Reviews: Mass Effect Andromeda

ME Andromeda; The reject that tried to be a revamp

Before I start let me make a quick confession; Mass Effect 2 was the first game in the franchise I played. I enjoy the series, especially after getting into the first and third games (bar the ending of the third) and the expanded universe. Mass Effect 2 is my favorite video game and I have grown fond of so many things about it. Regarding this game, let me use analogies; 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".

Gameplay itself is rather hit and miss. The animation is more fluid in some areas (such as the crash landing scene) and the character abilities are more impressive and inventive. The graphics are not good because for each spectacular world and space scene there is a glitch and the occasional bug (some of which are even game breaking). Sadly some of the spectacular landscapes seem copy-pasted from other franchises, such as the Remnant Vaults evoking the Forerunners from Halo. One triumph of the original trilogy was making the player feel that their choices mattered. Three main reasons for this are the Karma Meter, major decisions (including two Genocide Dilemmas) and the fact that all your squadmates CAN DIE IN THE STORY DEPENDING ON YOUR CHOICES. This game takes that away to give you Dragon Age Inquisition IN SPACE!

The characters ranged from well-developed characters I enjoyed to repugnant Straw Characters. None measured up to the level of similar characters from the original trilogy. For example; I like Vetra because she is adventurous and nice but she can't hold a candle to Tali. As a bonus, we also get a cameo from one book-only character; human ambassador Anita Goyle (Udina's predecessor). The downside is several characters are two-dimensionally unpleasant or villainous. The latter even applies to an entire race in this game; the kett, blatant Scary Dogmatic Aliens. The Archon (kett leader) comes across as a Saturday morning cartoon villain, but with the rap sheet and nastiness of a Straw Character from certain real-life propaganda pieces.

To summarize "In a good story something can make you go 'That's sad'. A great story makes you feel sad." While Mass Effect: Andromeda has several gems, they are unrefined and surrounded by dirt. Maybe it would become playable and enjoyable with a complete overhaul, but as it is now, put it back in stasis and rework it later (maybe 50,000 years later...)

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.
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