In my first look at BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, I’m taking a pessimistic approach and detailing a few of the things it could have done better. Or, in some cases, not done at all. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on what the game does well in another post. Always best to finish on a positive note, right?
The newest entry in the Mass Effect universe stirred its share of controversy before it was even released, and now that it’s been out in the world for a couple of months, there are still plenty of things to grumble about. We’ve all seen the wonky facial animations and in-game bugs that range from mildly amusing to head-against-the-wall game-breaking; to their credit, BioWare has recently acknowledged the game’s difficulties and is trying to patch some of the issues. With that said, there are still a few things about the game that frustrate me, going beyond simple cosmetic problems. Any game of this scope and complexity is going to have hiccups in presentation here and there, and for the most part things like that don’t bother me. I’m going to take a deeper look at the game and examine some key areas where I think Andromeda misses the mark.
Disclaimer: I’m quite fond of the Mass Effect series, and from here on I’ll be referencing the current game and the original trilogy fairly heavily. I’m guessing that most people who clicked on this article are fans of, or have at least heard of Mass Effect, but for those who aren’t I apologise if there are a few things that don’t make much sense. But hey, Google is a thing. So, you know, use your initiative. I haven’t finished the game yet, but I feel like I’ve played enough of it to have a good understanding of its successes and failures.
The Characters Kind Of Suck
Any grand space opera worth its salt needs strong characters to fuel its story: amidst all the planet-hopping and intergalactic politics, we need protagonists and supporting players who are engaging and give us a reason to move on to the next mission. The original Mass Effect is a perfect example of this: even if Shepard was a little too stone-faced and stoic, he/she was surrounded and often outshone by a superb supporting cast. The standouts for me are Garrus and Wrex, but even the relatively paint-by-numbers Kaiden had an intriguing backstory once you peeled back the layers in conversation. And it had Seth Green as the wisecracking pilot! Anyway, I’m in danger of babbling; my point is that Mass Effect nailed its characters, and the game shone because of them.
Andromeda tries to make us fall for its collection of misfits, but their attempt feels like a swing and a miss. For a start, each character’s introduction comes across a little forced, which sets things off on the wrong path immediately; Vetra, for example, appears without introduction as you board your ship for the first time and announces she’s joining your crew, which frankly just felt a little lazy. I neither knew nor cared who she was, then all of a sudden she’s on the team. With the first Mass Effect you got to meet your squad members in different, interesting ways; here it just feels like your team is cobbled together for the sake of the story, which doesn’t sit right with me.
In the end, I think the squad members are just a little flat. I want to like all of them but the game doesn’t give me enough reasons to fall in love with them. I can see what BioWare is going for, but I think that’s the problem: very few of the character interactions feel organic, and the relationships tend to feel forced. To be fair, in classic Mass Effect style I’m gaining a deeper understanding of each teammate as I learn more about them, and there are moments of humour and genuine connection. The game isn’t totally devoid of personality, but I think it missed an opportunity to create some truly memorable characters.
There’s Too Much To Do
Ah, the curse of the modern open-world RPG. Andromeda isn’t a true open world game, but each of the numerous inhabitable planets you can explore is vast, and peppered with tasks and side quests. Having a large to-do list in a game isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes a problem when the errands descend into monotony. Some of the tasks have interesting stories or mysteries for you to uncover, but the way you solve them is completely uninspired. You travel to a waypoint on the map, speak to someone about their problem, travel to another waypoint, scan something, travel to another waypoint, get into a fight with someone… You get the idea. The completionist in me wants to finish as many side quests as possible, but it’s hard to see the benefit of doing it in Andromeda, especially as most of the mini-stories have little to no bearing on the outcome of your journey.
This wouldn’t be so bad if you could wrap up these side missions quickly, but a lot of them are overly time-consuming – one egregious example has you following a shuttle halfway across the galaxy for no reason whatsoever. A large portion of this game is mired in endless side quests that feel crushingly identical, take far too long and offer very little reward. The scope of the game is admirable, but it becomes a problem when the developer’s ambition comes at the expense of the player’s enjoyment.
It Has Enormous Shoes To Fill
This is probably Andromeda’s biggest problem. Mass Effect is a franchise that is held in extremely high regard by both fans and critics, and the next game in the series was always going to have unrealistic expectations as a result of the success of its predecessors. On its own it’s a fine game, and it does a decent job of distancing itself from some of the tropes of the Mass Effect series to make it feel fresh; but it will always be compared to some of the greatest games ever made, and it just can’t live up to those standards. I believe that a game should be judged on its own merits, and you certainly don’t have to compare Andromeda to Mass Effect 1, 2 or 3 to see that it’s a flawed game. Even so, think it’s fair to expect a certain standard from a studio with the pedigree of BioWare, and unfortunately Andromeda doesn’t quite measure up.
A Few Little Things That Bug Me
I’ll wrap up this post with a few small grievances that stuck out to me while making my way through the game:
- Why do all asari except Peebee look exactly the same?
- Speaking of Peebee, if you choose to flirt with her you can end up having casual sex with her. When Ryder signs off after a steamy encounter, he/she uses the same stock phrase as usual to end the conversation. They just jumped each other’s bones, and all he/she can say is, “thanks, we’ll chat later”? Romantic, dude.
- Travelling in the Nomad is generally pretty fun, but there are way too many framerate drops. Usually I can look past stuff like this, but it takes you out of the experience when it happens every five minutes.
- I was a little disappointed that there are only two new alien species in the new galaxy, and one of them is a soulless enemy force which serves as little more than cannon fodder. The angara seem interesting, but I was hoping for more.
- This may be too much to hope for, but wouldn’t it have been cool to play as another alien race from the Milky Way besides human? Imagine tearing shit up as an unstoppable krogan warlord, or sleuthing your way through an enemy base as a salarian spy. As much as Andromeda tries to be different, it ends up the same in a lot of ways, and I think a fresh perspective could have made for a much more interesting experience.
I know I’ve spent the last 1000-or-so words explaining what’s wrong with this game, but I actually like Andromeda for the most part. It’s a Mass Effect game, after all. Look out for my counterpart to this piece with some of the stuff that Andromeda does well in the next few days, and in the meantime, tell me what you think of the game if you’ve played it. I know we’re well past the game’s release, but I’m always interested to hear what other people think of games I’ve played. ‘Til next time.