A Heleus Cluster F**K
So the long awaited Mass Effect Andromeda finally crawls out of cryo and is greeted with a sea of problems. Art imitating life, this game is as embattled as its protagonist. While I will avoid spilling the beans on plot points, there are mechanical aspects to the game that I wish to comment on.
As we go into this, I feel it’s necessary to point out that I am a huge Bioware fan. I have spent a great number of hours in their worlds, from Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age, and of course this series. For nearly two decades Bioware has practically defined epic, dynamic worlds for me and others.
Glitches and Graphics
In my opinion, the game looks great. The character creator allows you to really get a nice looking character, and NPC designs are wonderful. The interiors and exteriors are vibrant and atmospheric. Visually, the game is very engaging… provided no one moves.
You have probably heard the complaints. Already shooting down the metacritic score of this game like weaponized memes, the animations in this game are painful at times. Often, starting a conversation will cause characters to engage in downright weird actions. For example, sometimes the characters will have an urge to do a poor pirouette as you engage them. This, coupled with how awkwardly close everyone starts chatting at, can make talking with your crew downright comical – but in a distracting, irritating kind of way.
There are also at least a few glitches, though I only happened across a handful that caused me any great distress. One glitch I encountered trapped my character in a crouching position, and could only be freed after being shot a few times. Another more serious glitch where I was searching an object for quest-vital clues, but the object delivered no information and could no longer be manipulated. This last issue happened several times in less critical situations as well.
For me, though, the worst part of the game was how it handled ambient dialogue.
A common feature in Bioware games are the quips, insights, and interaction between travelling companions and other NPCs – often these are critically connected to my enjoyment of the game. Unfortunately, often the characters will take part in a conversation, but at such a distance that you cannot hear them. This is a very frustrating issue that could have been handled many ways, simplest of all being that any time a character speaks to you just have the audio play as if they were right next to you. I’d rather risk suspension of disbelief by pretending my cohorts are next to me when they decide to stop and start talking, rather than the immersion-rending task of reloading the game just to be able to hear a line or two of dialogue.
Around the Galaxy in 30 hours.
It is my absolute firm belief that the jetpack was put in just to accommodate insipid platform obstacles. Not once did I think that the jetpack added anything to the game. It just gave them an excuse to pad empty (though beautiful) levels with things to jump on, to reach the next set of things to jump on. The controls do as advertised and are easy to use, but did not enrich the game. Other than being a gateway to jumping “puzzles,” it didn’t detract from the game either.
In the interest of full disclosure, I despised the Mako. The Mako’s replacement for this game, the Nomad, is is noticeably less horrible. Not great, just less bad. The Nomad is better, if only slightly. It adds to the problem of mechanical busy work that is wrought throughout this game. The idea that you need to shift gears to climb a hill may be ‘realistic’, but it is not fun.
There were apparently mods for the Nomad. All I ever did was paint it gold, which amused me greatly for some reason. Maybe some of the other mods made using the Nomad less aggravating, but all in all, it seemed like a way to for the game to ignore the vast open, yet very pretty, spaces it had.
The fast travel system they put in is good. Actually, more than good – it’s pretty great. I was worried it would need me to get to particular Nav points to access a Fast Travel system, but you can just go to any of your designation Fast Travel locations by accessing your map. I was pleasantly surprised by this and feel that the Fast Travel is a good selling point for the series. There are points that you can not utilize the Fast Travel system, but they are few and far between.
Another high point is the Tempest. A worthy successor to the Normandy, this ship really felt like home by the end of the game. It looks great on the exterior and the inside has a nice, easy to navigate layout. Bringing up your map allows you to clearly see where your companions are at any given time, and while it can suffer from the conversation distance issue I mentioned, hearing them chat among each other really makes it feel alive.
Content is king, but promises were broken.
If you are like me, you came here for the drama. The politics, the character interactions, the story. And do not get me wrong, it is there in spades. The writing for Andromeda may be some of the best I’ve seen from Bioware. Inquisition was excellent, but I feel the writing here may even outclass that game.
The characters are fleshed out and interesting. Even those I don’t drag around with me feel involved and I get invested with them. While the main plot is a bit predictable at times, the side quest and NPC loyalty missions are where the game comes alive.
We were promised exploration that is just as, if not more, important than combat. I’m afraid this is absolute rubbish. The combat is slick, and I actually enjoyed playing my sniper Ryder, but this game focuses on combat. Exploration, scanning planets, and investigating new worlds is actually, sadly, boring. Once the gloss wore down on how pretty the set pieces were, they were revealed to be vast open and empty areas with nothing but monsters to shoot and boxes to open.
Your scanner is a complete missed opportunity. It is there primarily to serve as a means to interact with the incredibly dull ‘glyph’ puzzles: A dumbed-down Sudoku game where you have to find the pieces on foot first. Regardless if I was deep in ancient vaults of alien tech or just stepping out on to a planet for the first time, there was barely ever anything to scan. A plant here. A rock there. Sometimes it would let me scan a creature, but that seemed like an inconsistent gift.
Scanning from the Tempest usually amounted to nothing more than “keep pressing a button until you get the treasure.” There was no risk, no questions, nothing. Your character had loads of skills to unlock, passive or otherwise. Why not take the time to put one in to scanning and exploration. Have a chance of failure. Maybe pose us with a moral question of what to do with our discovery? Space exploration is dull, disappointing, and essentially just ‘walking’ through a series of empty rooms, opening doors, and then getting the minor treasure of questionable value.
This brings me to the end game. With out giving up any major plot points, you can continue to chase down quests and explore Heleus after the main plot is resolved. I found it funny in the epilogue my own thoughts were echoed by characters. Essentially, “Now that is done, lets get down to why we really came here.” The final event of the main story lets you know in advance when it is about to play out, and I am always grateful for that. More so, I love that I can go back and revisit several places and tie up plots that I just didn’t feel were pressing at the time.
Mass Effect Andromeda reaches for the stars but barely gets off the launch pad. A great game is turned decidedly mediocre because of lazy or downright poor design choices. If you are coming to play just for the excellent story, you will want to crank down the difficulty so you can breeze through and enjoy it. If you come hoping for interesting exploration and discovery that has an impact and is engaging? You are going to be very disappointed. While visually pleasing, it lacks content for its beautiful settings. In the end, as a Bioware fan, I would have been happier to pick this up on sale. The wonderment wears off very quickly, but the story will leave series fans satisfied and curious about what comes next.
Final Score 6.5/10
Review by Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts