My plan this week was to write my opinions on Ghost Recon Wildlands and yet here I am writing an opinion on Mass Effect Andromeda. How did this happen? There are some who are aware that I had pulled back on my pre-order after a bunch of unflattering reviews and videos of Andromeda came out. So how is it that am I playing it? A good friend of mine knew that I loved the series and casually asked if I had gotten the game. I told them that I had not, but I wasn’t specific as to why.
A couple of days later, Mass Effect Andromeda showed up at my doorstep by courtesy of Amazon as a gift for my birthday. As I looked at the box for several seconds in silence, I have to admit that it was a little hard to suppress that “Well, it’s the thought that counts” feeling. Initially, I decided to hold off playing the game until some of the reported issues had been patched out of it. I guess I should have put the box away in a closet or something because my resolve lasted all of 2 days. Andromeda kept calling my name until I said, “Maybe I’ll just install it just to see what it looks like.” Famous last words.
Let’s start with the question on everyone’s mind. Is this game as bad as everyone says that it is? Well…as the saying goes, it’s complicated. I will start by saying that if Andromeda was released even 7 years ago around the time of Mass Effect 2, people would be losing their minds over this game. If the Mass Effect Trilogy was never released, people would be losing their minds over this game. If BioWare didn’t have an excellent track record of releasing quality games, people would be losing their minds over this game. However, none of the aforementioned scenarios are in effect which makes me think that Andromeda has become a victim of Bioware’s and the franchise’s own success. In addition, I think that fans of the franchise and of BioWare in general are somewhat spoiled, myself included. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but rather to say that our high expectations and standards are built upon the reputation of BioWare and the quality of their past releases. We look at Andromeda and we say, “Come on guys, you are way better than this.”
Normally, I do a “Good, Bad, Ugly” type of format, but I am going to reverse it for this game and do “Ugly, Bad, Good”. I want to get the heavy things out of the way early.
Facial Expressions and Animation
By now, everyone interested in this game has heard about the bad facial expressions and animation. Everything you have heard is pretty much true. They range between mediocre and laughably bad. Vacant staring from characters that literally don’t blink for whole minutes while they talk. Doofy facial expressions, many which don’t mirror what the characters are saying or doing at that time. Humans walk with a monkey looking “herp-derp” gait but then aliens look more human while walking than actual humans. The character stances are so overly accentuated that people look like they are “striking a pose” as if they are at a photo shoot for Vogue magazine. Your character has this “dry corncob in butt” stance that probably works great for promotion videos and still shots like the first image of this opinion. It looks dumb in active gameplay. Nobody in real life casually stands like that and it reminds me of that stupid movie Zoolander. Characters also make needless fiddling gestures and exhibit body language during conversations that don’t match what they are saying. It all looks amateurish, creepy, and doofy at the same time.
Writing and Dialog
I’ll be blunt. Andromeda has some of the worst writing and dialog I have personally experienced in a video game in a very long time. Some of the dialog is “dubbed over” bad…as if the dialog was originally written in a language other than English and then dubbed over to English. It is like the voice actors read their lines to a blank wall and without any context of the situation or knowledge of the person they were speaking with. It kills the tone of conversations. The writing is straight up juvenile at times, almost to the point of being insulting. Some of it sounds like it is out of an 80s cartoon, like GI Joe or Transformers. For a game that is Rated Mature, it comes off as inappropriate or off putting for a mature and serious-minded audience. When you combine both the bad animations AND the bad dialog, it not only exasperates the two flaws a thousand fold, but it also makes you not want to even talk to people. You end up being wrenched out of whatever carefully crafted moment that BioWare had in mind.
Menu and Inventory Navigation
Historically, I have always railed against Bethesda Softworks for the creaky, unintuitive menus and inventory management they have steadfastly used for 15 years and counting. Yea, well Andromeda’s is worse, which is hard to believe. It is creaky and unintuitive…along with confusing, nonsensical, frustrating, and asinine. I am playing on the PC, so perhaps the console experience is different, but I seriously doubt it.
