Little did I know, however, that it also included timed game trials before release. In Mass Effect: Andromeda's case, I was able to play the game for up to 10 hours and up to a certain point in the story. I only got to about the 8:30 mark before I ran out of stuff to do, and I had been really taking my time. And now I have to wait until Tuesday, when it actually releases, to continue. And I'm like a kid waiting for Christmas.
In short: there are issues, but it's great overall... so far. The following are first impressions that may change over the course of the game, and I'm keeping things spoiler-free.
First, lets get the bad stuff out of the way:
- The facial animations. Oooooooooohhhh boy, those facial animations. At best they're as bad as the previous entries. Bioware has a bad track record for those. But with the new shiny graphics, the bad facial animations are more pronounced. At worst, they're really distracting and jarring. These have been getting a lot of ridicule and it's clear why. The odd thing is, the aliens have perfectly fine animations, it's the humans who have weird thousand-yard stares and creepy smiles. Bioware/EA has said that there's a bug involved and that it wouldn't be fixed by day 1, so we may get some improvements.
- The writing for character dialogue is inconsistent. One character can go from seeming real to seeming cliché in two lines. While it isn't bad overall, the bad parts bring it down a bit. Thankfully it seems like only a few characters are affected. Perhaps they just didn't have a solid idea of who these characters should be? I'm hoping this improves as the story moves on.
- Planet scanning seems to have less of a point. Almost no planets have anything to scan. And while the on-planet vehicle makes a return, at least at this point in the game the only planets you can land on are the ones involved in the main story.
- Getting around in the galaxy is slower. You have a really pretty cutscene every time you switch from one planet/system to another. It's nice the first few times, not the 20th.
- The omni-tool scanner slows you down and I felt compelled to pull it out often to make sure I wasn't missing something.
- The first planet you visit (after the intro planet) isn't a good one to show off for the demo. Or, alternatively, the demo ends just too soon. You can barely go anywhere until you do something (which I won't give away in case people are really wary of spoilers) but the trial stops right before you get to do that thing. So even when you get to the end of where the plot will take you in the demo, you've probably exhausted what you can explore too.
- There are some sidequests that feel identical to ones I've done before in Mass Effect and other games. It's not something unique to this game, but a couple of times I thought, "Oh THIS again. OK." Not a huge thing, but there are some tropes.
- I don't care about the enemies. At this point, they're just violent and nothing else. I wish that, by this point in the game, we had learned about them a bit more.
- This is more nebulous but worth mentioning. I like the characters but none of them seem as memorable as the wonderful cast of characters from the first three games. I could be wrong, there's a lot of game left.
- Sometimes the new on-planet vehicle is an asshole. I see what they were trying to do with the new controls for it, but it may be overcomplicated at times. And it doesn't have any weapons!
- The graphics, facial animations aside, are wonderful. I can't say much more about them than that. It's really good stuff.
- The world-building is fantastic. Er... galaxy building? Andromeda feels alien. Even more than the planets you visit in the previous Mass Effect games. The structures built by the Milky Way crew look like modernized architecture from the previous games. It feels very Mass Effect, and yet separate from the Mass Effect trilogy that came before it.
- The more open design helps make the worlds feel real. I wouldn't call it open-world, but it benefits from being more open. The addition of jump jets let you explore more of the space, and it feels less restricted.
- Combat is much improved, largely because of the more open design and the jump jets, but everything just has more weight to it now. Enemies seem smarter, and will actively flank you. You have to pay attention.
- Aside from the tropey quests mentioned above, the quests and sidequests are great. Even in the intro, when you first get control of your character, you can see things happening around you that you can jump into or not. When you first find a certain place (again, being careful of spoilers) you can start a murder mystery that takes you to multiple systems to solve.
- Even if the lips don't match all the time, the voice acting is solid. I got used to FemShep, so in my mind Mass Effect has female protagonists and I chose Sara Ryder. Her voice actor is no Jennifer Hale, but she does well, and the supporting cast does as well.
- There are callbacks to the old games. So far, they've been minor ones but it helps to tie the series together.
- Omni-tool scanning, while not perfect (see above) is fun. I felt like I was in No Man's Sky, running around scanning animals, rocks, plants, and tech. I hope the folks at Hello Games play this and modify the scanner in No Man's Sky a bit, honestly.
- (This isn't really a spoiler unless you've literally avoided everything about this game, so if you're here I assume you at least know the premise.) You aren't saving the galaxy this time, I don't think. I say "I don't think" because the plot has a long way to go and could significantly change. In the previous games there was a massive threat that needed to be stopped. In this game, it's all about making a new home. The new goal and focus are refreshing.
- Multiplayer is pretty solid but I suck at it.
- The Tempest isn't the Normandy but it's pretty sweet. It's that same familiar ship design from the SR-1 and SR-2, but modernized and shinier.
- The characters are good. I'm pessimistic about them achieving the character development from the first three games, but they are good. I care about them. Natalie Dormer's Lexi T'Perro is a fantastic Asari doctor (who totally isn't into women, a fact I discovered accidentally), Vetra is a Turian who would make Garrus proud, and so on. The characters retain the traits of their races, while also having unique personalities.
- The on-planet vehicle is much improved over the Mako. Yeah I know I complained about it up top, but in general it's far better. GTA it ain't, but it serves its purpose better than the Mako.
When I was looking for a screenshot to include up top, I found a screenshot from Shepard's apartment in Mass Effect 3, when she throws the party and they take a group photo. That felt like seeing a picture of my absolute best friends that I haven't seen in years. While Mass Effect 3 was a downgrade for the most part, I seriously felt regret and loss at seeing that screenshot. That's how much I loved the original trilogy. The question for many won't just be "Is Mass Effect: Andromeda a good game?" It will be "Does Mass Effect: Andromeda achieve what the previous games did?" And that's not really even something we can answer until there's a trilogy, because the strength of each new game builds because of the history.
For now, I can say Andromeda is really good so far. I'm simultaneously optimistic and hyper-critical because of loving the first trilogy. I have problems with Andromeda, some of which may get fixed, some of them are there for good, and some are my own brain telling me "BUT IT'S NOT SHEPARD!" But the problems don't make it bad, not at all. The facial animations are the biggest issue but, while they're distracting, I'm not playing the game for how people's faces look when they talk.
I'm thoroughly enjoying the game. There's a lot of promise here, and I just want to sleep until Tuesday so I don't have to wait to keep playing.