Mass Effect: Andromeda PC Review

Mass Effect: Andromeda comes forth with improved combat, gorgeous worlds, a weak narrative and the worst krogan fist fight in history.

By Woozie, Posted 04 Apr 2017

It’s been five years since we’ve dealt with the Reaper threat, ending Commander Shepard’s saga. Mass Effect: Andromeda takes us to a new galaxy, where, put in the shoes of Pathfinder Ryder, we have to guide the colonists of the Andromeda Initiative through the unknown, in hopes of finding a new life. A fresh start for both the people who’ve joined the Initiative and the series can bring lots of surprises with it. However, as both the colonists and the players soon discover, not all of them end up being pleasant.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, PC, Review, Screenshot

Your efforts as Pathfinder will be spread between making certain worlds viable for settlement, overall exploring and dealing with different threats. This will be done with the help of your ship, the Tempest, a more compact version of the Normandy. Exploring the galaxy is done in a familiar manner. You go from place to place, finding certain anomalies upon which you launch probes. These, apart from giving small contextual information, can offer resources, which go into researching and developing weapons and armor, or experience. There are plenty of star systems to go to. However, the way you travel between different planets is less than ideal. The somewhat silly Normandy miniature from previous games has been replaced with a first person view of your ship travelling in between planets. While the space map screen is detailed and visually pleasing, this way of travel involves panning in towards the planet, then panning out to the system view, then sitting through a cutscene of sorts as you travel in between systems. Upon reaching your destination, you pan in to get a panoramic view of the planet, after which you pan out again. Much like the previous two sentences, this panning in and out quickly becomes a time wasting nuisance, to the point where I was reluctant to explore systems that didn’t offer any quests simply because of knowing what travelling there entailed.

The worlds-to-be-settled can be explored on foot or with the Nomad, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s own version of the Mako from the first game. From the get go, these areas are pretty large and visually stunning. The Frostbite engine shows once more that it is an exceptional tool. There were enough times when I just drove around taking in seas of sand dunes, frozen hellscapes or strange alien flora, simply because of how good everything looks. The soundtrack’s spacey synths that accompany you for the ride might also have had a role to play in this. The inclusion of an exploration vehicle, thus, greatly adds to the experience. Naturally, not everything is peachy in Andromeda. Lots of things that aren’t related to the main quest, and which basically center around the effort of building settlements, need to be done. This is where Mass Effect: Andromeda starts showing one of its bigger issues. It’s awfully surprising how after barely an in-game year in the new galaxy, everything feels so familiar to the Milky Way. As you run, or drive, around the place you’ll be asked to save people, pick up plants, scan minerals or technology, solve disputes between factions and a whole bunch of other things. Those that don’t fall into the trappings of being MMO quests end up being simply too familiar. If you’ve killed one bandit, you’ve killed them all. Same goes for saving someone or recovering stuff. The patterns are too simple and too repetitive, making the gorgeous expanses they take place in feel more like basic open-world to-do lists you’re going through. After a while, it becomes clear that side quests boil down to going to the point on the map, killing some baddies, or pressing a button, then going back and having someone spew generic thanks at you while offering a reward of some sort. They’re not overly helped by the writing, either, as the context given for most of these missions comes off as being very pedestrian.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, PC, Review, Screenshot

The new races in Mass Effect: Andromeda are also not exploited to their full potential. Both of them benefit from a certain sense of mystery when you first meet them, albeit in different ways. However, the information you gain about them is thin. They’re never really fleshed out in a significant manner. Certain cultural particularities are shared through dialogue and the Codex, however, we never get too much insight into what they’re about. The Kett, an eugenocratic alien race that’s all about enhancing their genome, quickly become the necessary space douchebags, while the Angara, space-fish-people-who-aren’t-exactly-fish, have a thing for large families and getting into a wary alliance with the Andromeda Initiative.

