Posted on 10 Aug 2017 by L Coulsen

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The Defence

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action, Adventure, Role Playing
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: US 21 Mar 2017
EU 23 Mar 2017

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.4 GHz
AMD FX 3.9 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon HD 7850
HDD: 55 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Possible
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 3.6 GHz
AMD FX 4.0 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 1060
AMD Radeon RX 480
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 55 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Possible
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

BioWare have quite the history in the gaming world, producing, some of the best respected games in the western ARPG genre. Even after their purchase by EA, despite what some may have told you. Though, it’s hard to deny that their overall quality has been slowly, steadily, declining since their heydey, leaving us here, at Mass Effect: Andromeda. The much anticipated sequel/spin-off to one of BioWare’s best loved franchises to date. That’s not the best place to be in to begin with, the pressure really mounting when so much history is riding behind. Which should really have us wondering, is it really all that bad, or did the hype just ruin any chance of success?

The Trial

In short, yes and yes. But it’s not that simple, it never is. It is certainly true that Andromeda is a much weaker entry in the series, that’s not nearly as straightforward as it being a poor game. I actually very much enjoyed most of my time with the game, far more than I expected even. There were certainly some moments, including some persistent, frankly baffling, design choices marring the finished product, but most of these gripes are easy to overlook. If one is willing to make the (very minor) effort to do so.

Let’s get the big issues out of the way first. Cannot save during priority mission…what? Just, what? Why? Who the hell thought this was a good idea? Even at the best of times, removing manual saving solely in favour of checkpoints is a questionable decision. Whether that be saving at any time, or good old save points, for such a large scale game it’s absolutely asinine. Especially since the majority of the time, you can save whenever you want, simply by going to the in game menu. Just the same as any other entry in the series. Okay, fine, no saving during combat, that’s fair enough. But removing the option during entire, multi hour story segments…it’s just plain infuriating. Especially since there’s no rhyme or reason to when it happens, and the checkpoints themselves are bafflingly placed. Sometimes having massive, grinding combat sections featuring none, with the relaxed, press this button and pick up that box, throwing them at you with every step. Never mind the fact the sections considered “priority” seem to have been chosen entirely at random.

Welcome to the new world.

Similar issues are present in, bear with me, the dialogue wheel. Much like, well, everything BioWare have done for decades, there’s a lot of dialogue. Now firmly entrenched in the six point, radial menu approach first shown in the first Mass Effect, there’s an added layer of perceived depth in the form of “psychological profile” affected by your response choices. Each dialogue option is coupled with an icon showing that your version of Ryder is being emotional, logical or so on. That’s an interesting idea, but implemented in a very shallow, superficial style, with many of the actual words spoken seeming at odds with their supposed cognitive context.

This is actually a great idea, something that I’ve been hoping to see for a long, long time. But implemented in a haphazard way as it is, it falls short and ends up feeling like a pointless gimmick. With a little more work, it could have offered something genuinely fresh, to both the series and the gaming world at large. Things like how other games, including those by BioWare, allow you to choose a dialogue choice knowing it to be a lie, but with more nuance. Such as truthfully stating you went to prison by choice even though the narrative clearly intends it to have been something forced on you. Not something that happens in the game, by the way, that’s just an example off the top of my head.

However, this all pales in comparison to the shockingly incomplete nature of the, now cancelled, series. The most glaring omission being a complete lack of closure for the Quarians, still lost somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy, with all single-player DLC and sequels officially dead as a doornail, there is sure to be closure offered in external resources like books and comics, but for long term fans of the series it’s a slap in the face and an unequivocal “fuck you”. Stemming entirely from some early problems with animations being terrible, and until very late into release, the game being flat out unplayable.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 9th patch that I was able to run the game myself, albeit with the cutscenes running at a massively inconsistent, jittery framerate with masses of audio desync. Something which a tenth patch, a few weeks later, fixed. Though some problems still persist to this day for a lot of people. The most notable being that the game’s ruddy menu screen spams out processors to almost 100% system draw. This also resulting in choppy framerates at times, though personal experience would suggest this is more due to CPUs overheating and a new layer of correctly applied thermal paste should fix that right up for most people.

Ain’t no Thing.

Almost as bad is the included narrative being…well, let’s put it this way. The Andromeda initiative is a massive, privately funded effort to expand beyond our home galaxy, consisting of several “ark” ships from some of the largest species’ in the Milky Way. Something that has, supposedly, been planned in meticulous detail for many years before departing around the time of the events of Mass Effect 2. Their whole purpose is to travel to another galaxy, set up new colonies and build new lives for themselves and their ancestors.

Yet somehow, we are repeatedly told, by just about everyone we meet, that we “just aren’t equipped/trained” for this. Uhm…why the fuck are you there then?! It is literally, exactly what they were trained and equipped to do. Making them a pretty piss-poor group of colonists. Apart from you, the Pathfinder, Ryder. Somehow, despite having any training at all, having only come along with your twin, because your Dad was such a major part of the initiative. He promptly pops his clogs, and you become the Pathfinder in his place, and as the player, become the only competent person in the galaxy. Doing such amazingly complex things like…knowing that you need to build farms to make food and that kind of thing.

