We have finally arrived in the Andromeda galaxy.
Thanks to Origin Access, we got access to Mass Effect: Andromeda for a 10 hours trial. Only the first 3 worlds (well, two and the Nexus space station) are available and only the first portion of said second world. The initial prognosis for Andromeda is not good however; it seems like Bioware left their quality control team behind in the Milky Way. Andromeda really wants to be the next great title in the Mass Effect series, but the trial version suffers from teething issues and doesn’t make a very good first impression.
With ten hours of Andromeda gameplay done, it’s appropriate to have ten thoughts on the problems and successes of these latest iteration of the Mass Effect series. Some mild spoilers for the first hour of Mass Effect: Andromeda follow.
The game takes a while to get going.
The intro (as in the tutorial stage before you get any freedom to move around and shoot things) is about twenty minutes long. This includes the various cinematics and walking around the human Ark: the Hyperion. The training wheels take far too long to come off and you’re itching to actually play this game for far too long.
The first world, however, is very good, not even comparing it to the other Mass Effect titles. It’s open and expansive for the first half before condensing down into a huge fight into a Kett facility with your Dad. After the first world (Habitat 7), you end up on the Nexus. This is fine and all, but (again) the plot spends a lot of time durdling around and talking to the various important people aboard the Nexus and the various political dramas affecting their lives. There’s a fine line between creating relevant background for the game and wasting too much time on it. In this case, it was the latter. The ball gets rolling on Eos, the second planet you get to visit. From there, things seem to just get more open and RPG-like.
The first impression of a game matters a lot, and it matters even more that a game gets into the fun parts as quickly as possible. Unlike with books or movies, games don’t really have that luxury of being able to sit back and introduce the cast and the plot at the right place. Games are a different form of entertainment to movies; they’re interactive. When the player isn’t interacting or doing anything meaningful, they’re not likely to like or even keep playing the game. This is probably the biggest problem with Andromeda, all things considered. First impressions matter, and this one sucks.
Though it takes a bit to get going, the story is very interesting.
Andromeda‘s plotline is actually very good. Considering the Reaper threat isn’t even mentioned at all in the intro cinematics (Or at any point thus far, at least not in dialogue or cutscenes), Andromeda really goes out on a limb to create its own universe and storyline to set it apart from the rest of the series. A brief summary of the plot is that some unknown phenomenon called the Scourge (which is the energy cloud the Hyperion runs into in the first few minutes of the game) has made the golden worlds of the initiative uninhabitable. Throw in some desperate survivors aboard the Nexus and an all-powerful (but no longer present) alien race in the Remnant, and it’s a very interesting storyline the creators have brewed up.
I can’t really go into anymore detail about the story without spoiling it, but the plot to Andromeda feels really strong and intriguing. There are some bad writing moments, but the writers of Andromeda have really created a universe of their own.
It actually feels like you have an entire world to explore.
For the first time since the original Mass Effect game, I actually feel like I have an entire planet to explore when I land on a planet. Once out of the initial training areas, the entire world opens up to the player. Both Habitat 7 and Eos are actual open world environments to explore. In contrast, Mass Effect 2 and 3 never really had a world to explore. You had very small hubs to check out and then some larger maps to explore from those, but never an entire world to wander around and discover at your own pace.
It’s really well done as well. There’s random encounters with enemies along the way, some ‘points of interest’ to check out (like a crashed escape pod from one of the lost Arks) and some ‘Memory Blocks’ to collect to let SAM unlock more of Alec Ryder’s memories. The NOMAD is leaps and bounds ahead of the Mako in Mass Effect 1 as well. It’s almost impossible to crash or get stuck and zooms across the map. Not everything in this game can be said to be great, but this is one area the developers have clearly excelled at (in this first impression).
There a few some plot holes that don’t make a lot of sense.
The Pathfinder team has both been elevated to gods by the people on the Nexus. This is thanks to the time it took them to arrive: 14 months since the last Ark. Everywhere you go, the people are like “Hey, you’re the Pathfinder! We’re saved”. There’s also the problem that the people on board the Neuxs seem completely incapable of accomplishing anything without a Pathfinder to lead them. A lot of the side quests seem pretty basic. That they haven’t managed to settle a world in 14 months is made somewhat okay because of their power issues and not being able to configure the Remnant technology (which SAM, the Hyperion’s AI, managed to crack in two minutes flat).
