Reviews: Mass Effect Andromeda

A disappointing sequel rife with Unfortunate Implications

First, let me start with the positives. The gameplay of Mass Effect: Andromeda is a significant improvement upon the first three games. The combat is significantly sharper and more mobile than ever before, and the focus on exploration is a welcome one. While there's not many planets to visit, the sheer size of the planets in the game and the number of sidequests pretty much ensures that you'll get your money out of the game in terms of time spent.

But the writing is glaringly bad. It is not only sub-par by the standards set by the series, but beneath Bioware as a whole. Bioware has proudly been one of the most socially conscious developers in the industry and have gone above and beyond other developers to respect women and their LGBT Fanbase in their works.

So why do we have such spectacles like a trans character deadnaming without prompting? Why is there so little content for players interested in M/M romances? Why did Bioware boast about the polyamory options, but then treat them as cheating or have so little content as to not be worth bothering? Even the Andromeda Initiative's purpose has a White Man's Burden tinge that is never shaken. From any other company this would be offensive, but from Bioware this thoughtless writing is beyond belief and feels like a betrayal of the fans who support Bioware for their inclusive and socially conscious writing. Yes, I know some of this has been addressed by patches, but in some ways that is even more insulting. Writing problems are not gameplay bugs. They should be fixed in the rough draft stage, not after the game releases. You could blame the allegedly Troubled Production or Executive Meddling for technical and gameplay issues, but this sort of Unfortunate Implications filled writing is simply inexcusable.

Outside of that, the rest of the game just feels uninspired. The original trilogy had fantastic world-building, vivid art direction, and sharply written characters and factions that made it feel interesting and believable, and nothing in Andromeda ever reaches those heights. The antagonists are Scary Dogmatic Aliens taken Up to Eleven without the mystery and menace of the Geth and Reapers. The other new alien race, the angara, are bland Rubber-Forehead Aliens. The new companions just don't have the charisma and wit and depth that made the original cast so enjoyable to be around. There is a distinctly "budget" vibe to the presentation in general, not the least is the Uncanny Valley facial animations, and the work of Jack Wall and Sam Hulick is sorely missed on the soundtrack as well. Andromeda is not without good moments, but it is such a flawed game in important aspects that it really makes me think twice about Bioware and their future.

5 Years, Everybody

ME 2 is my 2nd favourite game, and the ME world is probably my favourite period. I was initially excited when MEA was announced, but increasingly had a sinking feeling as more information came out.

When it came out, all my fears were realized. First, the glitches. This product is broken. I ran into multiple gamebreaking bugs, and the animations... dear god, the animations. I had characters cloning during cutscenes, randomly looking in the wrong direction, Ryder speaking with a distorted voice WITHOUT a helmet, and generally ruining any attempts at gravitas with sleepy, lifeless faces.

The story and characters, aka the primary reason to play a BioWare game, are also fucked. The squadmates are at best pale imitations of previous characters, and at worst are Liam. There are a grand total of two new races, both of which lack the creativity of the old ones and just generally feel generic. The kett are a less threatening version of the Reapers, and the angara are just plain boring. A whole, alien galaxy, and we get more Rubber-Forehead Aliens. Yay. The main villain is a joke, and I never found myself invested in the story. Everything is solved with bullshit space magic, and the remnant vaults appear to have been ripped straight from Halo. This is compounded by some awful writing.

I thought this game was supposed to be about exploring a new galaxy? The story is constantly undermined by a focus on militarism (the Initiative has an awful lot of firepower for a peaceful, civilian project), and these supposedly new frontiers are all already settled. The game makes a big deal out how all the outposts have failed, but the outcasts are doing fine with fewer resources. Also, it was established in ME that only a small fraction of the Milky Way was charted; who the fuck thinks its a good idea to throw their life away on a boondoggle like the Initiative? And where did this new super-technology come from?

The meager number of planets also lack creativity; why the fuck are there TWO desert planets? You really couldn't come up with another biome? Volcano. Swamp. Ruins. That's just off the top of my head. Exploration is a chore, with the Nomad being clunky and awkward, and most of the sidequests are boring, lifeless fetch quests. And they somehow managed to make scanning for resources WORSE.

The story squanders a number of potentially interesting ideas in favour of an utterly forgettable black and white narrative. First contact? Already done. Setting up colonies? Literally pointless. AI merging with organics? Just peachy. Dissent among the enemy faction? Just more 2-d villainy.

What the fuck happened? They had FIVE YEARS to fix this shit, and this is the best they could come up with? Andromeda is a trainwreck, a blight on a great series by a studio that appears to have been staffed by baboons. I sincerely hope MEA never has the balls to show its glitchy, poorly animated face again.

But hey, at least we still have Anthem, right?


