Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One Review)
It’s been a whole five years since we reached the contentious conclusion of the remarkable space opera Mass Effect. With so much controversy surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3 and the amount of backlash it received, Bioware tried to revise and expand upon the travesty that had they had unintentionally created. To be quite honest, I never expected Mass Effect to try and make a comeback after that. Laying to rest the original trilogy in its neat little package seem a fair and decent way to honour its legacy. Regardless, Bioware have tried to re-throne their space narrative to its rightful position and, unfortunately, have failed spectacularly.
At some point between the events of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, the Andromeda Initiative was put into place as an attempt to expand the horizons of discovery and find new worlds to populate; a last ditch attempt to save humanity and other species alike. Fast forward 600 years of cryosleep and our protagonist wakes to find themselves in a bit of a pickle. A once hospitable galaxy has turned sour through the hands of time and desecration by the Kett–this galaxy’s version of the Reapers from the original Mass Effect. Retreading familiar ground in a new setting is less than inspiring from what is supposed to be a fresh start. In hopes of new adventure, long time fans instead get a glimpse of fragmented memories of past similar events through a pair of soiled glitchy goggles and bad animations.
Mass Effect: Andromeda has its fair share of troubles, and that’s putting it lightly. The problems range from falling through level boundaries to character and enemy models simply just disappearing, leaving invisible hostile spectres in their stead. You’d count yourself lucky to have at least one play session that wasn’t riddled with issues or a single conversation that didn’t bug out. As for the animations, I wasn’t expecting much since playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and realising that it too had its own few chips in the armour–poor audio and some bad animations too. So when mouths started stretching and eyes started rolling, my expectations weren’t shattered but it still left me a little flabbergasted.
And it’s not just the above technical faults that are too blame for Mass Effect: Andromeda’s shoddy perception. It boils down to some of the combat and exploration choices too. Saying goodbye to your traditional “press *button* to take cover” mechanic, Mass Effect: Andromeda employs a sort of snap in/snap out cover system. This is a dynamically clever mechanic that means that practically anything in the environment can be used to cower behind and shield yourself from oncoming fire–granted that your character can squeeze behind it. However, objects in the world of Andromeda seem to have a negative magnetic effect: forcing players out from cover at the most inopportune times and then fails to merge themselves into the cover they were previously on. In fact, most of the time, taking cover just simply doesn’t work. Even though there is a viable piece of cover in front of the character, they just refuse to crouch, lean or hide behind it, with most instances leading to the death of your character.
Even though the cover system is rather laughable, it’s not the be all and end all to firefights. With Mass Effect: Andromeda’s take on free-flowing combat over rigid third person shooter gameplay, it means that even with the cover system going up in flames you’re able to jettison yourself out from within those waist high confines and reposition yourself on better, more stable ground. Increased character speed and the ability to use jump jets to traverse the battlefield no longer means you’ll be mercilessly flanked with little to no backup plan. Evading and recovering is made slightly easier by this fact. You can even hover in the air for a few seconds to pick off those who are still intertwined in the shackles of the cover-based mechanics.
It was this change in combat design that helped draw me away from the problematic minute-to-minute gameplay that punctuates the entirety of Mass Effect: Andromeda, and acted as a much needed distraction from the insufferably bad A.I. behaviour. Being fair and honest here, the enemy A.I. does not disappoint, being able to use a multitude of techniques to outsmart the player and even flanking the player from each side given the opportunity. If only your companion A.I. acted with as much intelligence as the opposition. Most of the time, your fellow squad mates are more useful as meat shields than a proficient member of the team. Given that you can issue squad commands in which you can send them to attack, take cover or regroup, you’d think this would hone and pinpoint the commands the A.I should be following but instead they just wander about aimlessly and stand next to the enemy as if they are newly formed BFF’s. Mix this with the awful cover system and plethora of enemies that outnumber you in combat, and you are essentially going it alone; forget about forming an efficient squad loadout, this is a solo mission whether you like it or not.
That’s not to say that your companions and other characters in the Andromeda galaxy aren’t interesting. Both your crew, those who reside on the Nexus (your hub) and planet dwellers are seemingly more interesting than those you’d encounter in the original trilogy. I’d even go as far as to say that those that you travel with, those closest to you, outshine those companions you had back in the Milky Way on the Normandy–except for Joker, we all love Joker. Though their races may not be as diverse, they still have a lot of character, so much so that it sometimes takes away from the subpar animations and dialogue throughout.
