10 years ago, Bioware released the first Mass Effect. While this was not a perfect game, it in many ways revolutionized both the sci-fi and open world exploration genres of video games. Last week, Bioware released the latest game in the Mass Effect franchise. Like with the original Mass Effect, this is not a perfect game by any means but once again it revolutionizes the way we travel through space, meet alien races, and ultimately save the galaxy. Or at the very least a galaxy in the case of this game, because you’re no longer in the Milky Way. Let me start by saying that I have not yet finished the game. I’ve played every day since its release and have amassed more than 30 hours of playtime counting multiplayer. Since I did not receive an advanced copy, it would have been impossible for me to have completed the campaign of a game this size within the opening release window.
This game is titled Mass Effect: Andromeda instead of Mass Effect 4 and that’s intentional. This is one of those games where people who haven’t played any of the previous titles in the franchise will probably enjoy it more than old school fans. The first thing you need to know going into this game is that you are not playing the same Mass Effect. New galaxy, new characters, new problems, new mechanics, new rules, and like any first game, plenty of new glitches. If you go into this game comparing it to Mass Effect 3, which is totally fair to do, you will be very displeased. But if you go into it comparing it to the original Mass Effect, then most people will be pretty happy. I’ve heard it said that this game can be called Dragon Age: Inquisition in space and that is a fair description, but not a perfect one. Before reading any farther know that I am a hardcore Mass Effect fan. I rank the original three in the order two, three, one for quality. I rate Andromeda as being about level with three for overall quality, with both games having better and worse qualities than each other when going into specifics.
Probably the thing people have complained most about this game is the graphics. While I think people are exaggerating about just how bad it really is, I’m happy to admit that yes this game is riddled with visual glitches and problems. Some of the more commonly occurring ones are the game lagging for a second while driving the nomad and/or switching between characters in the development menu, enemies not dying when they’ve run out of life, and floating objects. There are many such visual issues like this that I have encountered throughout the game so far but none of them were game breaking or so bad that it noticeably took away from my gameplay experience. The biggest complaint I’ve seen on the internet is bad facial animations. Before I go any farther please note that I have discussed the glitches I’ve encountered with a friend who also started day one and there are some glitches that he encountered that I didn’t and vice versa. The point is that while I think I may just be less of a graphics snob than others, it’s quite possible that my game just doesn’t have the facial animation problems that other people claim to be having.
I honestly have not had a single problem with facial animations in the game. I’ve had no lag while people are talking. No abnormal facial movements or odd visuals to speak of. The only thing I have noticed is that a number of people seem to have their neck bent forward as if they’re reading something while talking to me. The funny thing here is that all of these characters were actually holding something like a clipboard when this occurred so it’s very possible that this wasn’t a glitch at all, but that the NPCs were just in the position of still reading something while talking to me. For me, Andromeda does not have bad facial animations, as in the movement of characters’ faces. What it has is bad facial renderings. While I haven’t noticed any characters of any races having bad facial movement, I’ve seen so many specifically organic characters with just bad looking faces. Many of them look like their faces are made out of clay or putty. The textures are off for many characters. They aren’t nearly as pretty as the characters in three or even two, both of which came out several years ago. While literally all of the characters have moved fine for me, too many of them are not finished well. Yet at the same time, there are cinematic sequences where absolutely everything looks gorgeous, faces included. I was particularly impressed by the cutscene shown when you first land on Havarl. The world and the characters all looked glorious. It was the Mass Effect experience I wish an entire game could be in.
I am in no way surprised by the graphics issues I’ve experienced in this game, with the exception of the facial renderings. This is not the pretty much on rails game that the original trilogy is. This is an almost fully open world game where each of the planets you visit is pretty much entirely explorable. You can climb those mountains. You can jump into that valley. You can wonder into that cave. You can drive out into that desert. I’m not saying it’s Skyrim, but the worlds you can visit have a lot going on. It’s very obvious why this game has so many lag moments while driving. The render speed required for the level of detail and area is higher than what a home console can handle in most cases. I remember when Inquisition would crash my PS3 altogether for similar reasons. In the more than 30 hours I’ve already put into this game I have had the game freeze only one time and it was actually in a loading screen. And the console didn’t actually freeze. The loading screen just kept spinning but wouldn’t move forward. I restarted the application, loaded the game to the spot right before the conversation I was in, and then everything went forward fine from there without me having to turn off my PS4.
