It all started as I hoped and expected. I click the game icon and I am greeted by the glow of a beautifully rendered planet and the warm bass-rich synth of the menu screen’s music. This feels right. I continue and go through the now familiar motions of creating my avatar and selecting her skills. While the character creation felt strangely limiting, I am more than happy with her look, and feel I have a solid base of abilities to begin my adventure.
The opening cinematic rolls and espouses the virtues of determination, hope, and discovery and I start to feel them as well. The short introduction closes with the completion of a 600-year journey to a new galaxy. A new beginning, and a new adventure. My body is ready!
We open with a slow tracking shot of the cryogenics bay of the Arc Hyperion and my character waking from her centuries long hybernaOH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO HER FACE?! My screen is filled with a contorted expression somewhere between final push haemorrhoid inducing constipation and glassy-eyed orgasmic release. That was one hell of a wakeup call! How could this happen to someone? Well, I was soon to find out as I was to pull this very face more than once in the following three dozen-plus hours.
Our beloved editor has passed official judgement on Mass Effect: Andromeda, but he has seen fit to allow me an opportunity to provide a response to his critique and to include my own take on the game. While I share many of Matt’s opinions, I feel the game stumbled more often and more severely than he did, and not all of them were due to the broke-ass animations.
As stated by Matt, the beginning is a mess. A convoluted and poorly executed introductory mission does the game no favours. It also has the dubious and contradictory honour of not only being too long, but somehow also far too rushed. It does a decent job of introducing you to the admittedly fantastic new traversal mechanics and the more freeform combat, but it fails to give any emotional heft to any of the characters. It made the entire hour or so I had just played feel rather wasted.
Anyway, as a Pathfinder, you must deal with a plethora of unexpected challenges in this new galaxy, and determine the fate of 100,000 lives. The gravity of this responsibility is raised a few times, but is totally undermined by the fact that after only a couple of cursory conversations, everyone seems cool with an untested recruit being given the reins. The writing team really missed the mark here, and unfortunately it continues to do so for the entire game to a greater or lesser degree.
Matt and I are in complete agreement with the quality of Andromeda’s core cast. Rather than the nuanced and complex personalities of the previous trilogy, the crew of the Tempest are a very shallow bunch, and for the most part are almost entirely defined by a single primary personality trait ranging from irreverent roguishness to grizzled stoicism. Considering how fantastic the character arcs are in the original trilogy are, and taking into account BioWare’s reputation for quality in this exact area, the shallowness here feels all the more disappointing. There are some interesting character moments, but finding these felt like an obscure game system I had to unlock, but only ever partially managed.
Where Matt and I disagree most is regarding the dialogue system. Which at first glance does sound like an improvement over the previous one. With the removal of the binary Renegade/Paragon responses and the inclusion of the four personality trait responses, it should allow for some more engaging and refined conversations. In practice though it completely fails to consistently deliver on its potential.
The primary issue is that this new system is not hooked up to anything. The responses are just flavour and in the vast majority of cases, have zero impact on how a conversation concludes. What’s worse is that in even fewer cases do the response choices actually affect non-crew characters or the game world itself. Conversations are window dressing made to look like role-playing.
To add insult to injury, many conversations are utterly inane or oddly stilted. There are a few cases where topics like spiritualism and existentialism are broached, but not only are these topics auto-asphyxiated by never really being let out of the bag, but the options you are given to reply to these potentially heady questions are either insultingly blasé or border or pandering. There are some gems to be found for sure, and at least one of the core writers really knows his craft and dazzled me with some BioWare of yore level greatness. But like so many of the game’s systems, inconsistency holds the dialogue back.
As Matt mentioned, the planets you can visit are for the most part rather uninspired, but unlike Matt I found all of them to have some truly stunning locations, and felt a lot of effort had been made to make them feel distinct. Maybe this is due to playing on a powerful PC over the Xbox One, but when the art comes together, it is sexy as hell and will give PC users plenty of opportunities to try out Nvidia’s Ansel screenshot technology. A real standout for me was when I ventured into a certain subterranean Remnant structure. This was my second real "hnnng" moment, and a return of the previously mentioned O-face.
