Bioware has a new twist on the Mass Effect series. How does it hold up?
Mass Effect: Andromeda has been on my radar for some time, weaseling its way into my thoughts and teasing at my sensibilities to avoid getting hyped about it. I spent the time since its announcement getting informed about the lore, gameplay, and setting. I can’t say that I ever got completely caught up in the hype machine, but it’s safe to say that I was a little giddy when Jennifer and I’s copies arrived.
You’ve likely read other reviews, but what about from the perspective of a couple diehard Mass Effect series fans? You’ve likely read my initial impressions of it, but prepare yourselves for a comprehensive review! I’ll be discussing Jennifer and I’s thoughts about this newest entry into the franchise, but I’ll turn the reins over to Jennifer for the bit about the story.
To say that Mass Effect: Andromeda improves upon the formula that Bioware has refined in Mass Effect 3 is adequate, I suppose. The developers have clearly taken notes about what works in combat for the series, and done much to enhance it, but that really isn’t saying much. As much as I love the original trilogy, they all had adequate controls at best. I do enjoy that Ryder seems to have momentum this time around, where Shepard appeared to defy the laws of physics sometimes. Ryder takes time to slow down from a run, a moment to get situated behind cover, and some stabilizing time to gain footing after a jump (Jen: with a ton of grunting).
Of course, this new added weight to Ryder’s movement comes at a cost. Using the jetpack or thrusters halts sprinting, forcing you to start a sprint again after the action is complete, and the controls can feel sluggish at times. Regardless, moving about in combat is far more fun, and so much more necessary. Enemies, despite being rather stupid sometimes, will do what they can to flush you out of cover and force you to adjust.
Much to the chagrin of some diehard fans, every skill is available to every player from the outset, with the only limitations being the number of skill points available. With classes going by the wayside, players are instead offered what are called Profiles (named after the former classes), which give special benefits for using specific skill sets. Profiles in particular enhance each style of play. The Infiltrator Profile strengthens Ryder’s hit-and-run abilities, while an Adept Profile vastly increases the biotic god powers. The only new addition is the inclusion of a seventh Profile: Explorer, which is for jack-of-all-trades players.
To balance the fact that you can earn any ability, players are restricted to having access to one set of three abilities at any given time. There’s no Power Wheel to pause combat, or tactical options like in Dragon Age: Inquisition, just whatever you have equipped at the time. Sure, it’s possible to create up to four Favorites of each skillset you’d like to have available in combat, but switching between them is far from what I’d consider to be intuitive, requiring the player to open up the weapon wheel and then a second menu from there… and it’s a slow interface.
Speaking of the interface, it’s a collection of minor annoyances that have a nice coat of paint. Dealing with your inventory is a bit of a pain in the ass, because you’ll pick up so many items that you’ll quickly run out of room, and you’ll have nowhere to store the extra stuff. You might as well sell or dismantle anything you aren’t actively using. Lack of space doesn’t make for much of an issue since you’ll only ever be able to outfit Ryder, leaving your squadmates to be relatively useless chatterboxes.
It’s honestly pretty hard to say that your squadmates do much. They’re fairly effective at times, but mostly when you order them to focus on a target. Otherwise they’re prone to fart around behind you, taking potshots occasionally and leaving Ryder to do the rest of the work (perhaps why Ryder became the Pathfinder?). Unfortunately, you have little control over how they use their powers. If you want Cora to use her Nova power on the boss, too bad. She might just blow that on some random enemy instead unless you’re assigning targets constantly. Mass Effect: Andromeda could really benefit from the tactics system from the Dragon Age series.
At least the Nomad is a pretty useful tool to have at your disposal. The areas you can explore are rather large, and having a fast, armored vehicle at your command is extremely nice. Not to mention that it’s actually pretty easy to drive once you figure out the controls. That and once you get acquainted with using two separate buttons for entering and exiting the Nomad, instead of accidentally extracting to the Tempest when you’re trying to get out of the Nomad. While it’s not as much of an all-terrain vehicle as the Mako was (no climbing nearly-vertical slopes anymore), you can still get around effectively in it.
Walking around on the various planets shows off some of the amazing visuals that you’re likely to remember seeing from the trailers. Habitat 7 in particular shows off some impressive environmental effects, but that isn’t the only place where the technical wonder shows up. There have been many times where I looked at it in amazement regarding some of the details like the lighting, the tracks Ryder and the Nomad leave in the sand or snow, or the way the Nomad slides about in Agility mode or on ice (or both).
The new galaxy map is a great example of just how good the game can look (even if the black hole in the center of the cluster somehow distorts light that hasn’t passed near it). Warping around the Heleus Cluster is absolutely breathtaking, and as always, the cinematics of the spacecraft travelling around look incredible.
