(editor’s note: this is not a full review of Mass Effect: Andromeda. These are impressions based upon roughly 25 hours of gameplay. If, as we continue through the game, our opinions change significantly this post will be updated.)
One of the big problems with releasing a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda are the expectations. For it to be considered a successful part of the franchise, it has to be huge, it has to open a great new storyline, it has to have compelling characters, it has to have great combat, it has to look beautiful. The title does not successfully hit on each and every one of those things. In fact, in our play through to this point (as stated above, approximately 25 hours in), it misses on several of them.
First, and most noticeably, the graphics. Andromeda is a story-heavy game, one that requires players listen to and/or engage in what regularly seem like a never-ending string of conversations. The graphics, however, are not always compelling during these conversations, with lips regularly not moving in sync with spoken words and even the overall expressions feeling… off. It is a big problem in a game that requires heavy investment in the storyline.
Then, in non-cutscene conversations players will sometimes find themselves—and the person with whom they are talking—disconcertingly off-center. It is almost as though the camera is looking past the person talking to some spot on the wall behind them. Turning the camera during these moments only exacerbates the problem. The storyline doesn’t really feel all that engrossing in the first place and this issue, along with the faces in cutscenes, doesn’t help.
Stepping back a little, this not-very-great telling of a story takes place after the events of the original Mass Effect trilogy and involves twins Sara and Scott Ryder. The two venture off into the Andromeda Galaxy (with many other folks) to expand the reaches of humanity and settle new worlds. Things going very, very badly. Players initially choose whether to control Scott or Sara and begin, with their team, to explore and set what right what isn’t so great in Andromeda.
That exploration is big. There are a number of solar systems to fly through, planets in each system (not every one can be landed on), the occasional random object flying around, and a whole lot of backtracking. Just the scanning of planets that one can’t visit takes a decent amount of time and the initial appeal of the travelling cutscene wanes very quickly. Rather than the flying acting as a part of the game’s immersive experience, it pulls the user out of things because it is just so boring.
As players progress through some of the missions (and it can be distinctly unenjoyable to figure out which main or side mission one should be going on), they will be told to wait and come back later. This just means more annoying space travel.
Additionally, actually figuring out where to go to complete a mission objective can be difficult, not in terms of planet, but in terms of location within a ship or building. A little marker will appear at the top of the screen to indicate whether you’re heading in the right (or wrong) direction, but it has trouble with ups and downs (even though it tries to display them). It also only gives a straight line, direct, heading meaning that if that even if there is a structure in the way, it won’t deviate in the course it suggests. Expect a lot of pausing and opening of maps.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is hugely effective though in its multitude of battles. There is a good variety of weapons and armor, a number of modifications for the weapons, and then a significant amount of branching players can take on with their characters which open up more ways to attack and defend. It can become quite thrilling to chain special attacks, order around compatriots, and utterly annihilate a larger, better equipped, force. The let down here is that after doing this the game shows its game-ness by often, quite magically, placing weapons caches in the area just beyond the fight so that one can reload (Dark Souls this is not).
So, with much of the galaxy explored, with many missions completed and many more started, with hours of plot gone by, Mass Effect: Andromeda is… okay. Okay, however, doesn’t feel like enough. There is a whole lot going on, and running around planets shooting at things and learning is fun, but whenever the game stops and asks the player to talk to people and actually care about the myriad of things happening (and a whole lot of things are happening in this corner of the Andromeda galaxy), it falls flat.