It’s been several years since Bioware released a Mass Effect game where we could traverse the vastness of space. In the previous trilogy we were bound to the Milky Way galaxy, and the game concluded the story of Shepard and his crew. It’s 2017 now, and Bioware has released Mass Effect Andromeda, where we get all new characters, enemies, setting, and story that’s set 634 years into the future in the galaxy of Andromeda. Bioware wants to make a new trilogy with Mass Effect Andromeda as a foundation. Does the new iteration of the series evolve its gameplay mechanics for it to merit a new trilogy, or is the series starting to become stale to the point that it feels like you’re better off playing the original trilogy?
I have highly mixed emotions after thoroughly finishing everything in this game’s single-player campaign, and sinking in many hours in the multiplayer. After spending over 80 hours with this game, I can safely say that the game is a joy to play with its gameplay being the strongest aspect of the game (with some minor annoyances). But, at the same time, the series has lost its charm and focus, which made the Mass Effect games unique. In terms of the story and characters, the game has lost its footing slightly, but still manages to keep you invested in the series in the hopes of a sequel that will expand and take this series to new heights. With the campaign being 10-12 hours, a multitude of side content to keep you engaged for over 30 hours, and a 4 player co-op objective based survival mode, is the game worth your time? Let’s take a look.
Developed by: BioWare
Published by: EA
Release date: March 21st, 2017
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One PC (Reviewed on PS4)
Price at time of review: 60 USD
Story and Setting
The story revolves around the adventures of the Ryder twins and their crew in the Andromeda galaxy 634 years into the future. The story begins with this idea of the species from the Milky Way galaxy running out of habitable planets to live in. Humans and other species we have co-existed with form a plan to go into cryo-sleep, and venture to the nearby galaxy of Andromeda to find habitable planets and other species to co-exist with.
You get to play as one of the Ryder twins, either the brother or the sister and instantly you take the mantle of the Pathfinder, an important role in finding a new home for the entire human race. Your task is to find habitable planets in this new galaxy, so everyone can survive. You encounter a new enemy species that do not want to coexist, and will be your primary villains of the game and will also fight other enemies that are both organic and synthetic. Over the course of the game you will gain new allies and teammates that have unique personalities, traits, and unique side stories to engage you with.
The premise alone in the first 2-3 hours gives you hope of a grand adventure, a deep and interesting story, and engaging characters to accompany your journey. But that’s where you expectations get crushed slightly, as the story never really picks its pace up, nor is your grand adventure anything noteworthy. Worst of all the game features some of the worst writing and characters in the Mass Effect series.
Let’s begin with characters themselves. The story begins with the idea of you and your twin brother/sister being part of the team that adventure through planets to find a new home. It makes you think that there will be an interesting sibling dynamic in the game. Well that gets instantly shut down, when the other twin get taken out for the majority of the game due to a convenient incident. Instead you will have to depend on the choices that you make to hopefully change the type of character that you get to play as. Here is the biggest problem of the game. The game doesn’t really feature a morality system, where you can be a nice, mean, or neutral person. In the previous games choices like these molded your character and how others perceived you to be, and coincidentally changed their interactions with Shepard. Here, Ryder has a personality of his/her own, and it takes away from the role-playing aspect that many loved from previous entries.
You’d think that at least the writing and personality of Ryder (male or female) would engage you, but it doesn’t. Ryder isn’t necessarily likable or a character you’d hate. The character is just bland, and this largely due to the poor writing, and dialogue delivery when it comes to voice acting. The character is just there to move the story onwards. Some of the major choices you make during the story don’t come back to change the game dynamically, like it did in previous games. For example, in previous games you’d be given huge choices such as choosing between two factions, choosing which character survives, etc. These choices had drastic story implications. In Mass Effect Andromeda, you only make a few choices and they don’t change the story much. Many serious choices are in side missions, which again doesn’t necessarily affect you in a grand sense. This is where the story has lost its charm, as many amazing story elements that made these games unique are either stripped out of this entry or just toned down to a casual level.
The game features a cool and menacing looking villain that could have made the story more intense. Instead he’s just another prop for the story to move forward. You only get to see the main antagonist 4-5 times throughout the campaign, and you don’t even get to fight the villain. The final interaction with the antagonist is just unsatisfying.
Your teammates all have unique side stories that are interesting to begin with, especially the Krogan! But in the end, the poor writing drags the experience down. The only side story that was interesting throughout was for Drack the old Krogan. He is the only teammate that was tolerable and kept me engaged whenever he was on my team.
The campaign can last anywhere between 10-12 hours for a normal playthrough, and the extra side content can keep you slightly engaged for about 25-30 hours. Many of the side missions are doing menial objectives, but some do feature interesting stories, if you can look past the animations and voice acting/delivery on the side characters.
