Mass Effect: Andromeda – Addictive, immersive, & yet I’m still conflicted

A Real Game Media Review

Andromeda
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Mass Effect: Andromeda
Available on: Xbox One, PlayStation 4/Pro & Windows PC
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Price: $59.99/£49.99
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 Pro & Xbox One

I sat, watching the countdown timer on my phone seem to take an eternity to reach zero, as I waited for the final minutes to pass by before I could embark on Mass Effect: Andromeda.

I felt a mix of emotions as the loading screen popped up, promising vast worlds, hundreds of hours of gameplay and some of the most compelling combat known to digital man.

As I progressed through the first hour of Andromeda my excitement and lust to become addicted to the latest installment in one of the great video game franchises of all time, was greatly diminished and I left me wondering if I had in fact installed the right game!

Pushing forward, being conscious of the fact that this was a new experience and the pavement was still being laid for the adventure I was about to embark on, I realized something terrible……..I felt like I was at work. I didn’t feel like I was on the comfort of my couch playing a game that I was thoroughly enjoying, I felt like I was forcing myself to play through hours of tediousness purely because I couldn’t bring myself to believe that this is what was being presented to me in the form of Mass Effect: Andromeda.

After a day’s break and some much-needed reflection, I set back on my path in Andromeda, determined to break through the first few hours to where I was SURE there would be a gripping game, and I am so thankful that I did. Not only does Andromeda take off and continue to expand and impress, but I would have robbed myself of an amazing experience if I hadn’t pushed on.

Due to the sheer size of not only the single player experience, but the hours required to really get an in-depth understanding of the multiplayer aspect, my Senior Writer, Mr Sam Tolbert, and I decided on a divide and conquer approach so we could ensure enough time was invested into both aspects of the game when providing you with this review. I took the single-player route; Sam the multiplayer and combat system, here is our review:

Story Line

We have come a long way from Commander Shepard’s attempts to save the Milky Way galaxy, and instead now we play as Ryder, who is a Pathfinder charged with the responsibility of working with a team to find a new home for the 100,000 souls aboard the ark Hyperion.

As expected, you start by customizing your character, which can take quite some time to do, as you attempt to create the least clueless looking Ryder possible. From here you start to get introduced to the other ‘awake’ characters on-board and find yourself in a cycle of brief stints of gameplay followed by cut-scenes. In this attempt to create relationships and start a bond between you and the crew, you’ll find yourself encountering one of the most complained about aspects of the game – the drawn out and slow first 3-5 hours of gameplay. Whilst I appreciate that character development is extremely important in any game, the manner in which this unfolds seems almost pointless as you progress through the early stages.Andromeda

As you would expect, not just from the Mass Effect franchise but also from a crew who live, fight and die together, there is a strong focus placed on intimacy. The way this is explored leads to some very confronting scenarios, along with many that have been considered rather ‘taboo’ even though they shouldn’t be looked at in that manner, such as homosexual references and interracial relationships. You have the option ‘pursue’ suitor’s and engage in intimate relations; however this is not done in a way that is as explicit as originally presented to us through marketing. In fact, there is more of an element of humor to these scenes than anything else.

As the story unfolds you begin to realize how strong the camaraderie is between the integral characters and this alone, at various points in the game, can serve as a means to push you forward to learn what their fate will be.

Completing the Memory Tasks is highly advisable to provide you with even more depth to the storyline, along with ensuring you take in all the narrative as key pieces of information can easily be missed along with hints to the mental state of certain characters. This is where you will find a lot of answers as you push through which is refreshing as many games tend to fall victim to asking too many questions and proving too few answers.Andromeda

The alien race that you encounter within the first hour of the game is commanded by a narcissistic and cruel leader, which really provides you with a strong will to push forward and defeat your foe to ensure the survival of the inhabitants on-board the Hyperion. As you learn the ominous fate that you will be subjected to, with minimal resources affecting the ability to grow food, the inability to revive cryogenically frozen friends and family, you find yourself in a position of power that you did not expect to land on your shoulders. As you embrace this responsibility and work towards resolving these primary issues, all the while whilst trying to avoid a civil war, you not only begin to see how vast the tasks you have in front of you are, but also begin to feel a strong sense of responsibility which inevitably serves as your motivation to see these tasks completed.

Your main foe in Andromeda seems, on the surface, to be very predictable however, do not underestimate the power that you are about to take on. This aspect of the storyline is very engaging, and as much as I would like to explore that more, I would actually be taking away from your own experience so we will leave this there by saying that this aspect of the game is done extremely well and continues to surprise and impress you as the depth of the plot is revealed.

