Bioware’s latest addition to the Mass Effect universe has seen them venture into unknown territory. Their role as pathfinder defined by the perils, tumults and hostility such territory imposes upon them. Is it fair then to say that this harsh environment is reflective of the industry, or are the developer’s woes a result of what they have brought with them? What does this mean for the franchise moving forward and more importantly what should the players expect upon re-entry? The answer to that question is a simple one: turbulence.
Mass Effect: Andromeda: PC, Xbox One [Reviewed], PS4
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 23 March 2016
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
For the experience that Mass Effect Andromeda offers is fraught with, more than anything, turbulence. From the very beginning of Andromeda’s story Ryder – the game’s protagonist – is thrust head first into a turbulent and terrifying environment: a new world that, for all its similar trappings, is littered with red flags and geographical phenomena that, although visually impressive and awe-inspiring, cannot help but invoke fear and dread in equal measure.
In this sense the game’s opening hours are, in many respects, telling of the game on a whole. There are elements here that you will be familiar with, elements that you will be at odds with and, naturally, elements that you will not be able to comprehend. Such is the composition of Andromeda.
So where do you start when the aim is to explore that which aims to explore? Let’s start with the familiar. Andromeda’s framework will, at first glance, seem relatable to those who have journeyed with Bioware in times gone by. So expect the series’ trademark third-person combat, dialogue-driven narrative, host of alien species, fabled multiplayer, wealth of RPG-esque mechanics and the return of both planetary exploration and material scanning mini-games.
Each of these familiar elements has, in some way or another, been tweaked to varying degrees and it’s in these tweaks that the games understated strengths and widely purported weaknesses become apparent.
Let it be known that this game has strengths and that these strengths have been overlooked. The most notable addition is the jetpack. Regardless of whether or not you’re playing single or multiplayer, to deny the versatility, manoeuvrability and fluidity that this single addition lends to the game’s combat is to deny the game its greatest asset.
Multiplayer remains, for the most part, unchanged from Mass Effect 3, sure there are less waves per match but a spike in difficulty and the addition of more weapons, coupled with a greater degree of verticality more than make up for it.
Furthermore, combat feels more intuitive now: the focus shifted from tight, procedural corridors littered with predictable shootouts to wide open areas that allow for the application of Andromeda’s new found speed. The player is empowered to challenge the enemy on their terms, able to take the fight to them and set their own pace.
Charging at speed, dodging oncoming fire or engaging in a brief hovering animation atop an enemy’s position, all are viable combat options that in tandem with the game’s more aggressive A.I and open design result in frantic firefights that will have you flirting with a plethora of weapons, powers and tactics as you’ll be constantly changing your play style to suit the environment.
On the topic of changing play styles, let’s talk powers: specifically Profiles. Another addition to the player’s arsenal is the ability to access every single power from previous games: that’s right, from the off you’ll be able to upgrade thirty-six powers across all three disciplines: Combat, Tech and Biotic. Furthermore, you can mix and match them in any way you see fit, totally dependent on how you want to play.
This is reflected in the game’s Profile system. Spending points in each discipline unlock Profiles that Ryder can switch between at will. Profiles reward experimentation via passive buffs that compliment a particular set of powers. It’s an ingenious mechanic and one that adds an immeasurable level of depth, strategy and customisation to what was, in previous titles, a great limitation on the player’s freedom of choice.
That’s not to say that this system is without some form of constraint. You are still limited to three powers at a time, regardless of your chosen Profile. The bigger issue comes in the manner through which the Profiles are accessed. Unfortunately, there’s no hot-key option here: players select their Profile from a radial menu that houses four configurations.
In order to access this menu, you’ll have to first bring up the weapon and loadout menu. It’s a real shame because instead of adding to the combat’s increased pace and flow the switching of Profiles mid-fight slows shootouts down and drags the player out of the scenario: it just breaks the immersion.
It’s bad UI and it isn’t the only instance in the game where this hampers otherwise praise-worthy mechanics. Alongside combat, research and development have received a massive overhaul in Andromeda. Limited to a handful of power weapons and ship upgrades in previous instalments, Andromeda has opted for a more free market approach to custom gear.
The result: weapons, armour and equipment are all on the table. It’s a fairly straightforward system: research blueprints you’ve acquired in the field. Once you’ve gathered the necessary resources to develop it, you name your project and voila, finished. Incorporating experimental mods and equipment – of which there are plenty – only increases the destructive capabilities of weapons that you develop and trust me when I say that some of these mods will blow your mind.
However this, much like the Profile system, is once again at the mercy of clunky UI and menus that do little to streamline the process and instead beguile the player with info, graphics and currencies that will, for the most part, leave veterans scratching their heads and newcomers simply perplexed. With so much in the way of new weapons and armour on offer, it’s a shame that wading through it all becomes cumbersome and tedious.
Again little additions such as tracking the availability of needed resources (a la Witcher 3) would’ve added to the flow and pace of the game. Whilst some RPG puritans may find catharsis in spending hours perusing menu screens, it just isn’t for everyone and I fear that Bioware’s lack of self-awareness in this regard is a major deal breaker – for fans and first timers alike.
The game’s Journal and Codex suffer from the same incompetent navigation inherent in every facet of Andromeda’s design. Browsing through the Journal, in particular, is a major grievance and a point of perpetual annoyance. It’s where the player will spend a large portion of their time as completing key quests, side missions, loyalty errands and miscellaneous tasks is what Mass Effect’s gameplay and progression are built upon.
At this point however the level of tedium almost feels purposefully imposed. Honestly, the experience is a grind in of itself and felt more like I was browsing through the menu tab of my laptop instead of playing a video game. Why multiple quests can’t be tracked is a mystery to me and smacks of sheer idleness on the developer’s part.
That’s to say nothing of the game’s technical incompetency. Whilst Andromeda is a good (enough) looking game, its technical failings simply can’t be overlooked. The Frostbite Engine just doesn’t cut it here. Saving and loading times are nightmarishly slow; bugs, glitches, animation gaffes and game breaking crashes are frequent causes for concern that leave little room for immersion amidst the texture pop-in, frame rate drops, objective markers and environments failing to load and facial animations that – whilst irate and poorly handled – aren’t half as bad as other’s would have you believe.
In the grand scheme of things, they are just another broken cog in a faulty machine. Mass Effect: Andromeda feels like a game that I could have played ten years ago if I wasn’t already playing polished titles such as; Bioshock, Halo 3, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Super Mario Galaxy, The Witcher, Call of Duty 4, Uncharted and Mass Effect.
Small changes to a decade old formula, despite my appreciation of said changes, do very little to counteract the insurmountable technical failings that outweigh all the good that this game has to offer. As a result, Mass Effect: Andromeda is left to drift aimlessly amidst a sea of big hitters and successful cross-generational releases that only highlight the game’s gross inadequacies and technical shortcomings. With so much in this game being worthy of praise, its poor construction and turbulent execution have, inevitably, led to its crash landing and as a result, Bioware has failed to launch Mass Effect in this generation.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
- Combat is the best the series has ever seen
- Customisation is seemingly endless
- Multiplayer is as strong as ever
- Menu navigation is dreadful
- Saving and Loading times are cumbersome
- Game is plagued with technical errors
- Feels too dated
- Online connectivity issues bleed into single player creating unnecessary complications
- Too much of the game breaks immersion instead of reinforcing it