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Game Review: Mass Effect – Andromeda (PS4 Pro)

Game Review: Mass Effect – Andromeda (PS4 Pro)
Game Name: Mass Effect: Andromeda
Platforms: PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, Windows 10
Publisher(s): EA
Developer(s): Bioware (Montreal)
Genre(s): Sci Fi, Action, Adventure, RPG
Release Date: March 21st, 2017
ESRB Rating: M - Mature: Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Violence

Right from the start, Mass Effect: Andromeda felt lazy. The shift to a whole new galaxy with the dream of exploring strange new worlds and interacting with elements never before seen in a Mass Effect game held such promise. This dream, however, never comes to fruition as Andromeda never attempts to carve new ground or offer us new gameplay experiences and plays it far too safe for its own good. While the game can certainly entertain, and the final few hours are nothing short of breathtaking, the journey there is filled with a mostly “been there done that” approach, not to mention the technical shortcomings that are apparent everywhere, no matter your platform.

Mass Effect: Andromeda sees you play as one sibling of the Ryder family, choosing either a male or female lead. This choice will mostly dictate your relationships in the game as I never felt that my choice as playing as a female Ryder had any weight to the core story or my interactions with characters throughout the journey. The character creation system is fairly bare bones and just attempting to craft anyone even remotely attractive was a chore that took me almost an hour from start to finish, mostly due to the fact you create both male and female siblings. Once I was fine with the customizing of the Ryder family I set forth to do my part in the Andromeda galaxy.

Andromeda begins on the Ark Hyperion, a ship containing thousands of individuals in cryostasis as they made their 600-year journey to the Andromeda galaxy, specifically the Helios cluster. Your Ryder character is brought out of cryostasis as you approach a golden world, a planet that is suitable for supporting a new way of life for those aboard the ship. Certain events occur early on when you find one of these supposed golden worlds and you suddenly become the Pathfinder, an individual charged with tracking down new locations that can play host to settling down new colonies. You are also gifted an AI called SAM that is crucial to the work the Pathfinder needs to do, and a relationship that offers new discoveries that will lead to the very survival of the Andromeda Initiative itself.

Eventually, you’ll gain control of your own ship and can traverse the Helios cluster to explore these strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations, but you’ll soon discover that this large open map is mostly a sham, giving you only a few select planet’s that you can actually explore and the vast majority is there just to scan for resources. When I found my first derelict ship I was heartbroken that I could only scan the vessel for resources instead of boarding the ship and seeing what dangers would await me. Sure, you’ll come across a few ships that you can actually board but those are mission specific and not part of any free-formed exploration. This large sprawling space map is made even worse by the excessive loading times of panning out from one planet to the next, and while a recent patch has made this a bit more bearable, the 60 hours I spent pre-patch would slow the game to a crawl when I would bounce from planet to planet to scan for resources. There are even a few side quests that involve tracking various things through space and they are the most tedious activities I’ve ever seen in a Mass Effect game.

As you explore the Helios cluster you’ll encounter the Nexus, a central hub that is designed as the port for other Ark’s containing various species like the Asari, Salarian, and more. It is here that you’ll discover that not everything about the Andromeda Initiative is going as planned and frankly, they are shocked when your Ark actually shows up. You’ll visit this location so often that it tends to lose its charm after a while and you begin to notice how lifeless this game can be. You’ll rarely see NPC’s walking about or doing anything constructive. Sure, you’ll see dozens of people standing around, but that’s it, they are just standing around. There is much talk in the game about how the people that are unthawed from cryostasis are specialists and are important to the Andromeda Initiative, but you’ll see the same guy sitting on the same couch for the entire game.

