Mass Effect: Andromeda, a review

(Disclaimer: The following is a non-profit unprofessional blog post written by an unprofessional blog poster. All purported facts and statement are little more than the subjective, biased opinion of said blog poster. In other words, don?t take anything I say too seriously.)

Just the facts, cause you're in a hurry.

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): 59.99 USD

How much I paid: 69.99 USD (Plus 4.99 for EA Access).

Rated: M for Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Violence

How long I played: 37 Hours (20 for initial playthrough, additional hours for sidequests and exploring alternate romance options).

Microtransactions: Sadly, yes. Since Bioware realized they could milk their multiplayer fans for all the extra cash, there is a plethora of microtransactions throughout the multiplayer. Microtransactions can cost up to 100 USD. Be advised.

What I played on: PC.

Performance Issues: Hoo, boy. Mass Effect: Andromeda can be beautiful to look at times and just embarrassing the other moments. There are situations where the shadow flickers, the textures pop-in, the various characters and animations clip, the game stops and resumes when you're boosting in the Nomad, pixelated shadows and yes, the facial animations are ATROCIOUS here. There are also instances where the game hasn't finished loading levels and I fall through the floor. Other times, NPCs don't respond correctly and I have to load to a previous save. The framerate is all over the map. While it ran at a (mostly) steady 60 fps when I was in combat, I was getting odd drops to 50 and 40 when I was having conversations with my crew. And this was AFTER the Day 1 patch was installed.

My Personal Biases: Yeah, I've been a dedicated Bioware fan/apologist since 2003. We've had our ups and downs with the franchise, and I the loyal Biodrone (Bioware Drone) that I am, I've kept buying these products again and again and again. Mass Effect, Dragon Age and the Old Republic, you name it, I've been there.

My Verdict: Mass Effect: Andromeda feels like a game that needed one more pass to get right. There are moments of absolute gorgeous beauty here while other times there are massive technical issues that need to be addressed. But, even more so, the main quest line just never seems to pick up. Even if the characters have amusing banter (they're okay, the best one is Drack), it just never builds up the momentum the previous Mass Effect titles did. Hold off until the inevitable patches/fan fixes come through.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, a review

Bioware wants to ask one question: Is the Mass Effect IP still valuable after one of the most controversial endings of their series divided fans, critics and everyone else apart and rages on to this day?

Set 600 Years into the future and lightyears away from the events of the original Mass Effect trilogy, you are part of the Pathfinder Initiative. Led by your father, Alec Ryder. But when one of the Golden Worlds, planets marked for settlement, turns out to be hazardous and costs Alec his life, he passes on the role of Pathfinder to you. You are tasked with finding new worlds, settling them and ensuring whatever threat remains is dealt with as you are now the Pathfinder.

Playing Mass Effect: Andromeda on the PC brought several glaring bugs and glitches to my attention. From companions floating in mid air, to unresponsive NPCs to constant pop in textures every which way, this has got to be one of the most poorly optimized games on launch. Granted, other Bioware titles have had their share of glitches at launch, but the bugs found in Andromeda are so prevalent and numerous, I have to ask what happened in Quality Assurance.

Mass Effect: Andromeda looks like a joke compared to polished games such as the Witcher 3, but even compared to Bioware's other works, it's clear something has gone horribly wrong within the production. Even Dragon Age: Inquisition (which I remind you came out in 2014, 2 and a half years ago) with it's Lego hair and stiff faces did not look nearly as bad or as shoddy as Mass Effect: Andromeda. It'd be one thing if the game were going for a different aesthetic, by way of Dragon Age 2 or even The Old Republic MMO, but the game insists on using the Frostbite engine to the point where the contrast is to amazingly jarring.

The game's facial animations have already become memes in their own rights. Eyes constantly dart around while the middle of the face stands still and the mouths flap out. When looking at the environments, backgrounds or a Turian, a Krogan, the Angara, or Salarians, your jaw drops in amazement only to have that amazement be replaced by repulsion when looking at a human or Asari. No Hanar, volus, drell, quarians or geth appear. (Which is odd. You'd think for a game that had trouble rendering human faces would get the races that DIDN'T require faces first and foremost).

But, if the flaws were purely technical, if the flaws were just in the animation department, that wouldn't bother me. One of my favorite games is Fallout: New Vegas, which had several immersion breaking bugs. Those flaws can be patched (or modded by a really over eager fan. Bioware seems to be taking way too many notes from Bethesda). But, the one thing patches or mods can't fix is the game's story never really reaching its heights.

