My Least Favorite Game On The Citadel
HIGH Jaal is a relatively solid character.
LOW Space sudoku.
WTF I thought our feelings were pretty clear about planet scanning, BioWare…?
The only truly positive thing that I can say about Mass Effect: Andromeda is that on a conceptual level, it represents a direction I’ve wanted to see this series take for nearly a decade. The original Mass Effect gave us the ability to explore uncharted planets. Sure, the landscapes were barren, the vehicle controls were terrible, and the missions recycled the same interior designs ad nauseam, but I’d have loved for that aspect to have been developed further, rather than being phased out the way it was.
Andromeda is a return to that original concept, this time with an all-new galaxy to explore as several arks full of humans and other Citadel races search for a new home. Since this expedition set off before the original trilogy concluded, the game earns bonus points for distancing itself from Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending. Whatever happened, these people slept through it and woke up 600 years later in a different corner of the universe. Andromeda, like the space pioneers at its heart, is seeking a fresh start.
…And also like those people, it’s dull, devoid of personality, and I’d prefer it launched light years away from me.
The most important criticism I can give Andromeda is that it is not a game about discovery; it is a game that discovers itself for me. I touch down on the planets that it tells me to touch down on. I chase the waypoints it tells me to chase. I create viable habitats by activating terraformers that someone else left. A brand new galaxy in the Mass Effect universe should host all manner of secrets and wonders, yet Andromeda has me traipsing around bog-standard ice and desert worlds performing the usual sandbox checklist busywork. Even the deeply personal process of unlocking my father’s memories somehow boils down to collecting floating orbs.
RPG elements are back, mainly in the form of crafting equipment. Doing so requires two different types of resources – research data and minerals – and obtaining them requires lots and lots of scanning. Yes, the most universally-maligned feature of the series is still firing on all cylinders. Mass Effect 2-style planet-scanning is here and as dull as ever, and even more so near release because players had to endure unskippable 15-second animations between every planet. This was recently patched, but not before I died a little inside.
Meanwhile, to actually build the blueprints necessary for new gear, players must also collect data using an on-foot scanning tool, and yes, this does slow the character to a walk. What’s most puzzling is that one of the research categories is Milky Way technology, i.e. our own stuff. Didn’t we just use it to travel 600 years through space to a new galaxy? Do we not have a clear understanding of it? Why do I need to study it further in order to build a decent gun?
The answer is because BioWare has confused depth and richness with complexity, size and minutiae. It’s full of extraneous systems and needless prolongation. Whenever I want to access a long-abandoned ruin left behind by mysterious Remnants, I have to – and I swear this isn’t a joke – solve a sudoku puzzle. Why? Why is that here? Who buys a Mass Effect game hoping to play some sudoku? The previous games also struggled for an identity in this way, being cluttered one minute and oversimplified the next. But, what was consistent throughout the entire trilogy — and what made Mass Effect a pop culture staple — was that it told one of gaming’s greatest stories. That accomplishment has definitely not been replicated in Andromeda.
Every BioWare game seems to open with one companion who’s just some nondescript dude — a placeholder to be left at the hub once more exciting characters arrive. (See: Carth, Kaiden, Solas, etc.) Andromeda’s cast is like an Avengers-style team-up of every blandly stoic starter in the developer’s library, and the result is an entire ship of Carths. None of these people are interesting, and even now I struggle to remember some of their names. Rich, diverse casts of characters have made even BioWare’s worst games tolerable, and the lack of camaraderie is one of Andromeda’s most crucial missteps. Aside from Jaal, who actually has a personal stake in the story, these people are just additional guns, and they miss most of the time, anyway.
Still, I’d take ‘forgettable’ over Andromeda’s overly-ironic, millennial nightmare of a main character. Sara Ryder, the leader of the expedition and the sort of person who says “sigh” instead of actually sighing, represents the least agency BioWare has ever given players in shaping a protagonist’s personality. We’re forced to endure her unending, witless snark, and even if players stick to the serious dialog options (the choices this time are casual or businesslike) Ryder’s voice actress has the insufferable habit of over-enunciating words as if every sentence out of her mouth is meant to be taken sarcastically.
Combined with the creepy grin that’s constantly plastered across her face even when discussing the death of a loved one – seriously, Andromeda’s facial animations live up to their notoriety – Ryder jumps on every opportunity to kill the drama that could have been wrung from this plot, not that there was ever much. Once Andromeda is done devoting hours to badly explaining its mechanics and systems, the actual story is weirdly predictable. It concerns a race of evil aliens called the “Kett” who are kidnapping people to… well, I won’t spoil it, but anyone who’s played the original trilogy can expect some major déjà vu.
And remember how people were complaining that choices made throughout the trilogy had too little impact on Mass Effect 3’s ending? Well, I’d love to see their reactions after they spend dozens of hours boosting planet viability ratings to 100% only to be informed that there’s a magical McGuffin that can instantly solve all of the Andromeda Initiative’s problems.
I suppose Andromeda’s combat is functional, but like everything else about the game, it has no surprises in store. There’s a higher focus on mobility to complement the larger environments, but the abilities are the same as they ever were, and there’s no way cover-based shooting alone can carry an otherwise lackluster videogame in 2017. Some of the enemy designs are pretty aggravating – get a load of these shielded guys with an insta-kill attack – and the final battle is especially egregious, pitting players against dozens and dozens of trash mobs that literally spawn out of thin air while a sidelined villain says things like “I WILL END THIS IN FIRE AND BLOOD!”
On top of all of that, Andromeda is a technical disaster. Enemies and NPCs phase in and out when their pathfinding fails them, lines of dialog often overlap one another or are inexplicably cut off, and it would take a second, separate article to recount all of the problems I had running the PC version. It’s a mess of a game on virtually every level, as the wealth of YouTube gag reels illustrates.
BioWare has often shown more willingness than most triple-A developers to respond to community criticisms and they’re already pushing patches to rectify Andromeda’s many issues, so I’m not pronouncing the Mass Effect series dead just yet. But speaking as someone who owns multiple pieces of N7 apparel and has read the Mass Effect books – the freaking books – I hate Andromeda. Maybe this is karmic balance for all of the recent big-name releases that have actually lived up to my expectations, but it’s been a long time since a game left me feeling as deflated as this one.
Disclosures: This game is developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts. It is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. Two hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains blood, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content and violence. For the most part, it’s nothing extreme – a lot of moderate sci-fi violence and the occasional F-bomb. It’s the optional sex scenes, the most graphic BioWare has yet produced, which will probably be the deciding factor in whether or not parents will be comfortable letting their children play this.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, and sound cues don’t play a vital role in the game’s functionality. A lot of plot-related dialog plays in-game, however, so it may be difficult to keep up with the subtitles while players are stuck in firefights.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls (on PC, at least).
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.