Once you are given the task to find new golden worlds to colonize, you’ll start to be able to set down outposts on planet’s that can support life. The first planet to allow you to do this is Eos, a planet covered in various levels of radiation. Eventually, you’ll discover the Nomad, a six-wheeled vehicle that can shield you from most of that radiation, but not all of it. The Nomad is a blast to drive around and a huge upgrade from the Mako from previous Mass Effect games. As you explore Eos you’ll discover the Remnant, a race of sentient robots that look to protect locations called vaults. These vaults are crucial in making planets viable for life and are unlocked by solving sudoku style puzzles that can become fairly tedious to solve after a while. The vaults are large sprawling locations that are very enjoyable dungeon-like experiences with a few puzzle mechanics thrown in here and there. When a vault has been completed you will start to see the planet’s environmental hazards lessen and this is true on every planet you’ll visit that contains a vault. This will then open up more of the planet to explore after a while and give you more to do. I did find it odd that you only ever set up one outpost per planet despite the sheer size of said planet. I would have loved the ability to scan the planet from space and set down outposts on sections of the surface that showed high concentrations of certain resources, even if I couldn’t visit them. I feel this would have made the Andromeda Initiative feel more productive than what the game currently offers.

It was going to be impossible for a new protagonist to rightfully follow in the footsteps of Commander Shepard, and they more or less did an ok job here with Ryder. With the removal of the paragon and renegade system to dictate the path of your Ryder, the changes here are small differences in dialogue, but this system tends to fall flat. Ryder just isn’t consistently interesting and the dialogue doesn’t always convey what is actually said when picking certain options. There is even a dialogue choice with Suvi later on where both responses mean the exact same thing. This fumble with the dialogue system makes Ryder feel less like your own creation and more like a scripted strict-canon character. There are some strong moments with Ryder that make me hopeful the character gets better treatment the next time around.

The original Mass Effect games contained some of the most memorable and compelling characters of any video game franchise. Characters like Garrus, Tali, Liara, Mordin, and Thane, were just amazing and I could easily spout out half a dozen more. Even side characters that you couldn’t equip to your squads were impressive and felt like real people, fleshed out with well-written dialogue and believable interactions. Andromeda just doesn’t compare with even some of the series more bland characters and easily has the worst cast of the entire franchise. There are Cora and Liam who are by the book generic human characters who rarely have anything worth saying and never made me care about them at all. The Turian, Vetra Nyx, started off really impressive but started to fade and become less interesting the further the game went on. Nakmor Drack is the typical grizzled old Krogan and echo’s much of what we’ve seen before with a Krogan companion. I will say that Nakmor paired with certain people on a mission can result in some fun and often hilarious conversations, especially about a certain someone’s parentage.

The last two members of the team are Jaal and Peebee and are the only two characters that really stood out for me. Jaal is an Angara, one of the new races of aliens you will encounter in your travels. While he can feel written like this game’s version of Javik from Mass Effect 3, he becomes our window into the Angara race and one of the more interesting parts of the game. Peebee, however, stole the show for me and joins the ranks of characters like Jack, Mordin, and Thane. I flat out loved Peebee and she was never removed from my party since I first gained access to her. I’ve loved the oddball female companions in the past few Bioware games like Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition as characters like Merrill and Sera brought a somewhat fresh personality to an often bland genre. Peebee was fun, often hilarious and I would literally hang on her every word. She’s interested in alien tech and this can lead to many great discoveries like a little alien robot that can be added to your attack skills and can act as a fourth member of your three man team.

You also have a few other companions on the ship that serve as the remainder of your crew. There’s Kallo, Suvi, Gil, and Dr. Lexi T’Perro. These few characters can have a lot to say and can be fairly entertaining from time to time. There are Gil and Kallo’s arguments over the repairs to the ship, or Lexi’s constant reminder for you to watch your health, not to mention she’s voiced by Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer, who is just amazing here. I would have romanced Suvi as her accent is just to die for, but the final romance scene with her is just beyond disappointing. While many characters are able to be romanced in the game, complete with some very revealing scenes, there are so few characters that get the attention they deserve and it becomes very apparent that Bioware had clear favorites and spent far more time on a few characters than spreading the love around.

