Bioware’s controversial Mass Effect sequel released a few months ago. They got a serious – and possibly well-deserved – slating from critics and gamers alike for releasing an “unfinished” game, full of bugs and animation problems. I actually cancelled my pre-order as a result of the media sh*t-storm, which is something that I never thought I would do with a Bioware game!
But now, four months on, someone got me the game as a present and have finally decided to give it a chance. So, now they’ve had time to actually finish the game properly, is it any good?
Statement of Intent
I was a huge fan of the original Mass Effect trilogy, but even I have to admit that they were far from flawless games. I’m trying to go into Andromeda with an open mind, trying to see past the issues to the experience underneath and trying to judge it on its own merits. I’m playing the game on PS4, at a point when numerous patches have been released (the game is currently version 1.10, at time of writing). I am approximately 9 hours in. I’ve created a custom character, played the opening act of the game and completed the majority of the quests on Eos, the first of the major planets. I have recruited most of the party members and explored the Nexus – the player’s base of operations – and the Tempest – the player’s ship. So, how has my experience been so far?
First, let’s address the game’s biggest criticism. There have been several patches, but the game still has A LOT of issues. Right from the moment you boot up the game, in fact. The ‘Press Start’ screen features a ringed planet, but part of the rings incorrectly appear to be in-front of the planet when they should be behind it. The camera then zooms in on this flaw when you start the game, making it even more obvious… A glaring bug on the very first screen? Not a promising start!
Despite all the fixes, character models and animation are wildly inconsistent throughout. So many characters just stand with their arms folded, not looking at your character or moving in any way, other than their mouths. Also, while they may have fixed the ‘Pingu face’ on one of the main characters, there are several other characters that still suffer from the problem. Additionally, all of the Asari look the same (and that’s not just me being a space-racist!) and most of the Turians have ‘flat’, white faces; almost as if the textures were missing or the lighting isn’t working properly. There are also bugs in cutscenes – even major story cutscenes. For example, in one scene, Liam kept randomly teleporting around and sometimes appeared directly behind Ryder like a creepy monster from a horror film. And most characters, even the major characters, have truly terrible hair! Immersion is important in a game like this and all of these little problems come together to shatter that immersion.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some moments where the game looks beautiful. The graphical fidelity of the game, in general, does feel like a step-up from the original trilogy. However, there are so many bugs and glitches that the game, as a whole, feels like a step backwards. There is no excuse for a studio like Bioware to release a game from their flagship franchise in this state. True, the game uses a different engine – Frostbite instead of Unreal – but Bioware should have been able to adapt their internal code to work with the new engine. They may have needed to build much of the game from the ground up, but that doesn’t excuse the quality of the end result. It would have been better if they had cut a load of stuff from the game, to improve the quality of what remained, or if they had simply waited until it was actually finished before they released it!
Straight away, I have an issue with the story. And it’s something that can’t be fixed by patches, but is a fundamental element of the game’s design. An alien race arrives, proceeds to attack the natives and to terraform planets that they have no real claim to and start plonking down their own settlements. Sounds like much of human history (and the colonisation of the Americas in particular), right? In most games, you would play as the natives, repelling this invading alien force. But in Andromeda, it kinda feels like you ARE the invaders. Whatever the intentions of the alien Kett or the mysterious ‘Remnant’ machines, I still feel – at this point, at least – like the bad guy.
Other than that, the story is quite interesting so far. Things go wrong when you arrive in Andromeda, leaving your character effectively in charge. You are given the task of finding potentially habitable planets and making them viable for settlement, as well as locating the other missing ‘ark’ ships and generally getting the Andromeda Initiative back on track. There is also some interesting political stuff going on, which goes some way to explaining why the planets you encounter in Andromeda are already populated by mostly Milky Way races, and why various factions have formed. However, I found it jarring that the events surrounding the Krogan race seemed to have been rather lazily copy/pasted from the original trilogy!
As for the actual characters, I’m so far struggling to find any of them to be as likable or interesting as the characters from the previous trilogy, but that might just be because I spent so much time with the crew of the Normandy, and have so far only spent a few hours with the crew of the Tempest.
Gameplay may be the strongest element of the game, but it is also not without its issues. You spend your time managing the Nexus, interacting with the crew on your ship, flying around in space, exploring planets in a rover, getting into firefights and solving the occasional simple puzzle. The game is more open-world and exploration-focused than before, which I like. There are also new additions, like a jump-jet to navigate the world and a scanner to collect research data and to search for clues, which makes the game feel distinctive from its predecessors.
