If you don’t like reading (we don’t judge) or if you just want to hear my soothing voice (we still don’t judge), you can also check out the video review on our youtube channel, here!
A dark figure shifts through the shadows framed by the bluish haze of the monitors and displays around the flight deck. The figure moves with calculated steps, flowing past the science officer and the pilot, as they follow with bewildered stares. The figure breaks the darkness, as the warm light of Andromeda dances across its face. A calm, inviting voice pierces the silence. “This is it… A galaxy of opportunities right in front of us. Andromeda awaits.”
Or rather, we waited for Andromeda. For 5 full years even. Just like our intrepid explorers braved 600 years of long, cold sleep, we also held our breaths until we could finally take in what Andromeda would throw at us. Hyperbole aside, no one can deny that Mass Effect: Andromeda was a very anticipated title, and also one for which everyone held high expectations. Even though several recent less than stellar high-profile releases (throughout the gaming industry) fed my skepticism about how good the game was really going to be, I was still pretty excited about the release.
The fact that I could try the game out ahead of it only ramped up that excitement. Anyone who’s read my preview of the game will know, however, that my initial impressions were less than stellar.
Just so we get things out of the way, I’m a pretty big Mass Effect fan. I’ve played the first game about 4 times, once to full completion. The second one I played about three times, once with about 95% completion. The third one I only played twice, but I went out of my way to get the best ending (we shall never speak about the “endings”, though, and how nonsensical they were). I loved all of them, despite their flaws. I almost 100%-ed Andromeda, and you know why? Because I hoped that I’d be able to find the glimmer of the old Mass Effect games in there. I didn’t.
My face while playing most of Andromeda.
Mass Effect 1 had a pretty awful interface, as far as inventory management went. The Mako was an unwieldy piece of shit, and the planetary exploration was so much weaker because of it. The cover system was an arcane device, unknowable and totally fucking broken. But it had a great setting, great characters and a great twist. Your choices felt impactful, even if a bit simplistic.
Mass Effect 2 was pretty tight mechanically, but oversimplified some of its core systems. The story was interesting, but ultimately pointless, as Mass Effect 3 essentially made your efforts to destroy the Human Reaper, and/or the Collector base, completely inconsequential. But the world was still great, and the characters were even better this time around, and I felt attached to every damn one of them.
Mass Effect 3 made the combat fun, and the stakes were upped to an insane point. The conclusion was disappointing, but the journey to get there was excellent. I bawled like a crazy person when, during my playthrough, Mordin died while singing “Scientist Salarian”. Same thing when Anderson bit the dust, because I cared about these characters, from the beginning of my journey through the Mass Effect universe, and right up until the end. And I wanted to care just as much for those found in Andromeda. And with that, my fellow Pathfinders, let’s see why that was made significantly harder for me, this time around. Also, beware, spoilers ahead.
Mass Effect: Andromeda doesn’t recapture the thrill of discovery its predecessors did. One thing the first Mass Effect did right was that it established itself in a post-First Contact world. Things had the time to reach the point where encountering and interacting with all these alien races was plausible and somewhat grounded. The fact that races from far away corners of the galaxy converged towards the Citadel over time made sense, since their development was guided by their discovery of the Mass Relays, and was basically planned by the Reapers.
In Andromeda, the fact that you stumbled into a galaxy-spanning conflict just seems like one huge coincidence, only there to fuel a plot that ends up delivering a paltry payoff. Everything is also super rushed, as you magically learn how to use Remnant (a synthetic race created by the Jaardan) technology, and are able to converse with the Angara, a race you’ve never met before, with extreme ease. How do the Angara know so much about the Milky Way so quickly (I mean we give them an information dump when we land on Aya, but who the hell parsed it that fast)? How are any language issues resolved with such ease? Is xenolinguistics SAM’s major? Why are the Kett so obtusely set on antagonizing everyone? You’re going to have to suspend a bunch of disbelief if those questions about First Andromeda Contact plague you, as they won’t really see an answer throughout the game. However, even if you do that, the story is ultimately predictable and generic.
