Mass Effect: Andromeda is the skeleton of a great game. It looks like mass effect on the surface, but it strips away many core tenants of the series, taking out its heart and brain and muscles to leave a picked-clean skeleton.
Developer: BioWare Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Genre: Action RPG
It's unfinished. It's buggy. But it also has the foundation for the best Mass Effect game ever made.
Sadly, BioWare doesn't tap this rich vein of potential, and obviously made some key decisions to rush the game out the door.
And boy does it show.
The facial animations break immersion and make it difficult to care about the characters. But there's still awesome NPCs like Drack or Vetra. The combat takes two steps back with every step forward. But we can create some insane builds and do crazy things.
Planetary exploration overwhelms with tedious, unrewarding quests. But the planets are dazzling spectacles filled with aliens and sci-fi weirdness.
The main driving point here is that ME: Andromeda is conflicted.
BioWare repeats lots of old mistakes while trying to push the series forward, but overall the game just feels unfinished and rushed.
To find enjoyment you have to earn it, you have to chip through layers of rock to get at the glorious gems within.
So break out your pickaxe and lets start mining.
Mass Effect: Andromeda's combat is both great and terrible.
This duality pretty much applies to everything about the game.
Having fun in this game is conditional on how you break through its multitude of barriers. One of the biggest barriers is also one of the game's biggest strengths: freedom.
BioWare unlocks all skills to let us customize our builds, but this can actually work against the player.
The problem is you have 24 different skills across three trees, and you don't know which ones are good.
There's no way to try them out beforehand, so you never know the right combos.
Having fun in combat and progressing through the game requires a decent build with skills that synergize well--or else you'll just die.
The biggest problem I have with combat is we only get three skills. That's right: THREE skills.
We get access to 24 skills, but we only get to use three of them at any given time.
There's no wheel letting you swap between the skills you've unlocked like in other mass effect games.
Only getting three skills interrupts gameplay and forces players to find that perfect combination of abilities.
But finding that combo takes time and effort. There's no guarantee your build will be any good, and you might just waste your time.
When I started, I felt like I was constantly being punished for using cross-class synergies that just didn't work out.
The game seems to work against you for experimenting.
Also, barrier and tech armor no longer stack; all shield abilities replace your shield and are auto-casted.
No more strategic barrier casting.
I loved stacking all forms of shielding in Mass Effect games, but BioWare just scrapped it.
The skill loadouts get even worse when you try to do combos. Skill combos take two skills to trigger: a primer and a detonator.
So to trigger one combo, you have to use two of your precious three skills. Sure you can do cool stuff like use Pull and throw and charge, but you've just wasted all three skills on a single combo.
Having to wait for your skills to cool down is frustrating when you have so few, and reminds you just how weirdly unbalanced this game is.
The recharge speeds can be altered by specific passive abilities, but when you first start the game things will be...off.
The game also likes to withhold key information from you.
For example, you can actually trigger combos using special ammo and melee weapons. Cryo, Disruptor and Incinerator ammo will prime combo detonators, and cryo fists can detonate combos.
But the game never tells you this. I love it when games just don't explain key parts of combat.
BioWare tries to fix the limited skill loadout with favorites. But in true BioWare fashion, this "fix" just brings its own problems.
Favorites allow you to lock in four customized skill loadouts.
The idea here is switching out combinations of skills for certain situations, such as boss battles.
Since every loadout has three skills, and favorites wheel gives you four loadouts, you technically have access to 12 skills at any time.
But here's the biggest problem:
Skills that are switched with the favorites bar aren't instantly usable.
You have to wait for them to cool down first.
Used up all your biotic skills and need to fire off a combo from your tech loadout?
You gotta wait.
So you're at a big disadvantage when swapping skills and basically have to evade or wait behind cover before you can fight again.
This seriously interrupts the flow of the game and betrays the fast-paced shooter feel the game was going for.
The game has a very real identity crisis going on.
Combat is meant to appeal to mainstream gamers, but your average Call of Duty fan may not have the patience to deal with the skill micro-management and upkeep.
Yes, this freedom adds strategy, but it's extremely conditional strategy.