Sadly this game doesn’t have nearly as many planets to explore as I had hoped, but the ones it does have are starkly different from each other and quite beautiful. There’s a snow planet, jungle planet, desert planet, and a few others. There are actually quite a few planets in the game that you can scan/mine, but only a limited number of them can be landed on. Space is beautiful in this game. There are lots of natural phenomena like black holes, comets, asteroid belts, nebulas, and so on. But Bioware forces all this on you to a point where it gets annoying. Every time you want to go anywhere in your ship or even just board your ship without changing planets, you have to go through an elaborate cutscene of the ship traveling through space or taking off from the planet. At first this was nice to see because the celestial bodies do look impressive, but eventually it just gets tiresome.
The menus and HUD are pretty much the same as those in Mass Effect 3. The only real difference is that you now have a weapon/consumables wheel kind of like the one in Ratchet and Clank instead of the lineup of guns along the bottom of the pause menu. While Mass Effect: Andromeda is not a perfect looking game by any means, it is absolutely worthy of the Mass Effect name. It is a beautiful game full of amazing landscapes, gorgeous outer space locales, wonderful looking species, and a shit ton of awesome looking guns and other gear. While this may not be the game for everyone, graphics is not a valid reason not to buy it.
The core gameplay is much the same as the original trilogy, but there are a number of differences, not all of which I consider to be improvements. This is still a third person shooter with several guns in four different classes plus melee weapons, but this is all managed differently now. Gear is now classed by weapon type as well as race/galaxy. There is gear from the Milky Way, Andromeda, and the Remnants. Each of these groupings is distinct, even having their own collectable development currency. There are of course pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles. I feel like the shooting is good but a little shakier than in Mass Effect 3. It’s not nearly as bad as ME1 though and you can level up your skills with a particular type of weapon for better stability and so on. Mods and augmentations can improve guns as well. Now melee weapons aren’t just limited to omni-blades. There are hammer gauntlets, regular swords, and omni-blades to name a few. Weapons can be leveled up to six in the single player mode and 10 in the multiplayer mode. You level them up in single player by developing them or by finding better versions of them in shops, chests, or dropped by enemies. The Milky Way gear is mostly stuff you will remember form the old games. I still love my Black Widow sniper rifle. Weapons can now be augmented during development, which is pretty much just a crafting system with just as much irritation, due to resource problems, as you would expect. Finding elements is easy. Finding that one element you really need in the quantities you need isn’t. Money doesn’t come very easily early on either but you can build that up faster as you get farther along, depending on how you choose to develop things. One thing I really like about this game compared to the old ones is that you have full autonomy of your loadout. You can carry up to four guns and one melee weapon. But these four guns can be whatever you want. If you want four shotguns, have at it. If you want a main and backup sniper rifle, plus an assault rifle, no problem. Play the way you want to play. There’s still weight and it does have an effect on your movement and recharge speed, but the point is that you have full control of your build. But you must build in a certain way to get access to all four gun slots. You can re-spec whenever you’re on the ship though. You also have switchable combat profiles which can be changed at any time.
No longer do you have to commit to a specific battle style for the entire adventure at the beginning of the game. You can go from soldier to adept to sentinel and back to soldier or any of the seven character profiles whenever you want. Each profile has a ranking and levels up as you put more points into the relevant skills for it. I was able to play as a biotic with tech abilities and good physical combat skills very effectively. You can also jump and strafe now. This is done with a jetpack, meaning that all races can do it in multiplayer. It’s very useful for exploring in single player, allowing you to reach new heights and climb instead of going around things. Probably one of the best additions to the gameplay. You also have the nomad. Since this is an open world game, having a vehicle is really nice. It’s just too bad that it sucks to drive. The nomad is a terrible vehicle that you eventually get used to. It constantly gets stuck on things. It doesn’t move as quickly as it should. You have to switch between wheel modes to climb hills. All of this may be more realistic, but it doesn’t make for a better gaming experience. They should have just given it a single drive mode that climbed hills fine and drove at about double its current top speed. Granted this would probably just add to the lag errors. You can upgrade it, but the upgrades are only so effective at making it a better driving experience. The maps also have fast travel points though, which makes the whole experience way more bearable. You just unlock them by reaching them and then you can fast travel back to them any time you’re on the planet.
