Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

My name is Hermes the Good and this is my favorite review of Mass Effect Andromeda.

This review is written by Hermes The Good who is too good for an blogger account, so he had LZ Schneider publish it for him. He's a real goofy goober, so check out and support Hermes's fun YouTube channel by clicking here

Disclaimer: While structuring this review, we implemented a custom Blogger shading patch to preemptively fix a Gif issue causing gifs to play backwards. Unfortunately, we learned too late that YouTube is not compatible with our new patch and all of the video links are borked. Stand by for a quick fix.

Games are an ever-evolving story telling medium. Every year, we see changes in graphics, hardware, software, writing, engines, systems, genres, and voice acting that prove to be almost incomparable to the previous iteration of games. Like trying to decide which apple is better than which orange, games come with so much variety that comparisons even within the same genre or series can prove to be a difficult, pointless task.

“But, Hermes The Good, the title of this article clearly implies that you plan to compare games of different genres, series, and release years,” I hear you say aloud to your computer. Well, I have two things to say in response: 1) Don’t speak aloud to your computer, that’s weird and 2) I’m not comparing the quality of the games. Trust me.
The Good
Mass Effect as a series has seen a lot of change over its four installments. Because Andromeda is both the fourth entry, the newest game since whatever Mass Effect 3 was, and potentially the start of new trilogy, the game received a lot of unfair scrutiny.
Some of that scrutiny includes the wonky faces. Do they look strange, sometimes weird? Oh, yes. Do they remain almost stoic, and stone faced, even as the voice actor displays genuine anxiety, anger, and other emotions? Oh yes, they do that too. Do they sometimes completely de-render, leaving you staring at a horror of floating eyes and chatting teeth? No, that’s Assassin’s Creed.
Perhaps it’s because I played Andromeda after the face and eye shading patch was released, but Andromeda’s faces aren’t the greatest failure in EA history like every YouTube video in the last month would have you believe. In fact, they’re the greatest faces I’ve seen in a Bioware game. Period. The controversy with the faces is, frankly, illogical.
Which is better? You decide!
You see, Bioware has a long history of telling amazing stories in games that lack exceptional graphics. The faces in Mass Effect, Dragon Age Origins, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2, and Mass Effect 3, were functional, at best. They looked completely awful in retrospect but served the purpose of telling the intricate stories that Bioware desired to tell. Andromeda is leaps and bounds better than its previous entries. The faces may not be great compared to Call of Duty, for example, but Andromeda is leaps and bounds ahead of its previous entries.
Even better are the more cinematic backgrounds and environments, which have fantastic designs mixing sleek sci-fi structures with natural, biome based alien worlds. Things such as magnetically charged mountains, icy cliffs, and a smuggler city built around sulfuric pools and giant mushroom-trees are gorgeous to look at.


This seriously looks like Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Exploration
Many of you may recall how Mass Effect 1 had this nifty vehicle called the Mako, allowing you to explore large areas of alien planets, finding resources, quests, and mysterious sounds. Andromeda brings this back, but instead of these exploration areas being optional, these zones are the primary means of playing the game. All in all, this is a vast improvement over ME2 and ME3, where all the exploring you could do included looking around for some ammo between fight sequences and loading zones.
If you don’t believe me, keep in mind that your character’s job in Mass Effect Andromeda is to be a Pathfinder, a finder of paths, and the game does a respectable job of keeping you interested in that role.  By establishing new colonies on alien worlds, discovering the ancient crypts of the Protheans-- I mean, the Remnant, and completing side quests, you'll feel like what you're doing matters for the Milky Way colonists' survival.


Combat
Comparing this game to Mass Effect 1 may be repetitive, but at least Bioware realized you don’t fix what isn’t broken. In standard RPG style, there are many weapons and armor that are acquired in increasingly effective qualities as you level up and explore. While the design choices for the armor can be aesthetically lacking at times, the weapons are fairly satisfying and varied.


They don’t seem to care that their buddies are dropping one by one.


For example, there’s an Asari sword allowing you to teleport around like Nightcrawler before delivering a high-powered swing and there’s a revolver that gives a satisfying, thunderous bang as it fires death upon the Kett (They’re ugly, therefore, also the bad guys). Also at your disposal are fully automatic Sniper rifles and the Mattock, a semi-auto assault rifle for all your semi-auto needs. Each iteration of weapon feels different, too, with no two assault rifles, pistols, snipers, or shotguns performing the same way, or serving quite the same purpose. They sound good, and they feel good to use. Each upgraded version is genuinely exciting to get, and its easy to know you have a better version based on the roman numerals following a weapons name. Admittedly, I found some weapons worthless, but I have a very particular playstyle so I can see the purpose they would have in a different role.