My biggest problems that you having to go back and forth like 20 times to get stuff done. Items and abilities are buried layers deep in menus and sub-menus system. Items are in a long scrolling list with absolutely no ability to sort. Instead of just using your mouse to equip and unequip items, abilities, and profiles, you have first select the item, then you have to press different key to equip the item and then another different key to unequip. Seriously? I am not lying when I tell you that it took me 10 mins and about 8 frustrating tries to figure out just how to change my armor color, which relied on an non-listed spacebar press.
The crafting and modding system is just plain garbage. If I can make a Level 5 sniper rifle, who cares anymore about level 1, 2, 3, and 4? I’ll never make them, especially since my companions have unchangeable default weapons. Why make me scroll through scores of useless trash? Just get rid of it. Added to all this, you have an inventory limit of 50 and no means to store your stuff. Why in the world is there even an inventory limit? Related to crafting and modding, the economic system is a hot mess. There are at least 5 different economic systems at work here. They include 3 Research Data types, 22 different minerals, Strike Team Mission points, Andromeda Viability Points, and just plain ol’ Credits. That means I have to track 28 different types of resources. Again…seriously? Who came up with this bright idea and more importantly, who the hell green-lit it?
The Profile system for abilities feels like a cute gimmick that ends up being an unnecessary step backwards. There are tons of abilities that your characters have along with custom variations of those abilities, ala Mass Effect 3. However, you can only have 3 active abilities at any one time. To access other abilities, you have to “switch profiles” to another set of 3 abilities or powers. You can have a total of 4 profiles each with a set of 3, so that gives you 4 viable ways to play and access up to 12 different abilities. Sounds flexible right? Not exactly. It actually does the opposite by confining my playstyles and offering less instant abilities versus previous Mass Effect games.
First, it is an absolute pain in the ass to switch profiles because you have to set them up using the ridiculously bad menu interface. Then after you switch a profile in the middle of combat, you have to wait for all your abilities to cooldown before they can be used. Well crap, if I switch profiles to deal with a threat more efficiently, by the time the cooldown completes, I might as well just shoot the thing dead with a couple of extra shots using the inefficient profile. Not only is it less cumbersome, but it requires less mental processing power and finger-fumbling on my part.
During combat, I feel as if I am playing the game with half the abilities and powers I had with the original Trilogy especially since there was a major game mechanic change to ammo types. Incendiary, Disruptor, and Cryo ammo are now consumable payloads that you have to buy or find and they last for 3 clips. Not a fan. At all. Profiles only saving grace is that cooldowns are now independent of each other versus in the Trilogy where if you hit an ability, all your abilities were in cooldown. Still, the new mechanics are still enough of a pain in the ass for me to abandon my vaunted Soldier class for Engineer which is more versatile with less upkeep.
Companion customization and control
The companion customization and control system has been completely gutted. As in, it is no longer in the game at all. You have no control over their equipped weapon or visuals. During combat,you can tell your companions where to stand and who to target. That’s it. You have absolutely NO control over their abilities or powers. Zero. None. BioWare calls it simplifying the combat, but it feels like a dumbing down to me. Not only does this completely rip apart the ability to tactically synergize your abilities with your companions, but it turns your companions a bunch of dumb AI bots and I find that basically don’t care who I have in my party anymore.
Insane difficulty, which is what I exclusively play on, shows the flaws in this system. If you manually select an enemy to attack, your companion will leave the cover position that you carefully placed them in and run across the battlefield through withering fire to do one of two things. Either they will pull a Tugg Speedman and shoot while stand in the middle of the battlefield as if the enemy are shooting blanks or they will attempt to move into melee range while taking rail shot after rail shot to the face. On Insane, things go as you expect. They either get shot to pieces or ass-punched to the mat by enemies with 3 times the health and attack power. To mitigate this, I have built all my companions as if they are Krogan tanks, but if there is anything in Andromeda that negatively makes combat not feel like a Mass Effect game, this is it.
Save Zones and Quick Saves/Loads
If you are going to have save zones in a game, you had better well have enough of them and have them in the right places. What you don’t do is give the player the ability to save, then arbitrarily take away that ability to save no notification, and then place them 10 mins back behind a wall of combat if they die. Andromeda has screwed me over more than just a few times where I have died and then been teleported waaaaaaay back in time. I actually still do not know the algorithm for when the game decides to allow me to save or not, but it seems to favor autosaving at very odd or inappropriate times…or not at all. To add insult to injury, there is no option to Quick Save or Quick Load. So every time I think there is about to be a big fight or an important moment…I gotta go into the menus and manually save.