Where I feel that the storyline really felt liked it lacked was in the dialogue. There never seemed to be any emotion present, even if the response option you chose was an attempt to be rude, there was never repercussion to that course of action. Almost like everyone was programmed to just politely accept everything that was said to them or brush it off and pretend it didn’t happen. I was waiting for epic moments of battle preparation with inspiring speeches, or moments of utter dismay, even scenes of intimacy that had a little life to them at that point would have been better than what was provided.

Overall, the storyline is in-depth, mysterious and very well structured.

Character Development & Onscreen Presence

You really need to stick with Andromeda for several hours before you can begin to appreciate how well thought out this aspect of the game is. Characters that you initially had no care for start to reveal their personalities in a way that makes you feel invested in their successes and devastated by their failures.

One of the main reasons that I had so much trouble connecting with the crew was due to the poor level of detail put into facial expressions and emphasis during critical lines of dialogue. This won’t be the first time you have heard that complaint about Andromeda and it most certainly won’t be the last. BioWare really let them, and us, down in this regard. A game as vast and diverse as this, developed by a studio of the caliber of BioWare and published by a company as large as EA, should not suffer from poor character design and lifeless voice acting however, as the game unfolds and you begin to see just how engrossing it becomes, you quickly forgive this and to a degree get used to it to the point where you don’t really notice it anymore.Andromeda

To be fair, there were several moments where I was actually moved by the care and compassion that my crew members exhibited in times of desperation and sadness. These bright flashes of hope in the character development were too few and far between though, leaving me wondering if the team tasked with writing the scripts was in fact stuck in an 80’s loop and not able to envision the dialogue of a civilization that exists hundreds of years into the future.

This was made even worse when delving into the various romantic entanglements that are available. What is supposed to be light-hearted banter or emotional connections come off as stilted, awkward and wooden (no pun intended). While obviously, some of this may be subjective, ultimately none of them feel like they have any real payoff, just a list of conversation boxes being checked off. They feel static, with a false sense of engagement. It’s the same boring outcome no matter what, leaving you wishing you had the option to buy a bottle of in-game tequila before wrapping up what has been hours’ worth of courtship to get this point, only for it to be comical as opposed to intimate, which directly contradicts the marketing BioWare put out in the months leading up to release.Andromeda

For fans of Mass Effect 2 you will be pleased to hear that Loyalty Missions are back. This provides a very interesting aspect to the gameplay as you explore more of the platonic relationships within the game. As you would expect, these are very cinematically driven and you will find yourself working towards these outcomes over multiple hours. It’s an interesting twist that allows for you to customize your experience based on your preference towards various characters as you push on. If you can get past the character animations these missions provide quite a bit of substance to the game.

Gameplay & Mechanics

Amidst the technical shortcomings, lifeless expressions and sub-par dialogue, and at times very tedious resource gathering and side missions, I was still able to find myself immersed in Andromeda’s gameplay. There is so much variety that once you find your ‘rhythm’ and work out what path you want to take through this experience, a lot of these issues become minor annoyances that drift off into the background. It’s important to identify with the game in your own way and follow a path that intrigues you as well as allows for you to either skip what you don’t want to do, or delve further into these areas of gameplay.

The four main maps are extremely diverse with very different environments that showcase amazing graphics. From overgrown jungles, to icy wastelands, dry desolate deserts, every area you enter has its own identity. Each of these ‘worlds’ are filled with various side missions, albeit most pointless to the progress of the main story, coupled with various NPCs that really add a layer to the gameplay that keeps you engrossed. From blazing around on your Nomad to discovering the secrets to extremely advanced vaults, even solving some of the oddest mysteries, this element of the gameplay really shines after stints of meaningless dialogue and planet jumping.Andromeda

If you like the grind formula of ‘go here and do that’, Andromeda has you covered. You will nearly never run out of meaningless ‘messenger boy’ type side missions to keep you ’busy’. The need to scan EVERYTHING in sight and follow every navpoint to assist an NCP with their needs, or even apparently critical datapads to discover, none of these ever cease to be available for the ‘wanderer’ in us all.

It’s not that the side missions are bad overall, more that they feel like additions of ‘sugary fluff’ added to the game to provide more substance where it either wasn’t needed or could have been done better. There is a feeling of ‘rinse and repeat’ present with the structure of the side missions, along with a lack of information to let you know what you are about to embark on to enable you to better decide if this is something you want to spend your time on.