Mass Effect: Andromeda features the worst Krogan fist fight in history. However, its problems don’t end there. By now, the quality of the facial animations is the thing people have heard the most about. The characters’ faces either feel overly stiff or look excessively goofy. This represents a huge blow to the atmosphere as you’ll spend a good amount of your time talking to people and looking at their faces, which does, eventually, turn into an uncomfortable experience. I don’t have to mention how much worse this is for scenes that are meant to have a certain amount of drama tied to them. Try picturing having to comfort someone who’s lost someone important, only to have your character deliver their condolences with a deformed smirk on their face, or having your character walk into a supposedly dangerous situation with the facial expression of a five year old that’s just been given cotton candy. Apart from the facial animations, your character may get stuck into a very weird, staggery walking animation while running. I’ve fallen through the world a couple of times. I’ve had conversations hanging in the air for no apparent reason, making me look at a character’s face for longer than I had planned. The sound often had mini-seizures, topping everything off with repeating a very annoying buzz during the last mission, a segment which, otherwise, gets its pacing quite right. The UI isn’t without sin either. While, for the most part, things are where they should be, the Codex didn’t allow me to scroll down without automatically moving to the next entry, making it difficult to track the ones I hadn’t yet read.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, PC, Review, Screenshot

Crafting in Mass Effect: Andromeda is split into two components: Research & Development. In order to get better gear, you need to scan your surroundings using your scanner, which rewards research points, alongside small bits of information about whatever it is you’re scanning. As you gain research points, you’ll have access to blueprints. Upon researching a blueprint, you can move over to the Development part and actually build said weapon, armor or enhancement, using minerals and resources you either find during your journey, purchase from vendors or obtain from waking up people from cryo-sleep. There are three main types of items: Milky Way, Heleus or Remnant. Each of these offer different bonuses, augmentations and weapons that handle, or fire, differently. One weapon I used from start to finish was the Remnant P.A.W, which fired a laser beam and didn’t require ammo, instead, using an overheat system. Weapons can be customized to a good extent, making them fire different types of ammunition, or having projectiles ricochet off surfaces, among other things. There’s definitely space for experimentation with this system, however, the way its menus are designed isn’t ideal. They come off as being simply too cluttered, making comparisons between items difficult. On top of that, if your inventory ever happens to be full while you attempt to craft something, you have to get out of the menu, sell or dismantle some of the stuff in your inventory, then go back and go through the entire crafting process again, which is never ideal.

Traditional classes have been done away with, this time around, at least when it comes to the main character. Your Pathfinder can add points into any skill from any of the available trees (Combat, Biotics, Tech). Enhancing skills works the same way as it did until now: six upgrades, the latter three offering two different paths. It’s a system which, nonetheless, allows for a certain degree of specialization. The fact that you’re not stuck to an archetype definitely adds versatility to your character. This versatility is enhanced by Profiles. These wear the names of classes from previous games, offering passive bonuses to your build and getting better as you spend points in the trees attached to them. You can have up to three skills and one profile active at any given time. The trick here, being that you can easily swap between four configurations, even while in combat, depending on your needs. Certainly, skills begin on cooldown upon swapping, but this system is very fun to use. Adding to this is the inclusion of a jetpack that allows the Pathfinder to jump or quickly dash around. This leads to battles being more movement focused. Cover is still a factor and the smart cover system, which has your character automatically taking cover between anything tall enough while your weapon is drawn, works quite well. However, you’ll be dashing around from one point to the other, always looking for openings or ways to surprise your enemy which, coupled with the ability to switch between different builds makes the combat in Mass Effect: Andromeda the best in the series. Companions are considerably more specialized, coming with 6 skills that can be upgraded. A combo system is also present, as some abilities prime enemies for detonation, while others detonate them, leading to potential chains of biotic detonations or large amount of damage being dealt to foes as you combine abilities with your companions.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, PC, Review, Screenshot

There is a decent number of enemies to go up against, however, none of them, with the exception of maybe one giant space spider, are anything crazy. Some are simple cannon fodder, others have shields and a few have armor. This does denote a certain lack of creativity when it comes to enemy design, especially when taking into account the fact that every boss in the game is basically a more bullet spongy version of one of these foes. It, then, goes without saying that drumming up certain characters as supposedly powerful, only to have them be the same as your average shielded trooper, but with a bigger health pool, doesn’t do much for maintaining the sensation of threat around you.

