The year was two thousand and seven. A fledgling company named Bioware had just launched a new franchise named Mass Effect. Oh, who am I kidding? Bioware was already an RPG powerhouse long before that. I’d played Balder’s Gate and loved it, so I was moved to purchase this purportedly ambitious space opera. Fast forward to a decade later and I’ve played the Mass Effect trilogy a dozen times all the way through. I’ve seen every quest, every romance, and truly everything of the galaxy as told by the great Shepard. Oh hey, a new Mass Effect is coming out? Sign me up! I was elated and yet wary.
Oh hey, a new Mass Effect is coming out? Sign me up! I was elated and yet wary.
My suspicions were based on how the Dragon Age series ran in parallel with Mass Effect. Dragon Age: Origins opened their stores with intricate and moving lore, Dragon Age II streamlined and narrowed focus, and Dragon Age: Inquisition went open world. There’s a pattern that follows the flow of gaming trends in general. Mass Effect follows suit: Mass Effect 1 is a heavily lore-based experience with plenty of world building and memory characters. Mass Effect 2 narrows focus and changes scenery, as well as streamlining combat and questing. Mass Effect 3 further streamlined things and then tried to open up the world in a way that was less planet-mining or mako-traveling, and more meaningful. It didn’t quite make that mark.
Here comes Mass Effect: Andromeda some four years after the last DLC shipped for ME3. Short enough a time that everyone still knows and loves the series; long enough that people are ready to buy into hype. As in my modus operandi, I did not look at any E3 footage or official trailers for ME:A. I refused to be let down by the hype machine again. The most I had in terms of bias coming into this game is some rare word of mouth negatives and the fact that Bioware was shutting down the franchise until further notice. Yikes. Must be pretty bad, right? Most ‘good’ games get planned sequels within a month of release, not their development team shut down. The next thing I did was check to see if any of the main issues and concerns to the majority of players had been resolved or not. Was it just a broken, buggy, awkward game that I wouldn’t enjoy? Hello patch notes. They did fix it? Good. Ready, game start.
It should be noted: Andromeda is a huge experience. There are probably one hundred hours of content. How much of it is meaningful content is another question. On first start-up, I noticed how smooth the loading screens were as well as how Mass Effect-y it felt. Yeah, that’s the best I can do on the vibe it gives off. Okay, cool, I love Mass Effect, let’s do this. Then comes the tutorial/intro where you’re brought out of stasis and told numerous times that it’s now six hundred years since you went into cryogenic sleep. Sweet, sci-fi tropes, I dig it. Oh hey, I’m needed right away by my father on a mission to a hazardous world. Things are really moving.
Playing any Xbox One title will give you that initial sense of “Holy shite, this game is beautiful.” ME:A does not disappoint. These vistas are absolutely gorgeous and truly make me feel like I’m in the fabled “next generation.” The HDR, bloom, and particle effects are all here in full force. The frame rate drops at times and just shows off a lack of polish that is pervasive across the game. The game usher you, Ryder, into battle against the ferocious Kett. These guys are super evil, guys, you don’t even know. They shoot guns and yell stuff. Way unheard of. Has anyone thought of the fact that we’ve just traveled a galaxy over after being in cryo for 600 years and we’re still somehow still fighting humanoid creatures toting guns? That’s fucking lazy, folks.
Fighting these lazily written baddies is, however, fun. Those eight seconds of combat where you’re slamming into an enemy with your omni-blade and then popping them in the face with a no-scoped sniper rifle blast; yeah it’s fun. That’s a good thing, since there’s plenty of combat to be had over the course of your adventure. I will say, the AI for the enemy combatants, whether it’s rogue Angarans named Roekarr or Remnant VIs, the enemy AI are trained to be lethal. I’m sure you’ve played those games before where your foes run single-file to their demise and never really learn from their mistakes. Technically, any enemy in this game should learn from their mistake and just run when Ryder shows up. It’s pretty rare to get a game over in this one, on Normal difficulty anyway. It has happened, though, and it’s normally just because I wasn’t using cover and thought I could just get out there in the fray and blast apart all the scrub Kett like they were level one mobs in an MMO. Not so. These guys will flank you. They will get behind you. They will make you move around. Thank all that is holy for the class I chose. There are the usual eight classes to pick from, now called ‘profiles.’ Read a guide if you want a run-down on how each profile plays, but for my experiences I chose Infiltrator. My Ryder can stealth for five seconds at base effectiveness, and closer to ten seconds later on. I also get a free stealth after each melee kill and can spot enemies behind cover when scoped. These bonuses are extremely helpful. When they close in on me like you would when trapping an opossum under your porch, I simply pop my fancy little vanishing trip and jet on over to some other, better spot. The combat is fun; enjoy it.
