Mass Effect: Andromeda has been out for a month now. From the moment I held the game in my hands, I found a cautious grimace on my face. A gritting of the teeth in the wake of all the pre-release criticism it was receiving. As a huge Mass Effect fan, I remained optimistic and excited for the start of a new trilogy. Bioware had plenty of things that still needed attention after the existing trilogy. Despite what you may have heard so far, a vast majority of those things have been tended to. The sci-fi hedgerow has been trimmed to look and feel better. But it was rushed and a few spiky, unkempt twigs still poke you in the face from time to time.
When dealing with sci-fi; especially when dealing with a new universe, presentation is everything. Whizzing from system to system, seeing stars whizz past from the cockpit as planets approach does indeed look spectacular. In some cases these are masked loading screens. Some have complained about the lengthy nature of these load screens and just how many of them there are. As a fan of anything to do with sci-fi, it’s safe to say Bioware made some decent choices here.
Long Load Screens Are Inevitable But Tastefully Masked
Sadly, from selecting the game on the PS4’s OS screen to the moment of taking control for the first time in a session, there are several lengthy loading screens. For there to have been even more in the space travelling segments would have been terribly jarring. Instead, we have a smooth transition from one place to the next that has context within the game.
This is a development rule of thumb with a lot of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s seeming drawbacks. Areas where many across the internet have complained are likely far better than they could have been. Jonathan Cooper, an animator for Naughty Dog, has explained what he thinks may have happened with the facial animations.
Future Patches Are Absolutely Necessary
Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about this if the game wasn’t rushed. A topic for another article, for sure. Going from planet to planet within a system can be one of the most visually stunning aspects of the game. At the time of writing, patch 1.5 has seen to it that the beautiful inactivity of going from A to B is now skippable.
Although, a lot more work needs to be done by Bioware for Andromeda to present itself as functionally as its three predecessors. Doors open and rooms full of NPC’s appear to be mid yoga exercise, teleporting into position. Team mates disappear and reappear in front of you. NPCs clip into one another during dialogue sequences. Certain planets are riddled frame rate drops.
There’s Still Tons Bioware Didn’t Mess Up On
Yet, despite all of this, the classic Bioware writing is here. Say what you will about sub par voice acting (there’s no escaping the fact that Shephard was one of the most wooden game characters I’ve seen), there are still plenty of gripping conversations to be had. The believable way in which characters choose to interact with each other is certainly still here. Taking different combinations of squad mates on missions will reveal optional “information pieces” where they talk about their backstory or how they feel about working with one another.
A common gripe right now, is that people don’t seem to like the new characters. We had the same issue with new Mortal Kombat X characters and the same rule applies here. As an audience, we got used to our Star Wars characters and our Mortal Kombat characters. Suddenly having new ones feels jarring. Yet, how else do you keep a tired franchise alive? Invest time into your team’s loyalty missions, listen to their conversations, seek them out on the Tempest (your ship) and I promise, you’ll have new favourites.
Aside from getting used to new characters, players will also have to get used to a new tone. Without knowing it, players may feel like something is missing from Mass Effect: Andromeda. Nope. It’s just this new tone. We’re no longer dealing with planet threatening alien invasions and fighting against extinction. Andromeda sets the player in a brand new galaxy, working hard to form alliances and find a new home. Instead of desperation in attempts to change an incoming end, we now have inspiration in attempts to form a new beginning. Again, Bioware have made some smart choices in taking steps back from full blown, post crescendo drama to a more Star Trek episodes kind of feeling.
Mass Effect: Andromeda Has Boatloads Of Stuff To Do
If they were episodes, my my, there would be a lot of them. Mass Effect: Andromeda is absolutely packed to the gills with content. Players should be grateful that the rushed nature of developing this game sacrificed minor details for content and not the other way around. It’s true, we still don’t have developer tools powerful enough to allow the player to land on every single planet found in the Andromeda galaxy.
What we do have is a dozen hub worlds to explore. These are smaller community type areas that alien races flock to. Here, we’ll find shops and side quests and we already have dozens of hours of play to look forward to. The more you unlock to explore, the more side quests will become available. Layered on top of that, more side quests will become available in previously explored areas, dependant on where you are in the main story.
Far bigger and, I dare say one of the problem childs for Bioware reaching its release deadline properly, are the fully explorable planets of which there are five. The same rule of thumb with unfolding opportunities through player progression still applies here. Good, expected RPG elements to questing. These ginormous open world planets are at the centre of the game’s story and even have a few mission exclusive areas to explore. Again, a good thing as these are usually relevant story areas that must be prepared for and deliver no end of XP and loot. Just what we want.
