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Article: (Review) Go Home, Mass Effect: Andromeda, You're Drunk

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  • Article: (Review) Go Home, Mass Effect: Andromeda, You're Drunk

    No man's Mass Effect.
    For the sake of this review, let me just state that as of this writing I have not yet finished playing through Mass Effect: Andromeda. However, I have put in about 69 hours into the game, which includes a mix of both the game's single player and multiplayer content, a bulk of which has been spent in the game's single player content.

    This will not be a traditional review. This will instead be a quick look at some of the highs and the many lows that this game has delivered to me in these nearly three days' worth of play time. Over the past couple of weeks, my journey through Andromeda has been a rollercoaster of emotions, feelings, and pains. See, I love the original Mass Effect titles. I recently replayed through all of them in anticipation for the release of Andromeda. They were great! Yes, they each had their flaws, but for the most part they all were on the "solid" side of the spectrum when it came to gameplay, dialogue, combat, and even story. We'll just ignore the original ending to Mass Effect 3 for the purpose of that statement being true.

    The point here is that I was rather pumped for the release of Andromeda. I expected that it was going to be great. Fans have been waiting for five years for the return to the franchise. We had BioWare working on it for quite some time and it was going to areas that were ripe with new possibilities. A new galaxy! Just think of the cool aliens we could meet! Maybe we'll be the ones to make first contact with a non-space faring species! It was nearly a totally blank slate to work with and what we ended up with here is perhaps one of the worst efforts I have ever seen coming from a triple-A development studio.

    This section right here marks the point where I have completed the game. Clocking in at about 78 hours (via Origin) or almost 71 hours (in-game) depending on what I want to believe, I have finished 88% of the game. I did the main story to completion along with a metric ton of side missions, including at least one side-quest that I completed that the game refuses to acknowledge.

    At times, the game felt exactly like the kind of game I wanted. There were some genuine moments of humor. The response options for Ryder were often exactly what I wanted. It helps that I am quite snarky myself, so that particular dialogue option fit in perfectly with me as an individual. The visuals, particularly the environments and scenic vistas often looked great thanks to some really nice lighting work. Of course, the shooting mechanics are perhaps the best the series has ever been. Some people have voiced some concern over the auto-cover system but I don't recall a single time where it was a hindrance to me.

    But then you're smacked back down to reality. Teeth start to clip through lips during conversations. NPCs just up and wander away from your narrow field of vision during dialogue interactions. Allies are dreadfully far away during conversations leaving them next to impossible to hear. Faces are tired. Enemies spawn floating in the air before your very eyes. "Serious" dialogue is sometimes terribly written. Plot holes show up that are so deep you could land a space ship in them. There are "short" but unskippable transition videos that play between every. single. trip. The female Ryder model seems to have a permanent smirk even at the most serious or somber of moments. Her model and facial animations still seem to be leagues better than the dead eyed stare of her twin brother.

    Let me perhaps give you an easier to understand breakdown of this game's issues...
    • Unskippable Cutscenes
      • These show up any time you land on a planet, take off from a planet, fly from one planet to another, fly to a new system, fly to a planet after arriving in a new system. They're not very long but my God do they ever add up over time.
        • This really kills the desire to take a look at non-mission critical planets in a system. After a short time you just stop so as to avoid any unnecessary travel cutscenes.

      • This is especially troublesome in at least one particular side-quest that had you flying from one system to another, flying towards a ship's radiation trail, scanning the trail, flying to another system, flying to another radiation trail, and doing this for a total of five different stops. Those transition videos took longer than the entire process did of scanning the trails did. They're cool and all the first couple of times but after even just a third of the game you're going to want to pull your hair out.
        • I understand that these are probably hiding loading screens, but this isn't a really good excuse to not even give the option to skip once loading is complete. I have the game installed to an M.2 drive which provides insanely fast loading and I still have to sit through all of those loading screens despite task manager showing no drive activity.

