So, the 2017 has been pretty great in terms of games, huh? Some amazing experiences came out of nowhere – but mostly from Japan. But nothing really changes, and no year can pass us without major controversies. Be it Watch Dogs with its graphic downgrade, or gamergate, or simply amazing boredom of No Man’s Sky, gamers will always be angry and unhappy about something. We’d expected greatness from many games that ultimately have let us down, but no one saw this coming. Mass Effect – one of the greatest game series of the last generation – arrived to new consoles unfinished and unpolished. It’s hard to acknowledge this, but I can already see it as the main disappointment of 2017.
But let’s not beat around the bush. Mass Effect is a beloved franchise – and rightly so. The first game was revolutionary in the world of RPG. It was massive, it was impressive, it was beautiful and unlike anything else. BioWare were the masters when it came to creating boundless worlds. When Mass Effect released, it was as if its lore had been developing for years.
They were the masters, but masters they are no more. Mass Effect: Andromeda showed us everything that’s wrong about the studio. It showed us the very thing we feared right after the acquisition of the studio by EA. The corporate culture has killed and mutilated it. Talented crew had departed and the game started its descent into development hell. And the result is this unholy mess.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I tend to get all melodramatical, but the game’s not all bad. If we take the Mass Effect out of it, it’s pretty decent, actually. The world is huge, and it looks stunning. The fighting is as good as ever, and some missions are downright great. But we’re not talking about some new IP – unfortunately. When making a sequel to one of the most beloved series you have to go above and beyond.
Let’s talk about mistakes. There were a lot of them. Changes in BioWare, new people, new heads of departments, story decisions and so on. Even the release was botched. We wanted to get the early review copy in order to publish the review beforehand, but we got a fat no. The embargo meant no reviews before the date of the release, which led to a PR disaster. It’s simple, really: when you googled Mass Effect, you couldn’t find any reviews, instead you saw numerous hate videos on YouTube, all of which were citing awful animations and bugs. While the embargo was on, ordinary gamers were free to say anything they want. In the result, the game was universally hated even before we actually knew anything about it. Unfortunately, I am no Myth Buster. The game is not a lot better than youtubers led you to believe.
Before we tell you all that’s wrong and right about it, let’s delve into the past. For those who knows nothing about the originals, I explain: The first three games in the series told the story of Commander Shepard and his quest to save the galaxy from the ancient race bent on destroying civilizations. They’ve done it before; they’d do it again – but not on Shepard’s watch. Now, we all know the story is really not that great. It’s pretty generic. The thing is, the main stars were always characters. You interacted with them like in no other videogame. The sheer amount of dialog was astounding. Almost every action had consequences, and some manifested only in the very end of the last game. The unity and continuity of it all was impressive to say the least.
Now, Mass Effect: Andromeda gets some of it right. As before, you have a crew of humans and aliens, of friends and lovers. Interaction is the key – never forget about it. In the very beginning the game is mostly talk and tutorials, which is really bad, especially for newcomers. The whole first act is just bad. It is slow, boring and uninteresting. You have some “heavy” moments with your crew early on, but those have no impact on you because these are all the people you just met. Why should I care about some random Asari? You’re no Liara!
In fact, almost nothing happens in the beginning. You try to get acquainted with your avatar – either a male Ryder or a female – and your crew. The story is simply: in the year 2185 it was decided to send a bunch of people into another galaxy (Andromeda, duh), where they would find planets for colonization. But – surprise – something goes wrong. The leader is gone, and now his sibling must take charge, united the crew and find earth-like worlds.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? That’s the way they decided to go after the ambiguous finale of the last game and I’m fine with it. Sure, it’s sad to never see the Citadel in all glory of Frostbite engine, but still. Your favorite races are here including the Krogan and the Asari.
One of the main problems here is pacing. The game is slow in the beginning, and it takes some time to see the action, to finally kill some new generic bad guys and move the plot forward. Everything is clunky and unresponsive. The menu is atrocious, navigation is a pain, travelling from one planet to another is long and monotonous – you have to watch the same animation over and over. The gameplay of actual search for new worlds is dull. Sometimes you find a world with a base and that’s when things get (semi) interesting. The planets themselves are fine, with great visuals and huge open spaces reminiscent of the original game. In fact, some things here remind me a lot of it: you can use vehicles to traverse new worlds (yes, just like the dreaded Mako), and the worlds are actually great.
On the surface, it’s battle time. Thankfully, battles here are probably the best in the series. They are dynamic and fast, and overall an improvement. But unfortunately for the game, it’s not a shooter.
When it comes to characters, I mostly liked them. It’s hard to create a whole new squad, and for most of the time, it works. Make friends with them, become lovers – the choice is yours. As always, aliens are the best. Interactions with them are generally on par with the original, but I can’t say the writing is as good. Sure, there are more dialog options, but writing is really bad sometimes. By this point, we all know the infamous “my face is tired” quote, and there are a lot of others just like it.
And now, the elephant in the room. Facials animations. Are. Bad. No surprise there, is it? We’ve all seen numerous videos on the matter, they all are more or less true. I don’t know what were they thinking and how they allowed this to happen. There are rumors about the unexperienced cosplayer who was, supposedly, in charge of facial animations, but there is no proof of it. Still, I can believe in it by looking at these faces. It’s like actual aliens created humans in this game. The emotions are all wrong, and the characters themselves don’t just visit the uncanny valley – they practically live in it!
But what makes a game actually good? Is it the story? The characters? The worlds? Well, it’s everything aforementioned. Mass Effect: Andromeda fells like it has potential, and that makes it all even worse. There are things about this game that a really like. Some conversations remind me of Bioware’s better days. Some quest (especially companion quest, which make a triumphant return) are great. The plot is fairly decent and with good twists.
But other than that we are talking about mediocrity. There is a huge number of side-quests, but most of them are dull, overly long and generally exist just because there should be a lot of quests. Some seemingly small quest transform into hour-long odysseys, and most of them are uncreative and boring. By the twentieth hour mark I abandoned all side-missions and decided just to finish the game. Why bother.
If you are a fan of the series, leave all your hopes. This is not the sequel you were looking for. The BioWare that have made the originals doesn’t exist anymore, and Mass Effect: Andromeda illustrates what kind of games we can expect from them. But even with all the negatives, I may have been too blunt. It’s just that I’m really sad about the state my favorite franchise. It is an okay game, and even the fans can salvage something from it. You can say that it expands the universe and makes room for unique stories in the future. Who knows. Maybe the sequel will become everything this games aspires to be. But right now, don’t expect much – and wait for a discount.