Producer: Electronic Arts
When the original Mass Effect released in 2007, I bought it on a whim. My friends had dragged me to the midnight release of Rock Band, and the manager at the Gamestop we had gone to, who had recommended countless games to me in the past that I had positively loved, threw me a copy of Mass Effect. Something about the cover art, the theme, the mature rating, everything screamed BUY ME. I also just happened to have the $63.74 to buy it, on hand, which was incredibly rare back in my youth. I went home that night and became lost in the amazing universe Bioware had created for me. The different aliens, the soundtrack, everything about this game seemed to be tailored directly to my brand of Sci-Fi and I fell in love immediately. Mass Effect 2 came out some time after, and despite the stark changes in gameplay and visuals, I loved it even more. Mass Effect 2 holds my all time favorite memory in my entire gaming career: Shadow Broker DLC, fresh Insane run. I still feel chills thinking about those hours spent clambering over the hull of the Shadow Brokers ship, fighting opposition that knew just when to strike. The game felt alive for me, and it felt like it still had places to go. Mass Effect 3 for me was a brilliant albeit flawed product. I loved the gameplay, but tying up all the loose ends was bound to be problematic. I subscribed to the Indoctrination Theory that had floated around at the time, and didn't think the end was the true ending, until so much outside pressure forced the development team to cave to the will of the fandom. The multiplayer was also my favorite new addition, finally slaying things Mass Effect style with my friends was something I enjoyed until the Xbox One was released.
To say I'm a fan of the series would be an understatement, as it had surpassed my previous favorites by a long shot very early in. In my mind, I could see myself in that universe and I loved every second of the fantasy that the series allowed. That being said however, I approach this review with a certain skepticism that I've garnered as the big companies try to milk series for everything they have. ultimately leaving a dead cow in their wake. I remind readers that this is simply one man's opinion, a little insight into the mind of Jared Robbins when it comes to series that he knows and loves.
So, let's jump in.
How Does It Play?
It seems like every iteration of Mass Effect comes with a handful of cool improvements, and Andromeda does not stray from that path. The biggest change from the previous titles for me was the new movement system, as being able to quick dash in any direction and climb fluidly over obstacles is revolutionary for these titles, which typically had very narrow paths to take if you found yourself in an area where you could climb. Going from the comparatively more constricted environments of the Shepard Trilogy to the open environments of Andromeda would be improvement enough, but a Halo 5-esque dash system really makes you feel like you own the suit, and can bend the battlefield to your whim. With this came more vertical environments that means gaining the high ground becomes more important than ever. Tense fights, dashing between and over cover, all the while positioning for the Biotic combos has turned the action element of Andromeda up to a fever pitch, especially on the harder difficulties. The "profiles" system is an interesting new addition as well, with the ability to flip between various play styles quickly due to your embedded AI assistant SAM. This provides a fresh way to play and doesn't limit your playthrough to one class, something that forced many a repeat playthrough in the originals. All of these mechanics work well together and make for a smooth combat experience while playing through the single player portion of the game.
The multiplayer is also vastly improved, taking the new movement and verticality and pushing into an improved fast, frantic, and frenzied multiplayer experience. The classes and maps all feel fun and fresh, and the matches are faster, running a few rounds shorter than the previous iteration. This honestly makes for a better experience though, with quick missions only taking 15-20 minutes on the lower difficulties.
With every improvement however, there seems to be an equal amount of frustrating drawbacks that manage to cast a shadow on a really fun experience. A lot of these may seem nit picky, but when combined they can really start to be annoying.
First off, this seems to be an RPG staple but there are too many fetch quests, and small favors you have to do, while trying to help humanity survive certain death floating in space. Trying to deal with radiation on a planet so people can come down and start a settlement? Can you get pictures of the cute animals first? Some of them are just so needless and bring you to areas of the map that aren't populated by anything other than those small quests, it almost feels like they forgot to put more near them. On top of that, I kept running into an issue where the callouts from my crew about a certain side quest would pop up every time I drove by, despite the fact I had already collected the part of the quest I was supposed to in that area.
While planet side I found that in order to craft things I didn't only have to collect the mineral resources to craft, I had to hunt down alien lifeforms for their hide. In space... In the future... I understood this component in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but it feels unnecessary and tacked on here, almost as if they followed a previous formula a bit too closely.
