I have played the original Mass Effect games three times in their entirety and thoroughly enjoyed each run. Controversially, I believe that the Mass Effect trilogy punches above its weight due to the emotional anchors of its branching story: mechanically the previous games were average at best. As any fan will already know, there are a multitude of decisions where the outcome can be the difference between life or death. These choices are then carried forward to the second and third game which gave players a sense of investment in their own adventure. Despite my fondness for the trilogy, I am also aware that all three games had their problems: the first could be a mundane slog, the second (my favourite) tethered success to multiplayer participation (galactic readiness) and the third ended the series with a soul-crushing thud. After so many twists and turns had been made, this colour coded ending left many gamers in Mass Effect limbo - eager to see if Bioware would make it right.
In the main, I think that once game publishers reach a certain size they invariably become lifeless husks full of bean counters. When presented with an opportunity to restart the Mass Effect universe with exciting new mechanics and systems what did EA do? They made Mass Effect Andromeda: Safe, repetitive and devoid of any creativity. This is EA's modus operandi - to push the same old turd out every year and then dress it up like it's something brand new (case in point the Sims). This may seem harsh but I truly believe that this was a golden opportunity to forge an revouluntionary RPG built on the foundations of this much-loved series and one the likes of which we had never seen before. Instead, it was farmed out to a team woefully under skilled and lacking the chops to hit the expectations of fans around the world. So my obvious disappointment aside lets try and take an objective look at the game we did get.
In an effort to expand their reach beyond our own galaxy the intrepid explorers of the Ark Hyperion set off from the Milky Way over six hundred years ago and travelled through space: many planets known as 'golden worlds' were set to be a new celestial home for civilisation. On arrival it appears all is not well in the Helios cluster, the Hyperion hits an unusual energy cloud which disables the Ark and it is here where the game opens. The golden worlds are not what you had been hoping for due to the effects of the same dark cloud that buggered up your ship and to top it all off there is a hostile race known as the Kett running amok. You play the role of Ryder and the first choice you make is to play as either the male or female twin. Whichever you choose the story then continues with the other held in a coma. I don't want to talk too much about the story from here for the sake of spoilers, but let's just say early events lead to you becoming the new Path Finder and the fate of thousands resting in your hands.
The game does take a while to pick up steam but I honestly didn't mind this introductory phase because like any new game: characters need to be bedded in and the stage needs setting. Many have reported this slow start as a negative but I think it just comes down to preference. In no time at all, you will have met up with the Unity (a Citadel-like staging station) and gained access to your own ship: the Tempest. It is here that for me the game begins proper and Andromeda starts to open up.
I always play games as female if I get the chance and Mass Effect is no different. When creating a character you're are given the choice of default or a number of presets that you can then tweak with some basic sliders. The problem is that every single one of these presets looks fuck ugly and in order to get one that doesn't look like they hit every branch of the ugly tree on the way down takes some work. I have to say I think the default Ryder looks quite pretty when she's not gurning or waddling: so I decided to go with her for better or worse. It is strange that the female Ryder isn't more attractive when you look at the model she was based on, but then I'm not a game designer. Other options like background are also open to choose and these then define what abilities you will start the game with. Overall I'd say I found the character creation very disappointing and this baffles me as to how this happened. Surely Bioware knows that creating a character is so important to get right: after all this creation could span many games in the future.
Once you have boarded the Tempest it's time to get the Andromeda initiative back on track, to do this you need to head out and start exploring. The star map works just as you would think it would, each region of the Helios cluster is split into systems and these each has a range of planets with varying levels of interactivity. I found it a little frustrating that most of these astral bodies are little more than potential resource nodes. The star map looks great and as you choose different locations your view will shift around in real time: for the first few hours, this is an impressive system. However, after I reached the ten-hour mark I was starting to tire of these sequences because each one is not skippable. All I want here is the option to miss these sequences when I'm in a hurry. Regardless the whole game seems a lot more connected now: I love how you can gaze across the current location from the windows of your ship.
While scooting around Andromeda you can scan all the planets in any system you enter and like previous games, this has a basic search mechanism built into it. When you find an anomaly you move the scanner in the right direction until it is found, you then press a button and gain some resources. This system is frankly mundane and offers nothing other than a boring time-sink that gains a few resources. Overall the star map does its job and looks great but I hope Bioware decide to flesh it out at some point in the future or at least add some more meaningful content.
