Until now, Mass Effect exclusively consisted of my favorite trilogy in modern gaming. BioWare’s space opera popularized choice-with-consequence gameplay, building romantic relationships, and the ability to create and import a hero you’ve spent considerable time with into future installments.
Set apart from the original trilogy, Mass Effect: Andromeda features all new characters and settings, gameplay elements, reworks the series’ class system entirely, and does so by the hand of a new development team. I was more excited than concerned at the prospect of meeting new aliens and taking the fight to baddies with more modern shooter mechanics, but as we approached the game’s launch I noticed a trend across my social media feeds–Mass Effect: Andromeda was underwhelming players.
If you’re on Twitter, by now I’m sure you’ve come across various images, GIFs, and videos poking fun at the game’s poor character models, along with their questionable facial animations and awkward mannerisms. While this has generally been a mainstay in other BioWare games and not bothered me too much (Dragon Age: Inquisition was no different, which I adore), it was disappointing to see in a game that’s been delayed time and time again.
What was more disheartening was hearing fans share their opinion of the narrative’s mediocrity. Mass Effect having poor writing? Poor delivery? Boring characters? I had to see it for myself.
My copy of Mass Effect: Andromeda arrived yesterday and after having issues with my PS4 constantly pausing the game’s update patch while in rest mode, I donned the role of Pathfinder and began my mission to find the Milky Way’s population a brand new home.
It’s been roughly 5 hours and I’m sad to report that I agree with Andromeda’s many criticisms.
The story begins interesting enough (EARLY SPOILERS) as humanity has finally awoken from a 600+ year cryosleep in their search for a habitable planet. In charge of the operation is Alec Ryder, the Pathfinder, whose goal it is to make this dream a reality. You play as either the son or daughter of Alec and take over the Pathfinder role after your first planetary recon mission goes horribly awry.
Your squad runs into a new alien race, the kett, who aren’t native to the planet and seem to be manipulating the weather in order to harness its power. A new alien race is certainly exciting, but the kett are incredibly dull bipedal aliens who shoot guns. Guns! 600+ years of space travel and we land on a fucking planet with gun-toting aliens? Great.
It’s not as if the story itself is wholly uninteresting, it’s the delivery that makes it feel that way. It almost feels like Mass Effect fan-fiction at times, or the end product of a development team inspired by Mass Effect that wanted to make something similar. You know that feeling you get when you watch a modern remake of your favorite childhood film? That’s where I’m at right now.
The quality of the voice-overs in Andromeda mostly feel half-baked and emotionless, exacerbated by every character’s soulless, lifeless, deadpan facial expressions displayed on-screen.
Characters thus far have also been underwhelming, with one making dumb jokes about shooting things in the face while the other acts more like an annoying no-nonsense NPC instead of a squadmate. Cora’s wide-eyed, eternally caffeinated expression certainly didn’t help matters.
The A.I. in combat has been surprisingly daft as well. You can no longer manually order teammates to use their special abilities, as you could in the original trilogy. This has lead to a silly amount of mishaps, as Liam often uses his melee abilities well out of range. Not having direct control over their attacks removes the feeling of camaraderie and necessity that I experienced in the earlier games, simply because I often forget they exist if they’re not flapping their gums.
The next planet I landed on was a barren desert, which has been equally unexciting. I’ve mostly spent my time scanning objects in the environment for currency (a la No Man’s Sky), looting canisters on foreign planets that somehow have useful human items, like healing gel and weapon mods, and shooting things.
The interface is pretty cumbersome, putting things unnecessarily deep under menu trees. I also hate that you can only equip an item within the loadout screen before starting a mission, or at the exact moment you pick it up. For instance, if I find new armor out in the wild, I can equip it immediately or store it for later–there’s no way to compare armor stats in the open-world, so it’s an unnecessary gamble. Not being able to just look at weapons and armor I’ve collected and equip it at-will seems pointless, considering I’m dumping 20 rifles and weapon mods into a pair of magical pockets.
I’m currently torn on Andromeda’s reworked class system. Gone are the days of choosing a class and allocating skill points into a unique list of abilities. All of your favorite classes are still present and accounted for, but they’re lumped into three skill trees that focus on tech, biotics, and combat. Ryder earns three points per level and you’re free to dump them into anything you want. You can only equip three abilities at once since the spell wheel is gone, but it’s nice to be able to invest points in to sniper rifle damage, biotic spells, and engineering tech abilities. But, again, it feels like it removes a sense of identity in a way.
Right now I’m sitting at around 5 hours played. I’m struggling to remain invested in the story, mostly because I couldn’t care less about any of the characters I’ve met or the planets I’ve touched down on. The only new race of aliens I’ve crossed paths with feel uninspired. The dialogue has been disappointing, particularly in its emotionless delivery. Andromeda’s awkward and dated character models and weird mannerisms are also incredibly difficult to ignore when so much of the game feels like it was given the same lack of TLC.
I hear the game picks up further in, but with so much great stuff releasing in 2017, is there any room for mediocrity simply because Andromeda carries the Mass Effect name? I’ll give it a few more hours tomorrow, but I’m well on my way to shoving the game in the air lock and firing it off into space.