All in all the gameplay is relatively solid and engaging, this is what keeps you pushing on to discover more, and the more you discover, the more you want to know. Even challenges such as trying to assist raising planets viability levels through completing side missions and establishing outposts can feel rather rewarding. When crafting you have a cold–hot indicator that will help you track down the items you are after, memory triggers that fill in blanks left by your father for you to discover, even scanning planets to get that all-important XP, these things flesh out the gameplay to provide you with multiple options of how you want to experience Andromeda. Options and choices, they are always good – providing that they are well implemented.Andromeda

Andromeda seems to be catering for all in this regard, from veterans of the franchise, to first timers. That is never a bad thing, unless of course, you spend way too much time having your hand-held. I strongly doubt that there would be more than 1% of gamers playing Andromeda as their first video game ever, so the necessity to teach you the simplest of tasks is overkill.

The inventory system is very in-depth and depending on how you like to play games, you’re either going to love it or hate it. There are literally dozens of different weapons, extensive types of armor with various tiers, along with additional modifications. You can spend hours just customizing armor and building weapons without even realizing it. You do however; need to have the correct resources for these builds which have to be created separately and this requires quite a bit of research.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few technical errors and glitches we encountered over the course of our journey through Mass Effect: Andromeda. For starters, around four hours into the main story, the game inexplicably crashed without warning. After my character died, she respawned stuck in the ground, unable to move. I was forced to load a previous save and replay the section I’d just gone through, hoping I didn’t trigger that bug again.

Not twenty minutes later I traveled to another planet, as the cinematic began the screen suddenly turned to black and froze, before completely kicking me out to the home screen of my console meaning the game had to be rebooted entirely. Even worse, I still have no idea exactly what it was that caused the crashes, so I’ve been forced to save every five or so minutes in the hopes that I don’t lose too much progress in the event of another crash.Andromeda

Framerate is a bit of a hot topic these days and Andromeda doesn’t really do much to assist with this. I encountered multiple framerate drops on the PlayStation 4 Pro version which were amplified greatly by active downloads. This however wasn’t always present and Andromeda for the most part ran smoothly.

These weren’t the only bugs; at multiple points dialogue tracks would glitch out entirely and overlap each other, particularly if they were playing from a datapad. Also, while exploring using the Nomad at least three times it randomly became stuck, ignoring any attempts to move around. Fortunately, this was easily fixed by calling for an extraction and then cancelling it, though it was still an incredibly annoying problem.

Another issue I encountered which I feel is something that shouldn’t even be a thing in this day and age of gaming, is input lag from the controller. This affects the combat in a minor way but is present enough for it to be an annoyance. Basically, you will point and shoot at something and because of the lag, end up hitting just off mark which drives you nuts in the heat of battle.

Other issues I ran into were enemies that spawn half way under the map, and characters that didn’t load in when they were meant to. Nothing noted above breaks the game however; it does break your immersion and raises your annoyance levels which affect your overall enjoyment of the game.

Combat System

For any fans of the older Mass Effect games, you’ll instantly recognize just how improved the combat system is. It works remarkably well for a wide variety of reasons. For starters, the movement system feels very free-form, with influence from games like Halo 5: Guardians and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare working in a very positive way. You now have a small jetpack, allowing you to boost over obstacles or briefly hold yourself in the air.Andromeda

Building on this, the melee no longer requires you to be locked in, focusing on a particular enemy. Instead, it’s a simple attack with your Omni-blade directly in front of wherever your character happens to be facing, or slamming the ground with an aerial attack if you melee in mid-air. All of these can be chained together for very cinematic; action-packed displays of power that look and feel fun.

In an interesting move, character classes have been completely overhauled. Instead, there are three skill trees; Combat, Tech and Biotics. As you invest points into these trees, you unlock ‘profiles’ that resemble the classic classes from the franchise. These profiles offer different bonuses such as enhanced weapon damage, biotic jumps and so forth. They can also be swapped separately from your load-outs, simply by pausing and going to the menu, even in the middle of a battle. This allows for some interesting tactical decisions, though this is perhaps a bit clunky due to needing to pause in the first place.

Weapons are not restricted by class however; instead they are balanced by their weight. The more overburdened you are, the longer it takes Tech and Biotic abilities to recharge, so you’ll need to experiment and figure out what works best for you. Combined with the aforementioned melee and movement systems, combat is quite frankly an absolute blast to engage in. Dashing around, grabbing a guard with a biotic pull, hurling him into a chasm, leaping over a wall and hovering to gun down more soldiers before slamming a larger captain, it’s simply fantastic.Andromeda

Given the emphasis that is placed on experimentation to suit your personal needs, it’s also worth delving into the extensive customization options for your weapons and armor. Every weapon or armor piece has five tiers, so even on lower difficulties it’s absolutely vital you continue to upgrade your weapons and armor, or else you’ll find yourself outmatched by the stronger enemies that are thrown your way. Different weapons and pieces of armor confer various bonuses or lend themselves to different play styles, so there’s definitely no one ‘right’ answer. Instead, you need to find and develop your niche.

