It has been five years since the climatic and controversial conclusion to the original MASS Effect trilogy, a series that shaped sci-fi RPGs in that generation. It is a series that means a hell of a lot to a whole bunch of gamers so when news came about the next chapter in the series, fans were both excited and worried. MASS Effect: Andromeda released to very mixed reviews and rather low scores but I kept my pre-order in the hopes that perhaps it was not as bad as was being said, I mean hell, I actually liked the original ending to MASS Effect 3 so….
Right off the back I have to say I have a lot of issues with MASS Effect: Andromeda, and I mean a lot. There are two words that I will often use when describing my thoughts about this game, two words that pretty much sum up all my complaints and all my frustrations with this game as a fan of the original series and as a gamer. Those two words are said with honesty and in truth but with a little resentment and sadness. The two words are simply…half arsed.
The first annoyance came in the opening five minutes as a text wall on screen tries to set the scene for how this adventure began. We are told that the races of the Milky Way have decided to go further exploring the universe and after long range scans of the Andromeda system has identified potential habitable planets for colonisation. The plan is to send a huge ship called the Nexus which will serve as a Citadel of sorts with each race sending an Ark of their people who will all meet up after the 600 year journey to reach Andromeda led by the Pathfinder Initiative and Pathfinders, individuals responsible for seeking out worlds to for the races to settle on. All sounds rather lovely and sci-fi doesn’t it?
But here is my problem, the decision to go to Andromeda, all of a sudden, was the perfect opportunity to tie it into the original trilogy canon. Events here are set between those of MASS Effect 2 and 3, at a point where Commander Sheppard is warning about the incoming Reaper invasion to wipe out all life in the Milky Way. Now if the Andromeda Initiative had been tied to that in as much as someone believed what Sheppard was saying and decided to prevent the extinction of all the races by colonizing another galaxy like Andromeda then it would be all the MASS Effect to start off this new journey. But no, they simply decided to just go ahead and do it for the sake of exploration. So immediately, in just five minutes I was already disappointed and concerned…thanks to a wall of text.
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the bugs. For a game that has been in development for five years with a huge budget, ME Andromeda has released with quite frankly far too many bugs and issues for it to be either ignored or forgiven. The main concern is that with character animations and at first I started playing as the default Scott Ryder and the first few hours were all fine. But when I started the game again using the default Sarah Ryder character, straight away there were issues. How or why Bioware ignored such glaring problems with the default Sarah character model for animation with particular issue in dialogue sections is truly baffling. Her face looks like a face mask used in Bo Selecta, cheeks and nose just block any attempt to show emotion to the degree that it becomes farcical. I advised friends to create their own Sarah Ryder instead, and despite the very limited features of the creation suite, you are able to change the facial features enough to eliminate the issues and have a much better time but again, how this got through pre release testing is just the first sign of an ongoing issue with this game.
Problems in animation of characters such as how default Scott Ryder walks like he is in dire need of a hip operation, how enemies can spawn and simply not move at all even if you are attacking them, having NPC’s and enemies at times spawning and standing in mid-air and the comical animation of some of the wildlife who at times either moon walk around or slide with no movement animation at all, just show that whatever testing was done was not enough and it is clear at someone point someone either at the top of EA or Bioware simply said “enough, get it boxed and get is shipped”. Now Bioware have come out and said that they are looking into addressing the issues in future updates but put frankly, the fact this game released in the state it is in is an insult to the MASS Effect fans and to the work of the original team behind the first trilogy of games and cannot be ignored.
Visually this game looks no better than MASS Effect 3 despite it using a new engine. It genuinely looks and feels like an Xbox 360 title than that of the current Xbox One. The contrast of going from the amazing and beautiful Horizon Zero Dawn to this feels like a downgrade. It just doesn’t have the same visual impact I was hoping for after a five year wait. The planets you visit simply follow the Star Wars formula of creating planets, with EOS the desert planet, Voeld the ice planet and Havarl the tropical jungle planet being the first you explore and its just a little meh. Facial and movement animations aside and the planets all seem to share the same wildlife as well despite their different environments, so encountering the same creatures just feels bland and repetitive with so little effort into taking the time to make each world different other than the weather.
