Oh boy. This is a divisive game to be sure. As a diehard Bioware and Mass Effect fan, I was excited when this game was announced. My excitement was then magnified when I found out that this game was going to be similar to Dragon Age Inquisition, which behind Mass Effect 2 is my most played Bioware game to date (at 192 total played hours). Open world exploration? A story focused around a ragtag band of misfits trying to find a home for their colonies, exploring the unknown and dealing with weird alien threats on weird unique planets in a huge new system? HELL YEA!
Suffice to say, I was hyped. I kept it mostly reigned in however, knowing the game could be a total failure. After 2 aborted attempts to complete this game over the course of 45 hours, I have to say that, for me at least, this is a failure of a game overall. In fact, this game aggravated me enough that I decided to do a written review for it rather then take the time to record and edit a video. It honestly doesn’t deserve the time it would take me to create a video review.
But why is that? What on earth about this game got me to this point? Let’s break it down into my four categories and discuss it in detail.
And of course, we will start with the visual presentation!
Visually the game is honestly pretty solid. Texture work in almost every area is great and the environments are well done. Each planet feels distinct, as does the Nexus and Tempest ships. Also the armor designs are amazing and some of my favorite sci fi armor in games recently. They all look pretty solid, although are a bit form fitting and can seem a little odd. But hey, its Sci Fi. Also the spell / attack effects and animations are nice and flashy giving a weight to your attacks. I love hitting a Fire Combo and seeing huge gouts of flame, or casting Singularity at my enemies and watching them flop around.
However, things break down in the variety department. For example, almost every planet has singular environmental theme played out. Almost every planet is some form of wasteland save Havral, and each one pretty much sticks to type. You have two desert like planets (one sandy, one rocky/scrubland), one ruined moon, one jungle, and one ice planet. Further, almost all architecture is similar to each other. If you have seen one Remnant Base or Kett Facility you honestly have seen them all. Same with the Initiative’s building style. Additionally, the character models are somewhat lacking. There are in fact only three distinct Asari faces in the game for example: Peebee, a corpse on Voeld, and EVERY OTHER ASARI. That’s a bit insane when you think about it. Also NPC’s of the Angara and Kett all basically look alike with some coloration differences. There are about 4 Kett Enemy Types, Remnant gets about 4 types, and it gets noticeable very very quickly. Variety is the spice of life as they say and this game fails to have enough of it.
One of the best parts for me of the Mass Effect / Dragon Age games has been the music. I can still remember iconic songs such as the Dawn will Come and Normandy Reborn from these games. Sadly, the soundtrack of Mass Effect Andromeda falls entirely flat for me. The theme music on start up might as well not exist its so low key (I had to sit on the menu screen for a while to even notice it) and most of the music is either clearly trying to copy past songs or is just forgettable.
Thankfully the voice acting is pretty solid work. Favorites of mine are Vetra, Drack, and Jaal. I adore Jaal’s accent point of fact. The Ryder twins do an excellent job as well capturing the various tones they use when choosing dialog options and frequently sounding like an unsure person thrust into a position of power. Sound effects for attacks and weapons are pretty standard, nothing out of the ordinary and nothing exceptional. Overall the audio design is just average for me.
This is the single biggest issue I have with the game. Its story. First and foremost this is the story of large groups of Humans, Turians, Quarians, Salarians, Asari, and Krogen leaving the Milky Way and going to Andromeda. You as one of the two Ryder twins, after some events on the very first planet you visit, become the Human Pathfinder, the person responsible for finding the human settlers a new home by exploring uncharted worlds in this brand new galaxy!
Sadly, every single planet you visit in this game has either already been colonized by the Initiative, already has native sentient species living on it (the Angara or Kett), or was colonized by Exiles from the Initiative. You actually go boldly where EVERYONE has gone before. You discover nothing unique and the only interesting things you find are the Remnant Vaults, which because of certain events I will not spoil, you are able to interface with and access. You are essentially the Chosen One but have nothing really to do other then go places and solve everyone else’s problems. Hell the first planet you get sent to, Eos, was only a failed colony because the Kett attacked it! If they had not attacked the colony it most likely would have still been inhabited, although struggling due to the toxic environments of Eos. I mean there is still a human living there when you arrive, willing to sell gear and items to you for some…reason…
The characters are another huge issue. Nevermind that much of the dialog is really poorly written with such memorable lines as “My face is tired.” which by the way is actually referencing the fact that her face is tired from pretending to smile all the time. They clearly forgot to add that bit so people would have context. Further the character themselves are either direct copies of previous characters (Drack is Wrex, Vetra is Garrus, Peebee is Sera, ect) or they are poor one note characters (Liam the Optimist, Cora the Asari Fan Girl who doesn’t Belong, ect). Also the pacing is way way off. Nothing major happens for a good 5-6 hours depending on progress, and then progress in the story proceeds at a snail’s pace. Most of the individual planet storylines are dull and boring, involving you basically finding a Remnant Vault and activating it to magically fix every issue on the planet.
Overall the story just falls flat in every regard, and we don’t even have interesting characters to spend time with. It’s hard to love a character when all the developers of this game did is carbon copy them from another game, without any idea WHY we loved those characters in the first place.