Wasted potential unfortunately turned into a leftist Halo clone

Star Wars includes "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Phantom Menace". Star Trek includes "Wrath of Khan" and "The Final Frontier". This game is Mass Effect's "The Phantom Menace", its "The Final Frontier". The characters ranged from passable to repugnant, and all below their equivalents from the original trilogy. For example; I liked Vetra Nyx but she can't hold a candle to Tali'Zorah. I did like the cameos from book-only character Anita Goyle and Garrus' father. Too many were watered down versions of Halo characters/factions (SAM = Cortana, Jaardan = Forerunners, kett = Covenant Empire).

Too little was done with the Andromeda galaxy. The angara are interesting but far more could have been done with them. I dislike the kett, but not for the reasons the writers apparently wanted us to; I dislike them because they're one-dimensionally evil Straw Character allegories of two things left-wing politics hates. First, Nazi parallels - understandable, but these are so cliche they seem copy-pasted from the Daleks. Second, having villainous aliens be religious is one thing - also saddling them with imagery and titles ripped from real religions is another, let alone the left wing's favorite religion to bash - Christianity note  (the kett CARDINAL, the kett PRIMUS). To see the prejudiced Double Standard at work here, replace "Cardinal" with "Imam" or "Primus" with "Rabbi" and imagine the fan and media reaction note .

While the game did suffer from Troubled Production and Executive Meddling, that's no excuse. EA and (what's left of) Bioware put a flagship franchise in the hands of mostly underqualified dev teams; some members were either inexperienced and/or seemed more interested in making an Author Tract. One example of both was a failed attempt to respect a group they were trying hard to accommodate; the LBGT community (putting two prominent transsexual characters in the game despite how rare transsexuals are in real-life, then trying to virtue signal by deadnaming one, and hyping the other only to make them an offscreen murder victim). While a few things were changed, with the time and money invested in the game, it shouldn't have needed to be done and many other issues are unacknowledged or unaddressed. This bodes ill for the franchise and Bioware, and I mostly blame EA.

The Andromeda Initiative went the wrong direction.

Once upon a time, the fourth game in a series was released. It was about a multi-species religious coalition of genocidal aliens who worshipped Precursors and used Plasma Cannons that fired Homing Boulders. They were opposed by a human Space Marine with an Artificial Intelligence companion. The game was made by an offshoot studio of the original creators, and they had a Tough Act to Follow. Their solution was Going Cosmic and adding the Precursors as an enemy faction. By and large, the fourth game was considered inferior to the (unusually high) story and gameplay standards set by the third... Though at least it lacked the third's controversial ending.

The game's name? Halo 4. And also Mass Effect: Andromeda, once BioWare apparently gave up on making their own game.

Andromeda, of course, draws from its own series as well, but mostly the bad parts. The very large mission worlds of 1 are back, with the result that you can get lost amongst the Sidequests, unsure how to actually progress the plot. It also dilutes Character Development; you have to play for five hours and complete 10% of the game before you can even try to talk to your squadmates. For Padding, we have both planet scanning and the boring car drives. And it turns out that most of those mission worlds don't need to be completed in order to beat the game. The result? The game fails the Eight Deadly Words pretty early on and never recovers.

Andromeda doesn't feel very alien. In the first game Shepard had four discrete alien species as party members, and met at least five more as NPCs. The Heleus Cluster only has two, and they're both Rubber-Forehead Aliens that make the asari look downright exotic. And that's before we get to the Whole Plot Reference mentioned above.

And worst of all, the Karma Meter is gone. The original trilogy excelled at only one thing: making players feel like their choices matter. The Paragon / Renegade mechanic, which rewarded those choices by unlocking Third Options, was what actually drove the franchise. Andromeda removes this engine entirely. Is it any wonder the resulting game bogs down under its own weight?

The Mass Effect franchise has been put back into stasis after this Actionized Sequel. I can see why. If this is the best Bioware can do, then ME5 would have involved SAM trying to enslave the universe (or convert Earth into Cybertron), and I'm glad I won't have to see it.

A Poly-romantic Look At ME: Andromeda

Disclaimer: I loved Andromeda in most other capacities, although I have issue with the technical problems and many glitches. The following review ONLY critiques the romantic subplots of the game.

Being polyamorous for most of my adult life, it's often hard playing romantic subplots in videogames, especially ones with multiple love interests who can feel jealousy. Videogames like the Mass Effect franchise are often meant to be escapist fantasy for people in various ways, but they've traditionally failed at doing so by stating you can pick ONE and ONLY ONE lover and that you're a bad person if you want more.

When the developers said Andromeda would buck this trend by allowing multiple romances at once, I was excited. Instead of picking one character I was interested in and sticking with them, I'd try as many of them as possible and see who'd be game.

What I got was more disappointment—in fact, this is even WORSE than what they've done in the past. Bioware decided the best way to implement polyamory into the game was to split the romances into two types: "true" romances and "flings". True romances begin when you promise your partner that you love them and ONLY them. Flings are a lot more liberal on that take, but even that's a trap. Most of them acknowledge that you probably have other lovers out there, but they offer to help you live a double life and effectively CHEAT on your committed partner.

