Available on PS4 (version tested) with PS4 Pro support, Xbox One and PC
Mass Effect Andromeda arrives at the tail end of an incredible period for large-scale RPGs. Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn have set the standard for 2017 in a genre where the Mass Effect trilogy is considered among the very best, putting huge pressure on Andromeda.
Unfortunately, despite some solid improvements and an excellent story, flaws and bugs anchor this galactic outing from greatness.
The Andromeda initiative sees 100,000 members of each Milky Way galaxy species head for the Helius cluster in search of a new home. There are seven “golden” planets in total, each being investigated by a single Andromeda vessel led by a pathfinder. You are the pathfinder of the human race, Ryder (Sara or Scott, your choice), and after Habitat 7 proves entirely uninviting, it’s your job to search for safe living arrangements for your people.
Related: PS4 Pro vs PS4
Along the way you’ll face two new threats, the Remnant and the Kett, the former looking at the conservation and preservation of species through advanced technology and willing to defend it at all costs, and the latter looking to destroy every race but its own. It’s a great setup, and early interactions lay the groundwork well.
It isn’t long before the plan goes south and Ryder’s faced with conflict, and this is where Andromeda first runs into problems. Bioware has made minor improvements to the general feel of combat thanks to a new dash ability and the jump jet, which improve fluidity. The jump jet allows players to use a minor jetpack burst to reach higher locations and allows greater verticality both in exploration and shoot-outs.
When treating Andromeda as a standard cover-based third-person shooter, it feels fine, if not spectacular, but because of this new encouragement to push forward, the AI greatly suffers. Enemies seem programmed to seek cover at all costs, so when I run up and attack them, they panic and flee without fighting back. There have been many occasions the enemy AI ‘breaks’ while running away, failing to find a suitable hiding spot. As soon as I learned I could game the system, most combat situations became dull and repetitive.
Related: Mass Effect Andromeda Guide
Ally AI is no better, showing as great a concern for self-preservation as Leeroy Jenkins, they will run and stand literally next to enemies to fight them. If your partners have melee moves, this makes sense, but even shooters do the same. This would be fine if they couldn’t be killed, but when they go down you’re the one who has to revive them, making it immensely frustrating.
While combat may never have been Mass Effect’s strong suit, it’s so prominent in Andromeda that these problems can’t be ignored. Thankfully, Bioware’s biggest strength, dialogue, has seen arguably the most significant improvement to the entire series in the form of the tone wheel.
As much as people fawn over dialogue choices of the original ME trilogy, it ultimately forced players to set their stalls out from the very beginning for every response for the subsequent hundreds of hours of gameplay: good or bad Shep? The binary choice stripped any engagement or imagination from dialogue, with players only focused on the end goal or unlocking a particular ending. This new tone wheel injects a significant amount of grey into Mass Effect’s morality and it works wonders.
Ryder will be given up to four ‘emotional’ responses, which can range from professional to casual to angry, and each will have an impact on how characters react, though long-term ramifications are not as obvious. It allows greater fluidity to actually deal with the situation at hand, and also adapt to context. When dealing with a mob boss, Ryder is a casual nonchalant, with her fellow Pathfinders and superiors, she is the consummate professional.
Related: Best RPGs
A cynic would say this simply creates a greater illusion of choice while ultimately leading players to the same endgame a la Mass Effect 3, but I feel the air of mystery is significant enough that it makes conversations meaningful enough that I need to pay attention without reducing dialogue choice to red versus blue.
And you’ll need to pay attention, too. Bioware doesn’t dumb down its narrative simply because you want to check your tweets every time a conversation kicks off. There have been times where I’ve dared to answer a message or someone has walked in the room to talk, only for me to return to Sara who’s presented with a choice I have no clue about. I think one involved me banishing a Turian to exile and I still don’t actually know what he did.
Unfortunately, while listening intently to conversations, you’ll always be forced to see the unbearably bad facial animations that go along with them. Mostly limited to humans, they consistently undermine the conversation and great voice acting. It’s hard to take an emotional moment seriously when Sara Ryder’s eyes are flying around like she’s tripping balls, or she’s making a bizarre grimace like the face you make when you plonk your shiny new shoes in dog crap.
Poor animation isn’t limited to faces, either. Characters’ arms will shake bizarrely, Krogans’ teeth will appear through their lips, people will forget how to walk and even fly in and out of frame as the game desperately plays catch-up with a cutscene. No doubt many will have seen some of the hilarious GIFs circling the internet after the game appeared on EA Access.
There are other performance problems, too. On PS4 Pro, while it’s visually gorgeous in 4K and makes great use of HDR, it struggles to maintain a consistent framerate, especially in intense combat situations. Texture pop-in is also a big problem in hub worlds and when driving around in the Nomad. Grass and shrubbery loads literally as I drive past it. People will also pop up right in front of me while sprinting, including enemies, further adding to my frustrations with the combat.
The breathtaking scale of Andromeda goes some way to explaining why these bugs are so frequent. It’s simply ginormous, and continues grow even over a dozen hours into the main story. The sheer wealth of missions available to me at any one time is almost intoxicating, simply because every single one feels as important as the next.
Related: Xbox Scorpio
This is a huge credit to Bioware. I want to explore every side mission and quest because it’s done in an interesting way. When Drack – the Tempest’s Krogan and hands-down my favourite crew member – tells me there’s trouble with his kind, I immediately want to go and solve it.
And it isn’t just the quests with a narrative hook that are gripping, either. The metanarrative seeps through everything you do in Andromeda, meaning every minor action carries weight. The ‘golden’ planets need to be researched for viability, so everything you do on these planets earns points towards making them a new home. The more tasks you complete, the more the planet’s viability meter increases. After exploring Remnant caverns and unlocking their technological secrets, a planet becomes safe for your people to excavate and develop bases on. It gives you reason to stick around on the major locations throughout the galaxy without any single storyline, it’s almost addictive.
Bioware also does an excellent job of naturally presenting these quests without you having to chase them. While wandering around the Nexus – the Andromeda hub space station – a terminal explodes as an engineer tries to fix it am suddenly I’m investigating potential sabotage.
Picking up missions like this will of course lead to a huge to-do list. At the time of writing I have completed 35 missions, but have 39 unfinished, only one on of which is the main story. Andromeda has potentially hundreds of hours of content.
With regards to multiplayer, my chances to play it ahead of embargo were limited, but being a wave-based action-focused experience, it plays into most of the problems I have with Andromeda’s combat, and I found it deeply uninteresting. It also features three different forms of currency proving overly convoluted for what should be very simple systems, coupled with the use of host migration rather than dedicated servers meant this was a mode I really don’t see myself spending any time in.
There’s an awful lot to like about Mass Effect Andromeda, it has an intriguing and far-reaching story told across an incredibly vast and detailed galaxy. The new tone wheel makes each interaction feel meaningful without a pre-determined conclusion, making the actual journey more interesting. Riding around in the Nomad is also excellent fun and exploration feels great.
However, for everything it gets right there’s always something holding it back. While combat is improved over its predecessors it pales compared to rivals in the genre thanks to braindead AI. Facial animations are laughable at times and have a negative impact on the good voice acting. Bugs and performance issues only hamper this further.
Andromeda is a good game and I’ve enjoyed my time with it. However, for those who’ve been waiting five years for another Mass Effect adventure, I don’t think it will be good enough.