Mass Effect: Andromeda is BioWare’s new spinoff from the highly successful and possibly my favorite franchise Mass Effect series. That sets high expectations for both me and the public. The public apparently decided to hate it because of some bad lip-sync and eyes that don’t look quite right, but I was much more interested in fun combat and a good story, so I kept an open mind.
In order to allow for the radically different endings of the original trilogy, this one takes the action to another galaxy. A group of large ships carrying 20,000 people in cryo-stasis sets off for Andromeda around the time ME2 started, planning to each explore and colonize a new world that long range scans indicate will be habitable, then meet up at a Citadel-like new structure meant to serve as the seat of government for a new galactic alliance of Milky Way settlers. But of course stuff goes wrong, you find some hostile natives, and you get thrust into an important position, trying to find all the colonists a place to live.
The characters are pretty good, only ok by Mass Effect standards, but ME1 characters didn’t really get interesting until later in the series. The story is good too, but frustrating, because all the most intriguing side plots are left unresolved, presumably for DLC and sequels. Damnit! But overall it was satisfying. I guess the highest compliment I can pay this game is that I expect to replay it sometime in the future on insanity difficulty.
I could write a giant essay on my feelings about the game, but boiling it down to bullet points will keep this from getting excessively long.
- Combat is fun. Had me worried at first, but once your powers are fleshed out, it plays like ME3 but faster. You can’t pause and you can’t give squadmates specific orders, but you gain the ability to jump and dash, as well as to mix and match powers with no class limitations.
- They had some nice variety in the loyalty missions. Some were action/comedy, some more serious. They also had a lot of nice short character moment quests, along the lines of Garrus shooting bottles on the citadel.
- Other than faces and the occasional glitch, the graphics are really good. Environments look awesome, space stuff is cool, you can even see the planet you’re orbiting through the windows when you’re running around on the ship.
- They use focus really effectively to direct your attention. When I first noticed it, I was afraid they were going to overuse it, because it isn’t a thing I see video games employ too much, but they really used it only when needed.
- The main story was interesting enough, but I can’t emphasize enough how interested I am into some of the subplots. Seriously, give me DLC ASAP.
- No bordered off areas in the ship, so you can visit all your squadmates without riding an elevator or going through a security scan or whatever. There’s one door that I did think hide a loading screen, it occasionally took a second to open, but that was it.
- Male Ryder voice actor is way better than male Shepard ever was, and the voice cast in general is good. Especially Peebee, who elevated what could have been an annoying character into a charming one. Cora’s is the only major character voice I didn’t think was great.
- Facial animations aren’t great. Apparently they’re algorithmically generated rather than done by animators to account for the many different possibilities. The internet lost its shit over it, but it mostly didn’t bother me that much.
- They use the same face model every Asari but one, just throwing a different skin over it. That actually did bother me. Salarians and Turians didn’t have much variety either.
- Romance options aren’t great. Original trilogy options were across the board intriguing enough that part of my reasons for replaying was to try another one. Here… I just picked the one that seemed the lest boring. Peebee’s story was fine, but on par with Josephine in DA:I as the worst I’ve played in Bioware’s two big franchises (Isabela #1, Morrigan #2, Tali #3, Liara #4, then… hard to pick between Jack and Miranda).
- Planet scanning sucks again. The actual scanning is nice and painless, but there are 20 second animations when moving from one planet to another. They’re super cool looking, but scanning 6 planets in a system is about 1 minute of scanning and two minutes of watching animations. That gets old fast.
- There’s a whole thing with a hand-held scanner that’s pretty boring.
- The whole open world thing comes with some cons. You spend a decent amount of time just driving around in the new version of the mako. And they always have that thing where the map says you’re right next to the place you want to go to, but there’s unpassable mountains between you and your destination, and it’s unclear how you get to the passable part, so you end up driving around in circles for 5 minutes. That is never fun, and it happens in open world games always. It fits with the theme of exploration, but when compared to the loyalty missions, which were self-contained and a whole lot of fun, the open world parts seemed not so great.
- There’s some inventory management problems. No ability to sort, piles of different crafting resources and I never really had a sense of what was for what. They did have a “sell all junk” button at least.
- They do a terrible job of letting you see stats. I have like six different boosts to biotic recharge speed, but can’t see either the total of the bonuses or the resulting recharge speed for any powers. There’s a stats screen but it only shows your health and shield strength and a few other random stats (which pretty much mean nothing, because who cares what my health is if I don’t know how much damage enemies are doing?).
- It’s too easy to interrupt ambient dialogue or companion banter by accident. Maybe having a complete conversation log in the menu somewhere might fix that (so you could just hit the menu and re-read what the interrupted dialogue would have said).
- Most quests have nav points, but some don’t. Most places to start quests have map indicators, but some don’t. I find that kinda irritating, but some people might like the hidden-ness.
- There’s a crafting system for weapons and armor, and it’s not so great. Lots of options to customize and as usual the best weapons and armor require crafting, but really you’re going to pick one type of weapon and craft a low level version of it early in the game and periodically craft higher level iterations of the same weapon as you gain xp. There are no special recipes to hunt down (that I’m aware of), or unique items you can get that are on par with the crafted ones (that I’m aware of). It’s just… “well I’ve gained enough levels, time to re-craft better versions of the same stuff again.”
- There was one specific incident of being forced into a binary choice where an obvious happy medium existed which bugged me. It was AI-related, which is always my most passionate issue in these games, so maybe it didn’t bother other players as much as it did me.
- You play a segment as someone other than your Ryder, which as usual, I don’t really like.
A lot of my gripes are a lack of polish, and being a AAA game, it should have had a little more development, but I’m used to bugs here and there when I play a game right out of the gate. Most of that will get fixed in a patch, I’m sure. Interestingly, the fact that a lot of Andromeda‘s flaws are apparent from the get-go, while Fallout 4‘s took a lot more play time to notice, pretty much meant Fo4 got considerably better critical response even though Fo4 was a much more hollow experience, because the critics get a preview copy and only a few days to rush out a review, so they really don’t get the full picture.
But some of the flaws are design decisions. I actually find the romance options most troubling for the direction of Bioware. This and Dragon Age: Inquisition haven’t had any options I thought were very interesting. Bioware’s trying (with mixed results) to be a little more diverse and inclusive, and that’s great, but they seem to think a part of being diverse and inclusive means not having any conventionally hot women.
Still, I did like it a lot. It’s probably the Dragon Age 2 of the Mass Effect series. Flawed but fun.