You see? Andromeda does do some things right. And other things so very wrong. One such flaw is the writing itself. It’s hard to imagine a more scatterbrained team of writers in all the years I’ve been playing games. It’s on the writers to give the voice actors and actresses something to work with, and then it’s on those voice actors to execute it. It’s bad writing, and oftentimes shoddy voice acting. The staff overextended itself, clearly. In an average run through this ambitious galaxy, you’ll encounter hundreds of non-playing characters, NPCs. To stop each person from bleeding into the next, writers tend to pare down what makes a person a person. That sounds silly, and it is. How do you make a lasting impression of what a Turian general is like? Well, let’s him only ever talk about duty, honor, and conflict. Every single time I talk to this guy, he’s making a reference to how fighting and living with honor is the tops for Turian society. I get that, since he’s the first Turian you meet in the game, that for players who haven’t seen dozens of them in previous games, they’re going to be able to make a first impression on that race in general.
General, that’s the word. Characters are extremely generic. They try to encapsulate the general features of an entire race into each one you meet early on. Oh, this is how Krogan are. Oh, this is how Salarians behave. Humans are the interesting ones, clearly. Not the super cool aliens that have become an integral part of Mass Effects lineage. On the flip side to this bland crisis, you have squadmates that will join you aboard your sleek wunderbar starship. What good hero doesn’t have a starship? One that is so obviously a SSV Normandy SR3. These squaddies that you attain over the course of the first major planet you explore, called Eos. You have one of each, not to sound racist. As in Mass Effect keeping, you’ll have an ambassador of each race to accompany you. That’s cool, remember Wrex and Garrus or the xenophobic Ashley? Everyone comes from somewhere. I never once felt that the squaddies in the first ME trilogy were every overdone. Each individual had their background, prejudices, and stupid rants they wanted to engage Shepard about every so often.
That said, Andromeda’s allies are all overdone. They’re crammed full of a main-character level of backstory and dozens of motivations for being where they are: in the middle of a new galaxy pulling off crazy missions to give a new home and life to all of humanity and its allies. That sounds good, right? Fleshed out characters all hanging out on a ship, waiting for you to talk to them. Wrong. Each and every one of these characters is simultaneously more interesting than the fucking actual main character. Ryder is the product of his experiences, yet has that ever familiar blank slate that we see in amnesiacs in hundreds of games and movies. He is just a guy that responds and reacts to what is happening. Where is his back story, where is his personality. Oh, right, you’re supposedly tasked with ‘creating’ Ryder as the story progresses. Wrong again. The main character’s choices are hardly ever meaningful, and his regular dialogue choices are all just saying a same thing in different ways. So, in reality, you’re setting the tone of a blank character. There aren’t different directions to take, not really. This isn’t one of those games where you look back and ask yourself, “Could I have done that different? What if I….?” Nope. It’s all pretty straightforward. In an open world full of content, you’ll be seeing and hearing plenty from your Ryder and his massively bland SAM AI, but it feels more like they want the world itself to drown out your glib superfluous character and just let you take in what the world has to offer.
And Andromeda is open world to an extent. The moment you are dropped down to a planet, you can do most of the content. That said, most of the content is absolutely positively meaningless and doesn’t even need to be done. Scan these ten rocks. Find these eight probes. Scan these twelve structures. Go find these six people. You go and do these things and get experience, sure, but after awhile it’s obvious that you don’t really need experience all that much. The levels come quickly, and I found myself at level 40 by the time I had maxed the viability of the five core planets. I had only really done the side quests that looked interesting. So, while Ryder and co. can go traipsing around the planet initially, it’s not really recommended. I don’t know if “waste of time” is the proper term, but there are certainly better things to do. Much of playing ME:A is about trying to find interesting things to do. I’ll click into a quest and it may be something that takes half an hour and is boring as all shit. Or it may be an hour long and have a couple interesting points. This lack of consistency as far as quest quality goes, is what can turn a happy player into a frustrated one.
Immersion is important in a video game. It’s what we play then for in the first place. To be taken to another world, not reminded of the ills and ails that plague us in reality. ME:A never really pulled me in, made me care. I often felt that if ninety percent of the games NPCs were killed in a giant meteor explosion event, I’d think, “Good, less bad voices to deal with.” That’s not exactly what the developers want. I’m sure they also didn’t want the facial animations to be so wonky. Yes, that’s been done to death in others’ reviews, but it’s at least worth mentioning. Why is it that humans are the only ones to have facial animations? And when they do, it’s so fucking goofy looking. I tend to have one of these faces while playing: O_o. That’s not ideal. Not even close.
There’s plenty more that could be said about Andromeda, but it’d just be a reiteration or a subset of what has already been covered. The game is absolutely a massive undertaking, not unlike Skyrim or even Bioware’s own Inquisition, but jesus god it is not on the same level as those. That’s what you get when you put the B-team devs on a flagship franchise, EA. That’s what you get.
Overall score: 2/5 need help, but worth playing for Mass Effect junkies