Mass Effect: Andromeda is a massive game, and we received our code a little later then we would have liked. After pouring in multiple hours, here are some of our thoughts on BioWare’s latest space opera RPG.
These observations won’t necessarily reflect what our final impressions will be. Moreover, it would be unfair on the years of effort the developer poured into the game to rush out our opinion. For our full thoughts and score, keep your eyes on NZGamer.com.
Encounters in Mass Effect: Andromeda are based heavily around verticality, with players having the ability to jump-jet and dash around the environment. Battles have a very different flow compared to previous entries in the series, and require you to be very mobile so as to avoid being flanked. This provides a nice level of chaos, and requires you to be comfortable with the skills at your disposal.
Setting up tactical kills with your squad is difficult though, with no granularity present in their control. You can tell them to attack foes or guard areas, but setting up a combo relies on you noticing that one of your squad-mates triggered a certain ability. Given the game’s omni-directional approach to encounter design, it can be hard to pin-point where your teammates are mid fire-fight too, exacerbating the issue. On normal difficulty, combat hasn’t necessitated that level of micro-managing, but it is missed.
In Andromeda you aren’t locked down to a single class. From the get-go, you can pour skill points into combat, tech, or biotic trees. Weapon types aren’t gated either, meaning you can mix-and-match to your heart’s content. Your power set early on is a little underwhelming, but as you expand and build towards your playstyle, encounters become flashier displays of explosions and lasers.
Outside of that is an overarching metagame, reflecting the footing you’re trying to gain in the new frontier. Andromeda Viability Points (or AVP) are earned for completing missions, and making worlds habitable. Cashing these in provide rewards that routinely roll in, like packages of crafting material or credits. At no point did these ever feel essential to my progression, but checking for them added a nice routine every time I returned to my ship.
One of the main ways of gaining AVP is to establish outposts on planets. This is accomplished by visiting monoliths – ancient alien ruins, which act as waypoints for environmental control systems. Activating these is one of the weaker elements of the game’s core loop, having you complete lame Sudoku puzzles. They’re not difficult, just boring – contributing absolutely nothing to your travels.
The environmental control systems that these monoliths unlock effectively act as dungeons, each with their own flavour – be it platforming, simple puzzles, or combat. Completing these alter the planet’s weather, making them fit for colonisation. Seeing the planet you’ve been rolling around on for hours change in such a sweeping way is a reward in itself, but it also makes you feel like you’ve made a tangible difference.
On a technical level, the PC version of Andromeda is sharp. The different planets you’ll visit each present a beautiful landscape – some teeming with strange plant life, and others with howling squalls across frozen planes. BioWare Montreal have created organic and constructed environments that feel suitably alien, giving the franchise an air of mystery it hasn’t had since its first instalment.
Unfortunately, that level of quality doesn’t extend to everything. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a buggy game. Characters in cut-scenes get locked into animations, or lean on invisible objects. Occasionally they’ll be talking about heady philosophical issues while being embedded in a nearby wall. One particularly strange bug multiplied the crew members on my ship when I talked to them. While having two identical Dracks fussing around a kitchen is hilarious in its absurdity, it does dampen the more serious tone that the game often aims for.
Facial animations are another concern. While every alien you encounter looks totally fine, the occasional human interaction has you staring at a wide-eyed monster. This is strange, as occasionally these characters will snap into more casual looking postures, having their eye-lids lower and stance relax. It’s easy to wave away these types of bugs in something as goofy as Fallout, but in Mass Effect – when social interaction is a cornerstone of your franchise – it’s a real problem.
Continuing a much beloved franchise in a meaningful way – while also innovating upon it – must be an incredibly intimidating proposition. It’s unclear if Mass Effect: Andromeda has felt the strains of that expectation, or if the bugs and issues present are merely the growing pains of new studio BioWare Montreal. The core foundation – the combat, progression, and exploration – is sturdy. But it’s clear that Mass Effect: Andromeda needed more time for polish.
These thoughts aren’t necessarily our final impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda. We’ll be posting our full review and score when we’ve completed the game.
Keith received a digital copy of the game from EA for review.