Mass Effect Andromeda: Twelve Hours in
Note: this was written by Jeff (@bananafactory87); I’m posting it for him.
So I’m 12 hours into Mass Effect Andromeda, and starting to get a bit of a clear picture in regards to what I think about the game. I’m not quite sure how to organize my thoughts so I think I’ll start with some simple pros and cons. Keep in mind when it comes to visuals/performance discussion I’m playing on a decent gaming PC (i5/GTX 980) at 1080/60, and can’t speak for the quality of console ports.
-Overall visuals are generally stunning. Good texture and materials work, lighting, and effects. Worlds are gorgeous, the Tempest is beautiful.
-Combat is fast, punchy, and fun. A wide variety of powers and the freedom to invest in and use the ones you want without feeling punished means experimentation and adaptability is rewarded.
-Crew members are diverse in both appearance and personality, and most of them provide interesting backstory and context for both themselves, as well as the world and people around them, especially Ryder. Their reactions and conversations to the events and choices you participate in help frame the story and explore it deeper.
-The focus at this point seems to be very heavily on establishing worlds and pioneering exploration of Andromeda. While there is a prominent villain, thus far these bad guys are merely an obstacle in the path of your efforts to gain a foothold on new worlds, rather than the primary adversary.
-I’m playing as Sara Ryder, the female sibling, and she’s an excellent character full of personality and warmth. I already feel more connected to her as a person than I did with MaleShepard over the course of 3 games. Her dialogue and banter is very good, for the most part it feels natural and convincing. She’s playful, smart, and has a real spark to her that makes everything feel exciting. As such, I can’t speak for the Scott Ryder experience, but I hope it’s on the same level.
-The game is a bit too ‘complicated’ for its own good, I think. The amount of systems it throws at you – research, development, combat upgrades, resources, merchants, etc, come too fast and without sufficient explanation or even justification. I’m convinced some things could have been streamlined or removed entirely and the game would be no worse for it. Perhaps once I get more familiar with all of these different menus to tinker with I’ll feel differently, but first impressions are that it’s overwhelming and at times tedious.
-The much discussed animations and faces are indeed a problem. However, they are rarely detrimental to the game or how it services its story, with the exception of maybe a couple of characters. Oddly, the alien faces are unique and beautiful, but the human ones suffer most. Inconsistency is often highlighted by unflattering lighting which seems to paint skin shaders in a very bad image. The only character I’ll say is truly inexcusable is Suvi. The combination of her face, hair, eyes, and expression make it nearly impossible to seriously identify with her as a living breathing character.
So those are the main items that stick out to me, good and bad. I’d also like to give a more general and broad summary of my time with the game, so I’ll try and do that now.
Mass Effect Andromeda feels like Mass Effect. It controls like Mass Effect. It looks like Mass Effect. The problem is that it feels left behind while the rest of the world moved on. If you’re ok jumping into the past like you would when replaying an old favourite, I think this will bother you less. If you were hoping that your favourite franchise took a light year leap to join the best of today’s open world RPGs, you’ll be sorely disappointed. However, if you can look past the warts, you may also find an enjoyable experience to be had underneath.
The writing doesn’t seem to have as many or as deep things to say as the original trilogy did, but it still has the trademark Bioware wit and charm that shines through frequently enough to keep you smiling, laughing, and curious. The problem is that it’s inconsistent and while some parts can feel like a bit of a slog through cliched sci fi tropes, there are also touching and memorable conversations with your team that make it all worth it.
The same goes for the exploration, awe inspiring and beautiful unknown worlds populated with a mix of 2008 quest design and genuine surprise and discovery. Andromeda is about putting one foot forward not knowing what will come next. It’s about doing this with a group of friends and teammates that you’ll teach and learn from and hopefully, in the end, cherish enough that it all feels worth it.