movies like this. It’s the music that puts you on the edge of your seat in any of the scenes I just listed. Without the creepy piano music slowly getting louder as you climb Ganon’s Castle, the level wouldn’t have been the same. Andromeda’s music might as well not even be here, and it’s truly a shame that I have to say that, as all three of the previous games had fantastic music. Besides the music, the game’s sound effects and other sounds are all fine. Guns sound good, ships sound good, driving the nomad sounds good. I rather liked the sounds that the Nomad made; driving it reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s batmobile.
And now, it’s time for the main dish of this review: characters and story, which is supposed to be BioWare’s forte. I’m going to avoid spoilers for this review, so I won’t be getting into details here: take things with a grain of salt. Now, right off the bat, I felt punished for not having followed and watched all of the marketing videos that preceded this game’s launch. This feeling only lasted for the first few hours of play, but for that first part of the game it felt like I has been left behind, like I didn’t have all the info like I should have, and the game wasn’t going to give it to me. Would watching the marketing have helped? I can’t say, but regardless, the entire opening act could have been done better to leave you less in the dark.
The main story of the game is short, and makes up a small part of the content in Andromeda. This is not a bad thing – Mass Effect 2 had a bad main story, that made up only a small part of the game’s content, but it makes up for this by having tons of fantastic missions where you recruit people for your team, and gain their loyalty. While these were required to progress the main plot, most weren’t directly related to it. While I would’ve preferred a good and lengthy main plot, most fans cite Mass Effect 2 as their favorite of the series. So what does Andromeda bring to the table? A short and poor main story, some side quests, and tons and tons of filler. I really wasn’t that engaged by the main story or any of the side quests. Often, I found myself frustrated by limited conversation options.
In Andromeda, paragon and renegade are finally gone. In its place, conversation options fall into one of four categories. emotional versus logical, and causal versus professional. Favoring one of these won’t lock you out of other options in the future. This is a good change. There are parts where, for example, being professional towards someone who is more emotional will turn them against you, and I like this – it makes sense. Making light in a serious situation may make thing less tense, or everyone could look down on you for not taking it seriously enough.
The problem arises when, most of the time, you’re only given two options to end a quest. When you’re making big decisions in quests, the four emotions are replaced by options that are represented by a bunch of branching arrows, representing an important decision. Almost every such decision in the game is only given two possible choices. want to talk about one minor side quest involving a crime. In the end, you find out the prisoner wasn’t guilty of the crime he is being held for, but that he did in fact commit a crime – a different, less severe, one. You can decide to either let him go, or maintain the full original sentence. There was no option for a middle ground. I found that for many of the game’s quests, what I would have chosen, and presumed would be an option to pick, wasn’t even an option when the time came. This means that most quests in the game do not have a satisfying outcome for the player.
Limited choices is just one problem with the game’s story content. The other is that the characters and stories themselves are just… average. Let’s look at the main cast – your party members. I found myself liking two of them, finding two of them meh, and hating the last two. You have a Krogan in your party whose entire character is that he is a Krogran. This time, the twist is that he’s an old Krogran. Absolutely riveting writing right there, BioWare, 10/10 for sure. With the supporting cast (that being everyone who wasn’t a bullet sponge), the characters I liked are few and far between. Most people in the world don’t have a lot of personality, and it really shows. A lot of people really do feel like lizards in people suits. On top of personality, the dialogue is also a detriment to characters. At times, it’s very cringe-y, and awkward, and at other times, it’s just completely flat, or it won’t fit the scene at all. The dialogue is truly a mixed bag. At one point, my character awkwardly flirted with one of her bridge officers, and it was adorable. At other points, you’re running from a energy wave of death and you and your party members talk in flat tones about you have to run fast or it’s going to get you. This really does encourage my theory that everyone is a lizard wearing a people suit!
Now, lets steer our way back to the story content. The game has a lot of problems with logic, and consistency. Perhaps not one large issue, but death by a thousand cuts.. For example, for the longest time I thought that medigel had been retconned out of the game entirely: It was no longer a gameplay mechanic, and no one talked about it. Low and behold, dozens of hours into the game, during a side quest, one person in my party says that we should get a dose of it ready. What? Medigel could have solved tons of problems in past situations, and we had it on us, but we just didn’t bother? And it’s not exactly hard to poke holes into the game’s story due to lack of logic. Why wasn’t everyone who went to Andromeda given basic military and survival training? Why did the Initiative not do background checks to make sure criminal elements didn’t slip in? Why were none of the ark ships, or the Nexus, armed, in case of hostilities upon arrival? Why didn’t the arks group up a week or a month’s journey outside of the Andromeda galaxy, in order to prepare? One can go on and on like this. Now, you can do this with a lot of good games, including previous mass effect games, though not to the same extent. The problem here is that it happens so often that it breaks your immersion. Once its broken, you find yourself pondering these questions instead of paying attention to what’s going on in the game. To me, that’s the death knell of a game. If it can’t keep me immersed, I’m not going to keep playing it. I’ve played bad games to the end because they managed to keep me just immersed enough, but the only thing that got me to finish Andromeda is that I had to write this review. I would not have finished the game without that commitment. The beginning of the game was the worst for this, but as i progressed it did seem to stop happening so often. Whether that’s because immersion was being broken less, or because I was suffering from Stockholm syndrome, I can’t say.
At long last, let’s talk about the bugs and glitches. I’ve purposely avoided talking about these in my brief talk about the various parts of the game, because I want to keep it a separate discussion. I don’t like to judge a game based on unintended hiccups of programming. They’re undesired, and normally, while there are few at a game’s launch, those few are patched away soon after release. Not so with Mass Effect: Andromeda. The bugs and glitches in this game are enough to break immersion, to take you out of the story, and they happen often. There was a QA team listed in the credits (I made sure to check), so I’m at a loss for words to describe how it could have gotten to launch in such a state. But when you think about it, it kind of makes sense that not a lot of QA work was done. Surely any play tester could have pointed out that playing a lengthy animation every. time. you travel to a destination on the galaxy map just isn’t fun.
The last thing for me to talk about is the multiplayer. If you liked the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3, like I did, then you’re not in for any surprises here as the multiplayer is a carbon copy and paste job of Mass effect 3’s multiplayer. The good news is that there are new enemies and levels; the bad news is that you have to go through the absolutely atrocious loot box system to unlock everything again. I spent a lot of time playing Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, and I had a lot of fun, but I’m just not going to bother this time around. I’m very disappointed that they kept in the same Freemium-style loot system that they had in ME3. Lottery loot, however, is deserving an article all on its own.
And finally, we come to the end. BioWare has the reputation of being the industry leader when it comes to characters and stories, and being a longtime fan of BioWare’s work, you can bet that I used to make this claim myself when talking about games. But, with Andromeda, you wouldn’t know it. The quality just isn’t there. I expect more of a AAA game studio, and I most certainly expect better of BioWare. Mass Effect: Andromeda is an unpolished mess. There is a game in here, and at some points little bits of it show, but these bits are few and far between. There are good ideas here, like the levels that play with gravity, and the changes to the dialogue wheel, but the problems on the other end of the scale outweigh these. At the end of the day, this game isn’t worth the $79.99 price tag. There is more filler than good content, and therefore there just isn’t much value here. If you want to play Andromeda, wait until a Game of the Year edition comes out, or wait until a deep discount, or both. The game has too many issues that it can be truly fixed with patches, but in a few months, once some of the polish issues have been fixed, and there’s been a DLC or two released, it might then be worth picking up used in your local game shop. (I’d recommend playing on the computer though, so you can play YouTube videos on your second monitor during all of the padding.).