Mass Effect is a series of critically acclaimed games that really do deserve the praise they get. Mass Effect Andromeda is the latest installment in that series, and after playing the game for three days(Nowhere near finished.), I’ve decided to set the record straight as to whether or not this game is as bad as people think it is(Hint: It isn’t, at least not to me.)
Before I go any further let me just put it out there that yes, there are some hilariously bad animations, yes the character creator isn’t the greatest, and yes, Andromeda is pretty much the “Force Awakens” to Mass Effect 1's “A New Hope.” It is by no means a perfect game, not by a long shot, but it doesn’t entirely stay in the shadow of its predecessor’s and shows that Bioware’s C-team, with enough polish, could make something great. Andromeda is a rough building block that will act as a foundation for them going forward.
As my Star Wars comparison above hints, the story of Andromeda isn’t all that different from the story of the original Mass Effect. It has enough differences to make it stand out, but also enough similarities that you can’t help, but feel like you’ve been there, done that. The game has this sense of wonder and mystery about it that reminds me of when I first played the original Mass Effect. Everything felt so new and mysterious and it made me want to go out and explore, find every little secret that I could and learn everything there was to learn. I feel that same way with Andromeda. The Heleus Cluster is filled with secrets and the environments are awe inspiring at times. Trust me when I say that if you deviate from the main quests you will have no shortage of things to do and places to go.
Previous Mass Effect games kept a pretty tight focus on the main story, only giving you a handful of side missions to earn you some extra credits and either renegade or paragon points. Andromeda drops you in a mini-open world planet and tells you to go nuts. You’ll find side missions scattered all over the place and others will send you to specific planets for missions, and while your exploration might be gated initially due to environmental hazards, as you progress the main story these areas that you’ve been to previously will continue to expand and offer new missions to take on and secrets to find. However, I also find fault with just how many side activities there are. Coming off of the story heavy original trilogy, this more relaxed and open-ended approach to questing can take a significant amount of time to get through, almost like padding. Granted, quite a few of these side missions flesh out this new pocket of a new galaxy, allowing you to dive into this lore that you know nothing about and meet characters who feel like very real people. Those are mixed in with the usual fetch quests though which muddies the water. I want to get on with the main story, but I find myself doing the side missions because I have no idea if any of them will affect dialogue in the main story, allowing me to take routes that I might not have before.
Speaking of dialogue, the absence of obviously good answers and obviously evil answers is the greatest thing ever. You say what you want to say and you won’t know how it’s going to turn out. Every choice is a gamble. And when one of Andromeda’s many morally gray decisions comes up, it’s harder to choose one over the other. Do you get water for your colonists? Or do you give natural gas to an independent outpost so they can trade it to your outpost, creating a mutually beneficial relationship, with the caveat that the natural gas will affect the planets atmosphere negatively in the future? It’s like asking me if I think condemning an entire population to scrounge for what little water they can is worth it to save the planets atmosphere for future generations. That’s a hard call to make. Take short term salvation for long term problems later or cause short term problems that could get out of hand for long term benefits. And there have been other decisions I’ve had to make that put me on the spot and I had to sit and think before making my decision, and even then I wasn’t confident that I had made the right decision. I questioned myself. The original trilogy rarely ever made me do that because everything was black and white. Bad dialogue is also not as common an occurrence as early footage would have you believe. The writing can actually be really solid at times and every character feels “human.” The humans, asari, turians, salarians, krogan, and angara, all of them have lives, some have family you get to meet, and everyone is trying to find a place that they belong, a place to settle and live, it’s touching.
I’ve talked a lot about the games narrative, so perhaps its time to dip into the gameplay. In terms of basic mechanics, the gunplay and skills work the same way they have in previous Mass Effect titles, simply refined. You select your loadout when you go out into the world and shoot up bad guys. One of the main differences you’ll likely notice early on is the lack of customization for your squadmates. You can choose their skill paths if you want to as they level up, but other than selecting who you want to take with you, you don’t really get to decide anything else such as what weapons they’re bringing to the fray. And if you can decide what they bring, then I haven’t figure it out yet, but if it’s there then it’s well hidden unlike the previous games where that bit of customization was front and center. Not that matters however, as no matter who you bring with you, they’ll get the job done. You could easily sit back and relax while you let your squad do the dirty work. They don’t die and they deal damage, the perfect combo, at least that’s how it is on normal difficulty. All of my deaths thus far have been related to the environment, not because I got shot. My shields rarely ever break. And I guess this is one of the gripes I have with the game: It feels too easy. It isn’t challenging me. Trying my patience maybe with the tedious nature of doing all those side missions, but not challenging. I get more enjoyment out of driving the Nomad around and placing mining nodes. That being said, I do feel like a complete and utter badass as kett fall to my assault rifle which is the only weapon I ever use. I don’t even use any of my skills and I haven’t even touched biotics.