Traveling between planets is care free. There’s no fuel or any such nonsense anymore. You go where you want when you want. But they’ve also removed the mining mini-game which really disappointed me. When you visit planets you can’t land on now you just press X and get resources automatically. Sometimes you have to scan for an anomaly but for the most part the art of mining planets is gone. They did recreate this experience on the ground with the nomad where you have to look for pockets of resources with a scanner, but it’s not as fun, lucrative, or easy to do because usually you’re on your way to somewhere when you’re in the nomad and don’t want to stop and try to find the perfect mining spot.
You have the same type of dialog options that have become standard for Bioware games. NPCs talk to you and you have to choose responses based on six dialog profiles. You use dialog to shape the way conversations happen and how characters react to you. You can also romance characters, miss out on certain allies, and break off friendships with the decisions you make. Something I didn’t like about this game and most of the games from Bioware is that you don’t have full autonomy of your romance behavior. You can attempt to romance lots of different characters, including people that can only be seen on specific worlds, but you always end up getting trapped into a single relationship. You flirt with characters and then eventually you’re just in a relationship without ever being officially asked. And it’s annoying because it’s not so much that you’re tied to that one character as it is that other characters find out about it and start asking you about it. You actually can have casual, no strings attached space nookie with some characters. Not enough for my tastes, but it’s a step in the right direction. But you lack the ability to keep romance a secret or to have multiple affairs and such. That made sense in Mass Effect 1 where everyone is together on the same ship. But in a game where you travel around the galaxy to different star systems and can romance planet specific NPCs you should be able to Captain Kirk if you want to. One minute I’m flirting with every female on the ship I can and the next minute Cora is giving me crap about choosing Peebee when nothing has even happened yet. How ‘bout a little privacy?
This is not the story of a Spectre and the alliance. You are not fighting the Reapers in a war for survival. Instead you are a Pathfinder. Your task is to help those of the Andromeda Initiative find new worlds to settle and call home. Combat is a big part of the game and there are enemies both naturally occurring as well as aliens like yourself. But the point of the game is not war. It’s settlement. Your main goal is to improve worlds to make them more viable for survival. You do things like terraform planets, clear out problems, and locate important data about the planet. You’re an explorer more than a warrior. It’s a much different experience from the original trilogy and the player should think about it differently when playing. You’re still looking to make allies and defeat an evil race, and trying to level up so you can fight better. But you won’t spend the bulk of your time fighting. Much of the game is comprised of completing tasks, making decisions, and managing resources. Fighting is a means to an end, but it’s not the only way to reach many of your goals. You’re ultimate goal is to make all five key planets 100% viable for Initiative settlement. But there is more than one way to do that. Each planet has certain key missions that help with viability, but that usually only takes you to about 50% viability. The other 50% can be achieved in multiple ways, allowing the player to approach the game in the way they see fit. You can of course do everything and play past 100% viability but you don’t have to. You can reach a maximum combat level of 40, but experience comes from everything you do whether it’s fighting or just peacefully completing tasks for NPCs.
There is a multiplayer component to the game, but it’s not mandatory the way it was in Mass Effect 3. You can supplement the multiplayer with strike team missions, which work basically the same as Brotherhood and Fleet missions in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. You use points to recruit teams which you send off to complete missions. Teams get stronger as they do more missions and can reach a max level of 20. There are bronze, silver, and gold missions. You don’t have to play a single multiplayer mission if you don’t want to. You can also play multiplayer independently of your single player experience. Strike missions can be done in game or from the companion app, which works really well. What’s cool is that when you send a team on a strike mission you can choose to play that mission in multiplayer if you want to. This system works really well because you get direct rewards from strike missions whether you play the multiplayer or send your teams, but don’t have to do strike missions to complete the game effectively. The only thing I don’t like is that you can’t actually claim your rewards from the app. It just stores loot boxes to a maximum of 200 hundred for you, but they can only be opened in game. And worst of all there is no open all function. I had to open 50 boxes one by one the first time I went to claim my rewards. It also would have been nice to be able to claim viability rewards from the mobile app as well, as many of them are time based and constantly reoccur.
