Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda

Everyone has already made the Mess Effect joke.

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Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available At: Origin, retail

Wilks: I was a massive fan of the first Mass Effect arc. I loved them all, including the deeply divisive third game (the whole game was the ending, not just the space kid), so the idea of a new arc starting had great appeal for me. I love the premise - concurrent to the Reaper threat in the Milky Way, a number of ark ships carrying tens of thousands of colonists, scientists and explorers pulled from the ranks of all the Council races sets off on a 600+ year journey to the Andromeda galaxy with the aim of colonising the “golden planets” discovered in the Heleus sector.

It’s a great break from the events of the first game without having to ignore anything that went before. There are no Mass Effect relays required for travel, no existential Reaper threats and no enshrined bureaucracy to negotiate, but the memories of those things (with the exception of the Reapers) still influence character reactions and events. It’s a great idea and there are definitely some great moments, but ultimately I think Andromeda is a victim of the developer’s ambition, as those ambitions seem to have been focussed in the wrong direction. There are a large number of open world planets to explore and a huge system to chart, but the scale of the game isn’t necessarily matched by the scope. There are more places for players to do their thing, but there are only a limited number of things to do.

Hollingworth: Yeah, I really can’t argue with that assessment.

I was - and still am - a big fan of the series, and while I was disappointed in the ending of the ME3, overall Mass Effect is one of the greatest RPGs ever made. I don’t think I’ve ever invested so much in a roleplaying game.

And, from where Mass Effect Andromeda is standing, I can see a similar greatness. It looks fantastic, it has the deepest systems and mechanics of the entire series, and is absolutely huge. It has a cast of rich characters, with some easily on a par with the standouts from the original - Vectra, we’re looking at you, and PeeBee is definitely my SpaceBae. 

But, while it is really, genuinely thrilling to get a new planet viable enough to start a new colony, and then watch it get set up, it does kinda get… not boring, but less special over time. Sure, there’s a plot linking everything together, but the stakes feel a lot lower than in previous games. There’s just too much to do, which is an odd thing to criticise, but it really does make the game’s actual plot feel threadbare.

Wilks: No, I think you’re right about there being too much to do. It’s not that there’s an overwhelming amount of content, but that the content is repetitive and a lot of it amounts to little more than busy work. There’s a lot to do mechanically as well, but ME: A is absolutely terrible at explaining how things work. It all goes back to this sense of scale rather than scope. Bringing one planet to 100% viability is thrilling and a real sense of achievement, but instead of changing up the gameplay or progressing the story in an interesting new direction, after settling your first Heleus planet you then get to do it again.

And again. And again. And again.

Not everything is fixing planets for human colonisation. There are some great diversions to these elements and to me that’s where ME: A comes into its own. In the backstory - and this isn’t a spoiler - only the Human ark arrives at the correct coordinates in Andromeda. The other arcs are missing. One of the ongoing concerns is discovering and hopefully rescuing the missing arcs. These missions feel more like the Mass Effect of old. They are big stories with far-ranging consequences but they are played out on a very personal level, with one or two key characters being pivotal to events and player actions having lasting moral implications.

The personal feel of the previous Mass Effect games is what made them so resonant with me, and while tooling around a vast open world in the Nomad is fun, the open nature of exploration and questing makes things feel kind of impersonal.

Hollingworth: Yeah, with so much to do I feel like Bioware might have missed an opportunity to so some interesting things with the way you take on quests. After all, in the Strike Team missions - where you can send squads off to do your bidding on a range of missions for limited rewards - the missions are timed. If you don’t get to them in a certain timeframe, they refresh. That would have done a lot to lend the game a sense of place, of needing to make hard decisions, and letting those decisions have real consequences.

As it is, the game is all DO THIS THING IN A HURRY, and then you get all the time in the world to do that thing. Which is pretty standard for RPGs, but after ME3’s real sense of urgency, Andromeda feels like a step backward.

Now, I must admit, despite this, I’m still enjoying a lot of the game. Combat is more fluid than ever before, and the range of weapons and gear makes inventory management challenging, but worthwhile. Your companions are worth getting to know, and just exploring your ship - the Tempest - is a lot more fun, thanks to an easier to traverse layout. And there are some truly jaw-dropping moments of action, and intense moments of story development.

It’s just they’re all a little too spread out. What did you dig most?

Wilks: There are quite a number of things I liked, but before I get onto those, I have to address what you said about the pace of Andromeda being a real step backwards. That’s definitely true. The pacing is a huge step backwards, as are the character creation options when it comes to customisation. The menus are a bit of a nightmare too. On the other hand, the improved combat system is a real step forward (aside from players not being able to use companion abilities), and the Nomad ground vehicle is fun to drive around in. 

