The Mass Effect series made by developer Bioware is one of my all time favourite game series ever! Playing as Commander Shepard, building my team of unique and interesting characters and developing relationships with them, exploring the milky way in command of the SSV-Normandy, it was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Unfortunately thanks to Mass Effect: Andromeda, I’m sad to say my experience of the Mass series has been somewhat soured. With some minor spoilers, here’s why.
In the original Mass Effect game I created a character for each of the class types Shepard could be and put countless hours trying to play the game in every way possible; paragon, renegade, neutral, it didn’t matter I wanted to experience it all. I took my characters through the games, soaking up the content rich universe it was set it in. Progressing through the story, watching how my choices and actions had implications that were beyond me at the time of making them, it was addictive.
When I got to number 3, I felt like I had become Shepard, like I had this deep and meaningful bond with each of my team members, like I had grown into my role as the commander of a ship and the glimmer of hope that a galaxy full of strange and interesting species were counting on to save them. Whilst Mass Effect 3’s ending was a bitter dissapointment, I still had this feeling of being content, and that by the end I had fulfilled commander Shepard’s purpose in life regardless of what ending I got.
I played the Mass Effect: Andromeda singleplayer for around 10 hours. I recruited most of my team, I settled my first planet, and I pretty much lost interest in investing any more time into this new galaxy that felt dull, uninspired and monotonal. For me, the outrageously bad character animations are the least of this games problems, instead I find fault in the writing, the line delivery for some of the characters, the lack of fully utilising the potential of a huge new galaxy to its full potential, and the core gameplay itself. So let’s look at these in a bit more detail:
The writing and line delivery:
To start with, echoing many reviews I’ve read and watched so far I can’t help but bring it up as well, the writing in this game is dammned awful! What’s worse, if the writing is what puts the noose around the games neck, the line delivery for the characters is what ties it and kicks the stool from underneath its feet. I can’t comment on the overall story, but for me it says enough that I didn’t even care to play anymore of the game to find out as it was just so disjointed and uninteresting. I actually watched the ending on YouTube and the game starts as it means to finish.
At times the voicing of the characters was ok, conversations did sometimes feel alive and genuine, but too often did it feel like one person was saying something that sounded really important to them and they would get a flat, monotonal or incoherent response that erased any sense emotion from the exchange in dialogue. My biggest gripe about this games line delivery would have to be in the middle of combat. I don’t mind the occasional cliché line to give the player that cocky ‘Im a total badass’ feeling, but it felt that every line was another action movie cliché that I ended up cringing at every time.
Following from the previous point, the characters in this game that comprise your crew and combat team are dull, walking cliches that poorly complemented the protagonist’s bland personality. I felt like talking to them and learning about their history was more of a thing that I had to do because it’s Mass Effect game, rather than it being something I wanted to do out of curiosity. For a Mass Effect game, a series known for its interesting characters and the bonds you have to build with them, doing this wrong is a death sentence.
Now not all of them are terrible. I actually liked the Turian Vetra, who was quirky, combative and had a spark of life befitting to her design giving me serious Garrus feels all over (definitely would have gone Kirk on this one). However, Liam, one of the first two characters you have on your fireteam, and have to listen to for the first 3-4 hours of the game is just….lets just say I’d prefer to listen to water ominously drip from a tap than hear another dumb, unamusing one liner by the megatwat of the Andromeda initiative.
Mass effect 1-3, set in the Milky Way. Home to Human, Turian, Krogan, Asari, Salarian, Quarian, Drell, Hanar, Volus, Elcor, Vortcha, Batarian, Rachni, Yahg, Leviathan’s, Protheans, Geth and that’s not even all of them! Now welcome to Andromeda, home to the Kett, the Angaran and the Remnants. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Choosing to depart from the Milky Way with the majority of the species from it in tow, Andromeda had the potential to really give the player this feeling of true intergalactic immersion, to truly feel like you are just part of this tiny species amidst a thousand others. Whilst I realise that we can always look forward to more being added in the next iteration of the Andromeda series, I really feel like Andromeda is void of life, it has no depth to it with only 3 new species used to bring an entirely new galaxy to life. Potential wasted.
Gameplay has changed but not evolved:
For me though, the biggest issue I have with this game and probably the main reason I traded it back in, lies within its core gameplay. The new movement system, the interface, the research and materials, everything about it feels like a mess and that it’s trying to be too many things. I think some may argue that the gameplay has evolved, but for me it’s simply changed. If I were to take ME3’s cover based system, it evolved from ME1 & ME2 through better vaulting, getting in and out of cover, movement in general. The crafting and weapon systems were improved, the interfaces were streamlined, to me this is evolution.
I can grasp the idea of new galaxy new modes of transport, new interfaces, new weapons and the rest of it, but it just didn’t feel like Mass Effect to me. Leap-frogging from destination to destination, dashing head first into combat because cover isnt the focus and realising without it you’ll be full of holes before you stock your weapon. Combat feels like it’s not sure what it wants to be and this really ruins the immersion! And I’m not even discussing the multiplayer; micro-transactions, unrealistic difficulty for solo play, poor customisation option, just flat out embarrassing.
To give credit where it is due, ME:A is not a total failure. I think Bioware Montreal took a risk and tried something different with an already well-established franchise and extremely dedicated fan base; you know, the ones who crusaded for a better ending to Mass 3 when the first version was awful. Some people are going to enjoy the combat, some people are going to enjoy the new galaxy, some will enjoy the characters, the poor animations, and some will even enjoy the bugs, I know I have watching compilations of them on YouTube.
Bottom line though, it just comes down to this; departing the Milky Way was a great concept with unlimited potential, but by doing so Mass Effect has also travelled so far away from its roots and legacy that I didnt recognise the game I was playing. It pains me to say this about a series I held so dearly, but my only hope now is that ME:A2 can redeem it’s failures.