For many, Gameplay can make or break whether a game is fun to play and sadly Mass Effect Andromeda fails hard here. This is again a situation of copying previous games without understanding what made them fun. First, combat is your basic 3rd person action shooter with powers. The Cover System is actually REALLY good, with you automatically entering and leaving cover just by getting near things that will grant it. For example, your Nomad will always be a cover option. It can be a little clunky having to switch which side you will peek out of, but for the most part the Cover system is a fantastic addition.
Also I do admit I like the idea of classless character building. The idea of picking and choosing the powers that best suit my character as I level with distinct upgrade paths for each one is quite fun. The profile system which is copied from Kingdoms of Amalur is also a welcome addition, granting you bonuses depending on which powers you purchase in which trees. Powers are divided between Combat, Tech, and Biotic trees with multiple active and passive powers. Some powers require point investment in a specific tree to unlock, or a specific background to have active from the start. For example, if you are a Biotic Background, you can buy Singularity from the start, otherwise you must spend points in the Biotic tree to access it. Additionally, active powers are broken up into Primers and Detonators. Primers usually put an effect on an enemy, and if you use a Detonator on a primed target you trigger a combo, dealing bonus damage and other effects.
Sadly, you can only ever have 3 active powers equipped at a time. Unlike previous games which usually let you have 8-10 active powers going, this game limits you. There is the ability to switch between 4 “Favorite Profiles” which are groups of active and passive powers you can setup beforehand, but switching is clunky (you have to go to the gun / item wheel, then go into the Profiles Wheel, and select one) and once you switch all powers are put on cooldown instantly. I have no idea why the developers felt the need to limit the system in this way.
While in combat, you also have almost no control over your two squad mates. Again, in previous Mass Effect and Dragon Age games I could give exact commands to my party members. Go here, use this power on this target, defend this point, ect. In Mass Effect Andromeda my control consists of move here, attack that target, defend this point. That’s it. I cannot control what attacks my party members use or when they activate their defensive or offensive buffs. I have to rely on the AI to do that, and I hate that. Also the AI is none too bright. I have had Vetra die numerous times for no discernable reason because she decided to go diving into an enemy squad. Squad Mates are also limited on powers, which is not a terrible thing. Each Squad Member has 2 active powers unlocked from the start, one you gain after doing their Loyalty Mission, and two passive powers. Generally you can bank on one primer, one detonator, and a buff of some sort.
Exploration is pretty basic. You run around on large maps that are honestly rather devoid of anything interesting to see, either on foot or driving your Nomad. The Nomad is a solid addition by the way, what the Mako should have been. Easy to drive, fun to drive, and with some fun customization options. Loved painting my Nomad to suit my mood. As you explore you will use your scanner to collect research points and locate clues and interesting lore bits. You can also of course find quests, collect loot from treasure chests, and for the first time in a Mass Effect game you can jump and use a Jetpack! It’s fun for a while but can again be clunky, sometimes trying to get up ledges and make sure you don’t fall right back off.
The scanner is a sticking point for me as well. You use it to get research points. You use those Research points to unlock new crafting recipes, because as we all know every RPG needs a crafting system! Again, it’s a nice idea but its poorly implemented, with hard to navigate menus (really the entire UI is a mess and a chore to navigate with so many nested menus it hurts) and unexplained mechanics. For example I crafted a pistol that fired grenades. The only reason I figured out the pistol did this was reading the guns description and flavor text off to the side. Nothing in the stats explained this thing would fire actual grenades. Crafting just feels tacked on, like it had to be there. Although I admit the grenade pistol was badass. I called it the Saevrick.
Talking about tacked on features like discuss the Strike missions. Much like the War Table in Dragon Age Inquisition, these are timer based missions you can send squads of NPCs off to do, in the hopes of getting randomized loot. Sadly, unlike Dragon Age Inquisition, where each War Table mission had story bits with it and felt like it had a place in the world, these are pretty basic. You send a group off to end some random threat you know nothing about, and hope they succeed. You can of course do some of the missions yourself in the Multiplayer system with other players if you choose, and it’s basically the Mass Effect 3 Horde mode copied over. I didn’t bother with the MP because that’s not why I play these games, but I do realize that it was a popular and much loved feature and the few missions I did play were fun enough.
At the end of the day, what I have found with Mass Effect Andromeda is a mechanically competent game that is missing its heart and soul. The creators of this game (which are not the same people as those behind the original Dragon Age or Mass Effect games) clearly were trying to understand what made the previous games a success and copy that, but failed to understand the reasons why those games were good. They knew that Wrex and Garrus were popular characters, or that music played a large role in setting the mood, or that Open World Gameplay can be interesting, but failed to realize why each of those things worked in the games they came from. And the choices made with the actual gameplay such as limiting squad member control and active powers were just dumb. Its rushed production schedule certainly did not help either, with the game feeling unfinished and multiple people pointing out that the ending didn’t even real feel like an ending.
Personally, I cannot in any way recommend this game at ANY price, even as a stand alone Sci Fi RPG. Nevermind a Bioware game. Sadly sales of the game were poor enough that we have basically seen the end of the Mass Effect series for now, and I am alright with this. Let it sit, let people move on, and hopefully it can come back down the road stronger than ever.
But not as Anthem. Dear god that’s going to be a terrible Destiny Clone with EA Loot Boxes I can see it now.
At least we have Dragon Age to look forward to. Lets hope they don’t fuck that up.