REVIEW: Mass Effect: Andromeda

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

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Mass Effect: Andromeda | Exploration

Exploration and discovery trump combat in this game.

You’ll notice that so far I haven’t even talked about the combat in this game, and that’s for good reason. They have taken this series back to its roots as an RPG and drawn back a bit from the cover-based third person shooter (with RPG mechanics) that Mass Effect 2 ended up being. One of the major causes of this change is that they used the same engine that they used for Dragon Age: Inquisition for this game. That gives you very large and intricate maps to explore on foot and in your new rover (which is a pretty large improvement over the Mako). Many of the new maps will surprise people with how large they are, and it gives the sense that has been missing since the first Mass Effect game that you are exploring largely uncharted worlds. It also helps the game world feel a lot larger, which is very important to me when you are dealing with issues on a galactic scale.

There are a couple down sides to the way they designed this new galaxy, however. The first downside is that the Andromeda Galaxy is almost devoid of the variety of sentient life that is exhibited in the Milky Way Galaxy. There is some sense from the direction that the later game story takes that this will be a mystery to be solved in future installments of this new franchise, but it did have the unfortunate effect of feeling like you were encountering the same people and the same problem all the time. The Angara are the only real addition to the races that the Milky Way bring with it, and that felt like quite a missed opportunity. Also, because the vaults were all designed by the same people with the same aesthetic, exploring them started to feel like you were always going back to the same place. But that is a fairly minor complaint to me, because the good side is that the Angara are a very interesting new race, and that the Remnant vaults are rather fascinating and represent an interesting new mystery that is possibly even greater than the Protheans of the original trilogy.

Mass Effect: Andromeda | Combat

The combat was pretty solid. They brought back many RPG elements.

Even though the exploration comes first, the combat was still quite good. They did a lot to bridge the gap between the RPG style of the first game and the more frenetic pace and set pieces of the third. The way that they chose to bridge that gap was largely by using the Dragon Age: Inquisition engine with some added elements from Mass Effect 3. It mostly worked well. Even though you are traversing very large maps, when it comes to actually fighting you zoom into the third person over-the-shoulder view that you have come to expect from this series. Then you can tackle the group of enemies (or occasionally very large enemies, like the Architects) like you are used to. They have sacrificed a bit of the control you had over your squadmates before, but they have also given you back much more variety in how you develop your main character and, given the AI with your squadmates, some better reactions.

Since they have made it so that you can combo attack off of any of the three base abilities (Combat, Biotics, and Tech), it’s important to try to watch what your squad members are doing so that you can make good use of it. In Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, you could only combo off of same ability attacks. In other words you could combo two Biotic attacks together or two Tech attacks, and it feels like an improvement that you have much more variety in this game. Also of more variety is that your starting class doesn’t really matter. You can invest your points in any of the three skill trees and mix and match as necessary. They still have the base classes, called profiles in this game, but those profiles only give you bonuses that will apply to those abilities and play styles. There is a missed opportunity that you can’t change those profiles easily in the middle of combat (especially since you see her father do that very thing at the beginning of the game), but I suspect that may get changed in the sequel and they will just say that your father was more experienced at using the system than his children were.

Mass Effect: Andromeda | Profiles

The addition of the Profile system in the game was a very large improvement.

There was only one minor issue I had with using the Dragon Age: Inquisition engine for the combat in this game, but overall it was an improvement over that previous game. The one issue that I had was that my favorite way to play Mass Effect (after the first game) was as a Vanguard. The Biotic abilities Charge and Nova are super fun for me, and the melee in this game is a very distinct improvement over previous games in the series, especially since you can basically fly in this one.

The one issue that I had was that often enemies can be untargetable due to minor bugs with their positioning. You can’t charge an enemy that is in cover, but sometimes the enemy would show that it was in cover and was untargetable even when they obviously weren’t. It wasn’t game breaking and it was fairly rare, but it was still a bit annoying. It was not enough to make me change my overall playstyle though. I spent 90 percent of the game playing a Vanguard profile and the other 10 percent playing Adept and Explorer. With so many skills invested into Biotics and the defenses of Soldier, along with an Asari Samurai Sword, Sara was quite the badass and combat became frenetic and fun.

Mass Effect: Andromeda | Graphics

The graphics are very noticeably superior on the PC.

