Mass Effect: Andromeda Is a Minor Constellation
A lot can happen in ten years. A decade in pop culture can feel like a person’s entire lifetime. Since the first Mass Effect , an entire console generation and then some has passed. The diversity of voices in the industry has exploded, and many of the older voices have moved around or even left entirely. Creative teams simply don’t last that long. But brands, IPs, those can last forever or as long as the sales keep up. So here we are with a fourth game. Mass Effect: Andromeda is brand new start with a new cast, new setting, and new voices behind its creation. Unfortunately, it has, through what was almost assuredly a mixture of studio shenanigans and lofty ambitions, collapsed under its own weight.
Mass Effect: Andromeda starts innocently enough. Right away, the player is presented with a huge quality of life improvement from damn near any comparable RPG. You can create your character independently from starting the game. That seems small, but it’s actually huge. These games are all about creating a personal link to the avatar, and being able to take one’s time to really “get it right” is crucial. Getting to mess around with the character creator before the game even starts is a huge boon and makes going back and making changes if it doesn’t end up looking great in-game that much easier. This point in the game was approximately the last time I was genuinely excited about anything new.
Now it’s time to address the pink elephant in the room. Mass Effect: Andromeda does have some fairly odd animations at times, sprinkled throughout conversations and walk cycles for the most part, but it’s easy to gloss over them. It isn’t as bad as it seems. Uncanny valley aside, this Mass Effect is a little sillier, a little brighter, and a little more Scooby-Doo than its predecessors, and that helps your brain accept the animations more. The original wasn’t exactly the Home of Masterful Animation either, so this critic could hardly care less. But we aren’t done with technical issues.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is not a stable experience. It’s full of bizarre, jarring scene transitions. The screen wildly jerks from one camera angle to the other, with split seconds of haphazard movements that mess with your focus and absolutely rip you out of the moment. Performance issues abound, ranging from frame rate weirdness when you’re running around to hiccups in the middle of combat. This is paired with some of the worst in-action camera in third-person action/RPG history. That thing zooms way too far in at weird angles that make visibility an uphill battle. Even in conversations, the camera comes in at an angle that doesn’t make any sense, totally throwing off the way your eyes track the scene and making you painfully aware the conversation happening in front of you isn’t real. Don’t even get me started on the UI.
Actually yes, let’s talk about Mass Effect: Andromeda ’s UI. Holy cow, this is like when Dead Rising came out and nobody had a high-definition television, except now everyone has a high-definition television and the text is still a pain in the ass to read. If it isn’t dialogue (which is mercifully legible still), it’s in as tiny a font as possible and either pushed as far into a corner of the screen or hiding in interaction prompts that don’t show up until you’re practically already on top of them. Finding enemy remains or other interactables is a chore, often making me not want to bother. Especially since the crafting system is a dumpster fire anyway.
Picture this tiny text I’m speaking about. Now imagine navigating several multi-layered menus with multiple pages and crap all over to screen to such a degree the lines are practically sitting on top of each other. The system is poorly explained by Mass Effect: Andromeda , as are the methods to obtain the ludicrous variety of resources. So you can fumble around if you want, but part of that fumbling involves using your Omni-Tool to scan your surroundings. That’s a whole other layer of Things AAA Games Do Often That Aren’t Fun. To scan, you press down on the d-pad, then trudge around your surroundings until something lights up, so you can then scan it and make one of several numbers go up. These numbers then let you use other numbers to make equipment with certain numbers, which you can then use to unlock the next stage of equipment with higher numbers. It is complexity for the sake of it and reminds me of when the first Mass Effect had a bunch of annoying inventory management issues for the sake of “RPG Elements,” but is at least twice as cumbersome.
When all the AAA, RPG-lite trimmings one would expect are this troublesome, coupled with major technical issues, you better believe Mass Effect: Andromeda makes a poor first impression. The whole thing just feels dated and clumsy. Even moving around in the hub worlds feels off. Protagonist Ryder runs with a sluggishness and otherworldly momentum that makes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild feel like a technical masterpiece, despite its own issues. The combat is fine, but it’s still the same stuff from the previous games. Only now, there’s a worse camera and this weird focus on a jetpack-like jumping function that doesn’t bring much to the table besides weird platforming segments and banal jumping attacks. Some of the biotics are cool, and combat is notably fueled by a super-flexible skill tree. If you can stomach sifting through menus, Mass Effect: Andromeda is definitely the most flexible experience in the series. Even when you pick your background, you’re still open to blur the lines between the designated character classes.
I wish that flexibility extended to the flow of conversation and how you interact with the story. Considering Mass Effect ’s position as one of the biggest profile choice-based video game out there, I don’t feel like I’m having much of an effect on anything happening in Mass Effect: Andromeda . There are a few instances where the wool fell over my eyes a little, but this is no The Walking Dead . Most of the dialogue consists of choosing the tone of your response, but not really the response itself. Much of an effort was made to lighten up the mood, compared to the original trilogy’s cast of mostly stuffy, military types. The intent seems to have been to give the characters more, well, character, but it feels more like the writers were on a big Joss Whedon kick, and decided to make everyone a bunch of indistinct, quippy doofuses when they aren’t puking out exposition. It doesn’t help that much of the dialogue is stilted, awkward, and doesn’t feel organic. It makes much of the cast really difficult to relate to, and much of the drama feels unearned as a result.
There’s a decent game in here somewhere, but Mass Effect: Andromeda feels like a collaboration from Mass Effect fans rather than a group of known and established developers. It’s like that cool thing everyone loves, a decade-plus removed from its creators and pushed down an assembly line. Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but the wheel needed to have that special sheen that’s evidence of five years of polish and care. Instead it feels well meaning, but sloppy. There are little things to appreciate here and there: gorgeous environments, fascinating alien technology, and a healthy dose of Nolan North. But the majority of the experience is a head-scratcher. So much went wrong in so many places you wouldn’t expect from a game with such a pedigree,. But alas, Mass Effect: Andromeda is ultimately a disappointing reminder that sometimes the games industry attributes more value to a brand than the individuals who created it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
There are stellar environments and creative sci-fi elements, but distracting human animations and technical issues. 3.0 Control
Serviceable combat segments are marred by bizarre camera problems and awkward movement in hub areas. Trademark Mass Effect synths power the soundtrack, but the voice acting often sounds phoned in. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Trademark Mass Effect synths power the soundtrack, but the voice acting often sounds phoned in. 4.0 Play Value
In terms of volume, the content is bountiful and should fuel dozens of hours of play time. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|