Having last played a Mass Effect game when the second one made its way onto PC, I found myself more than a little excited to see what BioWare would bring to their latest instalment in the well-storied franchise and, from the get-go I must admit, Mass Effect: Andromeda lived up to expectations about as much as No Man’s Sky but with one caveat: No Man’s Sky was published by an indie company, not a well-known Triple-A game studio.
Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a closer look at Mass Effect Andromeda, what it brings to the table and then we can ask ourselves the question of: “Is it worth purchasing?”.
The first game that doesn’t see players take on the role of the now famous Captain Shephard, Mass Effect Andromeda takes place in the mysterious Andromeda galaxy with the story following the adventures directly after a mass-exodus of the inhabitants of the Milky Way galaxy. Players take on the role of either Sara or Scott Ryder, twin children of the famous Pathfinder Alec Ryder, who must fill the most intimidating shoes of all time and find a new home for the hundred thousand former Milky Way residents aboard the fleet’s vessels.
Threatening the survival of your people are two enemies with vastly different motivations: the Remnant (not really a race but rather the title given to the remains of a technologically advanced ‘race’ whose machinery is responsible for the tumultuous events of the initial moments of the game) who seem to be focused on preservation of species in the Andromeda galaxy by whatever means possible, and the Kett – a brutal and warlike invasive species with a special interest in Remnant technology and how it can be used to further their own goals.
An interesting set-up, the story that follows doesn’t quite live up to its expectations with the early game immediately plunging the player into emotional conversations that would make sense later in the game once relationships have been built, but fall flat due to their stunted dialogue delivery and the terrifying facial contortions that plague most face-to-face interactions. Luckily for Andromeda, the story and character development does improve somewhat as you progress through the main story, though the often lifeless dialogue delivery is a serious issue in such a story-driven title.
The character creation in Andromeda is something I really did not enjoy playing around with much as it is more limited than I expected and you can only modify preset models, not actually design a face from the ground up, which often didn’t leave you much to work with as the various pre-sets leave much to be desired. I chose instead to use the standard Sara model for my own playthrough.
In terms of the player being able to mould their experience through dialogue choices, while there are more options than in previous iterations these interactions seem to have less real impact than ever with the choices only superficially different and seeming to have little effect on the rest of the conversation. This superficiality, combined with some extremely awkward delivery, really hamper what could be a much more engaging story than what we are presented with, especially given how much emphasis the developer’s put into making character development and emotional-investment an important part of Andromeda.
The one aspect of the game that really does deserve credit is the need the game instils to explore the vast and beautiful Andromeda galaxy as, visually speaking, the Andromeda galaxy has been rendered in stunning detail and this, combined with very large open spaces and worlds that feel genuinely explore-able, makes the title feel much less tedious and some of the bugs more bearable.
Unfortunately this beauty also has the unfortunate side effect of making the awful facial animation and seemingly inhuman walking mechanics even more noticeable as it is hard to revel in the beauty of many of the environments when you know you will, at some point, be forced to endure the twitchy-eyed stare of the main character as you attempt to have a conversation with someone who looks like they watched a video of a person walking before trying it out for the first time.
In terms of side missions, the game is literally packed to the seams with optional quests, and the game presents these missions in a very fluid manner, so much so that a side effect of this was the fact that I often found myself on the way to a main mission only to be easily wrangled into a side mission without being aware of what I was getting myself into until I’m halfway through the mission. This does often lead to a huge backlog of accepted missions, all waiting patiently to be completed, which could be a bit frustrating if you are one of those people (like myself) that hates doing all the missions but hates even more the idea of not completing something you’ve started.
Gameplay and Combat
One of the areas that, sometimes, really sees Andromeda shine is the gameplay, as it is easy to pick up and the controls work reasonably well, with the core shooting mechanics feeling a lot more refined than in previous titles. Combine this with a highly flexible progression system, which lets you play the character in whatever way you so choose, combined with the new jump jet that gives players even greater control over combat situations, and you get something that feels satisfying. The jump jet also serves to compensate for the buggy auto-cover system that seemed to have a life of its own in key combat situations.
A big downside to the combat is that the enemy AI does seem a little basic with most situations easily overcome through sheer brute force, not really requiring much strategy in most cases and resulting in gameplay that can get repetitive the more you progress, although the ability to switch between loadouts really goes a long way in remedying this as you are free to use different loadouts from mission to mission (although you can only do this between missions at a loadout station meaning you cannot change it on the fly – something that would have come in handy).
You can also have three abilities equipped at any time, one from each of the three ability trees: combat, biotics and technology. As you spend your hard-earned points in the various trees you will be able to unlock different abilities and profiles which can be changed at will to grant different bonuses depending on the situation at hand.
While these abilities can be changed during missions, you are required to do this through the rather tedious menu system, making changing abilities during combat situations time consuming and not something you really want to be doing in the middle of a heated battle. This almost nullifies the benefit of being able to change them in-mission (as you’ve normally wiped out the enemy by the time you realise that it would have been easier if you had equipped a different set of abilities).
Moving onto the companion characters, Mass Effect Andromeda took a bit of a different approach with the control over your battle team than they did in previous iterations, taking back much of your power over the team and leaving you to only really interact with them in terms of levels and powers. You don’t really have much control over what your team does in battle, and you have no power over what weapons or equipment they take into missions, though this move away from the “squad” does let you concentrate on your own character a lot more than in previous titles. This would be all well and good if it were not for the fact that these companions often present a hindrance in battle, engaging enemies in questionable ways and often requiring rescuing at inopportune times.
In terms of weapons and equipment, the crafting system is tedious as it requires hours of scanning and searching for loot before you can even warrant fighting through a messy user interface in order to complete your desired loadout, which can be extremely annoying to deal with.
While there are is a lot wrong with Mass Effect Andromeda, I did find myself enjoying some of the actual combat and the fact that there are many different ways to build and play your character means that there is a lot of potential for replay. My main issue with the title is the sheer volume of things that feel unfinished or like there hasn’t been enough effort put into polishing (such as the facial oddities and stunted dialogue).Perhaps with a few patches this title will be more appealing however, for a full price Triple A game I am extremely disappointed with the result and I myself would not recommend the title in its current state.
- Highly explore-able environments
- Visually stunning
- Highly customisable character load-outs
- Improved dialogue options
- Side quests are well presented and make you want to play more of them
- Facial and movement animations are sub-par
- Single-player enemy AI is predictable and uninspired
- Ally AI can be frustrating
- Numerous bugs and performance issues
- Tedious menu system
- Limited character customisation in the ways that matter (eg facial structure)