The original Mass Effect trilogy was a grand space opera, brimming with interesting characters, engaging quest lines and unrivalled character development. It gave players the opportunity to carve their own narrative over the course of hundreds of hours of enthralling game play which improved with each new instalment.
It’s for these reasons, then, that the announcement of Andromeda was met with high levels of expectation and hope. It’s also for these reasons, however, that many people might be left disappointed.
While I don’t necessarily agree with the idea behind it, I stumped up the £4 subscription fee to EA’s early access service in order to play the ‘trial’ version of the game. At the time of writing, I’ve played just over four hours.
I wanted to personalise my experience and as such, I was incredibly excited to make use of the character creator in the perhaps vain hope that it
would be an improvement on the last Mass Effect. What I got, instead, was a barely serviceable tool that feels like it was added in as an afterthought. It both looks and feels like a step backwards. I decided to try and create a custom male Ryder character because the default female character looks like she was handmade out of clay by an infant, and I didn’t think I was up to the task of salvaging her. My attempts to make something semi-decent were thwarted by a severe lack of options and a clunky interface. I ended up reverting back to the default male Ryder and moving on.
Story-wise, what I’ve gathered in the very limited amount of time that I’ve spent playing the actual game is that Andromeda definitely has potential. From the offset, the player is met with that sense of grandeur and danger that is so familiar to the series. The task at hand is gargantuan. You play as either Scott or Sara Ryder, the son/daughter of ‘The Pathfinder’ – Alec Ryder. Your role is to find a new home world for humanity in the Andromeda galaxy. The opening sequences are exciting and captivating as you are made aware of the challenge ahead, and it definitely feels like you’re about to go on a great adventure.
These opening sequences and later cut-scenes, however, are frequently undermined by shoddy animation and sub-par writing. I found myself regularly failing to understand what had been said in a conversation because I was transfixed by how bad some of the facial animations are. It’s particularly noticeable in human characters. As mentioned previously, they often look like they’re made out of clay. Eyes look like they’re trying to escape from their sockets. Eyelashes look glued to the face. Some of the characters walk as if they’ve made a mess in their underwear. There are a few moments where I was convinced Alec Ryder was trying to talk with a mouth full of coins. I don’t believe it’s bad enough to completely break the game, but it’s immersion-breaking and if, like me, you play RPGs to immerse yourself in another world, you’ll find yourself struggling.
One of the redeemable qualities of the game is the combat. The original trilogy was a transition over time from a pure RPG to an action game with RPG elements, and Andromeda has made further strides towards getting the balance right. Engaging the enemy gives you an opportunity to make use of a very wide range of abilities and weapons, and you can gradually build your version of Ryder to fight in the way that you want. It seems fleshed out and tactical, and enemies adapt appropriately. I was playing on the second highest difficulty and had to make sure to approach battles with care or I’d find myself dead pretty quickly. The Kett, the main ‘antagonists’, are a worthy adversary and it’s not a case of ‘good vs. evil’ but rather a power struggle which is packed with moral grey areas. Their approach to combat is challenging and it keeps you on your toes. Outside of combat, you have access to a plethora of upgrades and a wide range of weapons to keep your experience fresh.
The Ryder twins have a big job on their hands if they’re ever going to live up to the late, great Commander Shepard. From what I’ve gathered so far, whomever you may choose is vastly different to our hero from the original trilogy. I’ve been playing as Scott. He’s younger, more naive and less prepared than Shepard was, and as such, is quite endearing. He’s not the typical space cowboy that you might expect, and so far he’s had plenty of redeemable moments. As it stands, I don’t know if he’ll be as memorable as Shepard, but there’s a lot to like about him. The only criticism that I do have about the new approach to the protagonists is that they seem to be much less flexible. Instead of Paragon/Neutral/Renegade dialogue options, you can now respond with different styles of conversation including ’emotional’, ‘logical’ or even ‘professional’. While that sounds like it’s a big improvement, at the moment it seems to me like multiple paths to the same destination. It doesn’t seem like it matters what you say, it always comes around to the same conclusion. Again, I’ve only played four hours, so can’t be certain if this is true, but there are worrying signs. You may have to do some of your own role-playing in your head to see some proper character development, and I’m not totally prepared to do that. The game seems to have taken some lessons from Fallout 4’s dialogue system, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Furthermore, you seem unable to be as ruthless as you could be in the previous games. Whether that’s an oversight or a deliberate choice, I find it sad that I won’t be able to punch any reporters in the face.
Four hours is never enough time to judge an entire game, but from what I’ve seen so far, Mass Effect: Andromeda has the potential to be a fun experience, but it’s somewhat held back by graphical errors and glitches, and poor writing. It remains to be seen whether or not it will live up to the hype of its predecessors, but from what I can tell, it will at the very least be an enjoyable game, but not one of the greats.