You have to be willing to experiment, make mistakes, and potentially waste your time re-speccing when builds turn out badly.
All of this feels like work, not a game.
We get access to a ton of skills that have to be micro-managed with presets, profiles and other synergy skills.
I spent way too much time in menus with my jack of all trades build, assigning skills to favorites bars and customizing everything.
Combat can be extremely rewarding and fun, but only if you know what you're doing. Once you find that perfect combo of skills, the game opens up and is actually fun.
But at the same time, I feel like I'm in stasis. The game has taught me not to experiment or stray too far into multiple skill trees.
I've almost mastered my main biotic skills and soon I won't have a direct skill upgrade path.
I literally don't want to take the risk of wasting my skills or more importantly, my time, messing with any other abilities.
This isn't something I expected to feel in a mass effect game.
Now let's talk about your squad. Holy hell has BioWare butchered squads in this game.
It's like BioWare just carved out some of the best features of the game and left a giant gaping hole.
Previous BioWare games gave us complete control over our squad, down to battle behavior and extremely specific spell casting conditions.
All of that is gone. Stripped. Scorched. Eradicated.
Why give control over half of your combat presence? Nah, just automate squads completely.
What control you ARE given is reminiscent Halo 5's garbage team controls.
Use the d-pad to issue horribly basic commands like calling your squad to specific areas, telling them to attack certain enemies, and pulling them to your position.
That's it. No behavior profiles. No custom skill conditions. Just basic D-pad controls straight out of Halo 5.
Early Mass Effect games treated squads as an extension of you.
They were part of you in battle, your backup and trust allies. I loved being able to manually trigger awesome combos with my squad and dishing out tremendous damage.
But not in this game.
You get to level them up and choose which skills they have access to, but you don't get to control when they use their skills.
This is a huge problem.
Since the AI is so terrible and haphazard, your team will often waste their skills on half-dead enemies.
You can combo off of your squad skills, but it's a nightmare because you never know when they're going to cast skills.
I feel like I'm supposed to combo off of my own skills...my own THREE skills.
My squad makes me feel alone on the battlefield.
The squadmates are watered down caricatures that don't contribute much when things get hot.
They hardly ever save me and often times even interrupt my shield or life leech regens by killing my targets.
This severely hampers my character immersion.
I mean how can I like Peebee if she's a dumbass and constantly wastes her skills on half-dead enemies? How can I respect Cora when she constantly charges into my targets and interrupts my regens?
This isn't why I play BioWare games. I want strategy; I want tactical squad based combat. I want a team I can control and that isn't constantly doing dumbass things.
But I guess that's too much to ask for.
Exploration in this game is mostly unrewarding monotonous eye candy.
BioWare says it's learned a lot from Dragon Age Inquisition, but they clearly haven't.
They say it's not "open world" but the game falls into the same traps, peppering the map with tons of icons.
I feel like I'm playing an Ubisoft game--or worse, Dragon Age Inquisition.
What's worse is the game actively punishes you for exploring.
While exploring Eos and Havarl--driving around the Nomad and running around and actually looking for secrets--I found a bunch of areas that led into a dead end.
These areas were locked off behind questlines. But of course, I didn't find that out until I wasted time getting to dead ends.
I spent so much time backtracking to these areas I had already discovered to complete quests...and for what?
Just EXP...and if I'm lucky I'll find some gear on dead enemies.
Most of a planet's side quests feel like a waste of time.
BioWare said that they tried to make Witcher 3 style side quests. Either they lied, or they failed very, very badly.
These quests aren't really organically woven into your journey on the planet; they're just icons on the map.
You trigger them and then do self-contained missions. That's all fine, but what isn't fine is I constantly feel like I wasted my time.
The missions just don't feel real or rewarding enough, and sometimes I just skip them.
Every planet has the same one-dimensional formula: roaming around blindly to unlock fast travel points while trying not to die from hazard damage, unlocking a bunch of little side missions which serve as constant distractions to your main goal, fighting one-dimensional enemies, finding the vaults to reverse the weather damage, and scanning/picking up tons of mats.
