I've been playing Mass Effect: Andromeda in basically all my free time over the past couple days. EA has a program called Origin Access (or EA Access on consoles) where you pay $5 a month and you get access to a ton of games. It's like Netflix only for EA games. In addition, you get a 10% discount on any purchase. I had just gotten a new PC and wanted to try some games that I'd missed so I paid for a month.

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.

The bad
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 good

  • 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.

Bottom line
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.

Azurephile   Super Member wrote on 03/19/2017 at 03:40am

Looks like this month (and maybe next) we're both playing Bioware games. I'm working my way through the Dragon Age series. I intend to get the Mass Effect series eventually since it comes with a lot of strong recommendations (from friends). I'll probably wait for a sale though.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/19/2017 at 03:43am

They go on sale often. In fact, you just missed a huge Origin sale where they were way cheap. I recommend getting them on Origin because the DLC is way easier to deal with there.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/19/2017 at 03:44am

(But if you have them on Steam already you can *usually* activate them on Origin with the CD key, at least until those keys expire)

Azurephile   Super Member wrote on 03/19/2017 at 03:46am

That sucks that I missed it. I do intend to buy them on Origin, since Steam's ME collection is limited. Steam doesn't even have ME3.

scrypt   Supporter wrote on 03/19/2017 at 05:32pm

Nice review, Travis. Seems more fair and balanced than others I've read. Andromeda was high on my anticipated games list for this year. While I haven't played yet, I did watch gameplay of the first hour, after reading some reviews, and decided I should probably rent this first. I'm at 57% completion on Horizon Zero Dawn, and the complaints I see about Andromeda are handled with absolute style and grace in Horizon. I've heard other reviewers complain mostly about the writing in Andromeda, and from what little I've watched, I can see what they mean. Bioware games are typically synonymous with rich story. The beginning of Andromeda is more like cheap fiction. More Starship Troopers than Star Trek. Which is okay, I guess, if that's what you're looking for. To be fair, though, I'll give it a rent and see what else is there.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/19/2017 at 08:52pm

The story does seem to get better. I'm not super far into it or anything but I can kinda feel things building toward something. That something could be good or bad.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/19/2017 at 09:16pm

But yeah still. None of the same writers from previous games worked on this one. We're in uncharted waters, story-wise.

scrypt   Supporter wrote on 03/22/2017 at 08:21pm

Okay, I'm a little over 10 hours into Andromeda now. All of the complaints seem justified, or at the very least understandable, from what I've played. Animations are not what you would expect from AAA studios in 2017, but for a Mass Effect game, they aren't awful, which isn't a great thing. It would be like saying the Wii U was amazing for implementing HD graphics, when everyone else had been doing it for a decade. It's progress for them, but a slow train moving for the industry. Voice acting in Andromeda is decent, mostly. What those voices say, however, can be cringe inducing at times. It's less horrible than some have made it out to be, but it's indeed jarring. The combination of poor dialog segments attached to unpolished facial animations is where I find the game most disappointing. These are the vessels that are telling the story. It's hard to take them seriously when they all look like they had their eyelids removed before cryo-sleep.

Shepherd's saga left large shoes to fill, and, smartly, Bioware has thrown them away altogether and are trying something mostly fresh, but safely familiar. Its a good idea, but I find the execution so far is boring. Rather than explore options in this new galaxy, you're immediately presented with ad nauseam justifications, from almost every speaking character, as to why this game had to have combat mechanics. I get that the story is about immature explorers making bold choices and finding their way, but that doesn't mean the story itself has to be immature. The overall design of story, levels, and characters feels sloppy. This could be something that improves as the game progresses, but it needs to be there at the beginning, and certainly within the first 10 hours.

UI is painful. Combat is painful (AI especially. Again, maybe better for ME, but way below average). Environment scanning is painful as well (I know you like it, Travis, but it takes me out of the game. I'll take NMS existing scanner any day. An improvement would have been to make an omni visor, or something so it could actually be a vision mode, ala the Arkham games, especially being a 3rd person game. As it is, you're constantly pulling out the scanner, because you don't want to miss anything. At least in NMS, when you do scan, it seems out of purpose rather than paranoia.). In fact, that's what I keep coming back to with my game play: an unnecessarily painful experience. And I'm super bummed about that.