Getting from A to B on barren plantescapes depends on your use of the Nomad. Bioware listened to fans and brought back the Mako with a different name. It handles far better and is cosmetically and functionally customisable. But I have yet to discover a way to stick a cannon on the roof…
Depth Of Gameplay Is Andromeda’s Most Redeeming Feature
Moving away from content and exploration, let’s get into the gameplay players can expect. Well, it’s by far and away the best part of the game. Pause a moment. Think of all that negative criticism. Now, how many times have you heard “gameplay is more important than graphics”. The saying has never rang more true in my mind than in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda. I just can’t stop playing the damn thing. This is why this review is so late.
There are so many RPG elements to Mass Effect: Andromeda that, when you have a fully rounded understanding of them, you’ll be addicted. I can’t talk about all of them otherwise this review would be three times longer than it is. So a good old boring list will have to do for now. To name but a few, players can develop – weapon and armour sets, better tech for the Nomad, character profiles that gives buffs to specific playstyles, a huge range of soldier, biotic and tech skills…. And I’ll stop there.
Those things alone open up hundreds of hours of play-for-reward kind of gameplay. I said at the start of this review that Bioware have listened to fans and delivered. Not only have they brought back vehicular transport. They have also allowed biotic, tech and soldier abilities to be mixed into the same character AND switched up on the fly. That’s right – mid mission, all unlocked abilities can be swapped and mixed around into whatever death dealing smoothie you deem fit. It was a bit of a shame then, that this tree of many branches could not be applied to your squad mates. They’ll auto level up and do what they want, basically. Manually activating their certain powers is out the window now, which strategically takes away from combat encounters, I found.
Great Changes To Combat Make For More Thrilling Fights
Combat is a clunky little something that has always hung over Mass Effect like a dark cloud nobody wanted to notice. In a complete turnaround from Bioware, combat is now completely flawless. The newly added jump and dodge compliments scraps wonderfully as players whizz about to tactically viable locations. Sure, enemies are still bullet sponges just like before.
With all those abilities, though, players can intelligently devise a way that is best to bring the enemy health down faster. Otherwise suffer through a needlessly difficult gunfight. Sure, application of tactics have been watered down to just the one character you’re playing as. What’s there, though, is familiar to fans, fluid and punchy.
Mass Effect: Andromeda Can Be Visually Stunning
There is also a ton of eye candy to be had in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Not a very popular opinion right now, I understand. But to the mass media, I say this – “drag your eyeballs away from the bloody character models for one minute, will you?!”. I’ve already said, exploring space is absolutely gorgeous. It looks just as good as Neil deGrass Tyson’s Cosmos TV show or something you’d expect to see in a Stephen Hawking documentary. That alone should impress upon you what a great tribute the game has made to the mind boggling massiveness of space.
As for the explorable planets themselves… well they have a real sense of scope. Great mountain ranges with bowls of acidic water at their base. Snowy frozen planets with icy glaciers or deserts with an unending horizon of jagged rock formations. Then, look up to see amazing new star systems and nearby planets and moons.
Anything Could Have Happened During Development
I’d like to hazard a guess as to what happened to Mass Effect: Andromeda and offer my professional opinion. It’s no secret by now that EA has bought the game rights to Star Wars. They’ve brazenly advertised the fact pretty well. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of the Bioware talent had been relocated to work on one of these Star Wars projects. With a chunk bitten out of them, Bioware would have had to generate a next gen experience of Mass Effect that was marketable to the player base.
This is an easy theory to believe after playing the game for a couple dozen hours now. Regardless of whether or not this really happened, Bioware were obviously up against it in terms of balancing ambition and meeting EA’s deadline for release. That has led to bugs and visually jarring problems that will insist on invading your immersion levels fairly regularly.
As a result, Mass Effect: Andromeda has lost out on its final score quite badly. As a consumer of a product, I shouldn’t have to take development woes into account. I shouldn’t have to go “ooh well they tried and managed to release an acceptable product in the end. Well done to them”. As a number on a spreadsheet; a paying customer of a product, these issues are not Bioware’s fault but are unacceptable to me. We’re seeing more and more now, where developers are slapped with unrealistic deadlines just because the publisher knows they can release patches afterwards.
No. You don’t sell a car at full price at half condition and ask the buyer to return to the garage for a touch up once every two weeks. THAT is straight up bad business. As a result, Mass Effect: Androma almost threw itself into a community driven smear campaign that will damage sales. That really pisses me off because I love Mass Effect. It may have less fans worldwide than Star Wars but that doesn’t make it an expendable asset.
Regardless, I Still Want More
Mass Effect certainly deserves another shot in future titles after Andromeda. I would even venture to say that Mass Effect fans that have walked away because of all the bad press are making a foolish decision. A lot of existing lore has found its way into the new galaxy. There’s a lot of new lore to explore and learn as well. Even newcomers to the franchise will find a game rich with RPG elements to spend hundreds of hours working on and replay value is abundant in player choice and romance arcs. The gameplay in Andromeda is at the highest peak of the Mass Effect franchise and its depths are begging to explored by the player. It’s just a shame that bugs abound and humans have potatoes for faces.