Basically, it feels as though Bioware gave even more of a middle finger to us polys by stating we're lying two-timers. Clearly, the ONLY love that means anything are the ones where two people promise sole ownership over each other. In the end, it just feels like a complete and utter copout.

Dragon Age: Inquisition without the Effort

Before I start let me make a quick confession, Dragon Age: Inquisition was the first Dragon Age game I had ever played. I hadn't played the first two games or read any of the tie-in books or comic books and had only played Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 three years after DAI. So I can honestly say that DAI is, if not my all time favorite game, diffidently a close second and without a doubt my all time favorite game in the BioWare canon.

And a lot of that is due to how much effort the developers put into the game, not just in terms of combat and level designs but in the role-playing mechanics, characters, the dialogue wheel and of course the games story. Everything, down to the smallest story detail like hints right down to Solas and Iron Bulls mental chess is given the utmost attention and care to make it work. The best example of the developers effort is best shown in the Dialogue Wheel allows players to develop their Inquisitor anyway they want.

Such a shame that Mass Effect: Andromeda didn't follow suit as the developers seem to have put all their time and effort into the combat and level designs instead of the story. The characters are forgettable, the plot is poorly paced and the villains are weak. But the worst part about this game is the dialogue wheel which gives you no chance to play like a Jerk, pretty much forcing you to play as the hero and the tone options are just so bland, especially when compared to the tone options in DAI which really helped to give the Inquisitor more character.

Sigh, hopefully MEA will do well in sells to get a sequel and maybe will get a game that's as good as DAI, ME 2 and DAO but for right now, I am Very disappointed with the game we've got.

The Force Awakens of Mass Effect

This game feels like it's riffing from a bunch of other popular sci-fi video games. The Remnant's ruins feel very distinctly like the Forerunner ruins of Halo and the fact they're referred to as "Vaults" plus the fact much of the game takes place on desert scavenger worlds in a giant Mako-esque dune buggy evokes Borderlands. There's also the fact the Kett turn out to be what might charitably be called an "Evil Empire" which is opposed by a plucky resistance. Given the original Mass Effect trilogy was a fusion of Star Wars and Star Trek (which made it, effectively, Babylon Five), that's not surprising but the references are rather notable. The fact the majority of aliens you'll meet are ones from the Milky Way also feels somewhat cheap.

Despite this, I actually state I feel like the game succeeds in reminding me why I liked Mass Effect. Liam, Cora, Drack, Suvi, and the others don't have anything on Mass Effect 2's cast but they're all pleasant people I enjoyed hanging around with (as much as you can enjoy spending time with fictional people). They're sort of all blandly pleasant at worse (ala Kaiden and Ashley) and archetypically endearing at best. The romances feel a bit weak and I can't help but think fans will take them too personally. It strikes me Bioware may have been onto something just making everyone bisexual ala Dragon Age 2. Certainly, you just need to sacrifice realism sometimes for player enjoyment.

Gameplay wise, the game plays like, well, Mass Effect. It's a shooter with RPG elements as well as a return of the Mako (in all but name). The only real complaint I have about it is the absence of the Renegade and Paragon system which was really something I loved. The Ryder twins feel a little more generic without their option to be outstandingly noble or ruthlessly psychotic. Still, the writing is crisp on that end too with both of the siblings having a Nathan Drake-esque adventurous spirit, awkward dorkiness, or a cool professionalism depending on how you want to play them.

In conclusion, this is a fun game and I'm going to continue playing it until I've done just about everything but it's a very "safe" sort of game too. In terms of genre, I'd say this is the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of the franchise. There's a lot of the same beats of the original and very little risk taking but it washed a lot of the bad taste out of my mouth too.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, a good game despite itself.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a Very Good game in this reviewer's opinion, bordering on Great as an overall experience. You get a cool starship, the combat system is fun, exploration is enjoyable as you tool around the frankly gorgeous Heleus cluster. The worlds are designed to look epic, the combat system is fun as hell and the characters are engaging. If you've played a Mass Effect game and enjoyed it, chances are good you're going to have a fun time with Andromeda.

Having said all that, it it important to note that as of the time of this writing (March 31, 2017) the game has some glitches. Quite a few in fact. Doors don't always open, sometimes Pee Bee's room on the tempest is a black void that takes a moment to populate with the proper setting, and if you don't wait and step inside you fall into the void of space, etc. The glitches aren't bad enough to make me swear a blood oath of vengeance against EA and Bioware, but the ratio seems to be for every three enjoyable things that the game has to offer there will be one glitch to ruin the immersion. Hopefully this gets resolved as time goes by.

Overall Mass Effect: Andromeda is an enjoyable gaming experience that does have its moments of frustration. I give it a solid 4 out 5 stars, with the glitches and snags keeping it from the full 5.