Mass Effect Andromeda Review
BioWare’s fabled action RPG makes its return, as Mass Effect Andromeda makes for the fourth title in BioWare’s award-winning franchise. Controversy surrounded the game even before its official release, but does the emergence of a new galaxy present a worthy new experience, or should you stay far, far away?
If you’ve been following Mass Effect Andromeda’s journey up to release, it’s unlikely you’ve missed the huge amounts of criticism surrounding the games facial animations and audio to lip sync. It’s bad. It’s really bad, but it’s not awful, and it is far from game breaking. You’ll often suffer a quick tug of the elastic from reality in some immersion breaking moments, but for the most part, it’s a really poorly executed feature that needed far more time and care than it received. What could have been a huge asset if executed correctly is one of the games most lazily done features. Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into the meat of it.
Mass Effect Andromeda sees an entirely new cast of crew and protagonists explore the dangers of distant worlds in the galaxy of Andromeda. Playing as either Scott or Sara Ryder, players awake after a 600 year hyper-nap in a brand new galaxy, looking to find a home to settle the ragtag misfits of the Milky Way – AKA the races of past Mass Effect games. BioWare’s typical dialogue-heavy storytelling returns in all its glory, with most of your time spent in the game enjoying the fully voiced inhabitants of Andromeda.
Exploration plays more of a key role than in previous games with much larger, more vibrant worlds to explore – each filled with dozens of quests and side activities. Sticking to the more believable side of alien terrain – doing away with giant plants with eyeballs and hair – for a more realistic approach to flora and fauna does provide plenty of awe=inspiring views and vistas. This is especially true when navigating space through the ridiculously cumbersome and frustrating planet scanning system – a feature that is saved only by the fact the galaxy looks incredible.
Sadly, past the visuals, the exploration falls off. I began my journey in Mass Effect Andromeda excited at the potential carnage I could leave in my wake in a new galaxy of choice and consequence. I ended my journey disappointed, frustrated and sweaty (the latter due to a heating problem, but thought I’d mention it anyway).
For a reason I’ve failed to understand, BioWare have done away with the Paragon or Renegade system and instead just threw in a bunch of mostly meaningless and lackluster responses at the end of equally meaningless and lackluster quests. While some missions, especially those focused around the primary story, do feature choices that impact the game in big ways, the vast majority of the side content fails to leave any lasting impression. Dull and repetitive objectives overshadowed the potential to deliver rewarding side content and an immersive narrative. What should have been the games primary tool to immerse players in this brand new galaxy felt little more than the copy & paste approach of today’s MMO missions.
The story itself, when discussing strictly the main path of progression through the game, is actually worthwhile of the Mass Effect franchise. Familiar but welcomed plot twists and turns provide for plenty of rewarding narrative, but without a stronger supporting cast and more meaningful content to follow up the main course, Mass Effect Andromeda’s unlikely to making a lasting impression.
Mass Effect Andromeda’s combat remains much of the same from the more recent additions to the franchise but with a few seemingly unnecessary changes. While still maintaining the intense, low field of view third-person combat, the lack of companion control is a confusing element of the combat when looked at alongside the new combo powers. Both Ryder and allies are each able to take a number of skills into battle from different ability trees, many of these can combine to provide additional damage and effects. Not a bad idea right? Well, that would have been the case in previous Mass Effect games. In Mass Effect Andromeda however, you’re completely reliant on your team making the decision on what abilities to use as you have zero control over anyone but Ryder. I often went hours of gameplay without a single combo skill, until equipping skills on Ryder I could combo myself. This is largely due to a very basic, boring and unimaginative AI that is often totally ignored by enemies or caught stuck on an object 200 meters from combat.
Despite these obvious flaws Andromeda’s combat is actually very satisfying, when you finally submit to the idea that your team is useless and not even fit as cannon fodder. There’s a huge number of abilities stretched across multiple tech trees, various weapons and armor that can be crafted and upgraded with unique components to offer a flurry of benefits and improvements. And there’s even a loose class-like system that offers bonuses for picking certain roles without forcing a permanent choice. The combat is also a lot quicker than previous Mass Effect games. Cover is not quite the crutch it has been previously, forcing players to remain on the move and rely only on cover for brief moments. This approach isn’t usually my cup of tea, but it’s delivered well and works with the games mobile enemies.
Technically, Mass Effect Andromeda needs work. Several times I encountered progression-halting bugs, most of which were fixed after 10 minutes of frustration, followed by restarting the console. Other bugs caused graphical issues and FPS problems that ruined 20-30 minutes of gameplay.
And then there’s quests and doors. I lost count of the bugged quest objectives and terminals I couldn’t use, and I still cannot understand why all doors past a certain point need 10-15 seconds to open – it’s absurd.
Mass Effect Andromeda feels like a rushed entry into a struggling IP – a poorly executed swan song aimed at rinsing a games last market value down to a dry sponge. But this is Mass Effect. This is not a struggling IP. This is one of BioWare’s greatest achievements. The franchise deserved more, the fans deserved more and honestly, I feel the developers deserved more.