Overall the story is a mixed bag, with an interesting premise, bland main character, a menacing but lightly used antagonist, and some engaging side stories with you teammates. The story is just there to setup the sequel which looks to have so much potential, but Bioware has to be careful with how they deliver the story next time or the interest in this series will start to fade.
Visual & Audio
The first thing you are going to notice about the visual fidelity of this game is that its environmental design and the architecture of the levels are breathtaking. The scope of each planet you visit is enormous, and contain varying environments including snowy mountains, sandy dunes, long stretches of canyons, a lush jungle, and even low gravity asteroids. The visual design team needs to be applauded as these environments look so beautiful, yet desolate, like any new inhabitable planet would. They definitely captured the sense of wonder when you visit each planet.
The game however has had a major downgrade in its facial animations, and overall character rendering. The character creator is quite bad. For all the fuss Bioware made during multiple presentations of the game before launch about facial animations and making the faces look really believable, the game fell short! The eyes are animated in a way where characters will look past you while speaking to you, or just stare blankly with no expression when giving a heartfelt emotional speech. It’s less of a problem for the alien species.
By now everyone has already heard about the animations in the game, and how terrible some of them can be. And I’m here to reassure that sentiment. I’m not sure what went wrong here, but some of the facial animations and general character animations are worse than the original Mass Effect. Some examples include arms locking and twisting in place, characters walking in place, running by doing bunny hops, mouths getting locked into a single position, and many more. It’s just so jarring, and feels like there’s not enough polish. You can see reused assets from both Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition. There are a ton of guns and armors in the game and they all look unique and appropriate.
There are also numerous bugs, glitches, and overall performance issues at times. Characters teleporting from one location to another, NPCs randomly appearing out of thin air and trapping you to a corner, teammates floating in the air, teammates disappearing after they go down, the game loads when moving on the Nomad (6 wheel transport car), and sometimes semi freezing the game to load and populate the game’s environment. It feels disjointed at times and it’s not constant, but when it does happen, you’ll be pulled out from the experience. The game holds a relatively stable 30 fps throughout the game, but when there are many explosions and particle effects going on due to power combos on screen it can slow. The one huge negative I can report is hard crashes when playing multiplayer, and you could waste 15-20 minutes to finish a hard Gold extraction only for it to crash. It is a known problem for a few people, and hopefully a patch in the future fixes it or EA stabilizes the servers.
The enemy designs are all unique, but there aren’t enough enemy types. There’s a lot of color swapping or anatomical features changed on already seen enemies on new planets. For a game that is about finding new planets in a new galaxy, there’s not much variety to the wildlife and plant life.
The optimization in this game is poor, as there are loading screens everywhere. Going from one place to another in the Nexus features a 5-15 second loading screen. Landing on and taking off a planet causes a 30 second cutscene that masks another loading screen. Every time you need to go from one location to another, expect a giant loading screen. What’s worse is the planet traversal and scanning mechanic. After finishing the first few missions, you get access to you space ship (Tempest). From this point you have to choose a cluster in which several planets are located. You will need to go from one planet in a cluster to another planet in a different cluster. When you try to initiate travel to the other planet, the game tends to pan the camera out and show the whole journey to the next planet. This is cool to watch the first 5-10 times, but when you see it a 100 times in 15-20 hours, it’s quite annoying. There are over a 100 planets you can fly to and scan for information. This is great if we could land on these planets and explore them. Instead these planets are just there, and serve no purpose other than to just waste time by giving you the idea that maybe a planet might be interesting to explore.
The audio is average at best. The music when present suits the futuristic sci-fi theme of the game, and creates an unique ambience. But the cardinal sin that this game makes is that 70% of the time when there should be background music, nothing will be playing. This gives a boring feeling when doing menial tasks, mindless shooting and killing of enemies, driving on the Nomad, and when you go through loading screens, which this game features a ton of. The weakest part is definitely the voice acting by the majority of the cast. There’s no emotion, urgency, or a sense of timing for many of the voice delivery. Some characters do a wonderful job, such as Lexi’s and Drack’s voice actors. The sounds from explosions, the Nomad, Tempest, and other ambient noises are pretty good. The guns for the most part sound unique for the different weapon types, but they sound very similar within the same weapon category.
So the story is pretty mediocre, with some mixed and outdated visual designs, and average audio design. But, what about the gameplay? Does the game deliver at least in this aspect?