So does ME Andromeda have any good points? Well yes, it does for me at least. I am really enjoying the story although it can be said it has just lifted the whole mysterious ancient alien race from the original games here. Upon reaching Andromeda the crew discover that things have changed during their 600 year cryo sleep journey, and that the very planets considered ready for them are far from ready now. To colonize each world you must first make it viable for an outpost, and luckily each world has Remnant technology from an ancient race that the Pathfinder is able to use in order to regulate the planet’s eco-system enough to allow for an outpost. Each planet will also offer hours of gameplay content in the form of side quests and objectives that through completing will help increase the viability of the planet.
When I say hours of gameplay, I really mean hours of gameplay. At time of writing I am currently at 60 hours of game time and only 54% of the game completed. The sheer amount of side missions that the game throws at you at every opportunity can be overwhelmingly and not all the missions are fun. A lot of them are multi travel point fetch quests that will take you to different planets where you do something as little as scanning something or talking to a person, whilst others can be multi point missions on the same world. From clearing enemy camps, scanning rocks and plants, tracking a person down across a galaxy or activating the ancient Remnant tech, the amount of things you are asked to do as Pathfinder range from exciting action to tedious “wait you want me, the one responsible for finding Gold Planets for our races to populate so we do not starve and die to go 200 metres over there to talk to that guy and come back and tell you what he said” can feel massively like over padding and filler which again is made worse by the number of bugs that constantly pop up on your travels that will have you shaking your head in wonder at why they spend less time testing and correcting issues than they did creating pointless fetch missions for the player to rinse and repeat.
Now a lot of what I have experienced and written about so far is alarming and worrying to many MASS Effect fans, and it should be. But there are also very enjoyable things about this game which just makes the frustration about the problems all the more heart breaking. I really am enjoying the main story as it unfolds, it has all the sci-fi wonder and exploration I liked about the first games. I like the dialogue and personality of Scott Ryder, who can be funny and lighthearted with his encounters giving him far more personality than the original Sheppard. I really like the new combat system which does away with the restrictive one path of powers and abilities and instead gives more freedom to pick and choose what powers and skills they want to use and on the fly as well, meaning even in the middle of a battle you can change your skill set as long as that ability has been unlocked.
Collecting armour and weapons is simple with new modifications used to boost their attributes and the more you level up as a character the higher grade weapons and armour sets you can find. Researching your own weapons and armour from blueprints secured by scanning items allows players to craft their own versions with the opportunity to add special features during the crafting process to improve the finished item. Combat can range from taking out small groups of enemies to big battles that keep you on your toes throughout. I like the new cast of squad mates and their loyalty missions are a great reward for following their mission paths. Exploring the Remnant technology sites and vaults feels different enough from the Prothean side to the original games.
I have not hated all that ME Andromeda has to offer and there is certainly enough in ME Andromeda to keep original fans happy and sink their teeth into. The MP side follows the same horde mode style of MASS Effect 3 and whilst it doesn’t do anything new in that regard, it also suffers from the same half arsed problem of the main game in terms of bugs which builds the frustration even more. I am angry as a fan of the original trilogy that Andromeda has released in the state it is currently in, and the odd bug or glitch could be forgiven for a game as large as this is but too many feel as though Bioware were aware but someone higher up simply told them to get it boxed and get it released. That attitude does a disservice to the original games and the fans and quite frankly feels insulting. With more problems than positives, I would say to anyone considering picking this up to either wait for a price drop or wait to see what Bioware do to address the many issues it has.
Like millions of fans, I wanted and hoped to be blown away by ME Andromeda, but the joy of having a brand new galaxy to explore and relationships with new characters to forge and build as I want is hampered by the many glaring problems the game has and that is a crying shame. It may be over 600 years between the story of the last trilogy and this new adventure, but the attitude to the development of this game is enough to make even a Krogan cry!