The main threat this time around is the Kett, a race with an origin deeply tied to the core narrative of the game. While the Kett can be an imposing threat and attack in large numbers, the basic design of them is lacking and not as well conceived as prior series villains. The Archon, for example, has a face that is almost hilarious to look at and I couldn’t help but smirk when we are first introduced to the character. Thankfully, it’s only the basic unit Kett and the Archon that suffer from a mediocre design as the remaining Kett all look rather impressive and look and feel threatening. I thought the way that the Kett were used here with regards to the story to be a refreshing change from the previous trilogy and with how the game wraps up, I’m eager to see what is in store for them in the future.

I also found it rather odd that when you meet the Angara for the first time that it is this huge deal and a rather important moment in the history of their race, but it never delves much into the fact that they are meeting not only humans but Asari, Krogan, Salarian and more, all at once. The game just sorts of skims over it like we are not supposed to focus on that and just move on with the story being told.

Despite several bland characters and some recycled game mechanics from previous entries, the combat here is absolutely fantastic and the best the series has seen so far. Each encounter is thrilling and fast paced and with the added use of a jet pack, it offers some interesting ways to combat the likes of the Remnant, Kett and the odd group of Scavengers. The combat isn’t completely revolutionary as it does feel like a more finely tuned version of what we had in Mass Effect 2 and 3. You have various Biotic skills and abilities to hotkey for instant use in a crucial moment of survival, or simply to just pick up an enemy with pull and then slingshot them over the edge of a mountain with your push ability. You can swap shoulders quick enough and can equip various guns that you’ll either find, buy or craft with blueprints and resource items you track down, each with varying levels of rarity. The jet pack allows you to dodge left or right rather quickly, or take to the skies in a temporary moment of vulnerability. You can also equip various melee weapons like Asari swords or the large, but slow, Krogan hammers. I never tired of the combat and the Remnant and Kett always had a trick or two up their sleeve to make battles intense and action packed. The game also uses a dynamic cover system that works without a button press and it can be a bit hit and miss in its execution.

You are equipped with a scanner that you’ll frequently use to scan various pieces of tech, vegetation, and organic life. These scans, as well as a few other methods, are the way you’ll unlock points to buy blueprints for new armor and new weapons, as well as augments needed to make them more powerful. There are various categories of goods to craft that each visually look impressive and have stats that can work towards your playstyle. Once I had enough points in my Remnant research I crafted a whole Remnant set that looked incredible and the guns were as equally impressive, not to mention you get to rename your creations. You can also change the color of the armor anytime you want in Ryder’s quarters aboard your ship, something I didn’t know until a few dozen hours into the game. The materials needed for crafting are easy to come by as long as you are paying attention while you explore. It’s not a drastically deep system but it functions well enough to be useful. You’ll also unlock perks that give you more inventory space and the ability to earn research points faster and more efficiently. I did find that inventory space was way too small as a maximum 60 items was just downright pitiful, but thankfully the game’s latest patch improves that to 200 items and makes collecting a set of each armor more realistic.

I’ll point out as well that despite the cool looking armor and guns that you can equip to Ryder, none of it can be equipped to your teammates, making them box-art perfect for the entire experience. You don’t even get a new flashy look if you complete their Loyalty quests. During combat, you can give them targets, but you cannot instruct them to use their powers in ways that you deem fit. I found the AI to be lacking and they’d stick fairly close to you unless you pressed the left or right of the d-pad and gave them targets to focus on. Thankfully, you can upgrade their own skills should you want a certain character to have access to certain skills or particular stat increases.

Accepting side quests and completing missions is as it has always been in a Mass Effect game. You’ll talk with your crew between missions to unlock their loyalty quests, various NPC’s standing around on planet hub’s that need something done, and important markers on the map that show which quest is active. The main core missions are well designed and very entertaining, but the side quests are what vary in quality and can drag down the experience here. There’s a side quest early on where you track down the truth behind a murder that while fun in execution, has a complete blunder of a resolution and that seems to happen for a lot of the side quests here. Each time a quest would see me travel from planet to planet or scan the various planet’s in the cluster would see me roll my eyes and let out a few choice curse words. There are, however; several side quests that take place entirely on the planet that are extremely well designed and thoroughly fun that I wish there had been more like them and less of the fetch quests that artificially make the game longer.