Even at Bioware's weakest story telling moments (and believe me, there's plenty to choose from), they've always excelled in emphasizing the characters, the relationships and the companions first and foremost. So, it breaks my heart to say these are the weakest group of companions to date, in terms of character interaction.

Say what you will about Bioware's objectively worst game, Dragon Age 2, at least those companions 'had' distinct characterizations and personalities (even if they bordered on the unlikable and wholly inconsistent from the previous game). A good portion of the companions here are easily my least favorite coming from Bioware (and this includes of roster of Carver Hawke, a whiny penulant child, Skadge, an unremorseful serial killer, Javik, an on-disc DLC character locked away through a paywall and Carth Onasi, a paranoid pilot who really needs a therapy session when it comes to his dead wife and missing son). Andromeda's character's are not even unlikable, but painfully generic, as though a focus group gave various notes on undesirable personality traits and told the writing staff which parts to remove.

Drack is easily the best of the companions. On paper, he's no more distinctive from any other Krogan, but he makes up for it with a strong personality and a spectacular voice performance by Stanley Townsend. There's so many times that Drack takes an ordinary line but adds so much his spin on it that it more than makes up for the writing flaws. His arc concerns what it means for a Krogan to get old and trying to help his granddaughter. He, of all the companion characters, feels the most complete and the most polished.

Vetra Nyx is the first female Turian companion to join you. Instantly, Vetra is extremely likable. We see how she's willing to bend the rules to get tasks done, but also how she's willing to help a lot of people. Her character never goes beyond a smuggler with a heart of gold, but the easy personality goes along with it. Her arc concerns making sure her sister, Sid, is safe and wants nothing more than for Sid not to get herself involved in the trouble Vetra's in. It's too bad then the game doesn't know what to do with Vetra and she's made utterly peripheral to the events of Andromeda.

Peebee is most often the 'face' of Andromeda. (Ha ha ha). She takes the place of the Asari archeologist Liara was in the original trilogy. Often willing to leap first and think later, she's an archeologist wanting to find out more about the Remnant. Even so much so, she's willing to take extreme risks and put you and the crew in danger to do so. She might be the most annoying of the companions (and the one most likely to get knocked out in a fight), but outside her arc, there's just not much to her.

Jaal feels the most like a missed opportunity. He is part of the Angara, the new race introduced to Mass Effect. We're told that the Angara are this overly emotional race. What we're shown is someone who reacts normally to otherwise jarring situation. Nothing really ever prompts an emotional outburst as all the emotional outbursts feel justified. Also, Jaal slips too easily into casual slang. First, he seems to think Humans are strange, setting him up to be another Javik or even Sten from Dragon Age, but the next, he's using slang and idioms as easily as Cora or Liam. While the voice actor does a great job voicing him, the lack of opportunities for him to have emotional moments really hampers his character.

Liam Kosta is an optimist, one of the few characters to leap in head first to the Initiative. He's constantly impatient and wants to get things done, even if his rashness might cause more problems than fix them. But, his characterizations never match and as a result, he just feels like a mess of a character. They Keep giving Liam "funny" dialogue and "funny" situations, but the lack of finesse on the writing and the voice actor never really gel.

Cora's a bit of a problem as well. Your second in command, Cora likes to keep things in order and while she grouses how she would've made a better Pathfinder than you, she accepts what has happened. On missions, she can't help but come off as painfully generic. Her voice performer doesn't really have any distinctions in her voice, and nothing Cora ever says is anything beyond the obvious. Even her Loyalty Mission only barely gives her any sort of dimension. Cora was trained to be an Asari Huntress because she apparently is so good at biotics. When the Asari ark is missing, Cora asks you to help find it. When it turns out her superior that she looked up to did something horrible, Cora must find a way to resolve it. Also, she likes plants. That's apparently important somehow, but I can't for the life of me figure out why.

I know Human squadmates tend to rank low on the general favorability scale (I personally think Jack is one of my favorite companions, but that's just me), but Cora and Liam just do not stack up. Contrast that with Ashley William's controversial faith and racism, Miranda Lawson's ice queen attitude, Jack's psychosis and James Vega's masculinity. Liam and Cora make Jacob Taylor and Kaidan Alenko seem exciting.

In addition to party members, your ship, the Tempest, also has several NPCs that do not join you but stay on the ship.