Another point I want to bring up, the game lets you set up different profiles, kind of like reclassing whenever you feel like it. I never use them. Heck, I forgot they even existed for the longest time. The game reminds you from time to time that profiles exist, but I’ve never seen why I should use them. The build I have is the only build I’ll ever need and I’m not into experimenting. On top of that, I get so many research points that I’ve already acquired the level 5 Heleus Guardian armor and level 1 Remnant weapons. I have the level 1 Remnant armor, but I figure I’ll wait until I upgrade that further before I develop it. That’s the thing though, I’m maybe halfway through the game and I’m already decked out in some of the best gear the game has to offer you and it cost me zero credits. Once you get the Remnant weapons, you no longer need ammo boxes because it all recharges like the Prothean Rifle from Mass Effect 3. Using anything else is just pointless. I will say though that the combat is definitely more active that it was before. Gone are the days of hiding behind cover. Now you sprint forward, jump up in the air invalidating enemy cover, hover there and then fire until all your enemies are dead. Just charge into the fray and have fun slaughtering those who dared to challenge you. The jump pack solves all of your problems.
When it comes to map traversal, the jump pack and the Nomad will become your best friends. The pack will let you reach ledges that previous games would have just placed there for show, but now there are secrets to be found on higher ground and obviously better vantage points for ambushing enemies or surveying the landscape. The Nomad is essentially the Mako 2.0. It’s a white land rover that lets you climb impossible inclines and takes you to the farthest corners of the map faster than you can run there. The main differences are that its insane climbing ability is explained by its 6 wheel drive mode which you have to turn on and off manually, and trust me whne I say you do not want to leave it on. You go slower when it’s active, so until you get the upgrade for it, use it only for climbing and use the boost to get up those inclines faster. And it doesn’t have weapons, so you can’t just stay far away and snipe enemies with a cannon or mow them down with a machine gun. You can run them over, but you’ll need to get out of the Nomad to engage them directly. I have no problem with this, but I know a lot of people probably prefer doing drive-by’s so they can just keep going.
Now, before I wrap this up, I want to address the elephant in the room: the animations. By now everyone’s heard that Andromeda’s facial animations, and other assorted animations, are just plain awful. I am here to tell you that said news has been exaggerrated. Yes, there are some terrible facial animation moments and even one romance scene in particular that has some really basic animations for whatever reason. Luckily, these instances are few and far between, and while I have no doubt that many of the NPC’s in the game also lack the ability to move their face muscles and emote, the camera is normally pulled so far back that you can’t even really notice. Very rarely does the camera zoom in enough to let you see those terrible animations. The aliens, however, look just fine. The krogan, turians, salarians, kett, and angara all have great face animations. Why? Because they aren’t human or human-like. The krogan have massive faces and the most you’ll notice is a tilt of the head and their big mouths moving. Their eyes are so small that any movements are subtle and not easy to notice. Salarians are like sticks, of course their faces don’t work the same way as ours. The turians? Again, small eyes, small mouth, and mandibles. You’ll notice their emotions based on body language and how they move those mandibles. And the angara? When a developer said they wear their emotions on their sleeves, they weren’t kidding. You can see the pain and the sorrow in their faces.
And a lot of that is just general conversations. The humans and the asari are really the only two that suffer from awkward facial expressions and of course the asari now having more prominent facial features doesn’t help because no longer are they the flawless space women they were before. Now they have wrinkles, bags under their eyes, crows feet, prominent cheek bones, you name it, they have every facial quirk that we do and that obviously throws some people off. The good news on the animation front is that major cutscenes definitely got extra special attention because the animations are clearly mo-capped rather than animated by hand like the more general animations appear to be, and even that varies in quality suggesting some animations were prioritized over others in the lead up to launch. It’s clear to me that this game needed more time, and it didn’t get it, and I’m not sure where to toss the blame for that because EA seemed willing to delay the game again if it felt it needed the time.
But that’s enough for right now. I do plan to eventually complete and fully review Mass Effect Andromeda, however, and this is something I find a bit strange, I don’t intend to do that right now. I’m burnt out. I’m engaged with the story, I want to see more, I want to converse with my crew more because they’re very interesting characters, but for some reason I just can’t get motivated to continue playing. So the review for Mass Effect Andromeda is delayed, so you can take this impressions piece as a review until then(And in all honesty the review will probably be shorter.). You can expect my review of NieR: Automata before you can expect my Andromeda review, and heck, I might even complete and review Persona 5 before I review Andromeda. It’s not a bad game, I like it more than I honestly expected to. I was worried, I’m not anymore and I want to see more, but I just can’t get myself motivated to continue.