Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 4/2/2017 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Rarely do games have as much to live up to as Mass Effect: Andromeda. The original Mass Effect trilogy – especially the second and third games – are truly legendary hallmarks for the sci-fi western RPG, and even with Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending, Andromeda had some pretty damn big shoes to fill. So, does it succeed in living up to the legacy of its predecessors? Well, not quite, but it comes damn close, and it makes up for its shortcomings by letting you make Ryder far uglier than Shepard could ever have hoped to be.
The premise of this game is that you’re on an ark with 100,000 other humans who’ve been in cryogenic sleep for the past 600 years traveling at 11 times the speed of light to reach and Andromeda Galaxy and establish colonies for the Citadel races. Except you hit a giant wall of space heroin and your ship gets slightly rekt. I played as the intrepid Bhutseks Ryder, the male half of the Ryder twins, on a quest to defeat the nefarious Kett, bring viability to attempted human/salarian/asari/turian/krogan colonies, and overall save the Helius Cluster.
One of the first negatives that one will likely notice is the sharp decline in overall writing quality since the original three Mass Effect games. The dialogue, character development, and overall plot aren’t nearly as well written as the first three games. There is, however, a silver lining – Ryder’s character, in my opinion, is MUCH better than Shepards, and the replacement of Paragon/Renegade options for Emotional/Logical/Casual/Formal dialogue choices makes dialogue much more interesting (and hilarious if you choose Casual at every opportunity as I did). Ryder’s relentless snark really makes the game for me. And it’s not as if the writing is god awful, but it’s really not. Compared to your average game, the writing is still pretty good; it just doesn’t compare particularly well with its downright legendary pedigree.
In addition to the decline in writing quality, Andromeda – at least on PS4 – is extraordinarily buggy. Rarely do these bugs interfere much with gameplay, but there was one time that I fell through the bottom of my ship and into space, and there were a handful of times when an objective didn’t spawn, forcing me to save and reload. Out of a probably 40-hour playthrough, however, that’s really not too bad. The biggest issues were bizarre NPC movement, extremely finicky dialogue prompt detection, and random slowdown – all annoying, but none game-breaking, though for what it’s worth, my roommate was playing on PC and seemed to experience FAR fewer bugs.. The combat balances it all out, anyway; it’s absolutely incredible. Smooth as butter, for real. It makes Mass Effect 3’s combat look “meh” in comparison, especially with the weapon customization options. I crafted a minigun that fired about 10 grenades per second with a magazine of 244 rounds, a pistol that fired a shotgun-like spread of seven sticky grenades, an automatic shotgun, an electric asari sword, and a sniper rifle that could punch through metal walls and rocks. Oh, and my hand was a flamethrower. Broken? Yeah, maybe a little. Awesome? You bet your ass.
The Mako also makes a spiritual return as the Nomad. Fortunately, however, this vehicle is actually possible to control, and I came to enjoy driving it around, running over Kett and driving up mountains Skyrim-style. No cannon, unfortunately, but the upgrade options and maneuverability more than make up for that, especially with how rugged the thing’s shields are. The only time I ever had the shields deplete was when I accidentally drove through a pond of sulfuric acid. Oops.
So let’s talk about Andromeda’s elephant in the room – the facial animations. There’s been a LOT of shit online about this, and it’s…definitely all true. The faces are weird as shit. I think it’s the eyes, though. The eyes are EXTREMELY lifelike with the random little ticks and twitches, but the rest of the faces don’t have similar unconscious habits. That discrepancy leads to some hardcore uncanny valley. The graphical quality is stunning, but the faces are definitely awkward. There are also some instances (at least on PS4) where the mouths don’t quite sync up to the voices and – on one particularly unsettling occasion talking to my twin – one character’s mouth moves for EVERY character’s dialogue, no matter who’s speaking. Creepy but hilarious.
Mass Effect: Andromeda doesn’t quite live up its heritage, but given the shoes it had to fill, it did a damn good job. The freedom the games give you is incredible, and the planets you have to explore are unique and diverse. A little more QA, specifically on console releases, would have been nice, and I do wish a little more TLC had been given to the scriptwriting, but the game is absolutely phenomenal overall. Not quite a masterpiece but a definite testament to Bioware’s quality as a development studio.