April 4, 2017
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Mass Effect: Andromeda Review: A great game that needs improvement

Mass Effect: Andromeda has been the butt of ridicule recently for its wide range of technical issues such as bugs and glitches, and the fact that the makers hired a cosplayer with no game design experience as lead facial animator. But once the dust settles from the overall backlash of the game, what’s left, really? Let’s find out.

Mass Effect: Andromeda boldly goes where no Mass Effect game has gone before: a whole new galaxy. The open world game is all about survival and there’s a sense of mystery, peril, and exploration here that’s definitely intriguing. There’s aliens galore, a new hostile alien race led by a villainous megalomaniac, a myriad of quests to find safe habitable planets for hundreds of thousands of frozen colonists and create a functioning independent government. That seems a lot but that’s fair in a Mass Effect game.

Of course, expectations for such an outstanding trilogy of games are high. The amount of expectations is inversely proportional to the amount of disappointment (and subsequent furor) one will incur, so the criticisms for the game are understandably loud.

Story

The game does tread back into old major plot ideas from the original trilogy but Mass Effect: Andromeda. It begins in 2185, between the events of the second and third games in the original trilogy. The four Citadel Council races and the Quarians are planning to populate new home worlds in the Andromeda Galaxy as part of a strategy called the Andromeda Initiative.

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Each race sends 20,000 citizens on a one-way, 600-year journey to Andromeda aboard their own transportation vessel, called an Ark, and selects a leader, known as a Pathfinder. Once the races arrive, they help build the Nexus, a huge space station that serves as a center of government and diplomacy, a living area, as well as a base of operations for the Pathfinders.

The protagonist of Mass Effect: Andromeda is, depending on player choice, either Scott or Sara Ryder. Both Ryder twins are inexperienced recruits who remain a part of the game’s plot even if they are not selected as the main character. Their father, Alec Ryder, is humanity’s Pathfinder, tasked with finding a new home for the species.

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Because there wouldn’t have been a game if they easily found one and lived happily ever after, the planets you end up going to are battered by environmental disasters and a mysterious energy called the Scourge that’s messing up the planets in that particular galaxy. It wouldn’t be fun of course if there were no antagonists so they put aliens called the Kett who want to stop you for some odd unknown reason. There’s also some ancient tech on each planet to make it hospitable again, left behind  by an elusive race called the Remnant.

Gameplay

As the Pathfinder, your mission is to figure out a way to ensure that each planet becomes hospitable enough for colonization. The game is surprisingly deeper than it appeared while being reminiscent of the first Mass Effect game in that you get thrown into an unknown world with new everything: people, vehicles, weaponry, and political history. And like any Mass Effect game, it takes hours to full master but it’s worth it in the end.

It’s a good thing that Bioware did right by Mass Effect by providing significantly improved dialogue for Mass Effect: Andromeda in the form of the tone wheel. Before, character choices for actions and dialogue are limited and with the new tone wheel, it gives your character a chance to go to some pretty gray areas of morality, which makes for interesting results, dialogue choices, and storytelling.

The player is given four emotional responses which range from professionally detached to informally casual to angry. Each response elicits a different response from other characters though the consequences of each response are less obvious. This may seem like merely an illusion of choice to some but at least the game gives us fluid and convincing ways in which any situation could go.

Having things happen organically with a myriad of choices in a myriad of situations encourages the player to pay attention to context. Miss one key information and you’ll be clueless on how to approach certain choices. So while in conversation with other characters, don’t bother getting distracted by tweets or messages.

Performance

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The game is a visual feast in 4K PS4 Pro and takes advantage of its HDR, but it struggles to maintain a consistent frame rate especially in the heat of battle. There’s also the issue of texture pop-ins like when greenery literally has to load as you pass by them and if you move fast, people (friends and foes alike) will just instantly pop out in front of you giving you less time to react.

It seems that much has been lost in making this open-world game if the bugs and glitches are that frequent. Don’t get us wrong: the expanse of the game is the best part. There’s just tons of missions that seem important to the story, like everything you do in the ‘golden’ planets earns you a point to make it more viable for colonization.

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The sense of scope and mystery is what makes the game engaging story-wise, the characters’ struggle for survival worth investing in. It’s just marred by subpar facial and body animations, unexciting combat with terrible AI, and bugs and frame rate issues.

Enemy AI seek cover at all costs so fighting them isn’t so fun when they panic and flee without fighting back. Ally AI are the same as they care too much for self-preservation.

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What makes this so hard though is watching the characters’ bad facial animations. It really ruins the smooth flow of conversation and the great voice acting. It’s hard to take them seriously when the characters’ facial expressions are all over the place. It’s not just faces that suffer from bad animation, but also everything else, from teeth appearing through lips or poor transitions from cutscene to gameplay. It’s a bit messy, to be honest.

Overall

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Mass Effect: Andromeda is a compelling game with an expansive story told across a vast open detailed galaxy. They really upped their game for intriguing game mechanics like making each interaction and each mission meaningful so you get invested in the characters and the story without resorting to binary choices and arriving at obviously pre-determined conclusions. It makes the journey interesting and it makes you feel great, and did we mention the voice acting is just superb?

For all these triumphs, the quality of the game just suffers an awful lot because of questionable corporate decisions, incompetent animation, and braindead AI leading to jarringly cognitive dissonant gaming. It can be enjoyable but disappointing for fans of the series.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is available on PS4 with PS4 Pro support, Xbox One, and PC.

Graphics
3 out of 5
Gameplay
2 out of 5
Replay value
2.5 out of 5
Storyline
3 out of 5
Overall

Mass Effect is back with an intriguing and compelling game with cool new game features, but the game is fraught with bugs in spite of its gorgeously rendered visuals. The sound is excellent though, featuring great performances from the voice actors.

2.63

Fair
2.63 out of 5