Sadly, like all good orgasms, this one was short-lived, and like so many times before, I was left feeling empty and disappointed, because these moments of greatness are so intermittent it makes all the smaller irritations feel so much more egregious. Individually they are not serious, but their numbers make them impossible to ignore. Matt has highlighted the tedium of many of the activities, and I feel he is being generous.
Space exploration is a chore and mostly pointless. The number of planets you can actually explore is tiny. Most are just a codex entry and a smattering of others contain mineable resources or "anomalies",
providing some materials for the clunky research, development, and crafting systems. All are linked with an unskippable cut scenes that just add to the irritation – especially if you want to "100%" a cluster.
On-planet activities fare better, but again there are some irritating design choices. Memory Triggers are a nonsensical McGuffin bereft of logic, but do provide a decent reward for completion. Hand scanning your surrounds while exploring loses its appeal very quickly, and collecting crafting material feels like filler included just to add another box to the "sandbox" checklist.
The 12 million or so crates, containers, and boxes in the game seldom net anything interesting, and merely feed the insatiable maw of the crafting system (which, much like almost all the game’s UI, is beyond clunky). However, once you come to terms with it, it does allow you to construct some of the best weapons in the entire Mass Effect universe, and is very rewarding in the mid to late game.
Which brings us to combat, and I believe the Bard himself said it best:
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love thee for the depth and breadth and height
My Ryder can reach, when enemies are out to fight
For the jumps and dashes and ideal grace
I love thee as I level my steely gaze
My dire need, by pistol and rifle-sight
The level of flexibility and free form opportunity this new system is nothing short of a revelation. Being able to dynamically use not only cover, but height and high speed evasion never became tired. I even tackled the multiplayer as a direct result of my love for this system, which is literally the first time I have ever felt compelled to play a multiplayer mode of a single-player game. I had no real issues with the new cover system, but that may be down to my character build, which was part cyber-ninja and techno-mage with a focus on mobility and close quarters engagement.
While we are on a positive note, the execution of the critical path once you’ve navigated the initial stumbling blocks is actually really good. The latter story elements, and many of the associated quests are rather fantastic and feel more like the Mass Effect experience I was hoping for. Again, there is a lot of inconsistency, but the highs are very BioWare, even if the lows are head-scratchingly daft. Much of this could have been avoided with a solid quality pass of the writing by a single person. Instead the writing like the game feels like far too many cooks and no real cohesion between them.
I could go on about the various technical issues and bugs, but really these had no impact on my enjoyment of the game. Sure, the initial impact of these is severe, but soon enough they either resolve themselves, or just become part of the background noise.
Ultimately, I quite like Mass Effect: Andromeda, but certainly not as much as Matt, and far less than I was hoping for. While it didn’t suffer a death of a thousand cuts, it certainly was hobbled by them. Some patching, polishing and additional content could bring it up a couple of pegs, but as it stands (rather uncomfortably) it is at best merely OK. Unfortunately, merely OK feels a lot worse when it has the name Mass Effect attached.
My experience on PC was for the most part pretty smooth. I experienced no game breaking issues, and performance was far better than I was expecting.
I managed to spend time with the game on three Windows 10 Nvidia rigs, and all performed above expectation. My high-end GTX 1080 with an overclocked i5-6600K and 32GB of DDR4 RAM easily nailed 1440p at the very highest settings. My frame rate ranged from high 60s to early 100s, and after the patch, I experienced zero hitches or dropped frames. 4K was also achievable with a surprisingly low number of settings needing to be dropped a single notch to hit that 60 FPS sweet spot.
On a far more middle of the road GTX 1060, i5-4440 8GB DDR3 machine dropping down to a combination of Ultra and High settings gave a very stable 60 FPS at 1080p. This was rock solid apart from a few hitches in some full-on fire fights. With a little refinement, I am certain 60 FPS could be maintained here with little to no loss in fidelity.
On the lower end, we started to see some issues. A GTX1060 on a i3-7100 with 8GB of DDR3 struggled to hit a reliable 60 FPS on High settings, and even a combination of Medium and High was inconsistent. However, lowering everything to Medium with anti-aliasing disabled provided the 60FPS at 1080p I was looking for. Even at these settings, Andromeda is still a bit of a looker. So, while the gameplay side of things was all over the place regarding quality, the same cannot be said for the PC port quality. It’s top notch in my book mostly thanks to the ever-reliable Frostbyte engine.