Granted, the planets identified before launch aren’t quite as nice and cosy as they originally seemed, having been ravaged by a mysterious space anomaly known as the scourge, so it’s a tad more complicated than initially anticipated. Having said that, despite using a Geth “faster than light” telescope (yeah, seriously) to get a more contemporary look at the planets, the journey still took more than six centuries. Surely somebody should have thought that, just maybe, that’s a bloody long time, and there could be all sorts of things happen in the interim. Asteroid impacts, supernovae and so on, but nope, everyone is completely at a loss when, y’know, time has passed!

Okay, now, having said all of that, it must be pointed out, I actually really enjoyed my time with the game. Even the more wallbanger narrative moments, and the typically inconsistent BioWare dialogue quality, were actually rather charming. Everyone was just a little bit too stupid to really hold it against them, and often gives more of a campy, B-movie appeal to them. At the same time, there are some genuinely genius moments of writing. My absolute favourite being the moment when you walk in on two of your male crewmates almost butt naked.

Preparing for the dance-off. And it's smoking!

Liam, this game’s Jacob, everyman analogue, and the Andromeda alien Jarl. Off screen, they’ve been talking to each other about interspecies relations, and came upon a hilarious, though very genuine, solution to help mitigate future faux pas. Each of them gets to ask a series of intentionally insensitive questions, in exchange for a piece of clothing, kind of like strip-poker, but with the aim being to not have any clothes left. It’s a really funny scene, but also extremely clever writing. After all, history has repeatedly shown that attempting to avoid causing offense typically has the opposite effect. So better to do it now, in a safe environment, so you know what not to say when it really matters. I loved that moment. Especially since we see Jarl’s rather shapely buttocks in all of their delicious detail.

Having the player take on the role of one of the Ryder twins was a really nice touch, especially since you get to design the look of both of them. With Papa Ryder’s character model also changing to reflect the two, things like skin tone, eye colour and so on. Though it can be a tad on the odd side if you decide to make the two twins look absolutely nothing alike. A further advantage to this is that the other twin still appears in the game, with her/his cryo-tube being damaged right at the beginning, they spend much of the rest of the game in a coma. Though you do have some moments where plot convenient future technology allows you to talk directly to their brain. It would have been interesting to see how s/he factored into the future of the series.

Gameplay is one of Andromeda’s strongest points. Taking the typical features from earlier games, but opening them up to be more fluid. Characters move faster and with more grace, allowing gunfights to be far more mobile, even though there’s a great emphasis on using cover. The much faster movements give a much better feeling of dashing from one chest high wall to another, like you’re actually trying to push up, flank the enemy and get into a tactically advantageous position. Whilst the inclusion of a jetpack really opens up the world around you. You are no longer a slightly clumsy, awkward and wooden animated mannequin, stumbling around out of sync with your supposed martial prowess. You move briskly and can explore a lot more of your surrounding simply by the edition of (let’s be honest) a glorified jump.

Also, returning to the vehicle based, planetary exploration of the first game…actually, that was a bit hit and miss. Yes, and. On the one hand, it was great to see the massive, sprawling landscapes arrayed before you, and the new vehicle, the Nomad, controls so darn smooth that it feels great driving around and exploring. Adding in upgrades like speed boosts and better turning control make it interesting to go back to previously visited areas and see which new peaks you can access now that your ride has been pimped.

Say “Aaaaaa”...

On the other hand, it must be stressed that some of the planets really are massive. Far too big, and packed with far too many objectives that they can be extremely overwhelming. Every ridge has a side quest on the other side of it, every valley has a set of ruins to explore. Side quest-itis is in full effect here, padding out what is already a decent length game. With the main story being a good twenty hours or so, and all the extra stuff being arguably three times that. Worse still, it can be a little unclear which side areas are important to progressing the plot, and which are just there to keep things busy.

The plot itself is pretty cookie cutter, but it does everything it needs to do. Travel to new galaxy, meet aliens you can’t communicate with, gun-fight, but it’s okay, they’re the bad guys anyway. Actually, I’m not so sure they are, because there are a lot of moments, mostly logs and such, adding some context to the main antagonist, the Kett, suggesting they see us as invaders. There’s a lot of talk of them defending the purity of their culture and, literally, biology which feels very much like it was setting up a future revelation to blur the lines. Then there are the Angara, the obligatory friendly aliens, of which Jarl is your teammate representative. Supposedly, they don’t know that Humans exist, but have been keeping an eye on the new arrivals and…speak perfect English? Yeah, okay then.

The writing quality is extremely inconsistent, but in the typical BioWare way. There are a few really dodgy moments, though the now infamous (and removed) “how did you get here? I’m transgender!” line was far and away the worst, there are some other bits and pieces that are just silly. Falling flat more than being terrible, they don’t do much to ruin the overall quality, just be aware that you will end up rolling your eyes right out of the back of your skull several times along the way. Pretty typical of BioWare then really.