Multiplayer is back here and feels very much akin to what was offered the last go-around. You join a team of a few players and battle wave after wave until the dropship comes in and picks you up. You’ll level up various classes that have a specific set of equipment and skills and use those characters to earn points to unlock reward chests in the hopes of unlocking new gear, items and cross your fingers, more characters. I’ve played a few rounds as I already knew what to expect and it can be a solid good time with a group of friends, but I do feel it lacks staying power in its current form.

There has been much talk about the visuals in Andromeda and I’ll get the good out of the way first as the game is a pretty mixed bag. Environments look solid and planets like the ice covered Voeld or the jungle filled Havarl are gorgeous to look at and explore. Each location is packed full of detail and even large open areas like the deserts of Elaaden are interesting to explore, even if some structures on the map feel generically placed here and there. The creatures and non-humanoid aliens are remarkable and species like the Krogan and Salarian look really impressive. I found that differences between the PS4 Pro and Xbox One versions were that the Pro delivered better visuals for the environment and small subtle things for characters and their clothes, but nothing really drastic that makes one clearly better over the other, but for graphical purists, stick with the Pro version for now.

The game, however; fails to impress when you are dealing with any humanoid characters like the Asari and well, humans themselves. Before the current patch, eyes looked awful and characters had awkward stares and looks of disinterest or shock. Facial animations are also lackluster and in some cases, painful to watch. I’ve had small moments that were meant to be touching and heartfelt ruined because the characters arms were flailing around or they had no eyelids because of some sort of glitch. I’ve had characters drop from the sky when I would exit the Nomad to my companions walking through walls or falling into the floor. There were several times that I would see textures failing to load (see picture) or kept loading during an entire conversation. There were several times that I would shoot a single enemy and multiple more enemies would just suddenly appear to phase out of him, it’s bizarre to see. I’ve seen videos on Youtube of characters curling into a pretzel or crab walking up stairs, essentially what I am saying is this is not a polished game in any regard and feels like a step back from even Mass Effect 3.

Voice acting is pretty decent but somewhat hit and miss in several areas. I only found a few characters to really stand out and come off as providing a strong effort. I was also disappointed in Ryder, as while my experience with the game was as a female Ryder, I felt she lacked an authoritative voice like that of female Shepard in the previous trilogy. The gender of the Ryder you don’t pick is somewhat present in the game and you get a good amount of dialogue from them as well, giving me an idea of what a male Ryder would have sounded like, and man does he ever sound like Nolan North, which he isn’t by the way. Characters like Peebee, Lexi, Suvi, and Sloane Kelly were easily my favorite and it was really interesting to hear so many female Krogan as well. Bioware usually is heads and shoulders above the industry when it comes to voice acting, but Andromeda felt like a step back with what we usually expect from the studio.

Despite my issues with the game, and my god there are issues, I still enjoyed the core gameplay elements of Mass Effect: Andromeda. The story is ok at times and it wasn’t until you-know-what hits the fan that the game really got interesting and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The first half of the game has some awful dialogue and piss-poor writing but that tends to go somewhat away after a few hours until the fan fiction level of quality rears its ugly head again from time to time. Andromeda definitely has the weakest cast of the series with only a small handful of them really being a solid effort put forth by Bioware and that translates into the effort I feel was put towards much of the other elements in the game. Andromeda is beyond glitchy and made me question if this game had even been play-tested at all. While the studio is hard at work correcting and fixing most-if-not-all of these glitches, that first impression is a sour taste for sure. Exploration can be enjoyable but I can’t help shake the feeling of it being semi-scripted in many ways. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a fun, but vastly flawed game that provides the bare minimum effort needed for it to feel like a new entry in the Mass Effect series while not offering us much of anything new. I enjoyed my time exploring vaults with Peebee as she’d talk about her family and the fact that her dad is a.. well, I guess you’ll just have to find out yourself.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was reviewed with a retail copy of the PS4 Deluxe Edition and played on a Playstation 4 Pro and all screenshots were taken via the share function via twitter. Xbox One comparisons were based on observations of the game being played.

as for that Pretzel animation? Enjoy.. or cringe.. either way..

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