Mass Effect: Andromeda is a glorious clusterf**k of a game. After nearly 60 hours of play, I came away . . . satisfied (I think?) by the overall experience, but also glad it was finally over. There were days when I couldn’t stop playing Andromeda . . . and days I just didn’t want to start. I can’t remember the last time – if ever – I came away from a game with such a positive impression despite wanting to stop playing the game because I was so sick of its bullshit.
It’s not so much the larger issues that bothered me, but the little things that stacked up. Small design choices that drag the entire experience down. The core of the game in terms of gameplay and narrative is solid and enjoyable. Good even, at times. But Andromeda is such a conflicted mess, I’m not sure where the hell I should start.
I never intended to play Andromeda, but after seeing a free trial period available, I decided to give it a go. I still have a lot of love for the Mass Effect universe despite . . . the game I shall not speak of . . . and I must admit, returning to this world was quite a nice experience. And the first few hours of the trial were enjoyable and engaging enough to convince me to buy the full title.
Andromeda, at least from a narrative perspective, was a smart move. It’s the same universe, but a new sandbox. You play as Ryder, a human ‘Pathfinder’ assigned to the ARK Hyperion – a colony ship on a 600 year voyage to the distant Andromeda galaxy. As you’d expect, your arrival in Andromeda doesn’t quite go to plan and you quickly find yourself struggling to survive and gain a foothold on this dangerous new frontier.
It’s a tidy way of keeping the things we love – the races, technology and history of Mass Effect – but without the baggage of the original Mass Effect trilogy. It’s a clean slate, a chance to tell a new story in a new galaxy with new races and . . . oh.
Okay, so let’s talk about the first real flaw of Andromeda. The new races it introduces – the Angara (good guys) and the Kett (bad guys) aren’t terribly interesting. Not as interesting as the races you already know and love. Andromeda also recycles some plot elements Mass Effect fans will be very familiar with – an ancient, now extinct civilisation and a nefarious plan by the Kett to assimilate the genetic distinctiveness of other races in their quest for genetic perfection.
But the Kett and their leader – the Archon – aren’t exactly Reaper level bad guys. Not that they needed to be. I just wish the whole ‘ancient tech’ stuff wasn’t such a big – if any – part of the narrative. It’s so – been there, done that – in Mass Effect, and it’s a shame Andromeda relies so heavily upon it.
That said, the core story and how it plays out is certainly worth your time and provides a fairly engaging and enjoyable ride. The final confrontation feels a little abrupt, but there’s a neat and satisfying little epilogue that ensures you come away from the game feeling pleased.
As you’d expect, Andromeda has you assemble a motley crew to tackle the Kett and put an end to their evil schemes. It’s a . . . decent cast. There was no one I really hated. But there wasn’t anyone I truly loved, either. Drack, the Krogan, was fun, but krogans usually are. It’s hard not to compare the Andromeda cast to the original Mass Effect crew, and though they may not quite hit those dizzy heights, they do offer a few fun scenes and banter.
You have core story quests in addition to key companion and colony world quests. You also have numerous ‘task’ quests. Just as I did with Prey, I’m going to make the unusual complaint and say that Andromeda has too much content.
The problem with the extensive selection of side content in Andromeda is that the bulk of it – like Prey – is low quality filler. It’s not necessarily bad content. But it’s not content that’s worth your time. It has no value. I completed a lot of it but I can’t say I was honestly enjoying it. I was just mindlessly grinding through it for the sake of it.
I’d say 70% of the ‘tasks’ could be cut because they’re completely forgettable and a waste of your time. But also like Prey, there is some really good stuff buried in there. It’s such a shame you have to wade through so much pointless filler to find it.
A big part of the game is establishing new outposts (you’re there to colonise Andromeda, after all) but the game really squanders the potential of this concept. I thought you’d get to explore different worlds and choose where to put down your outposts but instead, you’re restricted to a handful of specific worlds and locations.
Okay, so I can see why they did this and it makes perfect sense from a narrative perspective, but you also lose that sense of mystery and adventure. You’re supposed to be a pioneer, but everywhere you go is pretty much already settled and explored. You just have to knock a few quests off at each location to put down an outpost, but even this isn’t handled as well as it could be. I thought outposts would grow and evolve over time, but they remain static. There’s never a real sense that you’re building a new civilisation in Andromeda and that’s the biggest missed opportunity.