    • Ship layout
      • I'm not sure what BioWare designers were thinking when they came up with the layout for the Tempest (Ryder's ship in the game). To get between the ship's two floors you need to either take the elevator in the very back of the ship or one of the four ladders (two in the back by the elevator and two near to the bridge). That is perhaps a bit of a nit-picky issue.
      • The main issue with the ship's design is that in order to do anything related to the R&D and then equipping of your weapons or gear, you have to take the following steps:
        • Run to the R&D station situated on the top floor of the ship. It's located roughly mid-way between the bridge and the back of the ship where the cargo area is.
        • Do your researching of new weapons or new gear. Develop those new weapons and gear.
          • Oh by the way? It's not very easy to see what your current gear is when you're developing new gear. You often have to back out of the R&D menus, then open up your inventory to see what the gear is that you already have unless you are fine with accidentally making the same gear you already have on.

        • Once you developed that gear, you cannot equip any of it directly from your inventory. I mean, why would you? That would just be silly! No sir, you have to instead run back towards the front of the ship and take a left. Here is where you can equip the gear you just made.
        • God help you if you forgot something or made a mistake because you're running back to R&D. It seems like a silly complaint but it can be very time consuming over the course of the game. Why would it have been so hard to either:
          • Let me equip gear and mods from my inventory?
          • Move the two stations right next to each other?

    • Clipping
      • Clipping in this game is an absolute travesty. I've seen:
        • NPCs clipping into each other
        • Hands clipping through weapons
        • Armor clipping into armor
        • Heads clipping through armor (especially noticeable with the Krogan)
        • Ryder's shoulder clipping through her casual gear
        • Teeth clipping through lips on a variety of species
        • Ryder clipping into geometry in a huge number of places
        • Enemies spawning clipped into each other
        • Resupply boxes half clipped into walls
        • World models clipping into walls
        • Enemies spawning inside the world
          • Including both an entire turret and a sniper that spawned inside walls at two separate locations that could shoot me but I could not shoot them

        • Characters clipping body parts into other body parts
          • This ties into lackluster animation, which I will talk about below

        • Duplicated allies clipping into the world geometry during cutscenes

    • Animations
      • There are times where I felt like the lip-syncing for Ryder was just so spot on. It looked really good! At times it looked better than some of the lip-syncing for Horizon Zero Dawn, a game that had a tendency to feature dialogue spoken through clenched teeth.
        • But many times the lip syncing for the characters was just… not good at all. Facial movement was either non-existent or conveyed feelings that didn't line up with what was being said or how it was being said. It was not at all what you would expect from a AAA studio in 2017, especially one running on an engine like Frostbite.

      • The running animations tend to look like everyone just got done riding a horse for hours.
      • Most conversations usually go one of about three ways.
        • Conversations with NPCs that move very little or are very stiff/unnatural.
          • Though honestly, many of the NPC's animations outside of conversations didn't seem natural either.

        • Conversations with NPCs that loop the same exact idle animations that they were doing.
          • This is an especially bad look when that idle animation includes scanning things, pushing buttons, or reading things that they are no longer actually facing.

        • Conversations with NPCs that walk or warp out of view as they are talking to you. During conversations you are locked to a restricted viewing area.
          • This often makes them hard to hear as audio is positional.
            • This happens with teammates as well. If a conversation happens and your two teammates want to chime in, you often cannot hear them very well because they are either out of range or behind you where their audio isn't conveyed as clearly.

        • The core problem here is that the animations really don't look natural, be they conversations, running, drinking, etc .
        • During conversations I have seen NPCs have a bit of a "jitter" where their shoulders quickly shrug once every 10 or so seconds

      • Speaking of "drunk" (see title), the pouring and drinking animations in this game are laughable. They even made it so that you can only get drunk once in this game. You don't even wake up in a bathroom anymore, but instead wake up about ten feet from where you awkwardly collapsed. This is perhaps a nit-picky thing but it was something that was memorable from the first games.
      • How hard would it have been to not have NPCs just straight up disappear after a conversation is over? Or perhaps just as bad is when they said they'll meet you somewhere and then just stand still after the conversation is over. Why don't you show these characters walking away or actually moving towards the place they said they'll meet you at next? For God's sake, we've had things like that in games for years now.

