As many of you may know, Mass Effect Andromeda is finally out in the wild after five years of development time at various BioWare studios. While the franchise is beloved by most, it was initially surprising to me how lackluster the review scores have been, pegging it as a solid effort, but multiple issues ultimately holding it back.
At the core of these discussions are the animations, often as internet memes or jokes intended to poke fun at the game. It’s true though, the game does feature its fair share of underwhelming animations and character models, but even knowing that, I was never dissuaded from picking up a copy. Frankly, I love the franchise so getting to jump back into that universe was something I definitely didn’t want to pass up.
I’ll admit, I’ve had a difficult time writing this impressions post, which is a strange thing for me. Mass Effect Andromeda has proven to be a complicated subject, which we’ll get into in just a moment. I’m no where near halfway finished and my thoughts are still conflicted a lot more than I thought they would be. Lets try to untangle these messy thoughts.
I’m not going to dive into the story here outside of the fact that Mass Effect Andromeda represents a different tone from the previous games. While I enjoyed Commander Shepard’s tense journey to save the Milky Way Galaxy from the extermination protocol of the Reapers, I’m finding a lot to love about the change of pace in Andromeda.
During the trilogy conflict, the Andromeda Initiative is setting out to lead an expedition into the far reaching Andromeda Galaxy to settle what they call “Golden Worlds.” As it turns out, things are not what they seemed as arks go missing, hostile alien species begin attacking, civil war breaks out among the colonists, and resources are quickly depleting due to a lack of suitable home worlds. That’s where the Pathfinder steps in.
Unlike the previous games where Shepard was a military man first and foremost, Ryder is all about that explorer lifestyle. He most pressing objective is to essentially scout out the galaxy and identify new homes for the Andromeda Initiative and these pioneers to settle.
This time around, there’s no existence wiping threat (at the moment, I guess) so the game really doubles down on making you feel like an explorer inside uncharted territory. What’s cool is as you start settling worlds, the hub station of the Initiative starts growing and evolving as well. The station not only expands out, but more people are awoken from cryo sleep, and you actually see colonies being built. The feeling of seeing places being settled and evolve thanks to what you do in game is really satisfying.
Another massive change from the original games is with traversal and combat. Frankly, it blows the previous games out of the water thanks to being able to jump and air dash. Combat still relies on cover to regenerate shields, but with the added mobility, options during a battle really open up.
Plus, I don’t feel like my main character is 8 beers deep while trying to run. Ryder is able to move quickly and unlike Shepard, he doesn’t look like he’s going to fall over due to a 100 pound head.
Not only that, you’re no longer confined to a particular class, so players can pick and choose the abilities they want to use. It makes crossing biotics, tech, and combat so much easier. Adding points into the various combat powers eventually unlocks “profiles” which can be used to enhance abilities further. There are times where I’ve felt like the amount of choice was overwhelming, but playing around with it a bit more has allowed me to experiment with many of the options. I’m finding a lot to love pairing abilities like Incinerate with Charge, which causes a burst of fire to erupt and damage surrounding enemies. There’s a ton of room for experimentation with Ryder, as the game also lets you save up to 4 different loadouts for quick access.
The visual design of the game is stunning as well, thanks to some truly gorgeous vistas and environments. Not only is space exciting to explore, but the various clusters and planets inside them are all varied and distinct. I’ve seen black holes, bright suns, comets, and other space anomalies taking center stage in various star clusters.
The planets you’re able to visit are all diverse as well ranging from dense jungles, arid deserts and even ice worlds as well. Voeld, the ice planet, is a standout in particular thanks to the beautiful snow and ice effects on display. While the facial animations (more on that in a bit) may not put the game in the best light, these environments make up for it and sure do live up to the “next-gen” moniker.
The other big change is with the dialogue system and the removal of paragon (good) and renegade (badass) actions. Without having to worry about which path to follow, I’ve found the conversation system more organic, taking a page out of the Dragon Age playbook by letting players select from a range of emotions, whether that be professional, sarcastic, emotional, or many others. The new system lets me define and play Ryder how I want, rather than trying to stick to a particular paragon script no matter what.
Interestingly enough, the game does keep tabs on your Ryder’s personality and you may even ruffle some of your teammates feathers depending on how you react to certain things. Not everyone agrees on everything.
Things are not all sunshine and roses though. As I mentioned above, facial animations and character models just don’t look as good as I feel they could have been. Characters don’t emote all that well leading to many expressionless conversations or character’s staring off into the distance randomly. It’s worth noting that this isn’t ALWAYS the case, but it happens often. BioWare is plugged into the absurdly powerful Frostbite engine, and while the game is beautiful, it’s surprising that the character models and faces aren’t on that same level. Seeing what DICE was able to pull off with Battlefield 1, it seems like a missed opportunity. Again, it’s unfortunate, but by no means a dealbreaker for me.
The other real surprising thing for me was that the game won’t instantly hook you. Unlike previous games, Andromeda intentionally starts off slow. There’s no tense moments where your ship is destroyed, your main character is killed and rebuilt, or Earth is being invaded by a sentient race of massive robot ships.
Outside of a short tutorial mission, your placed in the hub world and essentially told to go introduce yourself to EVERYONE. It’s like if Shepard was dropped at the Citadel and before he could progress the story or get his ship, he needed to learn about everyone there by talking to them. Everyone’s talking about exploring and doing this or that, and all I could think about during those moments was actually getting out there and doing just that.
BioWare has already confirmed that Andromeda has the most dialogue the series has ever seen and it really shows. Everyone has something to say about everything, and you can easily spend a whole night just talking to people about…well…every little detail of the game world. Learning about the team, worlds, beliefs, or other species is great, but for me it took too long to get going and actually get to the Mass Effect part of the game. It’s at this point that your patience is rewarded, but it’s just surprising that you’re forced to wait for so long before you fully become invested in the experience. Once the game removes the shackles and lets you play, it makes a strong case.
Other Quick Thoughts:
- Adding melee weapons was a cool idea, though I kinda wish they took the concept a bit further with melee strikes. As it is now, simply hitting the melee does damage, though if you finish off an enemy with a melee hit, I would have loved to get rewarded with a stylish finisher move. A nice cherry on top moment if you will.
- Navigating through the galaxy in the Tempest is sadly more of a pain than anything else. I like not having to scan every single planet for resources, but the big problem here is that when moving between planets, clusters, or anomalies, you have to sit through a 10-20 second animation, where a first person viewpoint makes you feel like you’re flying to your destination. It’s cool the first couple of times, but having to sit through that animation really adds up and slows down the game tremendously. On paper it is a cool idea, but it doesn’t work well, so I don’t know if this was merely a design decision or a technical one.
- It’s a small detail but being able to see space outside of ship windows in real time is pretty cool. I’ve found that it manages to tie everything together to make you really feel like you’re there.
- I was initially worried about the small squad size, especially after recently revisiting Mass Effect 2. Thankfully though, it wasn’t an issue because it allowed BioWare to really spend time on making the cast and crew memorable and unique. I’m generally enjoying my squad, getting to know them, and seeing how they react to decisions I make, whether good or bad.
Personally, I keep coming back to the idea that Andromeda closely aligns with the very first Mass Effect, than either 2 or 3 which people would generally pick over the first. It is by no means a bad game, though it does have its quirks. If you’re willing to put up with some less than ideal mechanics and issues, especially at the start, I’ve managed to discover a lot to like about the experience and I’m looking forward to the countless hours that still await me.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a first step in what feels like a new chapter, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see revisions and updates whenever they get around to the sequel similar to how Mass Effect 2 added more action elements into the mix.