While the other games offered something to shake up the dynamic with your antagonist (Saren is actually indoctrinated by his Reaper vessel, the Collectors are actually enslaved Protheans, etc..), Andromeda does nothing interesting with its villains, the Kett. From the outset, they’re basically uglier space Nazis, and they pretty much stay like that throughout the game. Sure, there appears to be some infighting between their ranks, with the Archon losing support among the other Kett factions, but, as a race, they’re still gaping assholes.
The Kett (artist’s representation)
Even Meridian, this weird MacGuffin that seems to be the object of the Archon’s desire, is just a command center for all the vaults you activated, although it could have been so much more. Essentially, the only major twists are that, a) the Kett create new members of their species by “exalting” other species, so some of the guys you fought were actually exalted Angara, and b) the Angara were created by the Jardaan, the ones who also created the Remnant. While the first point does raise a slight moral question, the second one is wholly inconsequential, as we never knew much about the Angara to begin with, so the fact they’re genetically engineered doesn’t carry that big a punch, as it was always a distinct possibility. If it had turned out that the Jaardan had engineered any of the races in the Milky Way, that would have been a pretty big twist, if a bit reminiscent of Prometheus (the movie). But hey, Mass Effect 2’s story was also pretty inconsequential, as I mentioned before, and actually had a few plot beats similar to Andromeda (people being abducted, the bad guys being good guys turned against their will), so maybe we can give it a pass. Surely it will fare better in the character department, where the series has been consistently good (with a few minor exceptions).
The characters are relatively unoriginal on the surface, but most characters in the Mass Effect games started like that. The problem here is that they don’t quite grow out of it. While the previous Mass Effect characters surprised you with the fact that they turned your initial impression of them on its head, here everyone seems to stay pretty much the same as when you meet them. Almost none of them have an arc, and the ones that do, don’t turn into anyone that interesting. The interactions you have with them are pretty poorly written, apart from some pretty neat moments with Vetra and Drack.
Cora is pretty tame and seems to be a by-the-numbers, albeit likable soldier. Sure, she has her moments of inner turmoil until she accepts you as a pathfinder (and, in my case, bedroom companion), but apart from having the image of her idol tarnished in her loyalty mission, not much ends up developing when it comes to her. Her loyalty mission was pretty well executed, though.
Liam is someone who means well, but I found him to be nauseatingly upbeat at times. He’s a walking quip-machine, and that gets tired fast. If you maintain your interactions with him at a minimum, he’s actually pretty ok, but having him in the party is an exercise in patience. His loyalty mission was super fun and kind of epic, though, despite it having a rather big tonal shift compared to the rest of the game.
“I like to make jokes, guys, can you tell?” – Liam
Drack shows the most amount of growth both during your time with him, and prior to that. He’s also fun to be around in missions, and has a very satisfying loyalty mission. Overall, I found him to be one of the more interesting characters.
Vetra was basically my favorite character, and I liked how her relationship with her sister evolved over time. She’s smart, resourceful, kick-ass, and also kind, which is a pretty great combo. The loyalty mission was pretty average in terms of quality, though I did like how it shook things up with scanning the room ahead and choosing what to unleash upon your unsuspecting enemies.
Jaal is ok, but it’s still quite weird how quickly he warms up to you, despite the lack of trust he and all Angara have for humans from the beginning. His loyalty mission is ok and mostly forgettable.
Peebee is Sera (of Dragon Age: Inquisition fame) 2.0, and I liked her just as little as the previous version, and if I had the option, I would have jettisoned her escape pod loooong before she did it in her loyalty mission. And speaking of that mission, it was the utmost horrible of the bunch, with either Peebee or SAM telling you what you need to do every 10 seconds, like you’re an ignorant child who hasn’t been playing the game for dozens of hours up until that point.