In fact, the story itself has its issues. Events come off to a slow start and begin to ramp up as you discover the new alien races. Both of them are introduced in an appropriate manner, maintaining a certain dose of mystery to them. As events unfurl, however, the payoff isn’t proportionate to the time spent with the game. The main antagonist is painted initially as a powerful foe, only to be absent for the majority of the time and return for the final mission. There are a handful of revelations that are supposed to make the player invested in the story, however the way they were handled, has them come out as mere pieces of information you get during a main mission. There’s little effect they have on anything, apart from getting someone in the hub area going “Wow, so that happened, huh”.  The main missions are also not very many in number and feel, to a certain extent, disconnected from the rest of the game. I understand that the focus isn’t entirely there, the main driving force of the Andromeda Initiative being that of settling worlds and gaining a foothold in the new galaxy. However, when everything feels so familiar, the main story could have shaken things up. Mass Effect: Andromeda is meant to be a part of a larger construction, perhaps another trilogy, and that’s made clear as you get closer to the ending. The first Mass Effect was in the same situation. However, it handled its revelations, introducing the Protheans and the Reapers much better than Andromeda does. Mass Effect: Andromeda banks too much on its inevitable sequel, in doing so, forgetting to actually present events in a manner that grips the player and leaves them curious for what’s going on. The elements are clearly there, as certain discoveries are quite huge. Sadly, they are mismanaged and presented improperly. This extends to the apparently important choices you’re faced with. The most significant effect one of these choices had was having one companion be angry at me for some 10 minutes, after which everything was fine and dandy again. The route Mass Effect: Andromeda takes, in this regard, is much too safe.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, PC, Review, Screenshot

As with most Bioware games, companions are an important part of your journey and the Pathfinder’s companions and crew do little to stand out. Their stories feel thin and not very compelling. I found myself spending most of my time with Drack, a krogan who likes guns and headbutting things (this was as surprising to me as it probably is to you) and Peebee, a young, curious and slightly hyperactive Asari. Jaal, an Angara, one of the new races, comes off as a calculated person that falls into the “I don’t always get your humor” type of alien. At the other end of the stick there’s Liam, who clearly wins the Kaidan Alenko trophy, for most airlockable companion, with his constant nagging and e-mail sending whenever something crosses his mind. The issue with the new crew isn’t that they don’t outperform the original trilogy’s companions. It’s simply the fact that even on their own, they don’t stand out. Early on, there’s an attempt at forging friendship between Liam and Jaal, but that’s quickly forgotten. Such a dynamic, if handled well, could have been a step in the right direction for making the crew feel more genuine, however the game shuns away from that. It’s a pity that between shoddy facial animations and thin writing, the characters don’t amount to much, being far from reaching memorable status.

The multiplayer component benefits greatly from the focus on movement the jetpack has brought. It plays out as a horde mode type of game on relatively compact maps. Waves come with different objectives, ranging from surviving to defusing devices or holding areas. As opposed to the single player, we’re dealing with specialized classes and quite a few of them. This means the more synergy you build with your team, the more efficient you’ll end up being. A good amount of classes are on offer initially, with more being unlockable through loot boxes. These can be purchased with either credits you earn in-game, or with real money, giving you five random items of varying rarity, depending on which loot box you open. The micro-transaction system is reasonable as, doing a gold mission in a decent manner will reward enough to buy a top-tier crate. Levelling a character to that point will take a while, and you have to level each character individually, even those of a different gender that have literally the same stats, but once you do, you’re set. The mode uses peer-to-peer connection for matches and did throw some disconnects my way. While not enough to sell the game on its own, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s multiplayer is competent, varied and fun, if horde mode is something you particularly enjoy. With at least some of the upcoming free DLC being for it, things are looking good.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, PC, Review, Screenshot

Mass Effect: Andromeda attempts to build upon the foundation of the previous games. We see that in the presence of all the weapon ammo patterns and the Nomad. In some ways, like the large explorable areas and the cover-based combat system that’s been infused, and subsequently refreshed, with a good bit of movement and versatility on the skill front, it succeeds. In other ways, it falls flat on its face. Uncompelling characters, including the villain and the protagonist, alongside writing that’s not exactly deep, poor facial animation quality and technical problems drag the game down. At the end of the 80+ hours I’ve spent with Mass Effect: Andromeda I wasn’t left with much except for an alright experience that I wouldn’t really care to replay. In attempting to prepare the ground for a sequel, Mass Effect: Andromeda forgets it has to give players a reason to actually want to play said sequel and, in doing that, runs the risk of getting a bit too close to being forgettable itself.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Developer(s): BioWare
Genres: Role-Playing
Themes: Sci-Fi
Release Date: 2017-12-31

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