One aspect of this new game that does feel well designed is the sense of progression. For example, after you have completed certain events on Eos you can then return at a later date to explore the rest of the planet (well the area you're given anyway). I also remember the first time I returned to the Nexus after the opening mission and seeing new areas where before there had just been boxes of equipment. Your endeavours are also recognised by the Nexus levelling up which allows you as the Pathfinder to choose which colonists to wake up from cryo-sleep first. Each decision you make will affect your gameplay and this is a very satisfying system that ties in with the central theme of the game.
Phasers set to awesome.
One aspect of the originals games that did evolve for the better was the combat: I remember feeling a definite sense of progression when shooting Geth heads off in ME2. In this new game, we now see more changes and most are for the better. The obvious difference being the mobility of your character, you now have a micro jetpack built into your suits which allows you to do short jumps, hover while aiming and even dash in any direction. We are also playing in a more open world setting now and as such the team had to make cover less 'here's some generic walls so get ready for a fight' and more dynamic. So now when in combat you will slink up to any hard surface (including the Nomad) once you're close enough. This dynamic cover system works very well but I'm sure there will be some that prefer the act of locking into a piece of cover with a button press.
Another fairly big change from previous games is that you now have the ability to change your skill alignment on the fly. You can even assign skills to four presets which can be swapped mid-combat for changing circumstances. The powers themselves are all the type of thing you would expect from a Mass Effect game and all look a lot better in the Frostbite engine. It is such a shame you can't choose when your team mates fire their abilities, this is such a step back because you loose control over when to activate skill combinations.
As you gather resources you gain access to your ships research and development options. You gain research points in any of the three tech trees by scanning the environment. Top tip: scan everything and assign the scan function to a mouse thumb button because you will be whipping it out a lot. Once you've researched a blueprint you can then use your hard won resources to manufacture the item you want. Clunky yes and also hard to navigate: but this part of the game can be a welcome distraction when some of the locations are getting old.
I always saw multiplayer in the previous ME games as an unwelcome distraction that didn't fit with the core theme of the title. Like any EA game, adding multiplayer is part of the course and given I am now reviewing these games I decided to have a look. What we have here is essentially a horde mode where you and three other players must defeat a number of enemy waves. Random win conditions will appear for each wave, such as hack a location or defeat certain larger enemies. Extracting successfully gains you experience and resources which you can then use in the single player game. Additionally, you can now send combat teams to perform missions from the bridge of the Tempest, interestingly some of these missions can be taken on by yourself which throws you into a multiplayer lobby. I hate to admit it but I like it and so far I've had a lot of fun battling against the various maps on offer. While combat in the single player game is usually a little tame these multiplayer maps are a fantastic challenge and worth a look. It has to be said though that constant lag, disconnects and choppy net code make this far less enjoyable than it could be. I also do not like the fact that micro-transactions have made their way into Andromeda, too be fair they are not as absurdly priced as For Honour but in a full price game, I'd rather them be removed.
Writing on the wall.
The glue that holds Mass Effect together is the writing, which includes the main story but also the smaller nuggets of dialogue that can be uncovered. This is one part of the game that can either be well done or something that could have been written by a ten-year-old. I personally thought the way the Kett are introduced in the first mission felt rushed: this new enemy should have had a far bigger entrance. The scene where Liam is shooting the dead Kett soldier is frankly embarrassing but thankfully scenes that bad are few.
I actually found the story and setting for Andromeda very interesting. The opening scene with your father was quite emotional: it is a shame that your relationship with your brother and father wasn't given a bit more breathing time before the story progressed. I also think there are too many concepts being reused here from the previous games. Yet again we find ourselves searching for the remains of another long dead race of unimaginable technological power. So what I'm saying is that the writing in Andromeda is a mixed bag, you will come across plenty of stilted conversations but they are worth getting through for the really good ones. Sex is also an option while playing Andromeda and like every other Bioware game to date it's bloody awful. Sex in gaming has yet to be done right yet so I can't be too harsh on these guys. Just know that if you like getting Ryder (no pun intended) laid in between missions there are plenty of crew mates to choose from but not all will appreciate your salacious advances.