Voice acting is more solid, with no performance being anything less than good. Some of them are amazing, especially the female Ryder, who hits all the notes perfectly no matter how you play here. What is it with female BioWare protagonists being better than their male counterpart anyway? Drack, the obligatory Krogan badass, is another stand-out, having the very best lines in the entire game. Whilst traveling around the landscape, your party will have short conversations with each other to pass the time, one of which results in Drack saying “I’ve eaten things older than all of you.” The line, and more importantly, delivery are absolutely perfect. It makes me chuckle every single time.

That reminds me of something.

Other aspects of the audio are more average overall. The music is just, there really. It never particularly stands out, which is fine for the most part, but underwhelming during more dramatic moments. Though it is nice to hear the background music shift depending on what’s happening, growing more aggressive during combat for example. Incidental sounds are difficult to judge, because there are just so many of them. It works in some places, like deep jungles, making the area feel like it’s alive, but are way too much in other areas, so you end up just zoning most of it out.

Lastly, the visuals are actually not that bad. It’s not a graphical powerhouse, hardly pushing anything beyond par for the course, but there’s a lot of detail and nothing ever really feels flat and/or lifeless. The now, finally, mostly fixed character animations are decent, if not particularly outstanding. Sometimes they feel a bit clumsy, most notably whilst turning when running, but that’s not such a bad thing. I mean, turning a sharp 90 degrees whilst sprinting isn’t the easiest thing to do, so it’s not surprising that Ryder would look like a bit of a dork doing it.

The Verdict

Okay, so, finally, let’s put it like this. Mass Effect: Andromeda is pretty much the weakest part of the franchise, discounting some of the mobile games perhaps. But having said that, it’s not a terrible game. It’s actually pretty good. The biggest problem we have (aside from the insulting decision to push the multiplayer exclusively now) is that there’s so much love for the original trilogy that nothing short of the raw essence of Chuck Norris injected directly into your brain could live up to the hype. Coupled with the apparent disdain BioWare and EA have for the consumers, it’s no surprise that overall response has been less than favourable. But that’s a shame, because it’s still a solid game in its own right.

Case Review

  • Jetpack: No longer being constrained by a complete inability to move vertically really opens up the world.

  • Twins: Seeing both gender options appear in game at the same time is actually a really cool idea and promised a lot of potential for future content.

  • Multiplayer: Yeah, it has multiplayer.

  • Open World: Planet exploration is really cool, because of the Nomad, but some environments are just way too big and busy.

  • Cancellation: Giving up on the series was just flat out insulting.

  • Patches: It took nine, fucking nine, patches to make the game playable for some, and it’s still broken after the tenth for many.

3.5 Score: 3.5/5
Though significantly weaker than the original trilogy, it's still a fun game with an engaging protagonist.


  • Settings: Everything you could ask for, with none of the features you want. All of the options are there, but none of them seem to do anything at all, with overall visual quality remaining practically unchanged no matter what you change. Meanwhile, framerate seems to actually dip, sometimes, when things are turned down.
  • Audio: All the usual suspects, as well as a few very welcome additions. Being able to manage each aspect individually means you're not likely to miss out of dialogue being drowned out during moments of bombastic orchestral compositions. Though the sound balance is pretty good to begin with anyway.
  • Controls: Fully customisable and complex enough to let you tweak most things to exactly the way you want them. Though tying menu navigation to the same as your movement keys and jump (???) to confirm is a (minor) irritation. Just use a mouse.
2.5 Score: 2.5/5

Mass Effect: Andromeda had all the tools at its disposal for success. With just enough time removed from Mass Effect 3, people, myself included, felt it was time to explore the galaxy in a way that only BioWare could offer. Yet, what came out was so much a half-baked mess that it’s hard to really recommend stepping into the role of the Pathfinder. There were plenty of good ideas at play in Andromeda, but the execution was lackluster, and the QA testing non-existent.

With a fresh start to the series, you can see the drawing-board ideas come to life in Andromeda. New races, new combat mechanics, open-world exploration, crafting, colony management, all these ideas sound like good territory for Mass Effect to break into, no? Unfortunately, hampered by a dire UI and utterly awful storytelling, the best part about Andromeda ends up being the exploration, if only because you can get away from the amateur writing. Even then, your allies on your missions, arguably the most memorable part of the original games, are wholly uninteresting and seem to lack any real motivations.

Compound that with comically buggy cutscenes and a lack of polish in so many areas, and it’s easy to see how Andromeda was derided by players and the press alike. Perhaps the most disappointing part of Andromeda is how my own expectations were let down; I wanted to like Andromeda despite its faults, I really did. Yet at almost every opportunity, it rejected me. While BioWare has been patching Andromeda since release, no amount of bugfixes can salvage a fatally flawed story and characters.

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