With blockbuster hits like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it’s no surprise that everyone is very excited for Bioware’s latest game: Mass Effect Andromeda. However, first impressions have been worrying and some hardcore fans have loudly – and even violently – voiced their concerns on quality issues, especially on the game’s character details and animations. Will Andromeda live up to its hype? Read this spoiler-free, hands on preview to find out.
A new galaxy, a new start
Mass Effect Andromeda is the latest addition to Bioware’s very popular and well received sci-fi trilogy, Mass Effect. While the original series focuses on humanity’s introduction to the galactic community of aliens and subsequent battle for survival, Andromeda’s premise is a step away from what most fans have come to know and love about the series.
The game circles around The Andromeda Initiative, a cross-species community from our Milky Way galaxy, which aims to colonize the nearby star system of Andromeda by launching massive colony ships (Arks) on a 600-year journey through space. You play as a member of Ark Hyperion’s Pathfinder Team, and your mission is to find and identify habitable planets for your fellow colonists to settle on. Despite the excitement of having new and exciting worlds to explore, your team has come prepared – many of your members are trained former military experts and will be going into Andromeda expecting the worst. I had the opportunity to play a ten-hour trial of Mass Effect Andromeda through the Origin Access game subscription service, and first impressions of the game have been largely positive so far!
Impressive, otherworldly design
I can say without a doubt that you’ll be impressed by the incredible beauty Mass Effect Andromeda offers, whether you’re floating around on a ship in zero-g or running around planetside. Although most worlds are undoubtedly unfamiliar and alien-looking, the art style, design and attention to detail to each aspect of the environment is impressive, and I found myself spending a large amount of my trial time admiring the views.
Much of the game’s beauty is due to Bioware’s decision to base the game on the very successful Frostbite 3 engine, which has powered other visually impressive titles such as Dragon Age Inquisition and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Sound effects are top notch – guns, weather, explosions, vehicles and environments sound realistic, while the soundtrack complements the game’s themes perfectly, even taking inspiration from musical motifs from the original trilogy. Also, Bioware’s gotten some familiar celebrities to voice some of your favourite characters!
Exploration: the name of the game
Exploration is the main theme of Mass Effect Andromeda, and the vast, open worlds have been an absolute joy to venture into. Bioware claims that one planet’s explorable area is the size of the entire playable area of Dragon Age: Inquisition; and given that there are multiple planets to explore, this seems both intriguing and intimidating at the same time. To make traversing these vast planets easier and less of a daunting task, developers have implemented fast travel mechanics in maps, and brought back vehicles to the series, starting with the Nomad – a six-wheel rover which feels familiar to the infamous Mako of Mass Effect 1.
Each planet’s landscape is littered with countless objects, landmarks, alien technologies, and other oddities you can scan with your character’s omni-tool scanner. Scanning each object brings up a snippet of background information and lore related to the series, and rewards you with points for researching and developing new weapons and armour, or even installing upgrades to make the Nomad faster and more maneuverable.
Familiar combat with a flexible touch
As a long-time Mass Effect fan, getting used to the game’s combat mechanics was easy as pie. It’s the Mass Effect 3 shooter-style system we all know and love, but refreshed with a few new gameplay elements, and blended with some mechanics from Bioware’s other games. The biggest change so far is in flexibility of playstyle. In single player, you are free to choose from a plethora of combat, tech-based and biotic (space magic) abilities, and use a set of three of them at a time. You can also configure multiple sets of abilities before going into combat and switch between them while in combat – which virtually enables you to unleash a laundry list of abilities against your enemies whenever you wish.
You also have the ability to jump to high places via a jetpack built into your armour, and this takes combat to a whole new level by opening up new vertical vantage points. You can even jump up and hover in the air while taking shots at your opponents, or jump on top of enemies and slam down on them with a biotic shockwave! If you loved the open-world, walk-and-fight anywhere style of Dragon Age Inquisition, you’ll be sure to love the new combat system.
Multiplayer in Andromeda is well designed, and very similar to Mass Effect 3 – you get a wide choice of weapons, characters, abilities, maps and enemies. Although you are limited to a set of four to six abilities in pre-set characters, combat is still very fun, engaging and absolutely challenging. Every match you complete rewards you with in-game currency, used to buy loot packs containing weapons, supplies, new characters with better abilities, and aesthetic customization options for your current characters. Playing certain multiplayer missions also rewards you in your single-player experience as well.
A lack of polish?
Given the amazing environments, fantastic design and adrenaline-pumping combat, what’s not to like? According to some, Mass Effect Andromeda lacks the expected quality and polish that usually comes with such an expensive, AAA title.
For me, the biggest, most jarring issue is the character animations. There’s no beating around the bush here – the facial animations on some characters are robotic and stiff. In some cases, they are rigged worse than the first Mass Effect game. I showed a few of my family members a comparison of character dialogue from both games, and almost all of them preferred the look of ME1’s animations. Oh, and apparently players have been experiencing pretty hilarious bugs like this:
The character creator is also terribly limited, with only nine basic character face presets and a limited number of aesthetic customisation options to choose from. This is a strange step backward for Bioware, as past games such as Dragon Age Inquisition have given players the potential to create absolutely stunning and beautiful characters through very granular control over each facial aspect.
Dragon Age Inquisition’s Character Creator
It is really disappointing to see that this has slipped past Bioware’s quality assurance. A story game with conversations depends heavily on the appearance of the character, the writing, and the character’s voice actor – and for me, the appearance of some characters in Mass Effect Andromeda simply doesn’t make the cut and breaks the immersion from time to time. However, it’s not a massive problem and it doesn’t break the game. I rarely encountered bugs with the character body animations, and some characters’s faces, especially the Asari, Salarians and Turians, were actually done pretty well. Regardless, here’s to hoping that Bioware considers player feedback and puts in some patches to add the much needed polish to the game.
Still a great game to play
If you’re interested in buying this game, Mass Effect Andromeda retails for S$69.90 for the standard edition, and goes up to S$89.90 and S$119.90 for the deluxe and super deluxe editions. (More details on the editions here) You should also consider subscribing to a month of Origin Access (S$6.45 a month) for the 10-hour trial before pulling the trigger on the full purchase. Not only does it give you a brief hands-on on Andromeda, it gives you a 10% discount on the full game purchase and access to over 30 full games on Origin.
There’s so much more to explore in Andromeda, and i can’t wait to jump back in when it launches tonight. I’ll reserve my full judgement till I finish at least a second playthrough, but so far, i’d give this trial a solid 8.5/10.
TLDR (too long, didn’t read): Good
- Pretty environments, great graphics
- Fun exploration and customization mechanics
- Very flexible, adrenaline-pumping combat
- Awesome, similar to ME3 multiplayer
- Some bad, stiff character facial animation
- Lackluster character creator
PS: Add me on multiplayer! My origin IGN is Kyorahe. See you in Andromeda!