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Pretty Preview – Mass Effect: Andromeda

March 22, 2017 - Gaming

Hello there, my fellow elcor wranglers, and welcome to the Pretty Preview of a sometimes pretty game, Mass Effect: Andromeda.

It’s still a preview because EA hates Europe and the release date here is on the 23rd, so it’ll be a little while until I get an actual review up. But I’ve had the pleasure of playing the limited trial, and these are the first impressions. So strap on your jump jets and get ready for a ride.

Also, pretty major spoilers for the first 5 hours of the game.

Story

Narratively speaking, Andromeda is a mixed bag. The kett are pretty uninteresting as far as adversaries go, unlike the geth in the first hours of Mass Effect’s initial outing. Perhaps they’ll grow into a more interesting force within the main game itself, but right now they seem like generic thugs.

The Remnant seem to take the place of the Protheans in the “old technologically advanced race that we just bumped into” category of plot devices. I don’t have too much to say about them, since the few Remnant structures I found only served to move things towards increasing the viability (read: terraforming) of the first (and only) planet I landed on. The only thing we do know at this point is that the kett are interested in Remnant technology, and they’re not shy about using explosions in their research of said technology.

In terms of plot beats, the beginning of the game is kind of mix between the first two games in the series, except less punchy.

Shepard’s death in the first sequence of Mass Effect 2 was a jaw-dropping moment until it got invalidated by Lazarus Ex Machina. It felt as such because we got to kick (and bang, ok) a lot of alien ass in the first game, and grew to care for Shepard, the Normandy, and its crew.

Image result for miranda ass

“She may not be an alien, but that ass is still out of this world! Also, genetically engineered.” Image source

The death of a pretty important character (plot-wise) in the first hours of Andromeda, however, felt pretty meaningless, and I’m not even super sure they’ll stay dead, because it seems rather pointless to give them so much importance in the opening sequence, for them to bite the intergalactic dust right off the bat.

But let’s talk about the bread and butter of the Mass Effect universe, the characters. In Andromeda your band of belligerent buddies is… bland? Liam is pretty fun as a character, but besides that, the pickings are slim. Cora is standard military personnel no. 326. Peebee is Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Sera, except blue, and she has a bellybutton. Vetra is cool as a Garrus replacement, but she has a whopping 3 lines of dialogue thus far, so the jury’s still out on her. Of course, the same can be said of some previous ME squadmates, as far as their first impressions go, so I can’t make a definitive judgement on that. Except Suvi, who looks like a she’s staring into the heart of the abyss at all times. My opinion on her is HELL NO!

“Why do you always look so scared?” Image source

Design

As far as combat goes, the series makes a slight return to its roots, with a point placement system that is a mix between ME 1 and 2. You can spend points in one of three categories: Combat, Biotics and Tech. Based on how many points you have invested across certain categories, you can then activate one of 7 Profiles. These profiles are named after the classes in previous games (except for the Explorer profile), and give bonuses to certain skills or stats. You can essentially go for any wild combo you can think off, though you are limited to three equipped abilities at a time (ammo abilities like Incendiary Ammo don’t count towards that, as they are now consumables).

The shooting is fine, and the abilities seem fun enough (I’ve gone for a Combat – Biotic build), and firefights were pretty intense (on Normal), as the enemy can pretty easily swarm you if you’re not paying attention. Oh, and you can also no longer directly control your squadmates (aside from telling them “go there” and “come back”), which might bother some, but is something I never paid attention to, outside of the tutorials in the previous games.

Riding around in the Mako, uh, I mean Nomad, is also pretty fun, although the ability to shoot has now been removed, most likely because you find most of the enemies in the open world, as opposed to structures or corridors, like in previous games. There were a few issues with the places the game chose to reset me to, after I plummeted with the vehicle in the unforgiving sands, but nothing too annoying.

“Still getting enough of a Mako vibe to get cold sweats when I have to get to an objective that’s somewhere on a steep incline.” Image from my playthrough.

Two things stand out as egregious, though, and we’ll tackle them separately.

First off, the UI… hoo boy. Trying to get all your Codex and Journal entries to be marked as read is a pain in the ass, because it either bugs out and doesn’t highlight new entries, or pulls a page from the bullshit manual, and there isn’t actually anything new there… so you’re left trudging through all the entries trying to find out which one of them the game miraculously decided is “totally new, you guys!”. I recently downloaded ME 1 again, and you know what that game has? A “Mark all entries as viewed” button for both the journal and codex. It’s pretty magical, I tell ya.