The hazard damage is idiotic, and life support systems just get in the way. New planets have environmental damage--heat, cold, radiation, etc.--that drain your life support just like No Man's Sky.
Caught out in the middle of nowhere with no life support? Bye-bye Ryder.
All of this just gets in the way and is another artificial barrier that impedes progress. FOBs restore life support, so you have to unlock these points to progress.
The hazard damage is removed once you "fix" the planet by going to the Remnant Vaults...but they're usually far away and require a fair bit of exploration.
The game is just too open in the wrong kind of way.
Right now I have way too much stuff to do, and I just feel like I'm ticking off objectives on a giant list rather than playing an awesome space opera.
None of it feels worthwhile, and the only things that justify my actions are dialog affirmations from NPCs, EXP and AVP points, and the ability to move forward.
But moving forward just means I have to do more of the same rote formula that's interspersed with a possibly fun main story.
If Mass Effect: Andromeda is so horrible, why keep playing?
There is magic here, but it's just submerged in frustration and weird decisions.
The game is enchanting in its own way despite its significant shortcomings. The story arc is pretty good, and despite the horrible facial animations, I'm able to actually get into the experience and relate to the characters.
But those faces...they really do test my patience.
The planets are genuinely amazing, and I love looking at their celestial beauty out in space. Planet-side environments are equally as impressive and bring a true sense of alien exploration to players.
But these impressive environments and deep space backdrops clash so strongly with the faces that it creates this weird disconnect.
The balance of beauty is so incredibly skewed here that I find myself disappointed by every interaction with a fellow human.
That's a real shame, too, considering humans are supposed to be your anchor point out in this unexplored expanse. We see tons of aliens that are infinitely more charming and good-looking than our own species.
BioWare tries to do too much with this game. The devs try to reinvent the wheel and fix what's not broken by scrapping the old Mass Effect formula in favor of radical action-based gameplay.
Gone are the tactical strategy elements that let you control your squad and fire off awesome combos; your squad is mostly automated now, making you feel alone out on the field of battle.
This game feels like BioWare just sold out. It's casualized and watered down and actually cheapens and betrays the Mass Effect identity in some ways.
I can't figure out who this game was made for. It doesn't feel like it was made for Mass Effect fans, and it certainly wasn't made for hardcore BioWare fans. Even mainstream gamers will get shafted with the weird interrupted combat and awful list-based UI and skill micro-management.
I constantly feel my immersion being threatened by BioWare's mistakes. Not just the faces, but the entire game.
But even still, I keep playing. Wielding biotic powers as a badass adept is fun, and I want to see where the story arc goes. I want to defend my squad, and I care about them despite their idiotic behavior in combat. I want to find the Arks and understand the Kett.
Despite BioWare trying to convince me at every turn I should be playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild instead, I continue to play.
Why? Because there is something here.
Sure it's not as bright as the original trilogy, and it's heavily casualized, weirdly unbalanced, and often quite ugly, but it's not a bad game.
It's just an unfinished game. And I think that's how it'll be forever known.
I've experienced three game-breaking bugs that impeded my progress and made me re-load, and a few times I was set back a fair ways thanks to the horrible checkpoint system.
I've also seen a bunch of glitches I didn't capture on film--the nomad loop save glitch, falling through floors, enemies just disappearing (Chosen enemies without active camo, not Disciples), etc.
- Combat can be exhilarating
- Amazing graphics and visuals
- Loyalty missions are interesting
- The story is good, but extremely derivative
- New alien races are captivating
- Customizing weapons and armor gives tons of potential for destruction
- Awful user interface
- Horrible character facial animations
- Cringeworthy one-dimensional characters
- Quests feel like a waste of time
- Planets look open world, but are closed off an artificial
- Punishes players for experimenting with skills
- Doesn't properly explain certain features
- Awful squad controls
|Graphics and Visuals||85%|
|Fun Factor & Value||50%|
The Bottom Line: Mass Effect: Andromeda has the potential to be the best Mass Effect game ever made, but BioWare squanders the chance with tons of bad decisions. It should've been delayed.
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