Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Developer: Bioware (Montreal branch)
Publisher: EA Games
At the start of the year, Mass Effect: Andromeda was highly anticipated and a lot of gamers were excited for. A couple of controversies (on a technical level, coupled with the hiring practices of the developer (a topic that will not be discussed here), knocked a little out of that wind. Now that it’s out there, its time to give it a spin.
For those not familiar with the original trilogy that inspired this title- the Mass Effect series, which consisted of a trilogy of games that told the story of John/Jane Shepard, humanity’s first Spectre (think Daniel Craig’s 007 in space), and eventual hero in the galaxy’s war against the Reapers, a terrifying, genocidal enemy. Mass Effect: Andromeda answers a what-if question: What if the series had gone in the vein of the first game (which had a more exploratory feel to it), rather than the eventual Battlestar Galactica + Star Wars mash up that it finished in.
ME:A is set in the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million years away from our own Milky Way (in our timeline, we haven’t found Prothean artifacts or encountered/declared war on Turians), and focuses on the story of humanity’s quest for a new home in a new galaxy, 600 years after the events of the original trilogy. You play as one of the Ryder twins, Scott and Sara, accompanying your dad Alec, a Pathfinder (which you will eventually become) to this final frontier of the human experience as part of the Andromeda Initiative, a privately funded, Elon Musk-esque inter-species effort to scout, settle and colonize this new galaxy.
For all its faults (more on that later), ME:A is visually stunning, especially the alien environments it is trying to depict. From our first planetfall (and what an epic, kick-ass planetfall it was) we are treated to a skyline cascade of floating rocks (someone must have taken took a look at Magic: The Gathering’s Battle for Zendikar art book, and said we should have that). The combat is a massive improvement over the original, and is actually fun. For starters, you get a true 3d space to move around in, a la the developer’s previous title, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Secondly, they’ve finally done away with the arbitrary, strait-jacket, military specialization system, in favour of a supermarket, pick-and-mix approach to character builds to suit each player’s play style. I’m going to be a biotic god that will sweep like a great wind, and there’s nothing the game can’t do to stop me.
It’s faults- and they are stark, and immediately noticeable. Nearly 75% and upward is on all on a technical level. Facial animations- the subject of internet gamer culture controversy (and plus an unfair, detestable Gamergater rant), as well as shitpostery and .gif memes- are way off for a title of this magnitude. One could spend a hour taking one of the absurdly ugly face presets, salvage it and make it presentable, and then have it ruined the moment your character moves a muscle. Following on that, the game suffers from some pretty poor optimization issues across the board- for comparison The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks far better and run at a constant 60 frame rate per second, at extremely high graphical settings. And this is compounded by some quality of life issues- for example, the game’s ‘combat profile’ system comes to mind, which lets you save to 4 different configurations, with 3 powers each, and switching from one to the other as the ebb and flow of battle dictates. You know what would be better in a life-or-death firefight? Having access to all of it at once- I get that its extremely lore friendly, technically fluid and easier for the console peasants out there. Oh, and dear Galaxy Map, taking 15-20 seconds to travel from planet to planet in any given system, adds up to a lot of waiting.
The Mass Effect series has always thrilled, excited and inspired sound and score aficionados, and Andromeda is no different. The most iconic soundtrack from the entire trilogy is not anything from all the game’s most dramatic moments, but the humble track when you are exploring on the Galaxy Map. This track, from its first iteration to slightly refined and more harmonic layers as technology improves, remains an inspiration to electronic musicians across the world.
Though it may have tried to go where no game has gone before, and did not find its destination in safe harbor, Mass Effect: Andromeda is still a great, epic adventure and worth your money if you can bear with its faults.