Gil Brodie is the ship's engineer and is only romancable to Male Ryders. His main arc concerns his friend, Jill, who really wants Gil to procreate. Since this is the future and artificial insemination exists, the game comes up with a very contrived reason for Gil to want to become a father while not just becoming a donor. (Bit on the nose there, Bioware? The only homosexual male in the crew and his arc concerns reproduction?) Gil also likes Poker. Because this is apparently as important as Cora's love for plants.

Lexi (who's voiced by Natalie Dormer who plays Margaery Tyrell, which would be more impressive if I bothered to keep up with Game of Thrones) is the ship's doctor and a young Asari who constantly checks up on you and the crew. She's characterized as this dower person who takes things too seriously and doesn't know how to have fun, (Peebee constantly teases her about it), but it never really becomes an issue. It's a quirk. Even when you meet her outside the ship and she's uncomfortable about relaxing, it never becomes a problem.

Suvi Anwar (voiced by Katy Townsend, who Fallout 4 fans may recognize as Cait), is a member of the Nexus' science team and is often at the bridge with Kallo. She is, I kid you not, a believer in God and Intelligent design, insisting that her love of science somehow doesn't contradict with the idea of an all knowing God (No, really!). Throughout the game, she comments on how those two connect and having good spirited debates about such things. But her spirituality is told to us, rather than shown to us and there's never really an opportunity to explore that. She's only solely romancable to Female Ryders.

Kallo Jeth is the new Pilot, a Salarian who wants to find where the Salarian ark went. While he's on the bridge making banter with Suvi, he also argues on the intercom with Gil with what changes need to be made on the ship. Since Kallo was there when the Tempest was made, he expresses concern with the adjustments Gil makes. I actually liked Kallo quite a bit.

When Kallo remarks on how Salarians photogenic memory contrasts with human memory, as though his lost friends are right there with him, I thought that was a particularly striking character moment as well as a world building nod that was missing throughout the game. Sadly, it resolves too quickly with Kallo and Gil getting along with little input from the player (binary decisions that I disliked), but it did give me a glimmer of hope.

And the Ryder family members don't add much either. Look, again, rip Dragon Age 2 apart all you want, but at least that game's family members were interesting. At least Leandra, Uncle Gamlen, Bethany and Carver had characterizations and distinct personalities (even if those distinct personalities were those of complete twats). Mass Effect: Andromeda expects me to care about a father who's a compete and literal mystery and a twin sibling who's comatose for a majority of the game.

But the biggest casualty in the game is the main character of Ryder. There's always been debate on the quality of Bioware's writing and how much agency the player truly has, but the one thing they excelled at was giving the otherwise blank slate a distinct personality and background. Whether or not the game was good or crap, I could at least tell you who my Spirit Monk, my Shepard, my Warden, my Hawke or my Inquisitor was and what their background, their choices and their relationships told you about the character. Ryder is simply everything. Ryder can be all things and do no wrong. Ryder's background is the same throughout all the playthroughs and their interactions have little to no effect. I probably made a total of 3 (5 if you count gender and romance) distinct choices in the game that felt like they had any significant impact whatsoever). Even if something from a modern Bioware title, Dragon Age: Inquisition, had few story choices, gave them the weight of impact so the illusion of your choices mattering remained. There is no such weight in Andromeda.

Bioware has somehow taken their trademark Bioware Blank Slate and made them even blanker.

The Kett themselves are pretty boring villains. Visually, there's nothing really unique about them and once their grand plan is revealed, it's just so blase and generic, you're surprised none of them twirled their mustaches.

Even the loyalty missions don't do much. I know there's dispute on Mass Effect 2's otherwise paper thin plot and whether or not the Collectors were anything but filler villains, but at least they were a threat. Doing a loyalty mission was literally a battle between life or death. Here, it's more of a suggestion as all it does is allow you to unlock the final tier for squadmates powers and lets you continue having conversations with squadmates. I didn't do a single loyalty mission on my 2nd playthrough, only for my mates to come out a ok. Conrad Verner would be more of a threat than the Kett.

The Paragon/Renegade system might have been old hat, but at least it gave my Shepard a voice. The new dialogue system doesn't give Ryder any sort of distinction in terms of roleplaying at all. There's nothing I could do to alienate any of the characters in Andromeda because Ryder doesn't say anything controversial. There were points where I was envying Dragon Age 2's dialogue system!