Andromeda is a large galaxy with plenty of planets to explore and tons of activities and quests to undertake; much more than the miniscule Milky Way galaxy. But even though there is plenty of content here to keep gamers busy for hours on end, much of that is retreading old ground. Some quests may seem similar to those that have played previous Mass Effect games, and the majority of others are simple fetch quests that can span across the entirety of Andromeda. The planets themselves aren’t all that snazzy either, though I suppose they wouldn’t be since there’s still lots to be done with Andromeda’s colonisation efforts. Most planets boil down to wastelands with nothing more to do than explore empty camps or enemy base sites -none that really distinguish themselves from one another- until you gather up enough experience points to head out onto more dangerous turf that has much more of the same monotonous crap that you did before. At this rate, Mass Effect: Andromeda is mounting up to be nothing more than a fluff piece for the Bioware archive.
After you’ve pushed through exploring the surroundings, you’ll receive a few levels and in turn some points to invest in ME: A’s levelling up system. Mass Effect: Andromeda’s level up system throws out the more conventional class based structure, meaning your character isn’t forced down one path as they were in previous games. Instead, you have free control over what powers, traits, and equipment you can level up your proficiency in. The more points you put into a category: Combat, Tech or Bitotic, the more subclasses are unlocked. Giving the player a bonus to some of their stats that will make surviving in Andromeda all that much easier in the long run.
The worst culprit of all, the one that detracts from the overall enjoyment and “supposed” immersive gameplay that Mass Effect: Andromeda has to offer, is the inane implementation of the Hazard system for planets. Now, I get it. It wouldn’t make much sense thematically if all planets did not present some sort of hazardous environment that wouldn’t stop the Andromeda Initiative from setting down roots straight away–you wouldn’t have any form of game to play if that were true. But Bioware didn’t have to go as far as to make traversing planets a detrimental and agonising activity for players. Y’know those folks that buy the game wanting to uncover its secrets and explore it?
The Hazard system is, in essence, a timer that tells you when you should stop having a good time. Both the player character and their explorative vehicle the “Nomad” take environmental damage from the climate and toxicity that surrounds them, giving them roughly a few minutes on foot of exploration before having to hoof to if back or fast travel to a waystation. Fail to do that and you’ll die of hypothermia, radiation poisoning or from having too much sand your boots; that shit gets everywhere. Every time I’m forced to stop what I’m doing to simply travel old ground for no other reason to than a simply fill a meter back up, to then have to travel that old ground–yet again–to get back to where I was only to repeat the process again, and again, and again. This created a horrible gameplay loop that I quickly came to despise.
And I suppose that nicely sums up the single player portion of Mass Effect: Andromeda. A tedious gameplay loop that you’re going to have to force your way through just incase BioWare gets it right with their next iteration of Mass Effect. Allowing you to carry your character forward, not wanting to be feeling left out.
Although the main campaign of Mass Effect: Andromeda is ripe for tearing apart, the multiplayer is its own unique entity and as far as I’m aware, is free from the horrible technical issues plaguing the campaign. Mass Effect: Andromeda’s multiplayer is your typical horde based gameplay that requires a good amount of players to succeed in. Even though missions can be taken with as little players as you’d like, unless you have significantly good and level gear/characters you’re going nowhere; the first few waves will have you overwhelmed without a few pals. As you complete matches, you’ll earn currency that you can use to unlock loot crates and gain chance of scoring higher gear or a higher-leveled character. Some classes, even though identical, double up as two separate ones due to different genders because… logic. Most likely to encourage players to spend there hard earned dough on microtransactions in hopes of getting that level 5 female engineer they need so badly to level up. The multiplayer is on all counts a grind across the five maps it has on offer, but it’s a grind that does not suffer from problematic performance and is genuinely good fun considering you have the friends for it.
Over the years, I’ve come to love BioWare for their narrative storytelling and unique style of gameplay over the years, from games like Star Wars: KotR to the most recent Dragon Age: Inquisition; sinking in over 80 hours and loving every minute. The outcome of Mass Effect: Andromeda has detracted my love for the developers and leaving me with a huge question mark over my head asking myself how this came to be. Even though I am still playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, forcing my way through the story 20 mins at a time, I will not be taking another trip through the Andromeda galaxy anytime soon. Instead, I’ll be holding my breath in hopes that BioWare figures it all out the next time they chart their next space expedition.