How does one make a successor to a game like Mass Effect 3? A capstone to a series that saw universal praise and became one of the recognizable and well regarded cornerstone within its generation, yet also concluded on a very sour note for many players, inspiring the developers to address these issues with updates and DLC, but people are fickle, and broadly speaking, it did not matter.
So, what does one do in this situation? Let the franchise cool off at the risk of having the name recognition fade from the fleeting public consciousness? Or is it better to try again, attempt something more tangentially related, new, and fresh for the series, from a new development team? Regardless of the right answer, Electronic Arcs chose the latter option, and I can only assume the pressure was on, hard. There exist numerous stories about the troubled development that affiliated this project, but they all lead to the same conclusion. The game was released in a rushed state, became notorious for the numerous bugs and animation errors that littered the game, and due to the poor reception, the developer was repurposed and the series was put into its own cryo-stasis in hopes that the next attempted revival would fare better. But how did this game in question fare? Well, it’s a question I myself asked and the answer is… pretty upsetting.
Mass Effect Andromeda Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Bioware Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Mass Effect Andromeda skirts around the whole Mass Effect trilogy by being a side story centered around a group of a million or so individuals from a variety of species that choose to leave the familiar Milky Way behind in favor of pursuing the great unknowns of the Andromeda galaxy. Once arriving however, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Ships are missing, power struggles are common, resources are scarce, and the Andromeda galaxy itself is in the midst of its own series of problems. With the dominant species of Andromeda, a group of fish/lizard people known as the Angara engaged in a decade spanning war with the Kett. A group of generic looking baddies with boney exoskeletons who seek to kill all other life forms due to their own sense of racial superiority, and are devoid of any form of greater culture due to their need to function as one dimensional antagonists.
In this fine mess, it is up to the newly appointed human Pathfinder, a young man or woman by the name of Ryder, to forge meaningful relations with the Angara, secure a home for the Milky Way natives, and go on a quest to genocide the Kett. It is a fair enough concept that aims to start the series fresh while retaining familiar iconography and establishing the core story as being something different than what was seen in the original trilogy. In execution however, I found much of the story to be rather unremarkable. With the main storyline starting out very slow with a lot of bouncing around a hub area while partaking in political malarky before being slowly parsed out thanks to a deluge of side content that breaks up a story that, even when strung together and presented on its own, is largely unimpressive.
I will say that there are occasional bits of intrigue, with a few small nifty ideas being tossed around, but as a whole I struggled to really invest myself in what was going on. With the threat of the Kett feeling largely hollow and blasé as they are simply a group of genocidal aliens that can be easily defeated by the shipload and, well, simply are nowhere near as intimidating or interesting as the Reapers. While the entire introduction, design, and construction of the Angara feels clumsy and is especially underwhelming considering they are the dominant species of a new galaxy and should feel like a wildly different race, rather than coming off as just another alien species in the world of Mass Effect, albeit one with a more detailed background.
While the main storyline and threats left me unimpressed, I will say that I enjoyed the cast of new companions characters, as they gel well together, come off as a group of misfits united under a cause, and generally possess a more casual energy than the more hardened personalities seen in the original trilogy. I overall really enjoyed them, except for Liam, a gung-ho dolt who does not belong in space, let alone another galaxy, though I do feel that a bit too much of the game focuses on Ryder’s lone Angaran companion, Jaal. Due to the plentiful amount of character commentary and interactions in this game, and how much of the game ultimately centers around the Angaran, I found Jaal’s presence to feel mandatory at points, as he contributes greatly to the player’s understanding of Anagaran culture and their people’s plights over the recent years to the point where it can feel somewhat wrong to not involve him in anything more substantial than tertiary side content.
Speaking of which, Mass Effect Andromeda marks the distinction of dialing back the mission based structure seen in 2 or 3 that was made up of brief structured encounter that blance story and gameplay sections along linear setpieces. In favor of something that draws back more to Mass Effect 1 and spreads it open to fit the open world template that has become so popular this past generation. In between the occasional story mission, trips to Ryder’s ship, and to the few city areas, the game is all about exploring big open maps littered with dozens of side missions, treasures, resources to be mined or harvested, and isolated areas meant to facilitate a spurt of combat, which I’ll get to later.
There are about 5 of these open regions, most of which facilitate the use of a de-weaponized Mako called the Nomad meant to travel through tough terrain at a reasonable speed, and while the set-dressing is changed up with each new world, they rarely ever felt as alien as I think the developers wanted. With them all falling into familiar locales involving deserts, jungles, mountains, and snowy mountains that rarely have anything alien about them beyond some odd looking fauna and plain black monolithic constructs. Though, they are all ultimately the same beyond their cosmetic visages, being littered with the same types of basic side quests. Go to location X, dispatch enemies, visit icons on the map, harvest resources, and so forth, all repeated throughout each world, before being repeated again in each successive world.
This is what the majority of my playthrough consisted of. Exploring these massive mountainous worlds looking for markers on a map, bouncing from place to place, picking up whatever meager rewards that came my way, and generally trying to make the map clean through a process that while not especially bad, is far from endearing. Choosing to try and do everything on every planet encountered amounted to an arduous experience of basic missions, mindless exploration, and meager rewards that are spread across a needlessly massive landmass as part of a process that does just enough to instill a sense of achievement with each completed quest and each marker removed from the map to keep the player going.
As for the combat, at its roots Mass Effect Andromeda is yet another third person cover based shooter much like its predecessor. But it does away with the same strategic underpinnings and involved nature of its combat in favor or something more open and kinetic that has the player jumping ten feet into the air and jet dashing across the ground through open environments. In theory, this is a very interesting way to spice up the combat, but in practice a more aggressive playstyle is discouraged due to how fragile Ryder is as a character, and how difficult it is to take in their surroundings. With the ability to pause the game, select between a collection of specialized powers, or view a handy radar to avoid getting flanked by baddies all being replaced by nothing, three ability slots, and a compass that only shows what is 90 degrees in front of Ryder. Ultimately resulting in a combat system that fails to shape up as smoothly as it really ought to given the pieces it is working with.
