Generally speaking, this article avoids spoilers. However, I will include names of squad members and planets and vaguely reference some of the plot and side quests. I will not ruin any big moments but if you’re looking to go into the game knowing nothing, this may not be for you.
I’m about 15-20 hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda and even though I know I’ve barely scratched the surface, in many ways it feels like I’ve delved so far. My review is going to be limited as there’s still so much to explore and discover but these first impressions will hopefully be of value until Matt finishes the game and writes a complete review. With the formalities out the way, here’s my take on Bioware’s newest game.
The Game Is Far From Perfect
I can’t stress enough that this heading is not a summary of my overall review, but simply something I want to get out of the way. In the week or so prior to its release, Andromeda became a bit of a laughing stock due to strange facial expressions and animations that resulted in many questioning whether Bioware used their B-team for the game. In fact, you could say that Bioware did do just that as their main studio is based in Edmonton while Andromeda was produced by Bioware Montreal as their first AAA game.
Whether a result of the B-team or just the sheer size and depth of the game, there are a lot of weird bugs and animations that range from funny to off-putting. Last night I was on my ship and went to speak to Drack, a Krogan crew member, only to see that there were two of him standing right next to each other. His weird clone was bopping around in the background while our conversation took place. I found it funny and this is without a doubt the most intrusive glitch I’ve seen so far.
Other problems include an unskippable scene when moving between planets, a clunky menu system, and a terrible checkpoint system that makes dying truly a punishment. The first five or so hours are rather grindy as well. I can’t recommend enough that you get off Eos, the game’s second planet, before giving up if you’re not into the story initially. Despite this laundry list of issues, they haven’t had a major impact on me playing the game. If you’re expecting to play a Game of the Year candidate or are someone who abhors any glitch, bug, or weird look on someone’s face, Andromeda is probably not for you. However, I think the majority of gamers will find these problems easy to overlook (if you even notice them at all) and those who do will be happy with the total product.
Andromeda Is Mass Effect’s First Open World Game and Nails It
With my caveats out of the way, we can finally get into the meat of Andromeda. Unlike other ME games, Andromeda is an open world game with all the usual features: fast travel, side quests, things to scan, fetch quests, etc. While it’s entirely possible that I may not enjoy the depth of game when I’m 60+ hours in, so far I think Andromeda nails the open world format.
The story here is that thousands of people and aliens left the Milky Way in search of new habitable planets on a 600+ year trip to the Andromeda galaxy in cryostasis. Nothing goes according to plan once you get there, naturally, and it’s your job as Pathfinder to fix those problems and help life continue. Most of the things you do, from the main quests to killing random enemies, make it easier for people to live on whatever planet you happen to be on. The planets evolve around you as that happens both in landscape and in population as more people and outposts pop up.
One aspect that I really love about the setup to this game is that even the smaller tasks feel justified in occupying your time because they all go towards the overall goal of setting up safe and productive worlds. In many open world games, it’s hard to fit side quests into the overall narrative. In The Witcher 3, for example, you are chasing a girl who is constantly on the move and believed to be in danger. When someone asks you to stop and help find their goat, it’s hard to tell rationalize spending time on that with logic that isn’t “the main quest will wait for me because this is a video game.” Andromeda has its fair share of “scan X number of this creature” type quests that can be tedious but they often reward you with some background knowledge, even if it’s the game’s “find my goat” equivalent. I’m not going to lie and say I’m excited to “Break Rocks For Science” (an actual quest name), but the rewards for doing so make it worthwhile.
These simple tasks are just a blip on the radar of things to do. Proper side quests can be anything from storming an enemy base to running around listening to a few bits of dialogue. But what is truly cool is that side quests occasionally have payoffs typically reserved for main quests. I have found myself having to make what feel like important decisions on more than a few side quests and two have ended by fighting enormous boss enemies. It’s hard to be excited to drop medical supplies off at three different locations with simple “hold this button” actions, but it’s a good bet that something more occurs on the way. I’ve lost hours at a time just running around completing side quests one after the other just because they are so damn fun.
The combat system in Andromeda is a big step up from the trilogy. I’m not someone who plays Mass Effect for the combat. The original trilogy was basically about sitting in cover and popping up to use abilities like a bad version of Gears of War. The new system focuses more on mobility which makes combat one of the game’s strengths. I play a character that charges into enemies and punches the ground to deal area damage before throwing up a shield to reflect shots back at enemies. You aren’t shoehorned into any specific build either. Skills can be mixed and matched from the combat, biotic, and tech trees and respeccing costs a nominal fee.