 

“Exhibit A: the pinnacle of 2007 technology.” image from my playthrough.

Another area of the UI that is flat out broken is the notification that you and your squadmates have unspent skill points. At random intervals, the game just decides to flash that button like an overbearing girlfriend texting you every 2 minutes. Then you go to the menu, go to spend those points you don’t remember gaining, only to find out that it is not you who has been thrust into a fugue state, but rather the game just had a brain fart. It’s like that same overbearing girlfriend sending you a message with just “K” in it every 2 minutes.

“Also known as the 10th circle of hell” Image source

The second horrible design decision is the way exploring star systems is handled. Instead of moving your ship on the galaxy map when in a star system, like the previous two games, Andromeda opts for the most tedious version imaginable. Every time you switch to a new system, it plays a roughly 10-second unskippable animation showing you the transition from one place to the next. That in itself isn’t so bad, as it could actually use some pretty cool animations when entering a new system (it doesn’t for the first ones, but maybe it does so later). What is bad is the fact that it also does this when transitioning from any planet (or special location) of the system to another. So if you want to fully explore a star system of, say, 8 planets, you have to spend at least 80 seconds looking at stuff fly by slowly. To add insult to injury, some planets are just… there, as they don’t have any anomalies you can detect on them (to gather resources or information), and only give you a text blurb of planetary details. While my range of fetishes is broad, I have to say I derive no pleasure from information dumps on celestial bodies. Or maybe I’m just jaded about painfully obvious gameplay padding.

The inventory management is also pretty tedious, but it seems like less of a pain than the one in ME1, at least (if that’s any consolation). I haven’t looted that many weapons to worry about stuff like that yet, though, so who knows?

Overall, the gameplay is serviceable and pretty fun, if annoying, so basically like any other Mass Effect game.

“This is where I get most of my material from.” Image source

Presentation

Like all the other aspects of Andromeda, the presentation is handled like Bioware only believes in designing things as a zero sum game.

The vistas and environments are breathtaking and appropriately alien. The Remnant ruins look mysterious and foreboding. The lighting and effects are also top notch.

Then you get to the characters, arguably one of Mass Effect’s most important elements, and also one of its most unpolished. Now, I’ve played enough of the first three games to say that the facial animations were never the best in the industry, but they were always at least decent.

The aliens in Andromeda look pretty ok, in terms of animation, even if they also sometimes suffer from Wacky Lips Syndrome. The humans, though, range from “Meh, ok” to “I demand a refund on my plastic surgery!”. Limp, emotionless faces, eyes wide open all the time, people that move their face like they had one too many Botox injections, people that had one too many “Polar Opposite of Botox” injections, and they just stretch their faces in weird ways when they speak…  just the full spectrum of jarring.

Image result for andromeda weird faces

“I have no idea if she’s laughing or in pain.” Image source

The body animations don’t fare much better, with awkward poses, and movements that no human without a back brace and a constant desire to poop, ever does.

The sound effects in the game are the right mix of new and familiar, although the soundtrack seems to be super muted compared to previous games. It’s a shame, really, because those synths are quite snazzy.

The voice acting is mostly good, with the only performance I found incredibly sub par to be that of Ali Hillis, reprising her role as Liara T’Soni. What should have been a nice throwback to the original series is instead turned into a few grating audio records that are so unevenly executed, it’s baffling. It’s pretty clear that it’s not her fault, since Liara was pretty awesome in the first games, but whoever directed those voice overs needs to listen to them a few more times.

Conclusion

So, overall, Andromeda, despite its setbacks, is a fun game. Is it a great Mass Effect game? From the opening hours, I would say no, not even close. Perhaps things pick up later in the story, and we’ll have a moment on par with Sovereign’s reveal in the first one. Most official reviews don’t seem to mention anything like that, though. Either way, the game’s first impression is not a very solid one.

Should you buy it?

If you’re a super fan, like me, maybe, I guess? But even then I would recommend waiting for the game to receive a few updates, so that some of the issues are ironed out at least. It’s pretty clear that the game was rushed out the door, probably to meet some fiscal quarter targets. It’s sad, but it’s also a reality of the current AAA industry (I don’t condone it, by the way, just pointing it out).

Either way, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my full review, probably sometime next week. In the meantime, check out our other links and posts, and, if you’d be so kind, give us a like or follow.

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