Picture this in your face every 5 seconds. Now imagine she also talks.
But beyond its bland narrative and undercooked characters, the biggest issues I have with how Andromeda is written are the tone and world building. The tone is absolutely all over the place, with the game trying to be funny in moments it shouldn’t, somehow diluting the stakes each time it does so. There is also no immediate sense of urgency, especially given all the bloat and filler quests, sometimes even during the main narrative. The world itself isn’t presented as well as it should, with a lot of politics and past events being left more to the imagination, despite the game’s chunky play time (I played for roughly 70 hours). There’s also not a whole lot going on in terms of theme. Mass Effect 1 had discovery and doubt, Mass Effect 2 covered betrayal and sacrifice, Mass Effect 3 was somber and filled with gravitas and building towards a climactic final battle. There were moments that broke this, but they enhanced the narrative rather than detract from it. Here the theme is mostly exploration and resistance (in the face on an unrelenting foe, by both the Milky Way races as well as the Angara), but it’s not complemented very well by the rest of the narrative.
Essentially, in terms of story, Andromeda is a weaker Mass Effect 2. It tries to do some interesting things with its world and characters, but doesn’t put in the effort to take it anywhere worthwhile. There are moments where the gem within shines through, but most of the surface is dull and unpolished.
Mechanically speaking, Mass Effect is solid, when it works. Weird glitches and bugs make the experience a bit clunkier at times, but the shooting and abilities make the combat fun and fast paced. The fact that you can mix and match up skills at any time also makes for a versatile game experience. The jetpack and dash also add a layer of mobility to everything that makes firefights thrilling. The only problem is the AI isn’t quite up to speed, sometimes ignoring clear threats or making really weird choices in terms of placement.
As far as levelling up your character goes, you’re given 5 points (6 at higher levels) to spend between Combat, Biotic and Tech skills, with every level of a skill above 4 branching into a binary choice. Depending on the number of points you spend in each tree, you unlock different “profiles”, that are essentially the classes in previous Mass Effect games, and provide different bonuses. There is no hard level cap, and I reached level 57 in one playthrough on Normal (96% completion). Your companions’ skills are effectively maxed out when you hit somewhere around level 50 or so, provided you do their loyalty missions, as this unlocks the final tier of all their abilities.
Exploring a planet’s surface is pretty cool, but there are times when it goes into the current “open world” formula a bit too far, and starts to feel like the worst parts of the zones in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Essentially, once you land on a planet you’ll be treated to an objective-vomit strewn across the map, making it very easy to lose sight of your important objectives because of all the side activities around. At best, it’s a cheap distraction. At worst, it basically obliterates any sense of pacing from the game. Within the first 5 hours of Mass Effect 1, even with doing all side quests, you activate the Prothean beacon, see Saren shoot Nihlus in cold blood, travel to the Citadel, expose Saren to the Council, become a Spectre because you’re awesome, and you might even have some time left over to see that Matriarch Benezia has plans for a Rachni queen, and she’s totes Liara’s mom. In the first 5 hours of Andromeda (without doing quite as many side quests), everything went to shit in the entire galaxy (which was to be expected, really), your dad dies to save your ass, and his sacrifice kind of falls flat, you become Pathfinder because your dad says so, and you discover the Nexus, the poor man’s Citadel, hasn’t been visited by any other Arks, besides your own, because something went down. The other Mass Effect games had side activities, but this game is essentially as long as the other three put together.
“Hey, I know you’re busy saving us from total annihilation and everything, but you think you could get us a UV lamp so we can keep growing our space weed?” – Actual quest in the game
The Remnant “vaults” that you have to activate to terraform planets, or explore for certain side quests, are interesting at first, but become one of the more frustrating and tedious aspects of the game later on. The level design within them is very unintuitive, and most of the environment is made of the same grey and neon bluish-green colors, making the task of finding terminals or access points way more difficult than it has any right to be.