Facing up to criticism
So one issue with Andromeda has almost engulfed it in the media, that being the poor and frankly bizarre animation on show. The facial animation, in particular, has been put under the spotlight because in many instances just looks like the character is having a spasm. Some have argued that this is inconsequential but at the end of the day creating immersion is what makes a Mass Effect game what it is. When you get a gurn instead of a laugh or when a character's eyes look like they've been doing speed for three days it does break the spell. Ryder's running animation can be made to look like she has shit herself and her eyes never seem to stop darting around all over the shop. These and many other funny walks or bone bending joints can be seen from beginning to end and there is really no excuse when considering the resources EA and Bioware have at their disposal.
Another area of the game that has been getting heat is the squad mechanics and lack of AI in place. Your squad mates are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. It seems like the same design from previous games has been dragged and dropped into Andromeda minus the functionality: the problem is these more open world environments throw up new pathfinding problems. The team have certainly made the game world less artificial looking, however, I really think this shows up the lacking squad intelligence and shoddy coding. Enemy AI is no better and they might as well stand there with 'shoot me' signs. When out of combat your friends will start mounting furniture like they are one quarter mountain goat or vaulting over objects to avoid a simple set of stairs. Small potatoes yes but these things break immersion in a game where suspending disbelief is king.
As a PC gamer, I have never been a fan of autosave just because if the developers get it wrong you are at its mercy and you can end up replaying huge chunks of a game. Unfortunately here we see another example of a bad autosave, especially when doing the Vaults because when emerging successful the game can sometimes forget to save. I remember at one point spending around thirty minutes spending skill points for my whole squad as well as assigning new powers. As I finished I was instantly killed and every change I had made was gone. The air was bluer than an Asari's backside I can tell you.
These points I have listed above is not an exhaustive list unfortunately and there are many other bugs waiting such as characters literally freezing into a star jump pose or quest objectives bugging out. I have heard reports that near the end of this games development another (more seasoned) development team took over the project and if they hadn't things could have been a lot worse. I believe this game was not ready for release and should have been held back to fix bugs and graphical errors: if I was EA (Bioware) right now I'd be embarrassed by the state of Mass Effect Andromeda.
Is it PC?
So actual bugs, glitches and crashing aside: the actual performance of the game was pretty damn good for me. I was able to play the game on the highest settings and never dropped below 45 fps. I am playing on an i7 Intel running at 4.2GHZ, 16GB of DDR3 RAM and a GTX 980. I also installed it on my SSD and have Windows 10. There is no denying that the game looks gorgeous in many respects. From the first to the last planet. Each one looks stunning, has a wide range of effects and post processing to add a good level of immersion. I love the way your new land vehicle (the Nomad) churns up sand leaving tracks or the way it skids across the ice of Voeld. It also comes with some handy jump-jets and an extra gear for going up steep surfaces. Yes it's odd changing gear is a thing but it does at least give you something else to consider when going off road.
So here's the thing, despite all the criticism I have placed at the door of Mass Effect Andromeda: I really like it. In fact, I have had a fantastic time with playing through its many worlds and set pieces. It does feel like a Mass Effect game and one which could be the start to an epic new trilogy: but if this is to happen EA (Bioware) need to get their shit together and fix as much of this game as they can. They also absolutely need to nail the next game, with better writing, better quality assurance and overall polish. I think it's a crying shame that the technical problems and some sloppy writing have overshadowed the excellent game we have here: even with all its faults considered there has been a lot of work put into building this new stage for the Mass Effect universe.
If you are a Mass Effect fan who has been waiting for the next game with baited breath then I am sure you will have already been tooling around the Helios cluster. However for those on the fence and wondering whether to jump in I would actually recommend you hold back. Bioware has said they are at least thinking about fixing wonky animations as well as some other problems. Andromeda will still be here in six months and will likely be a fraction of the price.
Thank you for reading my review for Mass Effect Andromeda on PC. I don't receive review codes for bigger games so my reviews always take a few more days to get produced, however, I will always endeavour to produce a quality review that covers all aspects of the game. If you don't already please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic and check back soon for more epic PC-related content.