Multiplayer works exactly the same as Mass Effect 3 as far as gameplay mechanics and development go. You use credits which you earn from playing or spending real money to purchase loot boxes which randomly drop things for you. You can unlock characters, weapons, gear, mods, and consumables. It’s the same process where you have to draw the same thing multiple times to max it out. The system is just as annoying as it always was and just as disappointing. One thing I wasn’t really happy about is the lack of species in the multiplayer. You only have Humans, Salarians, Turians, Krogan, Asari, and Angarans. Meaning we lost races from the end of Mass Effect 3 and only gained one new one from an entirely new galaxy. The single player campaign has the same racial limitations. You meet the one really cool new race, but the rest of the characters are species you already know intimately and many of the ones you did know aren’t even there anymore. There are no Vorcha, Volus, Batarians, Quarians, Drell, or Geth. Some of those races are mentioned in game though and I’m thinking they’ll appear in the next one. All in all, the gameplay experience in Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t wow me the way I expected it to coming after Mass Effect 3, but it is quite a good one. I very much enjoy the gameplay and plan on devoting many more hours to both the single and multiplayer modes. Final thought on the gameplay is that the loading times suck in single player mode.
The sound in this game is two parts great, one part lackluster. The effects and music are excellent, as is the voice acting. The combat effects, ship sounds, and dialog are all high quality. It’s clean and clear. I did have some issues while playing with my headset on, but through my TV I had no complaints about the quality of the sound. I also recognized a lot of the voice actors such as Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones. The music too, is very good. There are many different kinds of tracks including techno dance music and majestic exploration tracks, both of which are iconic to the sci-fi genre and franchise. But the sound mixing is all over the place. Sometimes it’s perfect. Other times it needs a ton of work. One thing I really don’t like is when you’re listening to an audio file, log, or terminal. When you’re looking at it the sound is loud and clear. If you turn around, but don’t step away from the terminal, the volume goes down, as if that makes any sense. Sometimes characters standing right next to you sound like they’re far away. Other times things can be too loud. A lot of audio logs are too low in general. It’s a shame to have had so many high quality audio assets and voice recordings mixed so poorly.
This is a Mass Effect game, so the writing is all about volume. There is a lot of writing in this game. Lots of lore, lots of talking NPCs, both plot relevant and just around. Lots of details, item descriptions, cultural dialog, and conversations. You only have six squad mates, but also other crew mates as well as multiple planets of NPCs to talk to. You get emails from lots of different characters including your crew. Sometimes these are the best way to get to know members of your crew because they’re very character specific. The first email I received from Drack was probably my favorite email in the game so far. What I really liked about this game was that the galaxy seemed to be functioning independently of you. NPCs talk amongst themselves, completely ignoring you. Sometimes they talk about you, not caring to talk to you. You deal with many of the things that make perfect sense such as prejudice, greed, fear, love, and desperation. What’s sad about Andromeda is that there only seems to be two sentient races in the whole galaxy that don’t come from the Milky way. You meet the Angarrans, which I think might be the best and most socially relevant race Bioware has ever created, and the Kett, which are really just knock offs of the Collectors. You spend most of the game wondering about the Remnant, which are basically just the ancient race that everyone thought was the Protheans in the trilogy. You find their technology and landmarks and use it to terraform planets. But other than that it’s just the same old races: Human, Salarian, Krogan, and Asari. Honestly this was a missed opportunity but I hope they fix that in Andromeda 2 and add several new races.
