I didn’t finish this game and, god willing, I’ll never have to.
Don’t buy Mass Effect: Andromeda. If you loved the earlier entries in the series, really don’t buy Mass Effect: Andromeda. ME:A is a dizzying collection of technical problems, terrible writing, mystifying design choices, and concentrated disappointment. As an enormous fan of the ME series, I can honestly say that ME:A manages to, not just fail as a Mass Effect game, but also as a use of anyone’s time.
But don’t blame animations. Yes, the wooden facial immobility and odd lip protrusions are jarring, but I ultimately got used to them. They are merely the appetizer to a buffet line of minor technical problems that constantly overwhelm the player’s immersion. We’ve got texture pop in, idiotic AI, teleporting team members (also with idiotic AI), conflicting dialogue that sounds at the same time, NPCs just randomly walking in place, interactions that have to be accessed at specific angles, and I’ve even heard of bugs that lock the player into dialogue. I could look past any one of these problems, but the sheer number of them ensure that I’m dealing with at least one at any given moment. It’s hard to lose yourself in a world when the game goes out of its way to remind you that it’s fake. Hold on to your butts folks, because that’s the least of Andromeda’s problems.
Andromeda’s design is an undiscipled mess. The founding template is Dragon Age: Inquisition. The player follows a broader narrative through a series of smaller, open world levels choc full of characters to meet, enemies to kill, and side quests to explore. Beyond the functional combat, Andromeda fails at all of these. Let’s make a list of the horror.
- Side quests – There are hundreds of these little guys and they’re mostly ripped from the blandest MMO handbook you can find. Kill 15 enemies, find X object, go on a wild goose chase, etc. It’s all mindless busy work that feels like mindless busy work. Every quest is a transparent sheath between the player and resource acquisition. If there are meaningful side quests, they’re hidden by the shear amount of crap.
- Side quests 2 – The side quests are so miserable that they deserve a second entry. In addition to having no real purpose, they also waste time. Side quests inevitably separate objectives for no discernable reason. The unnecessary traveling only adds to the feeling of pointlessness that pervades the entire game.
- NPCs – The ME series historically seeded its world with interesting characters whose paths briefly crosses the player’s. Andromeda instead reserves its meager character development for the main team and a few major characters while everyone else is a quest dispensary. What’s the point of talking to people if they’re just going to tell you to mine ore?
- Unskippable cutscenes – We solved this one in the Playstation 2 era yet ME:A leaves no flaw behind. Whenever the player’s ship takes off, lands, or moves, you have to watch it. Oh, and elevators are back. ME1 was roundly criticized for using elevator scenes as a cover for loading screens and now Andromeda shoved them right back in. Good job!
- No quick save – Yup. You read that right. Every PC game on the planet has quick saves but ME:A doesn’t. It’ll even block the player from saving during main missions. “But the checkpoints!” you cry, “surely they make up for it?” Don’t worry, dear reader, developer Bioware is so committed to mediocrity that even the checkpoints are poorly placed.
- Scanning – Here’s another mechanic that was decried in earlier entries and reintroduced here. Not only does the player scan planets for small outlays of resources, but now they scan parts of the open world. Scanning is incredibly dull and only serves to ensure OCD gamers will see the world purely through a grainy, orange haze.
- Research and development – Why add scanning? So you can get research points! Researching blueprints allows the player to then expend resources on developing weapons. This might have been fun, but Bioware flooded the research queue with tons of indistinguishable items. The queue has piles of dreck with no clear marker for is actually worth pursuing. As an added bonus, the fun new weapon you just developed must be equipped at the opposite end of your ship. Enjoy the jog.
- UI – The Mass Effect games have always had poor user interfaces, but Andromeda makes it look like that was the goal. The menus are the Windows Explorer with a blue tinge and everything buried folders deep. Even comparing gear requires an awkward, one way cycling through all of the player’s weapons. Come on guys, Diablo 2 figured this out in the 90s.
- Limited character design – Character design options are shockingly limited and of poor quality. What’s worse is that this could have been copy-pasted from Dragon Age: Inquisition. Seriously, just go talk to the people down the hall. There’s no need to reinvent a crappier version.
So that was a needlessly long list, but even terrible game design doesn’t win the “Biggest problem in ME:A crown.” That honor goes to every component of the amateurish narrative. From the writing, to the plot, to the voice acting, every aspect of Andromeda’s narrative begs for an experience editor with a lot of free time. The first steps on the game’s hub, the Nexus, neatly sums up the flaws. In this scene, the main hero Ryder talks with the leaders of the Nexus about the apparent failure of their mission and the steps ahead. This ought to have been a moment to establish important characters and frame future challenges. Instead, it almost made me quit the game.
The first jarring moment is the exposition dump right out of the gate. Militia leader Kendros meets the player and throws down a history lesson as they walk through the halls. The moment had all the subtly of a jackhammer. Still, the scene didn’t really offend until Director Tann and Superintendent Kesh spoke. They combined Andromeda’s penchant for including every accent in the world with a strangely detached delivery. In particular, Kesh felt like the voice actor delivered her lines next to me while I watched the character model’s mouth moving on the screening. It wasn’t convincing. It didn’t help that the lines were poorly written. Every word was stilted and without emotion. The dialogue conveyed naked functionality. These weren’t characters exasperated by their ordeal or excited about the arrival of a new hope; they were NPCs who needed to relay specific information.
The information they conveyed was the broad outline of the early plot. The first problem with the plot was that Kendros, Tann, Kesh, and the human Addison delivered it. The four major races of the ME universe were front and center. The plot too often draws from the old ME game and doesn’t take advantage of the new situation. The writers keep shouting “Look! Mass Effect lore! Isn’t that cool?!” rather than develop anything new. That’s probably for the best because the writers had no idea what they were doing. The Nexus leaders immediately identify the main character as the solution to their plight. Small problem: there’s no reason to believe the main character can help. The main character received their role after the death of their father and has zero experience exploring planets, much less resolving all the problems now sitting on their shoulders. This is how Andromeda sets up its plot. It creates a scenario and quickly contrives a reason for the main character to fix it. It’s the chosen one shtick we’ve seen since the 80s.
The disaster of that is Mass Effect: Andromeda is truly heartbreaking. This storied franchise deserved better than a shoddy, visonless mess. Perhaps even more troubling is that there isn’t a way to fix this. Bioware will probably sort out the bugs, but they can’t solve the miserable design or terrible narrative. To fix Mass Effect: Andromeda is to create an entirely new game. As much as I hate to say this: don’t buy Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s just a pale reflection of a once great series.