There are tremendously huge gaps of wasted time in this game. They revolve mostly around non-skippable cut scenes, surface/system travel times and dialog. To make my point, last night I played Andromeda for a solid 3 hours. I swear to you, between fiddling around with menus, crafting upgrades, resource gathering between planets and talking with what seemed like an endless number of NPCs, I logged off the game having not done a single ounce of combat. Not a single shot was fired in 3 hours.
For cut scenes, there is just no excuse anymore for a game to ship with cut scenes that cannot be skipped. This just isn’t a mistake anymore. Either it is negligence or an underhanded way to put in filler so the game feels longer than what it really is. I am kinda to the point where I resent that my time is not being respected.
For travel time, while it takes a little bit of time to get to certain places on planets, I don’t personally mind it. If you have visited a major hubs or discovered forward station hubs, you are able to fast travel to them to save time. The bigger issue is the amount of time it takes to travel between planets in a solar system which requires about about 20 or so seconds of unskippable animation each time. It is obviously eye candy and it is rather nice, but after the 10th time, it isn’t eye candy anymore, it is wasted time. Exploring 4 or 5 planets in a single system for a trivial amount of resources can take upwards of 6-7 mins. That is a lot of time considering an entire cluster of systems could be explored in the Trilogy in the same amount time and you got more resources for it.
As for the dialog, I have never played a combat focused game with this much talking…and yet with nothing really important being said. I do “get it” that this is also supposed to be about the journey, but holy smokes, this game has so much talking, I almost dread going to new hubs of activity. Each new hub has around 5-10 characters to actively engage in conversation with. Some give side missions and other just blab their mouths. Simple math says 5 mins to run around and find out who to speak with plus another 2 mins or so chatting and suddenly 10 to 25 mins go up in smoke. Side missions should have just been given out at a centrally located bounty board.
My goodness some of the graphics in this game are strikingly beautiful and in an epic sort of way. It reminds me of a future brought to life from the science fiction book covers of OMNI magazine that I read in my childhood. Whoever led the art direction has definitely paid attention to legendary illustrators like Chris Moore, John Burkey, Jim Burns, and of course, Syd Mead. You can see the influence and inspiration all throughout the timeless designs. From an emotional standpoint, the graphics and art direction in Andromeda takes me back to the excitement I felt the first time I entered the world of Mass Effect. The sweeping environments that convey a rugged and yet dangerous beauty, the intricate technical details of armor, weapons, and props that make sense, believable building architecture, and synergistic set pieces…all of it works together to create an immersive world worth believing.
Vehicle designs across the board hit the mark as well, especially with the design of your new ship, the Tempest. I do find the name choice to be curious. First, it is already the name of a submachine gun used in the series, the M-9 Tempest. Second, the definition of the word tempest is “a violent, stormy gale”, an odd choice for an unarmed ship that is pure beauty, both inside and out. Regardless, while I loved the SR1 and SR2 Normandy platforms, the Tempest carries a certain majestic grace during flight that neither Normandy can match. While the Normandy was like a Peregrine Falcon, the Tempest looks as if it glides along with the elegance of a Swan. I love how it looks when it flies. I love how it sounds. I love how the two inner engine nacelles cantilever during flight to change the direction of the ship. I love how the landing gear and ramp unfolds when it sets down. I love the interior design. I love and the huge panoramic interior windows that make me want to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee while gazing upon an orbital sunset. I wish there was more that I could actually do with the Tempest…like fly it in the game and engage in combat or something.
The same attention to detail was paid to the animations and depictions of space travel. I think that the Trilogy had more of a Star Wars feel to it in this area. Andromeda seems to have leaned towards a more realistic look similar to films like The Martian and Interstellar. Planets and other astronomical objects look as if they were taken straight from a NASA probe’s high resolution camera. Planet surfaces are complete with weather patterns and geological features, both active and dormant. Planets even cast their own shadows across their rings systems. You are not able to land on these planets but the game seriously made me want to. To that point, I wonder. If players were given flight control of the Tempest, so they could personally fly to planets, moons, etc. and then control the glide path down to the surface, it would take the same amount of time as current animations and everyone would love it. Still, forgetting a moment that you can’t skip the animations, I really do appreciate how the artists and animators wanted to showcase their work. If their goal was for it to be awe inspiring, they succeeded.