    • User Interface (UI) & User Experience
      • You cannot have more than one quest "actively" tracked at one time
      • The menus are such a mess. It's very difficult to make comparisons between gear items
      • Unable to change gear, weapons, or mods just from the inventory
      • Menus for quests, buying/selling, and more are structured like folder trees in Windows or like the list of issues that you've been reading here
        • This makes navigation a bit of a pain, especially if you are trying to find all of the quests available to you in a specific location.
          • Most times, it's just easier to go somewhere you know you have at least one quest and then look on the map for the "inactive" quest markers to see what else it is you have to do there.

      • On the PC you can access the map shortcut with M but you have to hit ESC twice to close it, hitting M again does not close the map.

    • General Gameplay
      • There seem to be multiple plot holes in the story
      • For being a "Pathfinder" it feels like I'm Andromeda's new "errand boy"
        • Side quests tell me to go here, do this, collect these items from people that seem very capable of doing many of these things themselves.
          • Some quests tell me to go to one planet to talk to someone just to complete a simple quest. Some tell me to go to one planet to talk to someone, only to then be told to go to another planet in another system for the actual quest content. This results in upwards of eight separate travel cutscenes (Entering system, landing on first planet, leaving first planet, travelling to new system, landing on quest content planet, leaving quest content planet, with optional loads for leaving system to turn it in at the original planet)

      • Settlements
        • What in the hell is the point of being a Pathfinder if I can't even determine where settlements are placed?
        • They're just "set it and forget it" in terms of functionality. Once a new settlement is made on a planet, all it really does is add a few new side-quests.
        • You don't have a say in the design, look, or functionality of the settlements.
          • Oddly enough, the functionality of the settlements was something you could choose for the very first settlement. The problem here is that it has next to no bearing on the actual gameplay. The only thing I feel this led to were the group that I didn't select for the settlement ended up staging a protest back on the Nexus, the central hub of the game.

        • I was hoping that Ryder, as the Pathfinder would maybe be able to have some say in the layout or operations of the planet. For a game that has the same publisher as the Sims franchise, I was expecting something. Hell, even just seeing the settlements be built would have been nice but nope, they just appear once you're ready to place them in the pre-determined areas.

      • Planets & Aliens
        • Almost every planet is already named. Again, for being a Pathfinder it doesn't really feel like there is as much exploring as you would like there to be. You're visiting planets and locations that have already been established long before you arrived.
        • Where are the planets or the alien species that aren't as technologically advanced as you are? Why is there no "first contact" aspect where we are the aliens landing on a planet that are advanced as a society but not yet able to explore space?
        • Aliens are either already super technologically advanced or they're the equivalent of animals.
          • Speaking of which, for there being multiple systems and planets, most of the lesser species are exactly the same between planets. You will encounter the same creature enemy types on every single planet.
          • Also, they were often broken to the point of not even moving...

        • I really wish it wasn't so easy to understand the new aliens in a completely new galaxy. It's like it took almost no time before both you and the aliens were speaking perfect English to one another. Having your AI companion "translate" the language is fine and all but maybe still have the aliens speak in their own language and make use of English subtitles for a bit more immersion?
        • Speaking of aliens, why are the two main alien species that we encounter in Andromeda bipedal, upright walking, humanoid like creatures? Why? Why why why? Where are the seven legged, three armed creatures that have mouths next to their two butts and they talk out of the five tendril-like objects that protrude from their top most hump?
          • At the very least, the game does provide a little teaser for the appearance of the "non-traditional" Milky Way aliens such as the Elcor.
            • Sadly, this means yet another returning alien species in a game that is already overflowing with returning familiar aliens

        • Once you complete the special terraforming "Vaults" on each planet, I was expecting to see some sort of a visual transformation to each planet. Nope, there were none.
          • The desert planets are still just as sandy as ever, the frozen planet is still totally frozen, and so on. There are a few visual changes, such as the removal of overcast clouds on the frozen planet but nothing that makes you feel like your efforts were worth it.
          • Doing these Vaults at least reduces some of the pockets of highly damaging environmental factors such as radiation, temperature extremes, or damaging surface water. I just wish some of the changes were more visible in nature.