Now I’m going to talk about the bugs I experienced with the game, an important thing to talk about especially given the general tenor of the internet conversation about the game. But before I do so, make sure you notice that in the preface of the review I stated that the version I played of this game is the PC version. I also happened to play it on a brand new gaming laptop that is very high end (although I played with an XBox One controller since the hovering and jumping felt much better with an analogue stick than keyboard keys). So take into account that the bugs I experienced may be quite different than the issues console owners are having. Frankly, for 75 percent of the game I didn’t really experience any bugs at all and the characters and graphics in general look a lot better than they do in the footage I’ve seen from consoles.

A good example of that is PeeBee. I thought that she looked terrible in many of the first trailers, but seeing her in action on PC I definitely grew to be fond of the way she looks. In conversations there were a few hitches, but not nearly as much as the original trilogy. (I played all three games again the last two months leading up to the release of this game) The characters all are a fairly large improvement over the original trilogy, but as I said at the beginning there are several games which have been released since Mass Effect 3 that make this look a little dated at this point. I do have to say that for the last 25 percent of the game I started to experience a few major bugs that caused the game to freeze up. It was still rare, but it was obvious that the game engine started to suffer when the game grew to a certain size and it was having to keep track of too many variables.

Mass Effect: Andromeda | New Direction

The new direction is not without its rough spots, but the highs are more common.

Bioware games have always had a few janky production issues, so I wasn’t too put off by it. Really my largest complaint for this game was some of the pseudo-science, but that is a very personal problem to have, unlikely to be shared by many. They really could use some better images of the Andromeda Galaxy. unlike the Milky Way (which we can really only surmise how it looks from outside of the system itself), we really have quite detailed views of Andromeda. They especially could use some more scientific input on how they portray black holes. Someone in their research department should really look up the size for the event horizon of supermassive black holes, and definitely the behavior of the accretion disk. Additionally, if you are going to bring dark matter and dark energy into the conversation involving the Scourge, own it and try to explain it, particularly since Andromeda doesn’t exhibit any more signs of those phenomenon than our own galaxy does.

There are a few other things, particularly in how similar all of the species evolved, but they are highly technical conversations that are beyond the scope of a review. What’s more troubling is not that they took poetic licence with science facts and theories. This is a very important part of science fiction as a genre. (There is a whole section of the library labeled non-fiction for the more accurate views) The issue is that they were not consistent with the previous series. Mass Effect Relays played a huge part in the story and the style of the previous series, but that has been entirely abandoned for this one. I get that they couldn’t use the Relays because the Reapers created them specifically for the Milky Way, but to not address why ships can travel across a galaxy without them now is narratively inconsistent and feels like cheating their way out of the consequences of the first trilogy. Traveling the 2.5 million lightyear distance to this new galaxy in 600 years is quite the feat, but I wanted them to explain more about that and more about how exactly they were able to traverse an entire new galaxy within the lifetime of these characters. Adding fictional things like Element Zero for Biotics and the Mass Effect Relays for travel makes the game more fun and more expansive, but give me a reason to believe and I’ll be happier.

Mass Effect: Andromeda | Direction

A few complaints, but I like this new direction the series is going in.

The music and voice acting was not quite up to the level of Mass Effect 3 for this game, but a lot of that will come down to that game finishing up a series and that sense of closure as well as the studio and actors having much more experience with those characters. Those are aspects of any game series that I expect to get better the farther the series gets, and I see a lot of potential for this game in all aspects. My only major concern is that they are going to take to heart the general internet criticisms and turn Mass Effect: Andromeda 2 into a slick and simple product like Mass Effect 2 was. I don’t want that. I want my big and ambitious RPGs. Even if they don’t always succeed at everything they try, this game shoots for the moon (or galaxy), and I’d much prefer that.

I suspect that this game will be looked back on much more fondly than it’s being talked about now. Frankly I think that their largest issues are rushing it out before fixing some performance issues and right in the middle of a crazy hectic release window full of amazing games. It feels like that was an EA decision to get this game in before the end of the fiscal year, not a Bioware decision. Is the game worth the $59.99 price tag? Certainly, I spent 72 hours just on my first playthrough and I will be playing this game several more times to see much more of the variety of relationships and interactions. The major issue with wanting to pay full price for the game isn’t in value or replayablity, it’s in the fact that it’s being released right after Horizon: Zero Dawn and Nier:Automata, and right before Persona 5. That is quite the drain on your wallet and on your time. But really this game should not be missed. It’s flawed, but in my mind it’s still a Bioware classic.

Review Score

Review Copy Purchased By The Reviewer

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.

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