However, there are so many bugs and issues that I’ve run into, and they aren’t even the bugs that others have been complaining about. For instance, sometimes the Nomad won’t generate any engine noise. Enemies will often be stuck in the air after being brought in by dropship. Assigning powers or modifying your favorites will unpause the game. The game will often freeze if you’re travelling too quickly over open terrain. Textures often fail to load, or load in the middle of a scene. Textures on characters look muddled, especially with many defined armor textures looking like someone smeared colors onto the armor. Walking into some rooms in hub areas will often result in characters popping into existence in front of your very eyes. Your squadmates also have a tendency to teleport around, though not as unnoticably as in previous games… And those are just the issues that I’ve personally experienced.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the character animations. They’re, well… They’re Bioware-level animations. As I mentioned briefly in my impressions of the game’s first 10 hours, Bioware has always had a problem with animation. Their characters have always looked like awkward dolls, and to complain about it only now would be unfair to say the least, especially considering how Bethesda has been getting away with garbage animations for over a decade.
If anything, let’s pick our battles.
If there’s anything I can universally praise about Bioware’s newest game however, it’s that the soundtrack, and sound in general, is excellent. It seems that Bioware and EA are able to consistently nail it with sound design in their titles. I’ve definitely found another original soundtrack that’s worthy of inclusion in my collection.
The premise of Mass Effect: Andromeda is actually pretty neat, even if it’s fairly similar to other science fiction series. I was expecting Bioware to take a bit of a different direction with the story, but I’m okay with being wrong. Having to form an all new settlement, cut off from any assistance or communication with home, is reminiscent of the struggles that actual colonists had in the days of colonizing the New World.
Everything that the Andromeda Initiative needs to colonize their corner of the Heleus Cluster in the Andromeda galaxy is either something that they needed to take with them, or they’ll have to source once they start the process. It’s a little puzzling to me that they didn’t bother to try to keep contact with the Milky Way galaxy in any way by utilizing quantum entanglement communication considering that they’re able to implant that stuff in people’s skulls, but I’m willing to overlook it.
The feeling of being on the frontier is ever present though, with resources and backup being in short supply. It fits the series that brute force solutions aren’t generally an option. There’s no massive fleet of warships to call on, or an army to back you up, just whatever firepower a small team can bring.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
Jen (Nerd Thoughts Blog author): As Shelby mentioned above, Mass Effect: Andromeda was not what we thought it would be. I think he may have over-thought it more than I did, but we both saw it going in different directions.
With that being said, the storyline is quite easily the only thing not wrong with Andromeda.
The story starts off fairly slow, much like in the original Mass Effect. You’re introduced to your character (hello!) and the movement mechanics of the game while an Asari chick checks you out (not like that…). During the initial post-cryo sleep checkup, something goes wrong and the Hyperion is shoved around, causing your twin’s cryo pod to malfunction. Due to this mishap you don’t actually get to “meet” your twin for some time. I have no insight into how long because I have been playing for a week and he still hasn’t woken up. Good job, Bioware, you made a character that adds nothing to the story.
Shelby: He’ll wake up eventually.
Jen: Moving on…
The story continues to take the player down a well-known road. Something seriously awful has happened and you, the player, are the only one who can fix (you go, player). So you embark on a mission to set foot on the first
crappy uninhabitable planet you come across, Habitat 7. Let me tell you, folks, it’s not good.
The reason you have to embark on this mission is because the Hyperion (the Human Ark- not the one Noah built) hit some weird electrical stuffs called the Scourge. It’s all kinds of scary stuff that perplexes the crew, including Dad-Ryder (Shelby: … Awkward name), to the point of “hey, let’s go down there.” Good move, Dad-Ryder.
Anyhoos. During your, uh, visit to Habitat 7, you encounter…. wait for it… ALIENS! Betcha didn’t guess that, huh? Yup, aliens. They’re not very nice ones either. They try to beat up the medic dude, and open fire on you. Jerks.
Along with the aliens you find, the Kett, you find bunches of alien tech. I mean, where you find aliens you can usually bet you’ll find alien stuff, but apparently it comes as a huge surprise to
After you reconcile with your peeps, you find your Dad-Ryder (I don’t know why, but my character customization made my Dad-Ryder look like an alien himself. It was scary). Dad-Ryder has a master plan to get past all the evil aliens and somehow access the unknown alien tech in order to reverse whatever the heck it is doing to mess up the planet’s atmosphere and save the day! Man, Bioware should have let us play him instead of twin Ryders.
*Insert something awful happens which causes you to become the Pathfinder* If you don’t call what happens to make you a Pathfinder, then you need to go crawl back into the hole you came out of. I told Shelby what was gonna happen even before the game released.
So once you get off of Habitat 7, you find the Nexus (discount crappy Citadel-ship). It isn’t complete and everyone on the ship either hates you, because you’re not Dad-Ryder, or thinks you’re gonna save the galaxy, which you better or everyone dies.
stupid Salarian director Director Tann of the Nexus gives you the Tempest (discount Normandy) to go exploring the other “Golden Worlds” and to figure out how to get rid of the Scourge.
