Rare is the day I am interested in a game out of both ends of my brain’s enjoyment matrix. I unintentionally prepared for this sweet delight by reading reviews, seeing videos, and hearing all about the highpoints – by which I mean the zenith and troughs alike. I fully expected the story and relationships to be intact and to even enjoy them as Bioware staples, but as Mass Effect: Andromeda looked more and more like someone spilled a big glass of Assassin’s Creed: Unity on top of Mass Effect, my ears perked straight up.
There’s something to the disaster that keeps on keeping on that’s all the more admirable when it crosses the finish line. Mass Effect 2 and 3 are masterclasses in the action RPG genre, bringing out more feelings than quick-time events and placing all of existence against oblivion itself. For me, neither of those had significant quality dips to the point where I questioned if I was going to enjoy my time with either game. They were classics from introductions to end credits. Take them against a title like Final Fantasy XIII that doesn’t really define itself in the beginning and takes a longer burn to determine the quality, or Deadly Premonition that tanks early as a cheesy barrel of fun times from the start screen.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is one of the few that starts as the latter and ends up spinning itself to a balanced posture the further into its own galaxy it goes. I couldn’t believe how many squares on the Mass Effect: Andromeda “Huh?” Bingo card I hit, heaps of them flying in to make me scream “Bingo!” like a Wednesday night regular at the hall.
- Creaky voice acting.
- Getting stuck in walls and corners like a Blair Witch victim.
- Teeth phasing through lips, promising me terror in place of friendship.
- Suddenly shifting necks and heads that ultimately revealed them more owl than person.
- Enough people talking over one another to make my nose bleed.
That was hours one and two, making me cackle relentlessly at the glass house Bioware had tried to paint with a metallic silver.
Hours three through ten start to unveil the other side, touches of that elusive quality bar held high by the past coming through with a noticeably hollow ring. In every game since Bioware hit the characterization jackpot in Mass Effect 2, I’ve felt that the casts have been weak. To wit, the worst handful of characters in their history are in this game as edgier, slanted versions of Jacob or Miranda – neither of which are often heralded for setting rooms ablaze with personality in their time. It still feels like Bioware hasn’t shaken the desire to chase personality traits in lieu of creating new, better characters.
That said, the lore is still excellently presented on the back of the previous trilogy. Coming into this game absolved from the influences of old Mass Effects may hinder this, but the presentation of stories – either interactively or in thematic windows – is as enticing as ever. Seeing the Krogans in a different light is brilliant, and even having a female Turian around is somewhat different. Even with her though, you get the feeling that the designers just wanted to switch the gender and keep the character that so many loved, defining Vetra more by her gender as a result. One last nail driven into this point: the speed of Bioware’s U-turn on this whole situation.
So choices…the Mass Effect: Andromeda choices feel flimsy and sheltered from real decision and consequence. The vast majority fall into “Do I want to be quirky, sassy, knowledgeable, or a blank drone,” and while that’s not the way I’d prefer them, they still could’ve worked if the subtleties Bioware promised came through in more pressing ways. It’s banal to pick between many of these doors that all open to the same room with no very little change on and on and on. This isn’t a new issue to the Mass Effect galaxy, but this window dressing is old and faded by now.
Plus, getting to know your crew feels like speed dating from the start with some sort of flirtation guarantee in the crew’s standard contract. This leads into the famous sexual encounters that serve as pinnacles that side step the whole point of becoming closer to crew mates – and also lovely introductions to sex in space. For me, the romance options were never about the dirty deeds done. I never romanced in the first Mass Effect because I never felt a thing for those characters. I did in Mass Effect 2 because I felt for their story and wanted to see my version of Shepherd with them. Neither time did their geometrically smooth bodies banging together like Barbies ever come to mind as deterrent nor reward, and I’m equally unmoved by it here.
The action…isn’t bad nor great. The battle can become much more close-quarters than you may be used to and I tended to enjoy that style more. Zooming in for a stiff arm of death is delightful and new whereas the shooting is still solid but expands much less across the game. With the increased mobility of the terrain, it feels like the game is pushing to be more mobile than a normal cover shooter but there are very rarely chances to use said mobility in battle. Not all gameplay loops fasten securely to one another, creating a frustrating blind search for seams between what you imagine your character doing and what the game will let you do.
Mass Effect: Andromeda can’t hold a candle to 2 or 3 in my eyes, but maybe it was never intended to either. From the design choices Bioware (and EA, I’m sure) recurrently put front and center, the original pitch seems to be closer to a “relationship builder in space” than putting the plight of the universe first. Even if that’s the case, they collectively missed the mark. We’ll always have the laughs but for Mass Effect fans, that won’t be enough next time.
Mass Effect: Andromeda Score: