I just finished the final battle in Mass Effect Andromeda, and I have very mixed feelings.
Mostly, I enjoyed the game. When it was good, it was great – there were moments in there which were on par with any of the other Mass Effect games. It was trying to tackle big ideas – the implications of creating life, exploration and colonialism, and how science and warfare play on those – and give players a choice in how they shape their version of Andromeda.
The game was gorgeous. My machine runs it at full resolution, and I loved drinking in the alien landscapes. I could feel the hot dry wind on Kadara and a chill on Voeld (although that might just be #TheBeastFromTheEast). I enjoyed roaming around the different planets in the Nomad, and doing the whole exploration thing.
The combat was great – really well balanced, lots of options depending on your play style. It had a fun crafting system which is not a sentence I thought I’d ever say. The game also had a story mode if you just wanted to skip the combat. There were times when the game was just spamming enemies at you, but that’s a problem common to all Mass Effect games, and is part of what allows the game scale the final battles so they’re appropriate whatever level you’re at when you trigger that plot mission.
The pacing of the game was all over the place. Certain plot-arcs seemed to take forever, others happened in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment. This robbed many of big moments of their emotional impact, as there was little build up. At least once I found myself thinking “wait, was that it?” as the game moved me into the next chapter.
It may be the relationship options that I chose in the game, but some of the characters were lacking in depth, and others just won’t stop talking. Maybe it says something about me that my least favourite crew mates were the humans.
The thing that annoyed me most about the game was how meh many things felt. There’s a lot of incomplete, or half-assed content.
People talked a lot about how flat and affectless the facial animations were in the game, but I was willing to let that slide as potentially being limited by the engine, or by tooling – I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. The moment before one of the final battles where Ryder scrunches up her face in anger ruined that. It was fantastically expressive, and showed what the engine could have done. Similarly, the Archon’s lip-syncing towards the end was great – he was sneering up a storm, and I couldn’t wait to slap him around Meridian.
The moments of well-done gameplay or facial animation, or character interaction only serve to highlight what the rest of the game is missing. I’m annoyed because I feel cheated out of a more complete game.
I read a great article about the development of the game, and how it was a complete mess. I believe it. This has all the hallmarks of a software product released too soon. I couldn’t even start the game for 10 days because its anti-copyright scheme didn’t like the language setting on my operating system – that’s basic QA. But it also has all the hallmarks of a software product that has been in development for too long – scope creep, extraneous content and features, and a lack of focus. It’s rare that a game exhibits both of these problems at the same time, and yet here we are.
Mass Effect Andromeda kept me amused for its duration, and for that, I am thankful. At its best, it delighted me, but the distance between those moments of delight only served to highlight how “good enough” the rest of the game was, and I think that’s a shame.