The best thing I saw, so far, happened in the first 20 min or so: The "cinematic" when your shuttle is en route to Habitat 7. For a moment, it felt like a Mass Effect game. The rest of the time if felt more like "Uncharted Jr. in Space" Effect. I want to say that I'd come back to it at some point, to see how it plays out (maybe the real meat is at the 20 hour mark! I've heard that Final Fantasy XIII is like that.), but I don't see anything in there that would pull me back in.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/22/2017 at 09:00pm

I haven't had any UI issues and I love the combat, but I totally get what you mean about the scanner. It's not for everyone.

I don't know how far you got in that 10 hours, but if you haven't left Eos, the galaxy has yet to open up. Very shortly after Eos, it starts to really feel like Mass Effect. I'll avoid spoilers but send me a text/chat/something if you want more details about what I'm talking about.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/22/2017 at 09:45pm

But you're absolutely right that this is a problem in and of itself. I kinda wonder if the start of the game was written around that 10 hour trial so that you don't get stuck in something important. Eos's main plot should have ended way earlier (exploration later notwithstanding) so that the next chapter could have come by at least hour 6ish? The pacing of the beginning is way bad.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/22/2017 at 10:31pm

An aside, but how freakin' annoying is the sudoku you have to do for some of the hacking? Talk about taking you out of the game.

scrypt   Supporter wrote on 03/23/2017 at 03:00am

Total sudoku! I mean it's nice to see an attempt at fresh puzzle mechanics, but it's literally sudoku with glyphs.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/23/2017 at 03:05am

It changes up a bit on the more difficult ones but the basics are still the same.

But jeez that's just what I want in the middle of my exploration, right? Stop playing a video game and play sudoku instead!

scrypt   Supporter wrote on 03/23/2017 at 03:15am

I think you might be on to something with the pacing of the 10 hour demo. It's so - and I hate to keep using this word, but it fits so well - painful. The pacing of the combat is intended to be flinchingly fast, and they've done well in that regard. But everything outside of that slows to a crawl, to the point where I feel like I need to take a day just to figure out the mod/inventory system. There is a reason that Call of Duty doesn't have 10 layers of character modification and nuanced weapon crafting. I don't know. I feel like you should pick one or the other, or simmer the whole thing down to a happy medium. Does the happy medium come after 10 hours?

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/23/2017 at 03:41am

It gets better at least, yes. I can't say whether the happy medium comes because that's going to be a moving target. I'm on hour 22 and it's better now than it was at hour 15, which was better than hour 10.

What's odd-- and I'm not just getting used to it, I watched some videos to confirm-- the facial animations get better. I kinda wonder if EA said "We need 10 hours to give early" and the whole Eos arc was a rush job. OR if they tried to pad it to make the cut-off point (right before you head into the SPOILER that changes the SPOILER and lets you SPOILER) close to that 10-hour mark.

Anyway, yes, everything gets better. The plot opens up significantly, you feel like your actions are leading to something story-wise, the sidequests seem less grindy and more things you can do while on your way to other things (while I liked them before, you had to travel way off the beaten path on Eos which was a grind all on its own). It seems like the pace averages so that you aren't just driving for 5 minutes with nothing to do.

The most important thing, character banter and the interplay of your squad gets better. It's like they figured out the characters and started writing them better. OR they padded the intro and had to write shoddy plot/dialogue to fill it in. Either way, once you have everyone, it feels like that same kind of Mass Effect character interplay.

Better and better. Still loads of problems and plenty to complain about, but I still want to stay up all night playing.

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/23/2017 at 01:21pm

An important thing to stress here is that it's the same gameplay, just paced better. If you don't like the combat or the nomad, you won't like them after Eos either.

As for the inventory/mod system, it seems to work about as well as it did in the other games, but they needlessly change it every game so you have to get used to it. One option you have is just ignoring it for the most part. Just switch to new guns/armor you find and don't worry about crafting. Since they took out the ability to customize your squadmates' gear it's less of an issue.

This article from Forbes is great for where you seem to be scrypt:

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 03/23/2017 at 01:22pm

The one thing about this article though-- he mentions the first two planets being Eos and Havarld but you don't have to do it that way. I went Eos -> Voeld and based on that article, I'm glad.

If you want to join this conversation you need to sign in.
Sign Up / Log In