Well I’m glad to say that the gameplay is where Mass Effect Andromeda shines although with some minor annoyances. The shooting feels nice, and the impact for each gun feels appropriately punchy! You can also use jetpacks to jump and hover, and dash to safety. This adds a more versatile approach to enemy encounters as you can be more risky and not just stick to cover to cover shooting. The one major complaint I have is the automatic cover system that Bioware has introduced for this game. When you approach cover, you automatically crouch and take cover. In theory, this sounds amazing on paper, but the execution is poor. When you play on Insanity (hardest difficulty), the cover can be a nightmare as many times you just want to take cover, but since your character might be 2 degrees off from the cover, you will instead stand there running up against the wall. It’s absolutely the worst part about the new combat system, and it’s not just some minor issue to look past. Cover is an integral part of this game and many times it can fail you.
Gone are the days where you can only choose your classes at the beginning of the game. Now you can switch skills and profiles (classes) on the fly, whenever you want to suit your needs depending on the situation. There are a multitude of skills to use and experiment with, and this leads to fun combinations and many different build possibilities. Combined with six different teammates to experiment with, and the ability to craft weapons and armor, the replayability factor is high and it’s advisable to experiment and try different things. You might end up switching to an entirely new set of abilities and teammates than what you started with.
Skills are separated into 3 different Skill trees (Combat, Biotic, and Tech) consisting of both offensive and passive abilities. There are 3 types of offensive abilities, such as Primers, Detonators, and neutral ones. Primer abilities can set a target up for a powerful combo explosion, and Detonators can set off the explosion. Experimenting with different Primers and Detonators can lead to a very satisfying combat experience. It has to be noted that some Primers can also act as Detonators and vice-versa. Your teammates can also help depending on what abilities they have access to. The problem is that unlike Mass Effect 3, where you got to choose what exact ability your teammate uses, in this game you cannot choose the ability for your teammate to use. When you command your teammates to attack and enemy, they tend to do whatever they want, and use whatever ability they want. This is a departure from a great aspect of your ability to command your teammates more closely.
Crafting weapons and armor are a bit more complicated than it needs to be. First of all when you scan things in the environment, you get research points that can be used to develop blueprints for a weapon, armor piece, or augmentation. Now that the blueprint is part of your collection, you have the ability to develop/create the weapon. Depending on the rank of the weapon, you can add augmentations (changes to the weapon/armor such as adding grenade bullets, or electrical discharge when melee attacked, etc), and higher the weapon rank, the more augmentations you can add. You will need materials and minerals to craft the equipment. These materials and minerals can be looted, bought, or mined on planets. The great thing about these weapons/armor pieces are that you can dismantle them, and you will get your augmentations and some materials and minerals invested in making them. This gives you incentive to try and craft different combinations of weapons/armor pieces with different augmented abilities.
In terms of other gameplay, you’ll be driving your Nomad from place to place, but that doesn’t amount to anything special. It’s just a transport vehicle to speed you traversal through the environment. You’ll also be solving Sudoku style puzzles to get access to some really well hidden chests and side dungeons with high level enemies. Most of the main mission and interesting side missions involve a lot of combat, which is fine for the most part, but enemy variety is a problem. Once you played 4-5 hours of the game, you’ve probably seen all the different enemy types, except for 2-3 mini-boss type enemies. You’ll fight the same type of enemies for a large portion of the game. Thankfully the variation in the powers helps to alleviate the feeling of repetitive enemy types you’ll be fighting.
There are other side tasks that are quite boring and just there to pad the length of the game, and only serve to help increase the viability of the planets you’ll be discovering. As mentioned before, it’s the Pathfinder’s (you) job to find new planets, clear their atmosphere to acceptable conditions via doing a side mission, and doing multiple side missions to increase the viability to 100%. Sure you can go and increase every planet’s viability to 100% by doing the many pointless side tasks, but there’s no payoff in the end, other than trophies and achievements. Though some side missions and tasks have interesting stories, but it’s hard to tell which ones would lead to a long and proper side story as many of the side content can finish in 2-5 minutes. With some missions taking you 15-20 minutes to finish, the mission system feels awkward, as even some main missions only have 1-2 menial objectives.
The multiplayer in Mass Effect Andromeda feels largely unchanged from previous iterations as you only have one mode, the co-op objective based survival mode with varying levels of difficulty. The gameplay mechanics from the single-player is also present in multiplayer making it very enjoyable to play with friends. Instead of getting the option to switch between abilities and classes anytime, you have to choose from pre-set characters and abilities for each character. You can get weapons, consumables, and new characters from supply packs that are similar to the ones first featured in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. You can either earn multiplayer currency from finishing co-op extraction matches (which surprisingly gives you a fair amount), or buy Andromeda points which are basically micro-transactions. Since there is no competitive pvp in the game, the addition of micro-transactions aren’t that much of a huge problem, but the fact that they are there just re-enforces the idea that if they weren’t there we could have earned even more in game currency from just playing the multiplayer.