I recently got to sit down and play the first few hours of the campaign of Mass Effect Andromeda, and also sampled the multiplayer thanks to 'EA access', a service available via Xbox One. A similar service 'Origin Access' allows the same access on PC. I have been a huge fan of the series since the release of the first game, with 7 playthroughs of Mass Effect 1, 5 playthroughs of Mass Effect 2, and only 2 playthroughs of Mass effect 3 (I wasn't as much of a fan of that one) under my belt. Safe to say I was highly optimistic, albeit a little cautious with the announcement and lead up to the release of Andromeda, so getting to try it ahead of time was an absolute must! Here are some of my opinions of the game, so far, in no particular order, and SPOILER FREE!!.
1. The custom character creator
Ok, where to begin with this disappointment. Any long time Bioware fan will be aware that character customisation is a huge part in creating your own path and adventure. The character customiser is still present in addition to the default Scott and Sara Ryder, but with some key features seemingly missing. For example, after choosing a default face to start with, you then cannot change the eye shape, brow shape or lip shape. You can play around with jaw, cheek and nose sizing, but it all comes from the base face you have chosen. The hair options are nicer than previous games, with some longer and more flowing hair available. The colours have also been expanded to include more extreme hair colours, such as luminous blue. This is sure to please some fans! My main problem with the custom characters though is the way they look in cutscenes and in-game. They do not look good. The animations look forced and awkward, and the face shape seemed different to the one I created, although this may have just been the lighting present in the creator. It was a little off-putting when there is a deadly serious conversation taking place, but all I could concentrate on was the weird expression on my characters face. Speaking of, that leads us to our number 2!
2. Animation faults
If you have been following the game closely, you may be aware of the hilarity around the web concerning the animations in the game, particularly the walk and facial animations. Sadly I can confirm that I encountered a few less than ideal animations in my time spent in the game. From my own Ryder looking perplexed yet happy (I think?), to one of the squadmates walking off with an odd ‘swagger’ and an NPC who it seems like they forgot to give any facial animations to. The latter even having an ironic line of dialogue stating "sorry my face is tired". The classic Bioware animations are present too, with the weird shoulder shrug and head bobs; but personally, I think these are part of the series at this point, and quite like them. What I wasn’t too happy with though is the fact they don’t seem to have been updated, instead, a higher resolution skin has been put over them. It’s a little disappointing considering the 5 years Bioware had to work on the game and to reuse almost decade old animations seems a little lazy. I'm not saying that they have done this, of course, there was just very little to no visible change.
Aside from the odd character faces, and slightly inhuman animations, one thing I am happy to praise the game for is the graphics, with the planetary worlds visited being a particular highlight. The worlds are bright, colourful and visually striking. With the game running on the frostbite engine, this is a bit of a given, however, it’s good to know the team have utilised the power the engine is capable of. There were a few instances where textures on characters weren’t loading or one instance where they were popping, but for the most part, the armour and clothing also look great. Admittedly the graphics aren't up tp the standard of games like 'The Witcher 3' but they were still mostly passable in the time I had to play.
The audio is very well designed, I was highly impressed at the gun and biotic noises in particular, with a special emphasis on the guns, which feel like the have more punch than ever. The noises created from biotics also appear to have had a nice upgrade, with them seeming more powerful and present. The environmental noises never get too overpowering, and you can always hear your squad mates in battle as well. Of course, the settings can also be fiddled with and changed if you want certain aspects to be louder or quieter.
5. dialogue and writing
The vast dialogue options and incredible writing have been a main staple of the series for a decade now, and although some of the dialogue in Andromeda harpers back to that, a lot of it sadly misses the mark and comes across almost like a parody at times. At one point a character gives a paint-by-numbers speech on how it’s up to them to complete the mission for the sake of humanity, and a lot of the dialogue with crew mates tries to be witty but can come across shallow and just a little odd. It seems unfair to judge on this point until I have had time to further explore the galaxy, learn more about the story and villains, and get to know the crew better; but I am hopeful that the quality of writing starts to shine through later in the game.
6. PLATFORMING + jetpack
With the inclusion of the jetpack in Mass Effect Andromeda, the maps have been opened up to include platforming areas, and environmentally dangerous areas, making traversal with the jetpack essential. I am not usually a fan of platforming, and I’m not sure it was a necessary addition to the RPG, however, I do like some of the ways in which it has been implemented in combat. The player can use it to temporarily hover in the air, gaining the advantage over an enemy to shoot them, strike with a biotic attack, or to simply get a better view of their opponents. This works well, and when added to a combination of moves or attacks, it can feel very smooth. Where the jetpack feels more cumbersome is within more enclosed areas, where the platforming can feel more tedious or like a forced addition. I think some players will love the freedom of movement it provides, where others may be annoyed that it is essential for reaching certain areas in the game.
The combat still focuses on being a cover based shooter, with biotics and a range of weaponry at the player's disposal. In Andromeda, I feel like the guns are the best they’ve been, with the sound and feel of the guns working together perfectly. Add to this the smooth biotics, and the combat gameplay is mostly solid. It was getting a little repetitive though, and it did seem to be going further and further down the Gears of War style of ‘hordes of enemies attack you at one point’ route, but again, this may be expanded upon more as we get our hands on the full version of the game. The enemy AI seems more intelligent than in the third instalment, though I did have a few occasions where an enemy would run in and out of cover in an almost sporadic way. The omni-blade is also back giving players a melee option in battle. I noticed in the loadout options that there may be the possibility of different melee weapons to choose from, so that is an exciting addition to look out for! I never quite understood the jump from the omni-tool being a holographic device, to being able to form into a solid pointy mass, but then again though this is a sci-fi tale!
9. Galaxy map
I still hold out hope for the game, and although I have more than a few critiques, I’m such a huge fan of Bioware and the Mass Effect series as a whole, I’ll still be crossing my fingers and hoping for a more polished, complete game on release. I am always looking to get back into the world of Mass Effect, and you can guarantee I’ll be playing it regardless!
Mass Effect Andromeda releases in the UK on March 23rd, 2017, for Xbox one, PC, and PS4 and is available for pre-order now!