Make no doubt, Andromeda’s game play feels very different from the original trilogy. Whereas the Trilogy was more tactical, meticulous, and even plodding , Andromeda’s combat is fast. Like way more fast, almost to the edge of frantic. My ability to hit targets in Andromeda has diminished a great deal compared what I could do with Commander Shepard. The biggest improvement would be the excellent level of control over your character which offers you instantaneous response. On one hand, I can see how BioWare would not want to slow things down by pausing combat to give orders to your companions, but then the game completely stops time when the consumable menu comes up. At the very least, BioWare could have used slow motion effects to keep the action moving while allowing you to set up Detonator combos using your companions, the bread and butter of Mass Effect combat since day one. Why they felt the need to completely remove it is beyond me.
Still, I can do Primer and Detonation combos, but it ends up being Ryder that does both the Primer and the Detonation, since the powers and abilities are on separate cooldowns. It helps, but it doesn’t really solve the problem, especially on Insane where enemies have crazy amounts of shielding, armor, and health. Combos can only be done on enemies with no shields or barriers, so I have to strip shields first…by myself…before I can throw a Primer and a Detonator on the target. In the Trilogy, I could hit an enemy with shield Overloads from one or both of my companions while I am hitting them with never ending Disruptor enhanced shots. This burned through shields quickly enough for me to hit them with one companion’s Primer followed up immediately by the other companion’s Detonator because by then, both would be off cooldown.
I image that on Normal difficulty everything is able to synchronize and flow like liquid mercury. However, on Insane, you have to be more careful and meticulous. None of that jumping, hovering, and darting is going to help you. If you do, you will die. A lot. So you end up playing more of a traditional cover game, but with added mobility across the battlefield. The cover system is no longer stickied like in the past. You simply walk up to cover and it allows you to peak behind the cover to shoot. It works…most of the time, but I would still prefer sticky cover.
The Nomad is actually a hoot to drive compared to both the Mako and the Hammerhead. There is more involvement and functionality. You can tell that the design of the planetary surfaces was built around use of the Nomad. I do wish that the Nomad had weapons though and the shields could be better because they pop like soap bubbles on Insane difficulty. I do think there was a missed opportunity for a combat component to be added to vehicle travel, but everything is still very fun.
Gone is the Blade Runner like 80s synth music and techno beats of the Trilogy, which had moved into the direction of “bigger, bolder, louder”. By the time Mass Effect 3 released, the score was akin to something you would hear in a summer blockbuster film. I didn’t mind as it was an appropriate fit for the Trilogy.
Andromeda approaches the music score with a more minimalist tone, more…mature. The main score, A Better Beginning, is an anthem that has both a patriotic and adventuresome vibe to it. Obviously there are the typical antagonist and battle themes, but the vast majority of tracks are relatively quiet with a somewhat reflective and thought provoking mood to them. I notice the music in the background and yet it doesn’t feel overbearing. The entire soundtrack is able to successfully convey “weight” without being big and loud. I really like that. A lot. I would recommend checking out the Mass Effect Andromeda Original Soundtrack on YouTube. I find that I am able to listen to this soundtrack in the background while doing tasks that require me to concentrate, which is a great indicator that the music casually listenable and not distracting.
Weapons and ability sounds are rather typical, but very well done. Most of the weapons and abilities are unique to each other and convey a powerful sound to their use. There is ambient noise in Andromeda, but it is somewhat sparse. You hear sounds like your characters footsteps or maybe objects you interact with, but everything else more sterile than it could be. The Trilogy had the same issue, but because the environments in Andromeda are larger, I think the sterility feels a bit more pronounced. If you turn off the music and just listen while your character is standing someplace…many times there is like…nothing. No wind, water, animals, or insect noises. In in places like the Nexus, you hear news feeds over the intercom and people having conversations in the background, but there is a surprising lack of environmental noise and background chatter for what is being depicted on the screen. The bar location on Nexus named The Vortex is straight up dead especially compared to the clubs Purgatory, Afterlife, and Flux from the Trilogy. Dead I tell you. Ambient sounds also tend to abruptly cut on or off when cross some invisible line upon entering or leaving the area. I think that you have to be in tune with these types of issues, but the average player probably isn’t, so I don’t think it is a big deal. I just think that it was a missed opportunity.