Characters Have So Much To Say With Such Clear Personalities
Whether or not you like any of the crew members, or the hundreds of other characters you can talk to in Andromeda, is going to be very subjective. But one thing Bioware certainly did well was make deep personalities for all of the characters and display them prominently. This is highlighted by having a psychologist on the ship who can give you a run down of each character’s psychological profile if you ask her. She also provides her thoughts on your own character in the codex which more or less acts as a guide to how your personality is developing based on the decisions you’ve made.
It’s incredible just how many people you can talk to and how much each of them have to say. You could spend hours just talking to your crew members but every outpost, base, and city you go to is also filled with people who will tell you why they came to Andromeda, how they feel about what’s happening, or random information you may find interesting even if it has no relevance to any quest. There are also a ton of data pads, notice boards, and emails to read that help build the world around you. You can skip over all of this information but those looking to learn everything they can about the new galaxy will seemingly never run out of information.
The result from all of this is a very immersive experience. The conversations themselves can be monotone and transitions between responses don’t always flow perfectly, but if you can look past the technical aspects, it’s easy to feel lost in a way very few games have accomplished.
Dialogue Options and Decisions Are Divisive
One of the biggest areas that players differ on is their view of the new dialogue options and decisions. For those who played the original ME games, you know that they included a paragon / renegade system where many conversations had a “good guy” or “bad ass” option that would result in a slider moving towards the respective side. Move it far enough in either direction and later conversations would have more extreme options.
Andromeda replaces that system with four dialogue choices: logical, emotional, casual, and professional. Those who prefer to play as a more grounded character will like the changes but those who want to be a psychopathic war criminal, something you very much could be in ME3, will be disappointed. While there is certainly some variety and polarity in the responses you can have – I recently told an enemy alien that I was going to “fuck his shit up” – the new system sacrifices the range of outcomes and dramatic moments for more realism and freedom in your choices. I prefer these realistic responses and don’t mind having the game hold my hand a little in determining my character’s personality, but I would prefer if the different options had a bit more variety in terms of personality.
I have put my controller down and used my girlfriend as a moral sounding board before making a decision on multiple occasions. However, I have yet to see any consequences of my decisions. There’s a lot of game left to play and I’m certainly not ready to say that the decisions are meaningless, but it’s possible that these choices are merely an illusion. **Spoilers for one side quest** One side quest tasked me with helping set up an irrigation system to bring water back to an outpost on Eos. I later discovered that there’s a group of “independent” humans who split off so that they could be free to do as they pleased. They said that if I tapped the water, it would dry up their whole supply and suggested I instead tap natural gas that they would trade with my people but that there may be some environmental effects down the road from doing so.
I eventually decided to tap the water as my responsibilities lay with my own people and not this splinter group. Maybe in the future this group will become hostile and attack or I’ll stumble upon their camp to find a bunch of people who died of thirst, making me feel awful. Both outcomes, or anything similar, would make for a great payoff. However, if all that comes is meeting that person again and hearing that he’s upset with me, that will be disappointing.
Multiplayer Is Engaging, Suffers From P2P
I never played the multiplayer for ME3 but from what I’ve read, Andromeda’s multiplayer is very similar. I’ve been so hooked on the story that I only have a few hours of MP time in. Before each game you pick from a number of characters with preset skill builds that can be altered with a handful of weapons and armor pieces. Games pit four players against seven waves of enemies with a few objectives like holding down a zone sprinkled in. The final wave includes some especially tough enemies while you and your team try to survive long enough to get picked up by an extraction team. You earn points based on your performance which are used to buy loot boxes that can contain new weapons, armor, and classes.
Fighting off waves of enemies with other players in the improved combat system is a lot of fun and earning rewards is compelling enough to keep me going back to MP whenever I can pull myself away from the campaign. However, Andromeda uses peer-to-peer networking instead of dedicated servers which means ping is dependent on who the host is. P2P networking is a pretty big disappointment considering the resources Bioware has to invest in dedicated servers. Issues aside, MP is a fun way to break up the narrative of the story.
There’s a lot left in my Andromeda journey so it’s hard to have a firm opinion on the game as a whole. But if my 15-20 hours are any indication, Andromeda will be a great addition to the Mass Effect series that all but the most critical of fans can enjoy. This is no Game of the Year contender and there is plenty of discussion to be had about a AAA title releasing with so many flaws. It may be a bit overly ambitious, but strong characters and thrilling combat make up for that. If you can look past some technical shortcomings, you’ll enjoy exploring Andromeda. I know I have.