However, while I do like the space exploration mode (Gone is the annoying little ship you had to pilot around in Mass Effect 2 and 3), I do find that the transitions between planets are very annoying. They seem kinda cool at first, as the ship flies in first-person from one planet to the next, but they are quite lengthy and quickly grow tiresome. You do have the option to skip them, but there is still an awkward moment where the camera zooms into the planet, then zooms back out again to the point where you can actually interact with it. I would much have preferred a simple zoom in from the system view, rather than these awkward, lengthy transitions. You can now scan the whole cluster and each solar system for anomalies (fortunately the horrendous mining mini-game has been removed!), as well as individual planets, which is a bit more interesting, though most of the things I’ve found have been fairly trivial so far – only minerals and research data, no derelict ships that you can actually board or quests to follow-up on, as happened in the original trilogy.
Fights can be described as ‘more dynamic’ than in previous games, but this comes at the lack of a feeling that the experience was designed and crafted. You often you find yourself in a position with no proper cover, or with enemies appearing behind you. Speaking of cover, the system is a bit different; you also don’t press ‘a’ to enter cover and find yourself stuck to it, which means – in theory – that you aren’t as restricted with your options and can take cover behind any object. However, the game seems a bit picky about what actually counts as cover and whether or not it actually protects you from enemy fire! There are a lot more hovering enemies, and more chances for enemies to gain the height advantage, so cover is a bit less safe than in the previous games, for better or for worse!
Most of my other problems with the game so far are mostly quality-of-life things which I won’t go into them at length, but I’ll summarise them below:
- I was on a mission and, despite having defeated all of the enemies in the area, I could not save the game. I played on for a bit longer, checking several times whether the game would let me save, but it did not. Eventually, I turned off the game, figuring that there must have been a checkpoint fairly recently, but I found myself having to replay nearly an hour of the mission. In the previous games, you could save almost anywhere when you were out of combat, so this is another area of the game that feels like a step backwards. Also, apparently, completing a trio of objectives, clearing out the room and killing a boss didn’t justify a checkpoint?
- A major issue for me is that lack of a proper Pause function. Yes, you can bring up the menu during normal combat/gameplay, but even pressing the PS button does not reliably pause the game during cutscenes or dialogue. In every other modern game I’ve played, you can pause at any time, and this felt conspicuously absent.
- The menus can be very slow. When you go to the Skills menu to level up your characters, for example, it takes a LONG time to load the 3D models before you can do anything. I would have preferred simpler character models if this meant the menus were more responsive.
- Load times, in general, are poor, which I guess is the price you pay for increased graphical fidelity, but it’s still annoying! And, even after a long load screen, you still get scenery, characters and textures ‘popping in’ late. This, coupled with long, unskippable transitions (not only during space exploration but when landing on/taking off from a planet too) are very frustrating in a game that involves so much exploration and travelling back and forth across the galaxy.
Again, this is uneven. Sometimes you get interesting interactions between the two crew members who accompany you in the rover, but I encountered several lines of dialogue that didn’t make sense at the time (i.e. they should have been used a lot later in the story when the crew had spent more time together and completed more missions together). Some characters inexplicably go from sounding flat and bored to angry and shouty within the same conversation. Also, while the writers may have been trying to avoid having too many clique phrases, or lines used by characters from previous games, the result is often dialogue that is clunky and fails to even approximate normal human speech.
There were also several times where one character’s dialogue appeared to be missing from the conversation all-together. I decided to turn on the subtitles to see if I could avoid missing such things in the future. There seems to be a sound issue where dialogue goes very quiet if a character is behind the player character or off screen during a conversation, particularly during ‘incidental conversations’, where the camera just stays in a fixed position (rather than during the ‘proper’ conversations where the camera cuts to properly follow the conversation).
It does get better!
Despite all these niggling little issues though, I do want to reiterate that I HAVE played for 9+ hours and I am, for the most part, enjoying the game. There were many times during the opening hours of the game where I could have easily put my controller down and walked away, and if I had done so, my copy would now be in a pre-owned bin somewhere! However, I persevered, and things did get better. Once I had free reign to explore the Nexus, and my own ship to explore the galaxy, the game did become more engaging. There were more side quests to complete, as well as the main story, and the whole thing became more absorbing.
I currently can’t decide whether or not to recommend Andromeda. I’ve always said that “it gets better a few hours in” is never a good thing to have to say about a game, and it is impossible to deny that the game has A LOT of problems. The problems are mostly little niggles, but there are an awful lot of them, which does damage immersion and make the game feel like a step backwards from the previous games. However, on balance, I have enjoyed the game so far and I do intend to keep playing.
I will report back soon with a full review, once I’ve completed the main story and seen what else the game has to offer…