I swear, Officer, these are for my Krogan.


The cover system is something to behold. Instead of pressing a button to smack up against a wall like you want to shoulder pound it to the ground, all you need to do to take cover is be near cover with your weapon out and your Pathfinder will automatically hunker down. The dodge system is nice, too, and uniquely changes according to your profile. It can be anything from a jet pack thrust, a stealthy duck and dodge, or a biotic shift through time and space. Just moving and firing feels great in a firefight, dipping between cover, or jumping up to roofs to get a vantage point. Oh, and the powers!
Have you ever stayed awake late at night, wishing you could turn invisible, get behind someone, force throw them, and then light all their friends on fire with Boba-Fett’s wrist mounted flame thrower? Me neither, but it’s very satisfying none-the-less. Unlike previous games, you’re not locked into a single profile. Instead, each offers unique benefits and you can store four profiles to hot swap during combat. It's almost overwhelming, but you don’t worry about investing points into a profile that you wind up not liking as the game makes it very easy to reallocate points to try something new.



The Story
Mass Effect Andromeda, surprise, takes place in the Andromeda Galaxy. That’s the Milky Way’s neighboring little sister, for the science-impaired. Andromeda avoids having anything to do with the atrocity that was Mass Effect 3 by making it so the colony ships, called Arks, left the same year Mass Effect 2 takes place. While that means decisions made in the previous trilogy do not matter in Andromeda, I find that to be a positive trait. The entire theme of Andromeda is the pursuit of a fresh start, and it smartly avoids being bogged down by the struggles of the original trilogy. Andromeda's story moves steadily, never overloading you with information or things to do. It doles out quests until you get your ship, the Tempest, and even then the pace remains constant, giving you things to do as you activate Remnant vaults and place colonies on new worlds.



The characters are initially lack luster until you finally start getting your crew together. Peebee, Drack, Jaar, Cora, and so on, are all genuinely interesting, both visually and in writing. Some of your ship’s crew have so-so voice actors, but I hardly found it bad enough to break the suspension of disbelief. The characters all interact casually like kids set out on an adventure, which is a nice breath of fresh air in modern gaming focusing on badass zingers and stoic clich├ęs. They'll sometimes get awkward, becoming flustered and misspeak, and they have arguments that feel genuine unlike a forced rivalry designed to give subplots some oomph (I’m looking at you, Miranda and Jack).




Even the Pathfinder isn’t sure about being the Pathfinder. Or flirting.


Some characters aren’t given the fanfare they deserve like Drack, who feels like the Krogan version of Mike from Breaking Bad. Other characters are comparatively over important, like Jaal, an alien
from Andromeda. I’ve also seen his ass, so… there is that.

Now you have too!



The Bad
Exploration 
“But, Hermes The Good, you said the exploration was good!” I hear you exclaim loudly. Dear gamer, exploration is good, but sadly, Mass Effect Andromeda does not execute it with the reverence and consideration that it deserves. We live in a post-Breath of the Wild world, and as such, exploration cannot be a map with a bunch of points marked for exploration. Mass Effect gives you a multiple large maps to drive around but after a while each world just starts to feel like the same, reskinned mountain range.
Here we have ice mountains.


Here, desert mountains.
Here we have... Sulfur mountains?
There is no point in getting out of your car to look around unless there are enemies or a waypoint nearby. Discoverable events are marked on your map, clearly telling you where to go long before you ever accidentally stumble upon anything of interest. This makes each world feel like a redundant checklist of points to visit instead an untouched alien world in need of a Pathfinder’s touch to make it habitable. This is reminiscent of Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed than anything unique.

Movement and Combat Balance
At its root, Mass Effect Andromeda seems to have trouble deciding what it wants to be when it comes to combat. On one hand, you have well-adjusted movement systems like your dodge and super-jump, which plays into combat with things like a ground pound. On the other hand, it wants to be a cover-based shooter, with enemies that have laser locked, unshakeable aim, and do enough damage that being out of cover long enough to do a ground pound is a death sentence. Your weapons don’t do enough damage to justify doing anything but hunkering in cover and picking away health, really.


I saw the mission failure screen very, very often.

It also feels boring when each enemy encounter begins and ends with how good your cover is, and it hurts that jumping and dodging feels so satisfying but they’re useful only for exploring Remnant vaults. Also, on most difficulty levels, it can take an entire clip to take out an enemy no matter how powerful your firearm. As the Pathfinder, it feels like you can never do enough damage.



We’re gunna need a bigger car.