And since all the skills are made available to me from the beginning, there's no point in rerolling a new character, unless I desire to change what my Ryder looks like. (And in a world of save editors and DLC releases that change character creator, even that desire is non existent) . Cards on the table, I think it was a HUGE mistake to give Ryder access to all skills and profiles. It makes replayability almost none and makes save scrubbing all too viable. The character creator itself is painfully limited. There are so few options that my Ryders began to look like one another.

Since you can only map 3 skills per profile, there's really no point in putting them anywhere else, unless you feel like experimenting. You can assign 3 powers to profiles, classes you unlock throughout the game and profiles give you benefits to certain skills, such as improved Biotics or lower cooldown on tech skills. But since switching between the 4 profiles also means putting said activated skills on cooldown, even if those skills were unused, there's little to no point.

Also gone is the power wheel, in which players could pause the game and direct companions what to do and what powers to use. Instead, Ryder is at the mercy of the various enemies while your companions do whatever the hell they want with the points assigned to them. I would use a power, only to have Liam constantly leap in and smash the ground or Drack use Incinerate when I think it would be needed against a heavily armored enemy.

(Or, Lord Help Us) Bioware put more emphasis on the multiplayer scenarios. What's weird is that of all the elements, the Multiplayer feels like the most polished out of all the gametypes. It's almost as if (and this is pure speculation on my part) the mode and it's many microtransactions were geared to keep the player base strong.

Strike teams can either be deployed in the game or through a companion app. When I'm away from my computer, I can use my phone to deploy strike teams and manage them. You can get rewards in single player from strike team missions.

The game's vastness and scope is one of the game's selling points, but an attempt to emphasize said scope, Bioware has decided to take odd design choices. From traveling from planet to planet, the game zooms out from your location and takes an unskippable 20 second transition to zoom into another planet. Scanning through the window uses Mass Effect 2's scanning tool and makes it even slower to scan.

Planetside isn't much better. You'll land planetside only find the Golden Worlds nonviable for settlements and have to do various tasks to increase that viability. This can be done by setting up Forward stations (fast travel points), doing side quests and restoring the environment by accessing Remnant vaults and solving puzzles. Sudoku puzzles. Which somehow exist after 600 years into the future and lightyears away from the milkyway. (Don't worry; all of the puzzles have been solved online already.) If you increase said viability enough, you can set up an outpost, and earn even more AVP points (Viability points) so that you can unfreeze certain segment populations to grant you benefits such as increased inventory space, more weapon slots, credits or materials at intervals.

Also new is the scanning tool, in which Ryder deploys a screen to help him/her locate potential quest trails and know where to advance. It's been stated that Bioware wants to imitate the Witcher 3's sidequests, and I have no doubt they were genuine when they said that. What they meant was using a specific scanner to follow a trail. It's too bad that the scanner is painfully limited, slow and annoying to use. Scanning various items can unlock research points used to unlock and develop weapons. Developing weapons requires materials found in either scanning materials planetside, through the ship or through multiplayer.

But, the exploration aspect never feels genuine. It feels mandatory. It's busywork to unlock new perks and said perks or gear aren't needed when I can just farm Strike Teams and they can send a plethora of credits, gear or materials to Ryder. And since there's no level requirements, there's really nothing stopping me from blitzing through the story.

Conclusion: I enjoyed Mass Effect: Andromeda, but I can also see that there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed. If someone asked me if I regretted purchasing this game or paying 60 USD for it, I would say no. However, I can also look past my own biases and realize there's a lot going wrong here. For a game requiring not only 60 dollars to play in addition to having a current generation console or a gaming PC that requires a Nvidia GTX 660 and a i5 3570 intel processor (these are not cheap, by the way), for a game to look this unpolished cannot cut it. And to claim that all the criticism laid against the game is a product of racism, sexism or homophobia is dishonest. There are genuine problems with the game.

But you can patch the technical issues. What you can't patch is the story momentum not going anywhere, companion characters that never grab you and a climax that never reaches its heights. At least Dragon Age: Inquisition had a point of no return. At least Dragon Age 2 had the potential to see companion characters lost or dead. At least SWTOR had specific classes asking you to reroll to unlock other traits. There's just no teeth with Andromeda.

I really wanted to love Mass Effect: Andromeda. I really did. But, it never just did it for me.

Verdict: Sale or Rental.

Even a hardline BioWare supporter suggests you either rent it or get it dirt cheap?

Mark me down in the "Pass" camp, then. I'll leave this one to rot like it deserves.


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