It’s worth noting here though that Andromeda literally has the player doing a form of sudoku to advance to the main plot. I’m not sure what I expected from Andromeda (besides enjoyable combat? Meaningful side quests maybe? Definitely a interesting storyline), but alien sudoku was not on that list. Especially considering that the Pathfinder team has a completely self-aware AI that was capable of decoding the alien language in about two minutes flat.
There’s also some really bad writing to deal with. The “I’m sorry my face is tired” video below being just the tip of that iceberg.
Combat is very unsatisfying.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the combat in Andromeda. It’s nothing blatant to plant the flag on and say ‘Hey, this is what is making combat seem so boring’, but there’s a few major issues that make the entire thing hard to enjoy. Shooting at enemies feels very much like ‘plinking’ away at your opponents from cover. If you leave cover, you’re shredded. This issue might go away as you level up, but combat was not very fun in the 10 hour segment I got to play.
As a Vanguard player, my biggest gripe is that the ‘heavy’ melee attack is completely gone. I felt very bad for picking the Vanguard equivalent class (one that gets the Biotic Charge to jump into enemies). Biotic Charge read ‘Suicide Charge’ on Hardcore difficulty, and I just felt like a gimped soldier on Normal. The starting shotgun is absolutely useless, so my Vanguard was running an Assault Rifle and a Pistol and dropped the Charge ability entirely.
The profile system of the game seems pretty solid at the moment (given the limited time constraints and that there’s not that much content to explore, it’s hard to make a big judgement). Once unlocked, it doesn’t by default give access to each and every class. Once you’ve invested enough points into certain areas, different profiles become unlocked. I was actually really hesitant of this change, but seeing it in action makes it seem passable at least.
It’s not all bad. This is absolutely the smoothest and most fluid of a Mass Effect‘s combat system we’ve ever seen. The jump jet is a fantastic inclusion and there is actually nothing more satisfying than dodging an attack with it or jumping up then slamming a biotic charge down into an opponent. The jump jet actually revolutionises the gameplay in a huge way; this game is as vertical as it is horizontal. I can only hope that further installments capitalize on it.
There’s a huge array of powers to pick and choose from as well, and some of those feel very satisfying to use in action. Though, when that’s all the good I can say about all of the combat system (especially after how satisfying combat was in ME3), that’s a big problem.
This is very important. A lot of Andromeda will be spent shooting and fighting the various aliens and enemies you’ll encounter, and that combat needs to be enjoyable. Maybe this is just an issue of the starting guns, but there really doesn’t feel like a line between the ‘I’m a god, I will destroy everything in my path with no consequences’ of Normal difficulty, and ‘Cowering in cover and plinking away at enemies’ of Hardcore difficulty.
Multiplayer felt absolutely rubbish.
The issues with combat flow over into Multiplayer, but the issues with Multiplayer are not limited to those of combat. This entire section of the game is absolutely atrocious and I take full responsibility in how serious that claim at a AAA game. If someone was to ask me if Mass Effect: Andromeda was worth getting for the Multiplayer, I would say not in the slightest. If the same question was asked of Mass Effect 3, five years after it launched, I would say absolutely.
It’s that the maps are way too small and cramped. They’re probably about the same size as the ME3 ones in all honesty, but they’re cramped with extra stuff that it really doesn’t feel like it. It’s that the enemies don’t even attempt to have a solid reason for appearing on the map (dropships, teleporting, whatever). They literally just pop into existence in the corners of the map. The enemies seem boring and bland, and a lobby won’t start the game if there’s only three of four people readied up (which means sitting there and waiting for ten minutes or trying to get a vote kick going). The UI is frustrating as all hell to use and (for some reason) the typical class names only apply to human characters. Your Krogan Mercenary does everything a Sentinel does, but we’ll call him a Mercenary to keep things fresh.
But the most cardinal sin of this entire format is that the starting guns are complete and utter trash. You have four starting weapons; an Assault Rifle, a Pistol, a Sniper and a Shotgun. Never mind that a SMG exists or is very useful in some classes to start off with, but these starting guns are horrible. One solid thing about the Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer is that even though the starting guns weren’t great, they were still useable. This multiplayer is an order of magnitude more fun once you get out of the starting guns, but a game shouldn’t have to wait that long to be fun.