Hit detection feels off at times, too, especially against strafing enemies, so when you’re using a sniper-rifle that holds only one round, firefights can become excruciating. By the time you're exploring the third alien world, combat becomes a chore.



The Ugly

Glitches, Glitches, Glitches

The industry standard for the Devil’s Trio, that’s Ubisoft, EA, and Capcom, is to release games, and playtest them later if they sell well. Also, if they feel like it. So, maybe never. Everyone is aware that as games get more expensive and publishers greedier, games have gotten incredibly more glitchy. Not “break out of the map and find a cool Easter egg” glitchy, but “game breaking, your saves are erased” glitchy. Mass Effect is no exception to this new standard, and even strives to set a new record.


Several of my quests cannot be completed simply because the game just won’t register them as complete. After Andromeda’s most recent update as of this review, version 1.06, there is one entire section of a map that will freeze the game and require a hard reset to load a previous save. Let me rephrase; an update to fix multiplayer issues broke sections of the single player campaign. Just let that sink in.

The most frustrating glitch I encountered happened when I died during a random enemy encounter. The game has a very consistent auto-save, and my perishing caused the game to save while loading. And then do it again, and again. I was stuck in a loading screen while my auto-saves were erased and replaced with the loading screen, which set me back to my most recent manual save. I suppose its wise to manual save often, but I’m not wise, and I and many players have lost hours of progress thanks to this glitch. It was so frustrating that I almost uninstalled the entire game.




That Asari sword, though!

To top it off, I’ve fallen through the map multiple times and found bits and pieces of the game that simply wouldn’t render.



Bioware has a pedigree of ugly faces and crazy glitches.


The Story
I want to write a whole essay about the good and bad choices made when Andromeda’s story was being conceptualized. It does a lot of great things, it has great characters and interesting concepts. Sadly, it fails where it matters: making the gamer care.


I know, how can I say the story is good if I don’t care? That’s just the point. I care about the characters, who have problems that I personally desire to solve. However, the game doesn’t offer any emotional investment in a story that is trying to be more grand and epic than it needs to be. It could have been a personal story of survival and the trials of Ryder and her crew, with small scale, relatable emotion and drama.




Me, caring about the Kett and tentacle clouds.

Instead, there’s species of ugly aliens who are the bad guys and angry because they are ugly. There is a giant space tentacle thing, which is angry at space ships because "reasons". Then there are three missing Milky Way colonial arks, and there are ancient alien monoliths that conveniently terraform everything. Oh, and the space tentacles hate those too. All of this is pointlessly stacked on top of the story, trying to give it a sense of scale, but lacking the purposeful storytelling to make it more than just stuff that needs doing.


Multiplayer 
Now, I like the concept of 4 human players versus the horde of computer controlled monsters. The multiplayer is tantalizing, it works when it works, and can be fun. Sadly, it rarely works. It’s bogged down by lag to the point that it’s unplayable and it will randomly not load your character or weapons, forcing you to use defaults. Playing as an Asari, Turian, and Krogan is cool, but the novelty quickly wears off. Give the multiplayer a few tries, but it’s not worth any more than that until it gets fixed. It’s not even worth a funny picture or gif.


Conclusion
The path to Hell is paved with good intentions. It’s also paved with not finishing what you started, and that is exactly what Andromeda is; unfinished. It wanted to implement concepts from its previous games, like the planetary exploration, and from other games, like Halo 5’s combat, into a cool and unique experience. I like that, I support that. If a developer sees another game, sees what works, do it. That’s how the industry excels, that’s how we get ADS in First Person Shooters, and great checkpoints in adventure games, and no more horrible dialogue a la Resident Evil.


The problem is that no one thought to balance these concepts. Every mechanic a game uses should support the game and work together, but Mass Effect Andromeda fails to do this. It feels more like a patchwork of ideas smudged together than it does a functioning, complete system. It’s not that it’s bad, because it isn’t. We live a world where video games are released broken and glitch and they can be forgiven for being so. Moreover, Bioware has never specialized in graphics, so I give them props for doing graphics so well. However, none of that makes Mass Effect Andromeda a great game.


It's worth playing and finishing if you feel so compelled, but it isn’t a masterpiece. It's something that I don't think people will ever talk about beyond how disappointing it was to play. I know that as much as I love some parts of it, I very well may never know what the tentacle clouds are about, or why the Kett are so ugly, and therefore so evil. I simply may never finish the game because it doesn’t feel like it’s worth the time. Maybe developers and publishers will learn, and the industry will change directions one day. I only wish that day had come sooner so that Andromeda could be what it clearly desires to be; Great.

See on Amazon.
This is me, hoping you enjoyed this Review.


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