Mass Effect: Andromeda Review
It’s no secret that I am a massive fan of the Mass Effect series. In fact, Mass Effect 2 is among my favourite games of all time and includes two set pieces that I consider to be the best in gaming. The series brought a sense of discovery and wonder that I hadn’t felt in years and built a narrative that drew me in. While the ending of Mass Effect 3 wasn’t anything to write home about, it was still a solid experience and didn’t tarnish my love of the series. Imagine my disappointment, when after impatiently waiting five years to finally play Mass Effect: Andromeda, that it turns out to be a tonally inconsistent journey rife with issues.
Much has already been said about the number of animation issues within Mass Effect: Andromeda, from poor lip syncing, bizarre facial animations and a bugged-out zig-zag running animation, but I don’t believe those are the real problem in the game’s animations. The real issue? A complete lack of contextual animation. In most games when you run up a hill or a flight of stairs, your character’s running animation will alter to consider the change in incline and terrain. This doesn’t happen in Mass Effect: Andromeda, with Ryder instead looking like they’re running directly into the slope. Running over a rock just pushes your character model up vertically, and running into an enemy or even a wall just causes you to slide off it. While the other animations can be tweaked to look better, these are animations that simply don’t exist, making the game look amateurish when in motion and isn’t something that should be an issue in a AAA game today.
This sentiment continues into the writing and story in Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is filled with cringeworthy lines and a tone which is continually inconsistent. For those unaware, the main premise of Andromeda is that you and hundreds of thousands of other Milky Way residents have taken a 600+ year one-way trip to settle the Andromeda galaxy. Upon arriving there, things instantly go wrong, with the Arks carrying the vast majority of the general population completely missing and the planets you were meant to settle turning out to be completely inhospitable. Your newly inherited role as Pathfinder is to find the thousands of missing people, without which whole races will become extinct, and find planets to settle the remaining people in, without which everyone will slowly starve to death. Pretty dark and desperate stuff, right? Well, outside of the very odd cutscene where it’s directly referenced, your story will instead will be filled with light and happy adventures that completely ignore the gravity of your situation. A typical story mission will include a deep and meaningful discussion afterwards into what needs to be done next to save everyone, but within 10 seconds of it ending your crew is standing around laughing and asking you to go and find some popcorn for them. This inconsistency in tone gradually causes the story to lose any credibility, because if the character’s themselves don’t seem to care about the weight of the world being on their shoulders, then why should you?
I’ve long been a fan of the writing in Bioware games, even when there have been the odd issues with the script. This can’t be said for Andromeda, which serves up the worst writing I’ve yet seen in a game from them. Jokes are regularly off-key and miss the mark, while the romance writing is so cringeworthy that I couldn’t help but laugh. Certain characters writing is so bad, including the ships engineer Gil, that I found myself ignoring them whenever I could and skipping through their lines whenever the game forced me to interact with them. I’ve never before looked to skip lines in a Bioware game out of pure disinterest and it’s made all the more frustrating because the characters themselves are enjoyable and engaging. Despite seeming annoying in early trailers, Peebee is an energetic and lovable character, Vetra is another great Turian ally and Drack is a surprisingly deep and multi-dimensional Krogran. Beyond the odd misstep, like the earlier mentioned Gil and the incredibly boring Cora, the cast of Mass Effect: Andromeda are relatable, interesting and a joy to interact with.
While there are lots of issues with Mass Effect: Andromeda, Bioware Montreal have definitely succeeded in creating the best combat system found in a Mass Effect game to date. The dash and jet pack introduce a new measure of manoeuvrability to your character which makes combat flow significantly better than in the past. Charging in to unleash a Nova Strike, before quickly dashing out before your enemy can retaliate is incredibly satisfying and fun. The freedom to freely select the abilities you learn as you level up, instead of being hemmed in by your class choice, brings out the best in the combat because you can build your character to fit your preferred style.
This flows through into the horde-based multiplayer in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Much was said about the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 and it continues to be an engaging and fun experience in Andromeda. You’ll combine with other players in a fire-team of four, as you complete a variety of objectives while holding off waves of enemy combatants. These objectives can range from simply wiping out your enemies to holding points while you upload data and more, creating a varied experience that changes from game to game. It can get frantic as you can quickly become overwhelmed in later waves, but your stack of consumable rockets are never too far away to get you out of trouble. These consumables and characters are both locked behind random card packs that you purchase using in-game currency within the game. While I never felt those to be limiting factors, in fact they’re significantly fairer than other similar multiplayer modes, some may be frustrated with not being able to play their preferred character type. While the mode was certainly fun, I ran into multiple instances of lag which negatively affected my matches and also found myself losing connection on occasion and losing my progress.
While the story is inconsistent and frustrating, the world it takes place in is anything but these things. Environments vary wildly from planet to planet, and no matter where you are you’re never far away from an amazing vista. Foliage is regularly dense and plentiful, and is highly detailed and looks wonderful. This makes the new and improved not-Mako (the Nomad) all the more fun to take for a spin around the planet. The Nomad feels like what the Mako should have been, with responsive controls that make it a joy to take for a spin. Having to manually between the ‘fast’ mode and the ‘six-wheel drive’ mode to climb inclines can be frustrating, but it doesn’t break the experience. Unlike the environments on the planets, characters themselves are certainly not interesting or great to look at. Human’s in particular suffer, with hair that looks like a plastic helmet, shiny skin and eyes that are much too bright. It’s amazing that the environmental art direction and texture work is so good, while the characters look almost likely something from the last generation.
Throughout all of this, I had a range of technical issues on PC that severely hampered my experience with Mass Effect: Andromeda. On multiple occasions I was forced to go to the task bar and close the game as I had hit load screens that would never finished loading, losing an indeterminate amount of progress each time. I was also forced to go back over 40 minutes to an old save state because a loyalty mission had bugged and I could no longer progress through it. I also had a range of framerate issues, with the game coming to a complete standstill multiple times during combat and when landing on planets. I eventually hit the point where I was continuously saving the game because I never knew when the next load screen would decide it didn’t feel like finishing.
Mass Effect: Andromeda has turned out to be the one thing I never thought I would see; a Mass Effect game that has killed my enthusiasm for the franchise as a whole. The planets are a joy to drive around in and explore, but the writing feels inept and the tone is so inconsistent that it actively makes you want to skip it. The complete lack of contextual and transitional animations is unforgivable in a game that was in development for five years and is only compounded by the other animation issues. Constant technical problems even manage to detract from the great combat system that Bioware Montreal have introduced to the game. Overall, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a game that I cannot suggest buying unless it is heavily improved by patches and additional free content, a thing I never thought I would say about a Mass Effect or Bioware game.