This is where your mission really begins. You start to have more freedom (side quests) and you meet more of your companions. Not to mention you get to fly around the unnaturally colorful Heleus Cluster (sorry guys, space isn’t that colorful).
From the story that I have played, I can say that it isn’t nearly up to the standard of the original Mass Effect. Not that the story isn’t interesting, it is, but that I am not drawn to the characters or people (aliens?) you meet along the way. I don’t feel like I am becoming part of them or immersing myself with who they are. My brain easily accepts that I am playing a video game. Not what I was expecting from this game.
The overall main story is the only thing that keeps me playing through. I hate admitting that, but it’s true. I finally came across a giant quest reveal after spending all day Saturday playing. I can’t reveal to you what it was (because someone wrote this review instead of playing today) but I can tell you that it was enough for me to encourage Shelby to keep playing.
I want to know what the Scourge is, I want to find the other Arks (not the one Noah created), and I want to make the planets habitable for everyone to live on.
Shelby: Multiplayer hasn’t turned out to be much of a departure from Mass Effect 3, for better or worse. While it remains fun with a group that’s coordinated, it’s possible to still get held up by players that are idle. Multiplayer matches still take the form of cooperative battles through waves of enemies, while completing as many objectives as possible. It’s a workable formula, and while I’m glad that Bioware took the time to make a few improvements, it still feels like I’m playing Mass Effect 3 multiplayer.
At the very least, jumping into matches isn’t difficult, and it’s possible to do so from the singleplayer game on the Tempest. Interestingly, there are also APEX missions that players can assign teams to carry out, which brings in bonus rewards. Playing multiplayer can unlock extras for the campaign, but thankfully Bioware learned from the stink over Galactic Readiness ratings, and chose to leave out the mandate to play multiplayer to earn a decent ending. All APEX missions can be completed by AI teams that can be assigned from the Tempest.
So in summary, there’s multiplayer. It isn’t what I’d consider groundbreaking, as it’s apparently an established flavor for Bioware games now (4-player Co-Op Survival Mode), but at least it’s pretty fun.
WILDCARD: HORRIFYING IMPLICATIONS
There are some rather distressing implications that come along with the concept behind Mass Effect: Andromeda, that I’m not entirely sure is effectively addressed in the game.
First, the Andromeda Initiative arriving after roughly 600 years means that almost everyone in the Milky Way galaxy would be dead by time the Arks and Nexus arrived in the Heleus Cluster. Of course, for the Krogan and Asari, this may not be the case, but with the Salarians, Turians, and Humans, it’d be a different story. It just seems odd that everyone seems perfectly okay with leaving everyone they know behind, and it gives me a sense that not many participants have much of a care in the world about anything.
Second, the Andromeda Initiative is arriving in another galaxy; one that has its own inhabitants who have the primary right to colonize worlds. The Angarans seems oddly okay with the fact that aliens from another galaxy are attempting to settle on worlds that are suitable for their own purposes. Sure, there are the Angarans that stereotypically loathe all aliens and actively fight new species just because of the Kett’s actions, but their attitude doesn’t extend past the “We hate you because you aren’t like us” mentality.
Lastly, the way that the Andromeda Initiative attempts to portray the Milky Way races in the Cultural Exchange on the Nexus is extremely creepy, and sounds incredibly disingenuous. It’s worrisome that the Andromeda Initiative would commit lies of omission by leaving out key details of the issues that they’ve dealt with back in the Milky Way, as if they’re actively attempting to erase the past in order to appear as entirely benevolent, even when the presence of exiles from the Nexus dissolve the integrity of that narrative.
If this is something that will be explored in the future, my interest is piqued. However, if it’s something that’s swept under the rug out of convenience’s sake, then I have to express that I’d be disappointed.
If you noticed, I drew a few comparisons between Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition, and there’s a reason. It’s because for all Bioware’s attempts to generate a new spin on the space opera series, they basically just took Dragon Age: Inquisition and set it in space. The same dialog system, same graphics, same quest structure, same open-world concepts, same crafting system, and same problems; while losing some of the more important elements like tactical tools and going for character scripts that sound like they were written by teenagers (what adult flirts like Ryder?).
However, despite these shortcomings, Mass Effect: Andromeda evokes the same feelings I had with Dragon Age: Origins and the original Mass Effect. It lacks polish in many areas and has some truly questionable design decisions, but I’m at least willing to see where it goes. I want to see where the story goes and get some answers about how the Andromeda Initiative is going to make things work in their new home. I’m holding out for something to knock my socks off, and I’m willing to give Mass Effect: Andromeda the benefit of the doubt. The idea of settling in a new galaxy and finding a place there is intriguing, though I’m not entirely sold on it yet.
Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a terrible game, just inconsistent. It’s that inconsistency that makes it difficult to recommend when so many other games have come out so recently. With that in mind, if you haven’t bought Mass Effect: Andromeda, you may want to wait. Until then, it’s probably a good idea to hang back in the Milky Way until they’ve had a little more time to buff out the rough spots.
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