The last thing is small, but nonetheless hurt my experience. That being, I never used the Bioware Shepard model, and sure the facial customization wasn't amazing, I still made it work. Andromeda seems to have clamped down so tight on the customization options that using something that is really yours becomes impossible. I spent an hour trying to find a good starting point for my character (yeah I am totally that guy) and I finally settled on "it'll do."
In the end, the way the game plays now is fun, but so many steps were taken backwards in other areas, it leaves me confused as to why.
Mass Effect: Andromeda delivers on most of the substance but fails on some of the flash.
How Does It Look?
Mass Effect titles in the past have never really won any beauty contests. They were more geared toward solid gameplay and a strong story. Playing even a small amount of Andromeda you would be able to tell that EA was striving to nail all three of these areas, and in some they succeeded. The first planet you land on you can see things are going to be very different this time around. The sky, the long lines of sight, the detail in the textures of the planets surface and the buildings that dot it's landscape. You can clearly see this was something they were striving for, all the way down to the armor and the weapons you equipped your characters with. That's where the buck stops sadly, as the characters were what suffered this time around. While some may look better than others, the facial animation is ultimately what struck the immersion killing blow, example:
Does she need to sneeze? Is she auditioning for Zoolander 3? It would be passable if it were only a few characters, but it seems to affect most humanoid characters in some way. It's just slightly odd, but odd enough to take you out of a beautifully crafted universe.
Much like the family Christmas photo, a few weird faces can ruin a good time.
How Does It Sound?
Powers, punches, bullets, and bodies dropping all add to the pulse pounding frenzy that combat can be in this game. The sound of your character dashing around, the call outs from your squadmates, the enemy chatter and the raw explosions are really what pull you in when the floor drops out and you wind up neck deep in a firefight. This is where the game truly shines, the combat, and the audio carries that through. If you have the option to listen to this game with surround sound turned up, it will be a treat every time. The musical score is also up to par, in my opinion, adding it's own twist to the series and establishing themes that will most likely carry through to any sequels.
The downside isn't really a downside, more of a missed opportunity. Some of the voice actors really didn't sell anything I was buying, lacking that impact you need in a game like this, while others, who played smaller roles, had more interesting voices and left me wondering why these people didn't have more prominent roles in the game.
Really though, this game doesn't miss the mark too much on the audio side, really bringing the battlefield home in one of the most important aspects of the title.
First I heard the pin drop, then I heard the grenade.
Can You Control It?
Ah, the controls portion of the review. Usually hard to mess up, almost impossible to fail, but sometimes a game truly shines in this area. Mass Effect: Andromeda is one such game. Movement has become so fluid in this game, I can't reiterate it enough. They nailed this. Whether moving through cover slowly, or dashing forward to get in shotgun range, the movement now becomes more integrated with your individual play style than ever before. I was always able to get shots where they needed to land, I never once felt like I was hung up on something, and I knew there was more than one way to get where I wanted to be in a firefight. This really opens up the experience quite a bit, becoming my #1 improvement in the series.
Become The Pathfinder.
How Does It Feel?
A game like this shouldn't feel rough around the edges, but if it does it's not always a bad thing. There is so much to offer here despite it's flaws that it's hard to talk about anything wrong with it, but a game in this series, of this scale, really needs to hit all of it's marks. In the end however, this leaves me feeling like I'm playing a different series. They lost the Mass Effect FEEL. Sure they have the looks, they have the lore, but they lost a lot of the little things that endeared me to the original title, and then the sequels in turn.
First off, your party seems bland. I feel like they didn't want to copy any of the previous characters too closely, so they limited the overall personality. The cast doesn't seem as varied and vibrant as in previous iterations. Which is a shame, given what we know they can do with the source material.
Next, the choices. Ironic, I know, due to the ABC ending of the original trilogy, with practically no impact from your choices. I am instead referring to the initial choices you made setting up YOUR Shepard. I know they were small things, but I felt at the time, even with that little bit of influence, I was building my Mass Effect version of myself, by myself. It became easier to assume the character when making the choices later on, and made the relationships with the crew that much more impact-full. In this title, the characters history is set before you step into his shoes, as he has basically been groomed to assume his role in this. His history is his, not yours for him. For me this slowed the drive to create a character of my own, in my fantastical image, and never really ignited it fully. At the end of the day, the game is a rewarding experience, I just feel like with all the creative character building aspects having been so throttled down, it leaves it more like a movie you're watching, and less like an adventure you are partaking in.
The Feel: 1.4
A game mired down by the legacy of it's predecessors.