Gameplay is a basic third person cover shooter with the addition of a horrendous ‘platforming’ system involving a rather weak jump jet. On the battlefield you can use it to boost dash to cover or leap over foes – and in that sense it’s pretty fun and adds a welcome kinetic dynamic to battles – but it’s also unfortunately used for some f**king terrible and irritating platforming sections.
You’ll be navigating narrow ledges and rising alien pillars and I can’t stress how much I hated any section that required me to use the jump jet in this way. It’s a nightmare to control and you’ll frequently miss ledges or jump too far, either falling to your death or dropping straight to the bottom, forcing you to start climbing all over again.
There’s so many annoying little things in Andromeda that really pissed me off that I actually made a list whilst playing. I’ll probably gloss over a lot of these so this doesn’t run on for forty pages. Ready? Here we go!
The UI is a complete f**king mess. I thought at first it was just because it was designed primarily for a control pad, but it seems to be equally awful regardless. It’s a convoluted system of multiple menus within menus and multiple (and different) key/button presses to do the most simple things. It’s terrible and should be taken out back and shot in the head.
The facial animations, though better now than at release are still bloody awful. They’re stiff and awkward and frequently hilarious. They’re not as bad as the character animations though, which are always hilarious. The highlight was probably the ‘fight’ between two Krogan. I’ve seen better animation in SFM porn.
DOORS! Doors aren’t generally an issue because they only take half a second or so to open. Except on one particular world where they each take 4-5 for no obvious reason . . . other than to make you stand by and tediously watch a little circle go around.
In fact, that whole world design can get f**ked, because in order to enter the main open world, you first need to go through two other sections and a load screen using a fast travel terminal – which also includes an option to return to your ship. And yes, it’s very easy to accidentally hit the wrong option forcing you to leave the planet . . .
. . . because returning to your ship makes you automatically leave the planet/station you’re on. Why? Why can’t I just go back and speak to someone on my ship or whatever, without leaving the location and having to watch the same f**king cutscene of my ship taking off and landing multiple times?
Why do so many quests send you on pointless ‘scanning’ exercises across multiple systems or locations? Why do I have to tediously visit five different relay points in order to find the ‘real’ objective in so many damn quests? It just forces you to continually backtrack through places you’ve already been and for what? I swear, over half of my 60 hour playthrough was spent backtracking for quests.
What’s the point of system scanning and ‘exploration’? Why does it take so long? Why does it have to slowly zoom to every planet and – even if you skip it – still has to zoom in and then out before you can do a scan? WHY??? WHO THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA???
Why is the range of your hand scanner so small? Why can’t you run when using it? Why do so many missions involve ‘locked’ doors that you just need to backtrack to the last room you visited to touch a console to open it. WHY?? WHAT IS THE POINT???
Why do you give us so many skill points and combat abilities if we can only have three active at a time – extremely limiting our combat options? Because you can’t fit more than three options on a control pad? F**k, just put in a radial menu or something . . . oh wait, they did, but only for weapons, not powers. WHY???
Why is the Nomad (your planetary exploration vehicle) so slow? Why are the maps so big and empty forcing you to tediously drive for minutes at a time to get to quest locations that seem to be intentionally placed as far from a fast travel point as possible. Why is there so much annoying terrain that makes it a pain to drive and navigate?
Why can’t I walk around when there is radio or companion chatter without it abruptly cutting out because I walked too far? It means I have to stand perfectly still every time someone is talking or I’ll miss out on what they’re saying. WHY???
There are so many little problems with this game that, on their own, wouldn’t have bothered me too much. But combine them all, and they stack up to create one of the most frustrating and infuriating games I’ve ever played. Seriously – F**K THIS GAME. Do you think I’m done? Stay with me, there’s more!
Why do so many key side quests go nowhere? Why was the Turian ARK quest so shit? Was it unfinished? Why introduce important plot elements like the ancient AI, the Collective, the Kett ‘ally’ or the mysterious ‘benefactor’, if NONE of them are resolved? Were they intended for DLC? Or a sequel? I guess they were, seeing as how the game teases the Quarian ARK at the very end. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon.
I should probably repeat – as hard as it might be to believe – that I still came away feeling positive about Andromeda despite the game apparently being designed to be as irritating as possible. I hated parts of this game. There were times I wanted to stop playing it because I was so sick of having to grind through all this annoying little shit to get to the good stuff. It’s like a bloody endurance test.
The question is – is Andromeda worth it, in the end? Despite everything, despite all my complaints, I have to say yes . . . barely. In the end, the good shines through. But I’m never f**king playing it again.