The things I dug most about the game - and this is keeping in mind that I finished the story after 72 hours with 94% completion - kind of seem rather incidental to the overall plot. I love how awkward Fem Ryder is at flirting with her crushes (Suvi and Peebee). I really like most of the companion quests. I think most of the final setpiece is excellent and finally actually captures the grand scale and urgency of the plot. After all the busy work of terraforming and settling planets, you get to see the effects of what you’ve done and reap the rewards of helping strangers scan space rocks. But leading up to that point there is way too much repetition for my liking, and for every great quest (and there are a bunch) there are twice as many that are either samey or drag you across the sector from planet to planet, forcing you to watch the same takeoff, travel and landing cutscenes over and over again.

Hollingworth: Man, if I never have to scan another space-rock again, it’ll be too soon.

I went Boy Ryder myself, and he’s kinda adoringly awkward as well. In fact, the lighter attitude of Ryder is one of the things that’s most interesting about the game. As usual, I kind of wanted to play my standard gruff soldier type, but Andromeda simply isn’t that kind of game - it’s a much more hopeful beast, and that feeds directly into another system that I’m kind of ambivalent about - dialogue.

I can see why Bioware’s ditched the whole Paragon/Renegade duality, and I like the fact that the four options that now inform character and dialogue are less moralistic, and more characterful. But, despite the game insisting that how you relate to people - emotionally or logically, for instance - makes an impact, I’m having trouble seeing it, and that’s probably a critique that can be applied to the wider game. You make a lot of decisions from the get-go, but it’s hard to see what they mean.

Now, that said, I’m only 40-odd hours in - does the game reflect the choices you make in a concrete way?

Wilks: Only really towards the very end did I feel that my choices had any lasting impact on the world or characters, and by very end I mean final mission, and even then the impact of these choices doesn’t feel hugely impactful on the whole shebang. 

I don’t mind the new dialogue system at all but I’m still unsure what two of the dialogue options actually stand for. I mean the heart symbol is obviously for going with your heart, and the cog is for going with your brain, but the spiral and square spiral? One seems to be the option to be kind of a jerk, and the other seems to be an option to be a slightly different kind of a jerk. 

The new system is fairly good, but the dialogue it actually revolves around is pretty patchy, both from a writing and voice acting perspective. Clancy Brown is awesome as Ryder’s dad, as is Stanley Townsend as the crotchety old Krogan warrior, Nakmor Drack. Most of the rest of the main cast is good, but when it comes to the extended cast and additional voices, the constant presence of broad, terrible Australian accents for Angarans (the new friendly alien race in the game) educated on Estraaja (say that fast with a bogan accent) is really jarring and isn’t a joke really worth repeating.  

I’m being a real downer on the game, but the fact that I played 72 hours points to the fact that I found enough to like to stick with it. I like many of the characters and some of the stories, I like the shooting and the skill system. Andromeda is a decent game that should serve as a good launching point for the new story arc, but it’s too disjointed and messy - without taking some of the odd glitches into account - to stand on its own as a truly successful game.

Hollingworth: Oh, Gods, I did not even get that ‘Estraaja’ thing and now I want to uninstall the game.

I wonder if this is a game that’s designed as a starting point. As I understand it, this is not so much the start of a new trilogy, but a singular game with room for lots of expansion. My fear is that, like many games that rely upon DLC the game in its ‘complete’ state will be very different to, and possibly better than, its original form. Which is kind of rough on anyone here from day one. 

But that said, and all my gripes aside, Bioware has just enough cache, and there’s just enough good stuff in the game that I am certainly going to stick through to completion. But I can tell you… my sessions with the game are getting shorter as the repetition really kicks in. But I’m gonna keep hitting those rocks for science, because I kind of want to impress PeeBee.

Wilks: That could be the case, but given the ending, or, more precisely, the Return of the King style multiple endings that go on forever, it seems as though this first foray into the Andromeda galaxy is only the first part of a far larger story that, unless it is severely truncated, can’t be finished with DLC. I could be wrong though. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had more faith in a developer/publisher than they deserve. I think the best way I can wrap up how I feel about Andromeda is this. By the time I had finished the story, I only had 6% of the game to finish for 100% completion. The quests remaining will take an hour or two to get through, and the remaining planets to chart will take 20-25 minutes. I have the time to do that, but I have zero desire. I might go back to Andromeda when the inevitable DLC begins to drop, but then again, if it’s just more planets to terraform and settle, I’ll give it a pass.

7 10
Verdict
Hollingworth: Enough of the classic Mass Effect, with enough new mechanics to keep the game fresh Wilks: A good start to a new story arc but there is too much repetition to make a 70 hour slog satisfying
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