Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Bioware Montreal
Platform: PS4[Reviewed], PC, Xbox One
Release Date: March 21st 2017
Mass Effect: Andromeda is the latest Sci-fi RPG developed by Bioware and Published by EA. This time developed by Bioware’s B-team, for lack of a better term, Bioware Montreal. Mass Effect as a series is a great love-letter to popular Sci-fi media, particularly Star Trek and Star Wars. Much like Picard and Kirk, you captain your ship and take you and your main crew members to uncharted planets where you and your away team can find adventure and mystery. Except there are no playable space battles, damn it Bioware! Much like Star Wars the world is persistent across installments and is rich in lore for you to uncover. The alien races, politics, and technology are vast and detailed and for anyone who can tell a Bantha from a Twi’lek, there is a lot of detail in this universe intended for folks like you.
Andromeda takes place in between the events of the 2nd and 3rd games in the original series but if you haven’t played a Mass Effect game before it doesn’t matter because this is very much a side story with brand new characters. It only shares a universe and lore. You play as Ryder the Pathfinder, your created character, who is essentially in charge of finding new planets in a far off galaxy for a large number of human citizens located at a space colony called the Nexus. The problem is that the Nexus has its own fair share of problems and there aren’t many hospitable planets nearby and the ones that are, aren’t in the greatest of shapes. So you will dart around the Andromeda system, landing on planets that have some level of promise and get questing in order to rid them of their problems. Also, there is a villain making things a bit more of nuisance and providing you with hordes of nameless grunts to blast, snipe and telekinetically throw out of their bases.
Combat is perhaps the best part of Mass Effect: Andromeda if you don’t count the lore and setting that was already established in the mainline series. There is a definite sense that Bioware Montreal wanted to hone in on the more action focused route that the series was already slowly going towards. Though, I actually think the RPG character progression system is perhaps even more in depth than some of the later Mass Effect games, albeit more combat focused. Gunplay is fun, fast paced and more fluid than ever. Aiming has been made more traditional and accuracy is less based on your character stats or dice rolls and more on the player’s skill. Biotics, essentially force powers for those less acquainted, are now more fun in a battle. With some abilities such as throw allowing you to lift an enemy into the air and toss him into nearby hazards or enemies with a high level of precision and satisfaction. The cover system has been streamlined tremendously, you automatically take cover when pushed up against walls instead of the fiddly ‘snap to cover’ system that was in all previous entries of the series. All of that is great but one thing I found myself missing was a decent command system for your party members. In older titles, It really felt like you were playing as the whole party as you tell you’re them to use a Biotic at the perfect moment or to flank an enemy. I didn’t instantly gel with Andromeda command system and so I felt like I was more of a lone gunner with some backup rather than a tightly, well-rounded team.
The character progression is actually quite varied and nicely thought out. It’s done so you are never truly locked into one class and can really mix things up to create the character that you want. I essentially played as some kind of futuristic assassin with a cloak ability, a few biotic powers and a sniper rifle and pistol. I was all about picking them off from afar then heading in while cloaked causing confusion and cleaning up the rest up-close with force powers and a pistol. There are three groups of abilities, Combat, Biotics, and Tech. How many of each you choose from each group is up to you. If you choose to go with an all Biotic build then you will get extra bonuses for being so focused. If you went half and half, Biotics and Combat, then you would end up with different bonuses to your stats and so on. It’s a crazy balancing act and I am impressed by Bioware Montreal for their effort. Sadly, it one of only a few areas where Andromeda actually succeeds.
The Elephant in the Room.
I don’t want to dwell on this topic for too long as I’m sure most of you have already heard it a thousand times and probably seen a few hilarious youtube compilations. This. Game. Is. Buggy. At least on release it was anyway. Though Bioware has been steadily updating the game since its poor state at release, I think that there is still about halfway to go.
The game feels about 6-months too early. I encountered the infamous terrible facial animations, getting stuck on terrain, cutscene glitches, enemies that would freeze, flickering objects and bad AI pathfinding. The facial animations at launch were horrendous, some people could overlook it but I really struggled, it’s right in the uncanny valley and it looked like cardboard cutouts blurting out boring voice acting. I have more to say about the voice acting later. Exploring the locations on foot feels unstable like you don’t want to touch anything in case the game just implodes in your face. This game also heavily suffers from the open world questing syndrome that is far too common these days. So many of the quests are just filler, so many icons on your map all do the same thing in another place. The environments are huge and also designed to be traversed in the Nomad, you’re all-terrain space buggy, which does feel great to drive. However, there is soo much empty space and I found myself getting bored a lot. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is poorly voice acted, even in the main quests. Not once did anyone express any type of emotion, at least intended. I turned off the sound at one point just to read the subtitles and analyze the writing to see if that was truly to blame, but my imagination was actually more entertaining then the actors which lead me to believe it isn’t completely the writer’s problem. However, it is clear the writers wanted to include some humor into what is usually a more heavy series, maybe akin to Star Wars. The problem is it’s so out of character and forced that it made me roll my eyes on occasion.
One other problem is the menus, it’s quite a pain to wrap your head around and at first glance it is stylish but you soon find out it lacks intuitiveness. Something as simple as comparing weapon stats is made stupidly difficult and the organization of everything isn’t consistent across screens. Chances are, if you expect something to be somewhere based on what you’re used to from other games, you can bet that it isn’t there. I never truly got the hang of it by the end of my playthrough. That said it perhaps is trying a lot to be different to house the unique information needed in this game. Although, Metal Gear Solid V also had a lot of unique information to display and did it with flying colors so perhaps there is no excuse.
Bioware’s last game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, actually suffers from many of the same issues as Andromeda. Sure DAI was much more stable on release and definitely has more polish but in terms of gameplay and the ‘open world questing syndrome’ I mentioned earlier, it’s quite similar. DAI had you running around many large, mini-open world areas doing quests and activities, many of which had no real reason to be there other than to mark it on your checklist. The kicker is that DAI actually had a compelling cast of characters, was well voice acted and the main storyline was well written. That is essentially what Mass Effect: Andromeda is missing. I won’t remember the crew of the Tempest-like I do with Shepard’s crew on the Normandy. I won’t remember meeting any of my squad members for the first time. Ultimately, I don’t think I will remember playing this game this time next year. Maybe, just maybe, everything will be patched by then.