BioWare is one of those studios that used to produce almost flawless gems. The Edmonton studio has been active for around 25 years now, and is known for games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and previously Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate and its sequel Shadows of Amn. Recent years haven’t been kind to BioWare, and although Dragon Age Inquisition was a financial success, it left many fans unhappy and as for Mass Effect Andromeda. Well, it’d be safe to say it was a new experience for the team, the game was panned by both critics and fans for the lousy facial animations, bugs and an overall mediocre story (the very thing BioWare is popular for).
I made it a point to replay the original Mass Effect trilogy right before giving Andromeda another try, and the experience was…mixed. There are many points in the story when you are reminded of what this game could have really been which makes it all the more depressing. To be honest, I wasn’t bothered by the facial animations all that much given that the original three games weren’t good in the department either, but it was the realization that BioWare is taking notes from other studios and trying to be someone else that really got to me.
Facial Animations Suck a Little Less
Speaking of Andromeda’s facial animations, they are still far from perfect but after the half dozen updates the characters at least look human and don’t make you recoil in horror whenever they speak, or at least try to. Here are a couple of sample videos of Addison and Ryder so you can see for yourself. Don’t mind the audio lag at the beginning. This video was originally recorded at 4K, so the GPU was already under heavy load and a looseless recording didn’t really help.
Story and Companions, not Open World and Exploration
If BioWare has perfected anything, it’s the art of creating life-like characters and telling heartfelt stories that stay with you forever. Unfortunately these days, the team has a newfound obsession of creating a Destiny clone with an emphasis on exploration and online connectivity. The last time they tried that was with The Old Republic and we all know how that turned out.
How Andromeda does it:
Andromeda starts off rather well, but as soon as you reach the Helius cluster the disappointment starts to sink in. The main story or the “Priority” missions are decent and some of them are even as good as the original trilogy, but there are too few of them. The companion quests are also quite enjoyable, but the majority of the side-missions and believe me there a crap-ton of them, are a big bore. All of them involve scanning point A and going to point B, then C and so on. They tried to rip off Geralt’s witcher sense from the Witcher 3, but got it all wrong.
Earlier side-quests used to have their own plotlines that contributed to the overall lore of the game universe, but this time most of the optional missions are fetch quests with no focus on lore or story.
As for companions, they are a mixed bag. Peebee is by far the best and an actually well-written character. Cora is a slightly less attractive version of Miranda with nothing interesting to say. Drack is a krogan, and that should say enough about him. As Lexi’s says it, “he’s an old b****rd” who loves shooting stuff. Liam and Vetra seem like rip-offs of Jacab and Garrus, respectively.
Nothing bad about that but given that the games are set universes apart you’d think BioWare would try something new. Lastly, Jaal is uh, yeah I didn’t like him. There are many people who find him interesting, but I think he’s your typical rebel who is all touchy-feely about his people with no other motivations or desires whatsoever.
The secondary crew is nothing special either. Natalie Dormer manages to make Lexi interesting, but there’s only so much she can do on her own. Kallo and Gill are some of the most generic characters I’ve seen and although Suvi isn’t half bad, she is no Jeff (Joker). Man, I really missed Jeff and EDI in Andromeda. SAM is handy sure, but damn there’s nothing likeable about it/him.
A Closer Look at Individual Planets
We’ll go in the same sequence as they are introduced in-game. The first planet you’ll land on is Eos (Habitat 7 is just featured in the prologue, so I won’t consider that). Eos is by far the most boring and deserted planet in the whole game and the fact that it’s the first one you land on makes matters worse. There is not a single interesting mission on Eos, all of them are fetch quests, with little to no story whatsoever. It’s a big a** desert with scattered enemy outposts and remnant sites. That’s the best description I can come up with.
Voeld and Havarl are next up. The latter is a small planet albeit with a really unique environment and exotic vegetation. There are a bunch of interesting activities here and there, but other than that it’s so and so. Overall, a decent location. Voeld on the other hand is a different story altogether. While Eos was a hot desert, Voeld is a frozen hellscape. Apart from one or two sites that are worth visiting, it’s a barren wasteland. Another disappointment to add to the pile.
Moving on, the game gets much better towards the second half. H-047c is the location of Vetra’s loyalty mission which isn’t the only reason it’s worth visiting. It is basically a dead planet that lacks gravity and driving the Nomad on it’s grainy surface is a real joy. I’m no astronaut, but the particle and noise physics have been well implemented here.
Kadara is a smuggler’s den. It takes the award of being the best planet of Andromeda (if that means anything). Seriously though, Kadara not only had some of the most interesting side quests, but also some really intriguing main missions. The landscape is also quite something with sulphur springs, mountains, valleys and a networks of caves.
Elaaden is the last planet on the list and it falls somewhere in the middle as far as intrigue goes. What makes it unique is the Krogan settlement, New Tuchanka and where there are Krogan there’s action. There are a bunch of interesting interactions here. You’ll get mugged, infiltrate a derelict ship and deal with the worse criminals in the galaxy. I mean these guys are on another level, they’ll eat you and sell your equipment as scrap, or if it’s shiny enough use it themselves. So yeah, Elaaden is just like the Krogan, tough to survive but it has its perks.
The Remnant Vaults
The remnant vaults and monoliths make an appearance on every planet and are essential to beat in order to raise the viability levels of the planets. The first vault is fun enough, but after that all the rest seem like its duplicates and even Ryder’s dialogs are the exact same. This really got on my nerves towards the end. I mean this is an AAA big budget game after all, and not an indie studio struggling for resources. Somehow I believe they’d have done a better job though.
Combat, Music and Visuals
As you might have figured by now, Mass Andromeda’s main problem is the story or perhaps the lack thereof. The combat, music and visuals are upto the standards, almost.
Regarding the combat, one thing that is worth noting is the HUD. For whatever reason BioWare decided it was a good idea to revamp it. They dumbed it down to make it more “simpler”. Mass Effect till now was a third-person shooter with loose strategy elements. Now it’s just a generic shooter with superpowers.
Here’s why. You can no longer command your party to use specific powers, only move them to a specific location. At a time you can only bind three powers to shortcut keys, despite the fact that you can unlock around a dozen of them. So yeah, screw whoever decided this was an improvement.
What has actually improved is the crafting section. You can now develop, enhance and craft weapons and armor quite at a research station using the resources you have on hand. These resources can be harvested or directly purchased from a merchant. The benefit of crafting- additional or improved stats which given that it’s a fairly simple task makes it worth the effort.
If you read all that, well then congratulations: You are either a really patient person or a fan of the franchise. If so, then you’ll be able to relate to what I’m about to say. Mass Effect Andromeda was an unexpected surprise not in a good way. Till now Mass Effect stood for story and likeable characters like Liara and Garrus, but with Andromeda, I honestly don’t know what it’s about anymore- “advanced” tech, exploration or just fan-bait.
Regardless, there are plenty of good moments in the game, especially the extra companion missions which are a welcome addition, no the only welcome addition. The problem however is that after every good sequence, the game would take two steps back and throw you back into the barren, repetitive mess that Andromeda is. This is akin to giving someone candy and but then taking it back only to return it after pissing on it. Thus souring an otherwise decent game. Well, that’s my two cents on it (or ten cents, whatever).