Bioware intentionally played it lose with the game’s timeline relevant to the original trilogy. You don’t actually know when exactly the game takes place relative to Commander Shepard’s story. The first thing you learn is that the game starts 634 years after the Initiative arks took off into dark space. Everyone was put into cryo sleep and have literally no idea what’s happened to the Milky Way sense they left. Personally I think it’s weird that they don’t have some kind of quantum entanglement device setup between galaxies because quantum entanglement comes up in Andromeda as well as Mass Effect 2 so it would have made sense, assuming the device wasn’t destroyed on the Milky Way side in the 634 years after it was created. You don’t know exactly when they left, but you do know that it was after Shepard was named a Spectre because there is one human Spectre in this game, meaning that it had to have happened sometime after Shepard was named the first human Spectre. But it very well could have been before the Reapers even attacked in Mass Effect 3. The only character that’s mentioned from the original game is Liara T’Soni, but it’s in the form of an audio log so you have no idea if she’s still alive about 6.5 centuries later. Never does anyone mention the Reapers or the legend of Commander Shepard or anything like that. Races like the Hanar are mentioned as well as the fact that the Andromeda galaxy is said to have been discovered by a Geth telescope. But the game doesn’t ever actually tell you when they left the Milky Way relevant to the originals, or at least hasn’t told me that so far. And honestly it’s irrelevant because you’re in a completely different galaxy far enough into the future where everyone in the original trilogy is most likely dead or extremely old. The only ones who possibly survived are Liara, Wrex, and Grunt because of their racial longevity. This game isn’t that story. It’s a new story.
You are Pathfinder Ryder. You came to Andromeda with your fraternal twin and father to discover new worlds, explore a new galaxy, and meet new races in hopes of making allies and setting up a new Citadel, called the Nexus. Of course things didn’t go quite as smoothly and there are many hiccups along the way, but by making friends, making the right decisions, and taking down an evil race of genetic miscreants you help humanity as well as some other commonly known, but for whatever reason much less occurring, races build a new home in a new galaxy. As with all large, dialog heavy games, some of the dialog is bad. Some of it is too on the nose. Some of it will offend you. Some of it will make you laugh. Some of it just won’t be interesting. But all in all, it’s definitely a Bioware quality, plot focused experience worthy of the name Mass Effect. Granted Mass Effect is less of a relevant title in this one because there are no mass relays. The only real instances of Mass Effect technology are in biotics and technology brought over from the Milky Way galaxy. Though you can find element zero in the Andromeda galaxy so maybe I’m wrong.
This is a Mass Effect game which means there’s lots of replay value. Of course you have multiple difficulty levels. You also have 47 different weapons that can go up to level six in single player and level 10 in multiplayer. You can get up to six squad mates, but it’s possible not to get them all in a single playthrough. You have an almost unlimited number of ways to build your character within seven different character profiles, plus different ways to build your squad mates. You can make different decisions throughout the game and play the planets in different orders. There’s also the multiplayer which has 27 unlockable characters, lots or equipment to acquire, and 39 nameplates, which are essentially banners like in Mass Effect 3. There are 57 trophies including a platinum. What I really like is that Andromeda does not require you to play multiplayer to get any of them. There are certain trophies that allow you to supplement single player and or strike mission achievements with multiplayer, but you can technically get a full 100% completion without playing a single round of multiplayer. Most of the trophies are pretty fair and plot or mission based, but there are a number of get X number of kills a certain way trophies which are really annoying. But at least in this game you can re-spec anytime so you can adapt without having to start a new game. You can’t re-spec at will in multiplayer though. You must use a respect item. Currently I’m at about 30 hours and 34% completion. My friend finished the main campaign in 60 hours with 81% completion. So it’s fair to say this is at least a 60 hour game but will probably take you over 100 for a full completion without even counting multiplayer. It’s definitely worth the $60 price tag.
I’ve already said more than you probably wanted to read about this game, but I felt that it was only fair to give an honest and thorough look at it considering how much hype, both positive and negative, this particular installment has received. Mass Effect: Andromeda is an excellent gaming experience and I highly recommend it. It is not the best the franchise has to offer but it’s definitely a great start to a whole new trilogy and I highly recommend it to both veteran players and those who have never played Mass Effect before.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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