        • Tied into the above point, after completing the game there still isn't a visible change to any of the newly settled planets. The story and cutscenes that play at the end really seems to indicate that there would be a change, but I guess the joke's on me.

      • NPCs don't really seem to do much at all. They may walk here and there but I've seen far too many of them just staring at walls or accessing panels that aren't there. I've seen groups of NPCs "talking" to one another. By "talking" I mean they're just in a semi-circle staring blankly at each other and not really moving.
        • The team could really take a few tips from Rockstar on world building.

      • Scanner Issues
        • Objects that can be scanned in the world don't always glow orange under the scanner as they are supposed to.
        • Sometimes scanning objects is a matter of pixel hunting for the "sweet spot" that will allow you to scan the object you need to.
        • My planet exploration vehicle, the Nomad, had a constant orange glow on it that constantly made me think I could scan it.
        • For whatever reason, there are areas where there are "invisible" objects in the world. These objects only show up when you take out your wrist mounted scanner. They aren't important, they're just there in the game world.
          • The weirdest thing about these? You can walk through these invisible objects without any issue unless you have your scanner trained on the area. Once you look at these objects with the scanner they suddenly become objects that you can walk on or into. You can park the Nomad "in" one of these invisible objects, get out, take your scanner out and magically raise your vehicle as if it had drove up Take away the scanner and they're back to being objects that don't actually exist.

      • NPCs that are in the T-pose as they spawn in before my eyes
      • Portions of the ship or environment not rendering when turning the camera
      • Cutscenes where characters are inside each other or multiple instances of the same character in the same scene

      • Cutscenes where the animations and poses were just outright broken
        • An example being my ship's pilot still being in the seated position (without a seat) for an entire cutscene where he should have been standing... and then disappearing down through the floor as the cutscene was ending

    • Multiplayer
      • Multiplayer is enjoyable
      • If you liked the MP in Mass Effect 3, you will probably like this game's multiplayer
      • It can often get laggy as the rounds progress thanks to P2P networking

    I can't write any more here. I really can't. My brain is tired. My hands are tired. My face is tired. I know there are issues I haven't listed but it's just so mentally exhausting to think about the issues I encountered throughout this game. Sure, there are a ton of technical issues but there are also so many non-technical issues that really can't be fixed without overhauling story, environments, and other core game mechanics.

    As a huge fan of the first three games, the state of this game is honestly depressing. It's like finding out your best friend from high school is now a meth head, a broken shell of their former self. I fully grasp the idea that this is supposedly the first game in a new trilogy and that things are being set up for the next games. I still hope that is the case. There are some decent foundations here that could lead to some really fantastic adventures in the next two games if BioWare plays their cards right and addresses the major issues that plague this game.

    Sadly, this just feels like the very first Mass Effect game ever released, and I'm not just talking about how the game feels like most of it still belongs in 2007. Hell, in some cases it feels like a regression from the first game in the franchise. The thing is, this isn't the first game in the franchise. It's been a decade since Mass Effect first game came out on the Xbox 360. Ten years! We live in an era where many games have come out that surpass Andromeda in visuals, writing, exploration, quest structure, animation, and the issues presented here just cannot be excused from a major development studio that has had five years and a huge budget to create the next installment in what is perhaps their most beloved franchise. I don't want EA to kill this franchise and I sure don't want them to kill BioWare as they have killed off so many development studios in the past.

    I just want them to do better. I want this franchise to continue. I want to keep exploring Andromeda. I want to keep playing as Sara Ryder because I like her. I like her often snarky and sarcastic attitude. I like most things about her as a character even if her animations are sometimes a bit off. I say these things as a fan. I said what I said in the bullet points above as a fan. It pains me, as a fan, to see this game release in this state.


    Additional Information
    Mass Effect: Andromeda (Developed by BioWare, Published by EA)
    Starting at $59.99 (USD) for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (Reviewed the Deluxe Edition ($69.99) on the PC)
    Rated M for Mature 17+ for Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Violence