Yes, I was able to still use biotic powers freely, wrecking havoc with my usual staples, dashing, charging, shooting, and slashing baddies at my discretion, but is all felt both looser and more demanding, while also providing the player with less information. Due to the very high damage output of enemies and how they like to appear outside of the player’s compass, I found the best approach to honestly be hide behind distant cover, take out the bulk of them, then rush in to finish the job in a manner that is actually fun. Otherwise it can be so hard to find a safe point that I felt there was rarely an opportunity to do something as simple as change out my weapon of choice. Though, that may also have to do with how easy it is to cancel a reload or weapon switching animation by using a power, jumping, or dashing. All of which the player is encouraged to do very often.
As I previously mentioned, the inability to pause combat also comes with the inability to freely use party members abilities. A move that makes party members feel less valuable in combat, as they are automated and do their own thing freely, unaffected and uninfluenced by the player, which extends to how they are used outside of combat, as beyond choosing where their skill points go, the player cannot customize their party members. Which is something that struck me as particularly odd given the swarth of weapons, armor, mods, and various other items the player is showered with throughout the game. Yet that not being quite enough, all of this nebulous loot manages to feel even less substantial due to how the player is encouraged to research and develop their own weapons and armor. Which is its own moldy can of refried worms.
Ideally, I think, based on what I can parse through this system whose logic and reasoning I am pretending to truly comprehend, the player is encouraged to scan things as they go through the duration of the game, enemies, minerals, fauna, technology, et cetera. However, the scanning is distinctly unlike, say, Metroid Prime, as it does not flow naturally into combat and, well, seems really finicky. I do not understand why certain things can be scanned and others cannot. I do not get how I am supposed to scan enemies when taking damage kicks Ryder out of their scan animation. I cannot fathom why scanning is such a context sensitive process where the player must be a certain distance away from a scannable object, or why it does not work from certain angles. Also it’s slow, ugly, boring, and I kinda hate it, but it is required to make new weapons and armor, so I just had to deal with it.
By scanning, the player gains research points, which can be spent on looking into new weapons and armor, but the way this is handled involves a level-based system where the player must research each level of an item before they are allowed to develop it through a crafting system. This, combined with level-based gating and a weapon augmentation system, created a scenario where I would research a very small collection of equipment I actually wanted to use, early on discovering that I cannot create the best version of that equipment until I reach level 30.
Being the patient sort, I held off on crafting it right away, mostly because this game is so goldarn stingy with its distribution of certain crafting materials, and by the time I reached level 30, I learned that a truly best version was reserved for level 80. Normally, I would have crafted the available version, but because this game is so stingy with its materials distribution, I opted to wait until the endgame to craft this armor, as I was not sure whether or not I would have the materials to craft it again by the end of the game, as I didn’t even have the materials 30 hours in. So instead I just largely ignored the crafting system and sufficed off of whatever random enemy drops I found.
Shifting over to the presentation, Mass Effect Andromeda is indeed a good looking game with detailed environments, nice effects, and generally appealing art direction taken with its vast expansive landscapes. Though the less said about the generic designs for the Kett and the weird fish lizards with neck tubes, three fingers, and weird feet, the better. Yet despite the game having the assets needed to make an impressive product, its presentation is weirdly sloppy.
Oh dearie, where to begin? The bulk of interior environments are positively cluttered with an assortment of assets strewn about with almost reckless disregard for creating an appealing scene, as if they were assembled by a different team. The game does an astonishingly poor job of keeping interactable chests and containers consistent, with certain assets being containers sometimes and not other times. The field of view is bizarrely narrow, even after fiddling with it, making it hard to get a good grasp on one’s surroundings, especially due to how open environments are. The walking animation for Ryder makes the character feel sluggish, and their “realistic” stopping speed only makes them feel all the more unwieldy. Yet, bizarrely, this problem is fixed when in the over-the-shoulder combat stance, which limit’s the player’s view, but makes platforming a lot easier.
Though I think the most baffling issue of them all have to be how sound balancing is dependent on where the camera is facing, meaning that if the players looking away from a speaking NPC, they can barely hear them even if they are right next to Ryder. Wait, no, that’s the second most baffling issue. The actual most baffling issue is this PC port, which has issues with alt-tabbing out of the game, and has profoundly lengthy load times if the player saves while in their vehicle, the Nomad. Even with the game installed on my SSD, it took two minutes to load if I happened to save while inside that dumb rocket car. While I know those could be isolated issues that only affect the game on my PC, I still find this inexcusable for a 2017 AAA release.
I think I can summarize my thoughts on Mass Effect Andromeda by commenting how, when playing it I often began to contemplate whether or not doing so was an even remotely good use of my time, when I could be doing more productive things like schoolwork, housework, writing my next novel, or cleaning up my rinky-dink website. Thoughts like this became increasingly common throughout my playthrough, and as I neared the 50 hour mark, I simply began to lose patience and motivation, simply abandoning my playthrough then and there.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a by the numbers open world title with some promise, but the execution that just feels far too sloppy in far too many regards to be worthwhile. Its underwhelming story, repetitive design, loose combat system, and general presentational issues all went to damper the experience for me. Coming from the heights established from the prior entries, this is just an upsetting state of affairs. But at the very least Andromeda has steered away conversation from Mass Effect 3’s ending and established a definitive end for the series which, at this point, I honestly hope never sees the light of day again.