Inventory management is absolutely horrible, and the fact you can only switch weapons when in specific “loadout” areas is both limiting and nonsensical, as you can equip them directly when looting from a container or enemy. Power management is more streamlined and flexible, but you can only equip three abilities at once, crippling your adaptability in different fight situations. This is especially weird considering you can chain certain abilities to unleash devastating combos, so letting you have a higher number of them could have lead to some interesting combinations. Consumables felt kind of pointless on normal difficulty, but they might see more traction on higher difficulty settings.
Research and crafting are painfully convoluted, and the simple act of finding some specific weapon you want to craft is nightmarish, bordering on cruel. It’s like the designers wanted to replicate the clunky UI of the original Mass Effect, but somehow make it even more bullshit.
Quests are mostly generic fetch or kill quests, but some of them are taken to a whole new degree of sadism, as you have to jump between a dozen systems, just to scan this or that so you can get to the actual mission. Speaking of systems, and scanning, Andromeda has definitely achieved a very rare feat, by taking all the criticisms people had with Mass Effect 2’s planetary scanning and the navigation between systems in Mass Effect 3 and somehow deciding to make things worse.
When travelling from one system to another, you’re treated to an unskippable transition, but that might just be for loading things. What isn’t acceptable is the fact that, prior to a recent patch, all the transitions from location to location within the system were also incredibly long, boring, and unskippable. Now you can skip them, but it still takes a really long time to fully explore a system just because all the transitions to planets take a long time, and returning to the system map is also slow. Considering you have over 100 planets and locations in the game, it’s safe to say everything ends up being extremely tedious.
Me after fully exploring the galaxy in Andromeda (and yes, I actually did that).
As for planetary scanning, you can now scan anomalies on the planet, but that’s usually a pretty quick affair. The resource gathering from ME2, however, has been replaced by mining on the surface of the planets. But it’s now even more frustrating than before, because you have to keep driving around with the Nomad in a specific mining area (the extents of which aren’t shown to you in any way), and pray you find some place where you can place a mining beacon so you can get resources. Getting a zone to a depleted state, however, takes infinitely more time than doing it on a planet in ME2. Throughout my playthrough, I only depleted about 2 or 3 mining zones, and that was mostly by accident, not with intent.
You can also manage strike teams and send them to do different missions (or do them yourself in multiplayer). The system is largely inconsequential, as it gives you small rewards and offers little other incentive.
Layered on top of this, you have AVP or Andromeda Viability Points, that you earn by doing quests that increase the viability of a given planet. These points can be used to unlock upgrades of a military, science or commerce variety. The bonuses have little impact, aside from inventory and loadout capacity, as well as better vendor prices.
On a broader note, the fact that you can’t quick save is baffling, as is the fact that you can’t rename your saves in any way, shape or form. But the worst thing has to be the fact that you can’t save at all during “priority missions” which seems to be either missions that are a part of the “Priority Ops” category of the journal (the main story, basically), or the loyalty missions. In them, you can only rely on the game’s checkpoint system, which has put me back a couple of times when I managed to die.
All in all, the core gameplay is good, if buggy, with a whole lot of unnecessary fluff added on top, that only detracts from the experience, instead of complementing it.
Let’s get the good things out of the way first.
The environments in Andromeda are breathtaking in a lot of points. The human structures tend to be repetitive, but they’re a relatively small tarnish. The Remnant ruins are visually interesting, even if they’re mechanically frustrating. The Initiative ships look pretty neat, and definitely have a nice scale to them. Same for the Remnant ships and Meridian. The armors and weapons look neat, although nothing really stands out among them.
Seriously, the vaults are interesting and everything, but maybe don’t make everything just sort of blend together?
And that’s pretty much where the praise ends.