Admittedly, I am only on the 3rd planet and about 19% though the game, so my position on the story might change later, but I have liked the story thus far. Is it ground breaking? No, not really, but then I don’t think that is necessary in order to tell a good story. Personally, I avoid putting games on that type of pedestal because it sets me up with unsustainable expectations and inevitable disappointment. With that mindset, the circumstances facing the protagonist and the members of the Initiative are big enough that I can understand and appreciate the desperate situation they are in.
Unfortunately, my companions have not resonated with me yet. Granted, I am just getting to know them, but I didn’t have that same problem with any of Shepard’s companions. [Well…except for Kaidan Alenko, but I asked him to watch a nuclear bomb on Virmire for a little bit while I GTFO’d back to the Normandy to bed Liara T’Soni. Never heard back from him for some reason.] Anyway, I strongly believe that the slowness in which I am bonding with Andromeda’s characters is a secondary impact of the bad dialog issues I mentioned earlier.
Finally, I think that the challenges facing the Initiative could have been made more visually apparent to match what the player is being told by members of the Initiative. Early environments like the Nexus do not graphically match the narrative while character reactions show no signs that there is a problem afoot. Still, that is a minor quibble.
So going back to the question on whether the game is as bad as the Internet say that it is, these are the issues that BioWare and EA are being publicly flayed for and you know what? I think that it is completely justified. As you play this game, you will be constantly puzzled on how BioWare/EA could shoot themselves in the foot this bad. Many of the areas where they screwed up has been done enough times by everyone in the industry for decades. It should be to the point of mundane by now.
They could have slapped the Dragon Age: Inquisition animations on this game and literally called it a day. It would have been lazy, but at least Andrdomeda wouldn’t have released in such a bad state. How do you screw this area up so badly? BioWare, the company that literally set a Guinness World Record with Star Wars – The Old Republic for having more voice acting than any entertainment project in history with over 200 voice actors speaking over 200,000 lines, flubs the dialog and delivery. How do you screw this area up so badly? Menus and inventory is not rocket science. There are hundreds of games to use as a template. How do you screw this area up so badly? How?
Nobody saw this stuff during the development process? How did these glaring issues make it past Alpha and Beta? By the fact that it did, the levels of failure and blame has to go all the way up to the top. BioWare and EA literally released a game that could arguably be considered an Alpha state and then charged people full price to test it for them. BioWare/EAs stumble is so incredibly frustrating because I am truly able to see and respect all the blood, sweat, and tears that was sacrificed by people who worked very hard on Andromeda. It is shameful that their moment of triumph was destroyed by decision makers who clearly reside at the corporate or leadership levels.
This week BioWare announced that they were going to be releasing a series of patches over the next few months to get the game where it should have been at launch.The first patch hits this Thursday, April 6th, but a fat lot of good that does for the people who shelled out the full price or already completed the game. EA should be giving them some of their money back…and no, a digital item or multiplayer booster packs or a discount on a future EA game ain’t gonna cut it. Cash.
..and yet Mass Effect Andromeda is a good game. No really. It is a very good game. It is an absolute shame that the many positives are being completely overshadowed and overlooked. Is it worth $60? I’m sorry, but no, not in the release state and if I had paid full price for this or purchased the $70 Deluxe Edition, I would be just as super pissed as those flaming the game. That said, is it worth ehhhhhh $40 or less? Yes. Absolutely! The gameplay is very enjoyable, the graphics are superb, and the story is good. Have I been enjoying the game? Yes, very much.
So my recommendation is that if you do decide to pick this game up, please…take your time with it. I don’t like to rush my gaming experiences, but I think that Andromeda rewards players if they actually take the time to appreciate all minutia rather than blazing through it in record time. If you end up getting game, I implore you to just stop and take a moment to absorb the attention to detail in the game. Let yourself be immersed. Once you start looking closely, you can’t help but be impressed.
Last minute note, the new patch addressing some of these issues released today. I will provide updates accordingly once I have had the chance to meddle with it.