Not as next gen as you may have hoped.
As I explored the first of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s major planets, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that BioWare wanted to play it safe with Andromeda. Sure, this is a bigger and prettier version of what we’ve seen in past entries, but when it comes down to it, there’s seldom a time that the game truly feels next gen beyond its visual impressions. That’s not to say the game is a total disaster, let’s get that out there nice and early. What it is to say, however, is that if you were expecting some groundbreaking new Mass Effect adventure, you may be a little disappointed.
This latest title in the Mass Effect series puts players in the role of a Pathfinder in the middle of the Andromeda galaxy. It’s down to you to go exploring this galaxy in search of a new home for the entirety of mankind. As such, you’ll spend a lot of time investigating these planets, collecting resources, and defeating bad guys as you go.
This makes up the heart of Andromeda’s gameplay and is, for the most part, very enjoyable. The scope of this new galaxy feels huge, and there’s a ton of content packed onto each planet to ensure they never feel entirely empty. Yes, you may have a brief stretch of nothingness, but it’s never something that comes as a detriment to the experience. And yet, in this main bulk of Andromeda’s gameplay, which I literally just praised, the game’s notable reluctance to let go of the series’ past is most prominent.
The game’s EA/ Origin Access trial did it no favors, either. Highlighting the bland environmental scanning and sudoku puzzles as the accouterments to the alien shooting was particularly concerning. It’s not pushing the envelope in the way many would expect a next-gen Mass Effect game should do. Scanning planets, exploring the larger worlds, heck, even the Nomad feels like the Mako from the first game. We’ve done it all before. Andromeda takes the foundations of the original trilogy, but rarely builds upon them.
One of the first things you’ll be greeted with in Mass Effect: Andromeda is its character creator. An unfortunately limited system that feels incredibly dated when stacked up against the likes of Fallout 4’s or Dark Souls III’s. In fact, it feels very similar to that seen in Mass Effect 3. Despite having options to slightly tweak and change facial features, though, you’re unable to alter the custom character’s face very far at all. It’s restrictive, cumbersome, and certainly doesn’t allow for the extravagant creations made in Fallout 4.
Once you’ve got your character tweaked as close as possible to the appearance that you want, they remain a constant reminder of Andromeda’s underlying issues. Sure, performance issues are by no means rare, but the game lacks that level of polish expected from such a long-due title. When playing on Xbox One, character models had some awful clipping and choppiness in their animations. Facial animations go awry frequently, NPCs get stuck in the same animation on the spot, and while not massively detrimental to the experience, your Ryder twin handles with a tank-like rigidity that was largely left behind on the 360 and PS3.
Whether it’s Halo 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, or Uncharted 4, the biggest games of this generation have all made handling your character feel like second nature. It never feels cumbersome to navigate tight areas or stay on the move in battle in these games, yet Andromeda’s characters lack an element of finesse that would really help its overhauled combat truly shine.
The improvements made to the combat in Andromeda is a glimpse of the entire game’s true potential. The core shooting mechanics feel more solid and satisfying than elsewhere in the series and the Profiles and Skills systems provide a level of flexibility that allow you to build a character perfectly suited to your style of play. Had this level of tuning, tweaking, and freedom been implemented throughout Andromeda’s entirety, it could have been a completely different story. Give us a character creator that trumps those in other major titles. Have us tackle novel and innovative puzzles that don’t require us to scan every inch of the environment. Fix the niggles in performance, and bolster the great combat with a character that doesn’t feel cumbersome to maneuver.
While Andromeda has certainly seen improvements in both visuals and scope, it’s important to note that these aren’t the extent of what defines a “next-gen” entry into a series. With more power comes more possibilities to enhance existing features and mechanics, and cultivate new ones to keep things fresh and exciting. It’s true that the aforementioned improvements to combat keep things fresh, but Andromeda too often falls into the tropes of its predecessors to stand as a truly next-gen Mass Effect experience.