If you aren’t familiar with crafting systems or having to upgrade your weapons and armor, you may be thrown off by just how extensive this system is. It’ll even appear convoluted, especially since there is, quite bizarrely, absolutely no guidance as to how the research and development aspects of this actually function. This is an odd omission, especially given just how much hand-holding the game does in the first few hours.

Multiplayer

Of course, there is an expansive multiplayer component to be considered. The way this has been tied into the campaign is rather ingenious. You have the option to deploy Strike Teams, which earn experience by completing missions however, if you are unsure if a team will succeed (as you can deploy multiple strike teams), you can take on the mission yourself. These missions serve as customized multiplayer scenarios that introduce you into how everything works.

For those who have experienced the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3, you’ll likely be quite familiar with how this is set up. You select one of a long list of characters, from Human Sentinels to Krogan Engineers, with some of the basic characters and weapons already unlocked at the start however, the majority must be unlocked through opening different reward crates, which can be purchased with credits earned during matches. Unfortunately, these packs can also be purchased with real money, adding in irritating microtransactions. That said it’s worth noting that you earn credits at a reasonable pace.Andromeda

Up to four players form a team that must survive multiple waves of enemies while completing various objectives. When the seventh round arrives, the team must hold off an endless rush of enemies while waiting to be extracted. Your performance during the match, in addition to some other modifiers, determines the exact number of credits earned. Matches generally take around 15-17 minutes on the lowest difficulty, which never felt too dragged out or too short.

My experience with multiplayer was very fun, although there are some caveats. There were some glitches, for example – when the game crashed in the middle of an active match. Also, the matchmaking uses Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networking, as opposed to dedicated servers. This meant that I frequently saw players lose connection to the game; though re-joining is mercifully a simple process.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can only change your load-out in the multiplayer menus. Any skill points must be spent before jumping into a match and any equipment currently assigned to your character will stay for the duration of the multiplayer session. For me, this wasn’t too big of a problem as I obsessively plan my weapons and skills before jumping into a match; that said I feel this may not be the case for many other players who want to experiment with different weapons or abilities. Certainly, it wouldn’t have hurt to have the option to change your weapons during gameplay, especially for newer players.Andromeda

Another issue is teamwork. You can join random players however; the sense of unity and focus is rarely there. By having a dedicated squad communicating, you are elevated to an amazing experience, where one player might have to be covered so they can hack a terminal, or coordinating your powers for devastating combos. This was designed as a team experience and it shows. One other major thing that helps the multiplayer is that, due to being entirely combat-based, it lacks the animation or voice-acting wonkiness that plagues the single-player experience. With a mode solely dedicated to enjoying the amazing combat, the game truly shines through its multiplayer inclusion.

Graphics & Soundtrack

The ‘worlds’ in Andromeda are stunning. Graphically you cannot complain about the quality provided to you in the landscapes. The armor sets, once you have worked out your preferred customization, really make a massive difference to your characters on-screen presence and again, the quality of the detail put into these armor sets, is stunning. The only place that Andromeda let’s itself down in this regard is with the character’s facial designs and animations.Andromeda

You can find yourself in a dense forest, taking in all the sounds around you and really enjoying the atmosphere, or in an icy tomb almost feeling the hairs on your arm stand on end, only to have a cut-scene initiate that breaks your immersion. This then takes away from the amazing surroundings you are in and forces you to listen to sub-par dialogue with another soundtrack that seems exactly like the last several that have played in the game that day.

While we are talking about the soundtrack it’s important to note that it is beautiful however lacks any degree of diversity. The orchestral approach works very well and creates a rather eerie feeling to a degree but it doesn’t take long until you find yourself asking if you are listening to the same track over and over again? The answer is no, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were, as they are all very similar apart from two stand out tracks.Andromeda

Again, this doesn’t affect how the game plays and the music fits the mood very well in some instances, but does start to feel like it is on a loop after a while as you don’t ever really remember there being any stand out variance.

It is important to keep ones opinion of the quality of the graphics separate from your opinion of the characters facial animations. In this regard I would have to say that graphics are one of the stand out qualities in Andromeda, with a soundtrack that on its own merit is lovely to listen to.

Please see below for our summary and overall score of the latest addition to the Mass Effect franchise:

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