The characters, even when standing still, tend to look weird, at least where the face is concerned. When they animate, it looks like what would happen if you made a robot animate what it thought people look like. Dead stares, blank facial expressions, awkward poses, laughable as shit fight cutscenes, you name it, Andromeda does it. It kind of speaks volumes when, in a sprawling space opera, the one highlight I have in terms of animation is the sex scene between Cora and Ryder. Everything else is a glitchy mess, with awkward camera positions during conversations, NPCs that just flat out walked away from me while they were talking, but somehow we were still having a conversation, stunted voice work, and NPCs that are kept off camera while I’m technically talking to them.
Speaking of sprawling, the galaxy itself kind of feels smaller than in the other games? I don’t know why… I mean, technically it’s way bigger, and has more content, but it actually feels as though it’s at a smaller scale than before, somehow. I think it has to do with the fact that in the previous games leaving for another planet was a pretty special event, and felt like it had more weight. In Andromeda, you have so much backtracking to do throughout the galaxy that it just seems like one big “planet” instead of an actual galaxy.
The music is forgettable, aside from the main menu theme. I still know exactly how Mass Effect’s combat music sounds in all of the previous three games. I wouldn’t be able to hum a single note of the one used in Andromeda, because I don’t remember it at all. The credits music was also forgettable somehow. It’s not that it’s of low quality, it just felt generic and didn’t try to do anything interesting, as opposed to, say, ME3’s soundtrack (I still listen to it today, in case anyone is wondering).
Like this, but with “Leaving Earth” and “The View of Palaven”.
The sound design is relatively ok, with the one thing I found to be super annoying being the fact that the banter my squadmates had while driving in the Nomad would just get randomly cut away by whatever the hell SAM was trying to tell me about something nearby, even though I’ve already been there a million times.
The Tempest is nowhere near as iconic as the Normandy SR-1 or the SR-2. The crew is just not as interesting as the one in the first either, and also much smaller, for some reason. The Nomad is an ok Mako replacement, but the fact that it was stripped of guns makes little to no sense in the context.
The voice work ranges from ok to dreadful. The worst voice acting seems to have been during Ryder Sr.’s memories. Besides him, everyone is just super weak in terms of any kind of emotional delivery. Also, while EDI was actually nice as an AI voice, SAM is just grating. They probably wanted to go for something akin to Jarvis, but nope, that is not what we have here.
Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a bad game in its own right. It’s just a really bad Mass Effect game, one that manages to lose the sense of scale, wonder and loss that we got throughout the first three games. It tried to be a soft “reboot” for the series, but it ended up losing much of what made Mass Effect great along the way. Do I think it deserves all the hate it got? No, at least not the level of vitriol that was spewed online. While it’s deeply flawed, it’s also not a death knell for the franchise (not yet, at least), and can still be recovered from in another installment, much like Dragon Age did after Dragon Age 2.
This is basically what happens when you give an inexperienced studio the reins, make them use an engine they never used before, and force upon them some weird restrictions in regards to handling animations in other studios. That and the fact that EA was probably looking to meet some quarterly targets meant that Andromeda was pushed out the door barely dressed and with an awful case of bed hair. But let’s not forget that although Bioware promises to make improvements to the animations in the coming months through patches, you can’t patch lazy writing, generic characters and mediocre voice acting. It’s pretty clear that, in the absence of someone like Casey Hudson, or someone else with a clear vision, the game suffered and barely scrambled things together to form something. Do I recommend playing the game? Sadly, no, unless you never really cared about the story or characters in its universe. But if you never cared about that, than what did you really care for in Mass Effect?
If you’re a die-hard fan, I guess you can play, and might derive a bit of enjoyment from it, like I did, but that will probably be soured by how disappointing the rest of the game is. I never really got the whole “let’s hate Bioware” trend, but I can’t help but agree with most negative sentiments about this game. I honestly hope Bioware gets a change to do things right the next time around, but, right now… Andromeda should have stayed unexplored.
If you liked this article, please go to our facebook and like the page for regular updates on stuff we post!
For our video guides and tutorials, have a look at our Youtube channel, and don’t forget to subscribe for more content.
Or maybe follow us on Google+.