by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Carving a New Path (cntd)
The story definitely doesn’t start with a bang, but instead with some relatively boring conversations and a cookie cutter “rescue” mission as you gather crewmates from an explorer ship crash. Even meeting the antagonistic Kett, which happens within the first half hour, was a relative yawn being that they don’t become more than “evil looking violent alien race #334543” for quite some time. The initial NPCs that you meet early on are also some of the more dull you will come across in your 100 or so hour journey. But, it is worth slogging through the opening because a few plot beats later, you are the new Pathfinder. The man in charge. You and your crew make contact with the Nexus (basically the new Citadel for immigrating Milky Way inhabitants) and things get much more interesting. The plot trope of potentially sinister ancient technology, which is introduced fairly early, is, frankly, played out, but it’s done fairly well, and, equally importantly, the side quests and loyalty quests are a ton of fun. It is a bit difficult to judge how good the story will be in the long run since, like the games before it, many of the plot threads are sowing seeds that will flower in upcoming franchise installments, but what you will get here seems promising.
Good Friends and Funny Faces
Your crewmates and their stories have always been just a big a part of Mass Effect as anything else, and characters like Garrus, Liara, Miranda, and the rest of the gang certainly set the bar high for Andromeda. Like the game’s plot, I do think it’s hard to definitively say whether or not the new crew prove to be as memorable after spending a third or half of the time with them as I did with the aforementioned, but it does seem as though Andromeda is even more committed than its predecessors to placing importance on the bond between them and the player character Ryder. There are a ton of quiet conversations and relaxed moments between everyone that punctuate the frenetic ones, and, despite some issues in the presentation of these moments, I did end up feeling quite close to most of my squad.
Ah, the presentation issues. After two games in a row now, it seems that perhaps the Mass Effect franchise is destined to controversy. While it was the ending in Mass Effect 3, here it’s something a bit less up for interpretation. Put plainly, the facial animations in Andromeda are at best “fine,” and at their frequent worst downright offensive. It’s worse in the human characters by no other virtue than we are more tuned in to notice problems with human faces, but it effects most characters. Eyes look dead. Lips squish out like Q-bert. Faces look frozen in botox. It’s not that I need the animation to be perfect, but it’s literally worse than in the previous game that came out five years ago. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but something must have gone fairly wrong during development, because I have a hard time believing that the quality of the character animations, especially during dialogue, got through quality control screenings. There were plenty of stretches, especially during dialogue-lite missions or when the person I was talk to looked ok that I almost forgot about the problem, but then, in the middle of what was to be some touching dialogue, I would be getting stared at by a face at home on a sex doll.
Lastly, Andromeda’s multiplayer is worth mentioning because, like it was in Mass Effect 3, it’s a lot more fun that anyone would probably expect from a single player-focused RPG. Instead of trying to use its systems for a competitive arena shooter, Andromeda instead groups up teams of four players to cooperatively tackle wave-based mission of survival and area control. It is straightforward, but that is part of its charm. Players unlock one of a number of avatars with different power sets, earn experience to level each avatar up, and unlock new weapons, attachments, and boosts through play. There are microtransaction, but I felt very satisfied with the unlock rate through normal play. I’ve put in probably a dozen hours into the multiplayer, and it’s a great place to spend time after you’ve gotten through the campaign.
Not Perfect, but Still Pretty Darned Good
Looking back up through what I have written, I feel a bit bad that the negative has taken up just about as much space as the positive, because I don’t think that it’s a great representation of the impression I’ve been left with for the game as a whole. Andromeda absolutely has some issues, some more serious than others, but they are, in my opinion without doubt, overshadowed by what the game does well. Yes the designs of the brand new races play it safer than I’d have liked them to, but even they have a few memorable concepts and characters. Yes the opening mission or two are a drag and the story, boiled down to its most basic, is a bit cliché, but there are beautiful moments and unexpected twists that follow them. Sure the animation is, at time, unacceptable, but the new dialogue system makes conversations more engaging and organic than they ever have in the series previously. Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t the 10/10 that I was hoping it could be, and perhaps even should be, but it’s still a damned good game that took me on a journey I’m glad to have been taken on.
New planets are beautiful, musical score is engaging, class system is great, effective squadmate characterization.
Disappointing new alien races, dull opening few hours, horrid animations on some characters.