Mass Effect Andromeda is BioWare’s latest open world action RPG game and expansion on the successful Mass Effect franchise. Taking place 600 years after the ending of Mass Effect 3 you play as the protagonist Ryder, a pathfinder thrown into the fray trying to make planets habitable in the Andromeda galaxy for the betterment and survival of the human race. Alongside this daunting task you’re also made responsible for defeating a genocidal alien race known as the Kett, fostering diplomatic relations with a new alien race, finding arks for the salarians, turians, and asaris, and as always – solving everyone’s problems.
As a veteran Mass Effect player I was extremely excited to explore a new galaxy and I had very high hopes as BioWare doesn’t usually disappoint. As I turned on my PlayStation in anticipation I was welcomed to… less than savory graphics and a tedious, boring first mission. Right from the start there was nothing drawing me to the game except my past love of the franchise. Without the nostalgic glue that held it together, I probably would have returned this game.
At first glance (and the second glance, third glance…) Mass Effect Andromeda does not stand up to its competitors graphically. To be blunt, the facial expressions and animations are bad. Normally, this is something I can overlook for the sake of good storytelling and genuine interest but the animations were so unpolished that it was distracting and ended up drawing me away from the story BioWare crafted. There was also the extreme texture issues. At times, the detail was amazing – I could see every pore on a teammates face or make out intricate details on a leaf – but then suddenly it would switch to something rendered on a PS2. And please don’t get me started about the hair… Actually, I’ll post a picture below. You can see for yourself.
So the textures and graphics of the game put me in a strange place. At times, it’s beautiful and unbelievable… but then it shifts towards something amateur and out of place.
If the previous Mass Effect franchise is known for anything, it’s the detailed storytelling and your relationship with your teammates. BioWare consistently delivers when it comes to storytelling and in-depth characters (see Dragon Age and prior Mass Effect games for perfect examples). Mass Effect Andromeda is no exception to this trend, Andromeda has a great story and the fact that Ryder is just as new as you are to the galaxy gives you a strong sense of accomplishment when you finish exploring a new planet or fulfill a mission. But does the storytelling live up to the original trilogy? The fact of the matter is though it’s good, it’s not as good as previous games. One of the reasons why is that choices of consequence, which have always been an important factor in Mass Effect, weren’t that extreme and didn’t leave me guessing or wanting to replay the mission to get a different ending. Overall they didn’t impact the story as greatly as I was accustomed to and I mostly just shrugged the consequences off without a second thought. No heartstrings tugged at all. It seems that the only real thing your choices impacted was your outward personality tropes. Are you the snarky Ryder, the melodramatic Ryder, or the logical Ryder?
Now let’s chat about your squad. In a nutshell you get a grumpy old Krogan, a frat boy ex-cop, a less-fleshed out Miranda, a female Garrus, a crazy asari with commitment issues, SAM the male EDI, and Jaal the new guy with a cool cape. I was dissappointed with the characters chosen for my squad this time around with the only exception being Jaal. Overall it seemed that the squadmates were just cut and pasted from previous games but with less development. I didn’t feel that sense of attachment with any of them like I felt it for Garrus or Mordin in prior games and I found their dialogues to be dry, inhuman, and boring. (Am I the only one that thinks Liam is too whiny?) But I think BioWare ended up digging their own grave with this one. Looking back at Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 they did a great job of creating characters that you actually felt an attachment towards. In fact, they did such a good job that they raised the bar of expectations so high it made it difficult to reach and trapped themselves at a disappointing half-step.
What I do like however, is the amount of romanceable options available. Like prior games, you can romance more than just your squadmates. Gil, a snarky engineer is a possible option as is Suvi the pilot and a few passerby’s you met along the way. But overall and disappointingly so, I found the secondary characters were more developed and had better conversations with you than your actual team. *
*Aside from Jaal. He’s the best.
Missions in the game are hard to define and come in bulk-size. Outside of story missions there’s a ton of other things to do. Viability missions help raise a planet’s viability meter to make it more habitable, memory missions are scattered amongst planets and offer an additional side-story, mining is brought back to help you scavenge for materials useful for research and development, and a plethora of other side-story quests are thrown into the mix. You can easily spend 100 hours completing these before even diving into the main story.
But are these missions fun? The main quests – driven by an engaging story and beautiful environments to explore – are well constructed and have a lot of TLC put into them, but the side missions are a little more unrefined. Once in a while I found myself invested in this crazy side quest that was buzzing with excitement but most other times, I was more of a messenger than a pathfinder constantly running back and forth for little experience, invaluable items, and weak dialogue. Though there is that gem of a mission that makes the game worthwhile, it’s hidden under copious amount of “go here, get that, now go back” fetch quests that really made the game feel drawn out, tedious and time-wasting. More than once I questioned my sanity.
At first, the combat was annoying. Especially the auto-crouch feature and the lack of abilities you have at the beginning. However, as I progressed more into the game and got used to the auto-crouch I actually came to enjoy the combat and can confidently say that it is the best combat system out of all the Mass Effect games. Obviously, it’s not as polished as popular shooters but the amount of tech they give you (cloaking, biotics, jumpjets, turrets, specialized ammo) really added a dimension to the gameplay and made a lot of tedious fetch quests more enjoyable just because I got to go into combat mode and try out new combinations. If you can hold out for the first few missions until you can progress up your skill tree, the combat is worth it.
Now the fun part. I’ve been avoiding talking about this because it’s been so dissappointing but there are a lot of technical issues and framerate drops – at least during my playthrough. The framerate drops consistently (I’ve almost come to expect it like a pattern) especially during firefights and it even sometimes drops during pre-rendered and re-rendered cutscenes. On top of that, I’ve experienced 2 game ending glitches that have caused me to re-load previous saves and lose a lot of progress.
Aside from those frustrating game-ending glitches and consistent framerate issues, there are a lot of other minor technical ones scattered throughout. At times, people will stand frozen and you can’t engage with them, enemies will glitch into a building and hinder your progress in missions, during cutscenes people that are poised to have guns in their hands… don’t have guns, among other numerous things. Most of these are minor and can be easily patched but nevertheless it still effects gameplay and the immersive experience. But one of my biggest pet peeves with this game is the sound design glitches. As a whole, the sound is very well done but I happened upon a few audio issues. The most frequent being characters talking over one another, muddling each others dialogues. So, tip: Make sure to enable subtitles so you don’t miss out on key information.
Despite most of the negativity Mass Effect Andromeda does have its good points. The main story missions are very well done, the environments are beautiful and full of things to do and explore, the Angara race is lore-heavy and interesting, and Jaal in particular is a very strong, notable companion that I believe most people will find memorable.
Mass Effect Andromeda starts out crummy but improves as you continue playing. If you can make it over the first hump, it makes for a half decent game. If you’re like me though, you were expecting something better than half-decent. Andromeda felt rushed and unpolished. It’s been mentioned that Andromeda had a rough development, but I’m still shocked that the game even launched in retail stores knowing that it wasn’t up to the quality of standards as prior Mass Effect games and had so many technical issues. In comparison to the past games there’s nothing compelling about it that makes you want to sit down and explore the galaxy. As a seasoned Mass Effect and BioWare fan, the only thing keeping me playing this game is the previous attachment I had with the lore from prior games. In conclusion, Mass Effect Andromeda is essentially what happens when you try and paint with every colour. Each colour has potential and can work to compliment the other, but in the end when they put it all together without letting the layers dry first, it’s just one big mess.