This means that the multiplayer feels pay to win. It’s so hard to have a good game (even on the lowest difficulty) with the starting guns, but you can instantly buy the most expensive crate if you sink some money. After realizing this, I grabbed the highest tier box and pulled a Revenant (a heavy machine gun basically). The multiplayer still is full of issues, but it got so much better with a good gun.
It seems innocuous compared to the rest of the issues I’ve highlighted, but the enemies of Andromeda don’t match up to those of Mass Effect 3. The enemies in ME3 had a lot of weight and scare factor behind them; you had Cerberus, the Geth, the Reapers (who are currently invading and taking over the entire galaxy), and the Collectors. Each of these enemies are at least threatening and they are a genuine pleasure to verse. Of the three factions (The Mercenaries, composed of Milky Way species, the alien Kett, and robotic Remnant), only the Kett have interesting and challenging units to verse.
This doesn’t even begin to broach the UI issues and bugs that plagued the multiplayer when I tried it. For example, the audio is absolutely useless on these maps. You never have any sense of direction as to where the enemies are shooting. It’s like fighting in a huge echo chamber. You’d hope that the Day 1 patch would help alleviate these issues, but the Day 1 patch has already been included in the preview version according to the developers. For someone who sunk hours into the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer,Andromeda‘s multiplayer is heart-wrenching.
Graphically, this looks amazing. Audially, not so much.
Andromeda nails it in the graphics department. The visual images of the worlds you see and the cinematics are absolutely breathtaking. The screenshots on the Origin page are completely accurate with what the game looks and feels like. Mass Effect 3 didn’t really capture the majestic views of space; it often felt cartoony. With Andromeda, the entire world feels so much more real.
I really wish I could say the same for the audio side of the game. This isn’t really an issue you notice in Singleplayer that much (though the sounds of the guns and whatnot leave much to be desired), but there is no sense of direction in sound. This is somewhat okay in singleplayer, because the bad guys are generally in front of you in one big clump. In the tight, cramped multiplayer maps though, all you can hear is the constant din of fighting. If it wasn’t for the radar alerting you to the location of enemies, it’d be impossible to find anyone in these maps without running around nonstop and hoping to bump into them.
Facial expressions have a problem: they don’t exist.
This is the big ticket item everyone is talking about in Andromeda. When I first jumped into this, I didn’t really notice it until people pointed it out. Even then, I kept playing the game and it didn’t bother me initially. But it’s very hard not to notice the complete lack of facial expressions.
The only thing that moves with the models is the mouths (and generally, those aren’t even very good attempts at lip-syncing either). This is actually extremely creepy to watch in action; it’s just someone giving you dead eyes while their mouth moves. It just goes to show how important the little things in facial expressions (like eyebrow movements and smiling using more than just the lips) are so important in making a game visually appealing.
That just sounds like slavery with extra steps.
Mass Effect: Andromeda seems to be designed with the philosophy of ‘If we can do it one step, make it take three steps’. Every sidequest and mission come with an unneeded amount of ‘go here, do this’. The prime example being on Eos with the generators. First, you need to find the person to unlock the generators; then you need to run over to them, then you need to scan them, then climb them, and finally hold the interact button to actually turn the damn thing on. This was probably meant to make turning the generator on seem like some work, but the entire game seems to be built in a matter like this. It’s frustrating to no end.
The worst offender of this concept is navigation. Navigating the Helios Cluster involves a very much unneeded (and unskippable) cinematic to visually take the player from their last planet to the next one; even if there’s nothing of note at the next planet. Six to eight seconds of your life, wasted on a (admittedly very pretty) cinematic. For every single planet and every single jump between stars.
We really hope you didn’t expect autosaving every few minutes.
This isn’t huge, but it’s enough to be noticeable: Andromeda doesn’t autosave often. It’s very frustrating to go through an entire fight, drive somewhere new, then die in that fight, only to respawn before the first fight even happened. There is a manual save function, but you need to manually save before every fight. A simple autosave function every few minutes and whenever leaving and entering the NOMAD would be a nice start at least. It created more than a few rage inducing moments during this game.
That’s my initial impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda. For all of the flaws and issues with this game, it still has a lot going for it. There was a lot of fun had with the jump jets and multiplayer started to redeem itself once I got access to a gun that actually did damage. Sadly, it’s just so infuriating that these issues stop the good spots from shining through.