'Mass Effect: Andromeda' is a lightyear behind the trilogy - review

Thursday, 30 March 2017 02:34 AM Written by 

MECover

 

The “Mass Effect” series helped define a console generation with its choose-your-own-adventure style of storytelling mixed with tight and enjoyable third-person combat. The space odyssey went through ups and downs and growing pains as the developers at BioWare tried new things and experimented throughout its trilogy. The biggest complaint that always hovered over its legacy was a botched climax of the third game. Now this year, “Mass Effect” is back with “Mass Effect: Andromeda” and a polarizing ending would be the least of this game’s problems.  


“Mass Effect: Andromeda” almost has the makings of a reboot. It’s a game that mechanically resembles the “Mass Effect” trilogy, but it has the sheen of an off-brand parody. Animations and weird facial ticks are a near constant distraction, and buggy A.I. disrupts decent combat. In a game where 50% of the gameplay is looking at people’s faces, facial animations are important. But the biggest issue that plagues “Andromeda” is its slow pacing. Bugs and a general lack of polish are far more forgivable when a game meets players halfway with a compelling story. “Andromeda” can’t even conjure that until about the 20-hour mark of a 30-hour epic.


Gone are the days of the protagonist Commander Shepard. “Andromeda” takes place after the events of the original trilogy, and humanity is looking for a new home. Either Scott or Sara Ryder take the reins as as the main character, depending on which gender is chosen by the player. The father of the twins Scott and Sara, Alec Ryder, is an accomplished and respected leader and N7 operative. While on a mission with his one of his children (again, depending on what character the player chooses), and he saves his child’s life in exchange for his own. His child must take the mantle of Pathfinder and lead a squad to search planets outside of the Milky Way and find habitable planets for humanity.


Exploring an expansive galaxy hasn’t been this boring since “No Man’s Sky.” As soon as you board the Tempest, the interplanetary spacecraft that has taken the place of the classic nomad, you can look at different solar systems in which to travel. Each system has several planets, but usually only one that can be traveled to. The others can be probed for materials to help you on your journey. If these were quick stops, it would be a minor inconvenience to suffer through in order to improve your characters, but each planet has its own loading screen masquerading as a travel sequence. This new galaxy looks expansive, but in reality it’s quite hollow.


The story of “Mass Effect” games were always impacted by the decisions made by player, which was the case for almost the entire BioWare library. “Andromeda” removes the options of being a compassionate or dictatorial leader. Removing the option to build those personalities strips most of the life from the game’s script. Instead, conversations play out like the dialog equivalent of a rail shooter. You’re interacting with the other characters with the dialog wheel, but it doesn’t feel like you have much control over your character’s destiny or what comes next. Sara or Scott are usually just talking to learn more about a character or to push the story along. It never feels like you’re firmly in control of your destiny, which is part of what made the original games so compelling.

 

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That by-the-numbers story takes dozens of hours to finally get to a place of excitement. The first two thirds of the story are essentially table setting for a larger battle with an alien force. The combat and story eventually get to where the need to be for an entertaining space journey, but it’s not worth the time and energy spent getting there.


“Andromeda’s” combat is the game’s saving grace. There are a bunch of different way to approach combat, whether you want to make your character great with guns or a skillful biotics user and all of them are enjoyable to substantial. Players can choose to improve their skills for specific weapon types, or increase the power of their abilities, which are mapped the shoulder buttons. Only three powers can be mapped at a time, but that’s really enough to get the full effect.


That combat translates nicely into a multiplayer experience that is similar to “Mass Effect 3.” “Mass Effect 3’s” multiplayer really had no business being as good as it was, and “Andromeda” doesn’t really try to invent the wheel here. Since the game’s combat is solid, so is the multiplayer experience. If you grow tired of the single player campaign, which is likely, there’s always multiplayer to turn to.


“Mass Effect: Andromeda” seems to lack focus in nearly every aspect. The story’s pacing is disjointed, and there are almost too many RPG elements at work here. Players can work on colonizing on planets, plus choose what those colonies should focus on, whether it’s military power, resource mining or development. Weapons and gear can then be improved by that research and development. These mechanics can largely be ignored since you’ll pick up new weapons and gear along the story thanks to enemy drops. On top of all of that, class focus can be changed on the fly in the menu. There’s just too much going on here and practically none of it makes a meaningful impact on the gameplay itself.

 

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If the “Mass Effect” series ended with “Andromeda,” this tacked-on chapter would be largely forgotten over time while fans could still fondly remembered the revered trilogy. Because its story is a contained narrative that doesn’t affect the events of the three games before it, it doesn’t destroy the series legacy despite its best efforts. The “Mass Effect” name deserves better. “Andromeda” missed its mark by lightyears.


5.5 out of 10

 

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