Mass Effect: Andromeda Review – Uncanny Galaxy

$40 million and five years, etcetera…

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: March 21, 2017
Copy purchased
Contains microtransactions

Before we begin, let’s get the important detail out of the way – this is my first time back in the Mass Effect universe since the first one. You can use that to dismiss my review if you wish, though given the degraded launch state of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I feel pretty confident in being able to assess this one without having experienced everything in between.

Indeed, Andromeda is in part designed for folks such as I, taking the “soft reboot” approach popular in Hollywood to reuse a brand name without alienating potential new audiences.

Taking place in a sexy fresh galaxy 600 years away from Commander Shepard, any of the series’ main plot threads are conveniently shelved so we can play Pathfinder Ryder of The Initiative – a group of colonists who traveled to Andromeda after discovering viable planetary environments and arrived to find the whole thing’s a mess of cancerous tendrils, glorified Genestealer cults, and other assorted horrors.

When playing this game for the first time, you get a good idea of how those colonists feel, waking up after a long sleep to find everything’s gone to hell.

Andromeda leaves a terrible first impression. Almost immediately the buggy, easily broken, sometimes eldritch character animations make themselves known, backed up by dialog that would be better written by fanfiction authors than professionals. Characters don’t just move like they’re made of wood, they speak like it too.

Facial animations are by far the worst, providing horrifying glimpses into what a game developer thinks human faces might look like in a world where human faces are replaced by independently shifting flesh masks that gurn and snarl at whatever dares look their way.

As far as bugs go, I refuse to agree with those who claim they’re “not as bad as the Internet makes them out to be.” At least playing on PS4, I can safely say the bugs are as bad as the Internet quite rightly described. Not a single session has occurred in which I didn’t deal with some sort of bemusing technical problem.

Such glitches include but are not limited to:

  • Allied characters merging into one nightmarish gestalt entity during cutscenes.
  • NPCs creating duplicates of themselves after dialog.
  • Ryder’s legs breaking and causing her to hobble around like her tendons have been cut.
  • Character models blurring during dialog scenes, appearing as if behind a veil of vaseline.
  • Enemies and allies alike spawning mid-air and dropping to the ground in frozen stock poses.
  • Missing transitory animations leading to certain attacks displacing or awkwardly teleporting characters.
  • Enemies and allies alike spawning mid-air and refusing to drop the ground.
  • Ryder speaking with her voice distorted as if wearing a helmet, even when she isn’t.


This image of Season Six Cersei Lannister chatting with Ryder is a real screenshot. The rough edges and JPEG-style artifacting is all part of the original image – I can tell you it looked even worse in motion.

Fortunately, the vast majority of these bugs are more amusing than destructive. The lack of professional quality for a project of this size and budget is simply staggering, don’t get me wrong – I’m just merrily surprised the game only crashed once, which is less than a few better made games on PS4 have managed.

Nevertheless, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a shitshow on the technical level, and it’s not just the weird animations and humorous defects. Graphically, the whole thing looks well below par and certainly below what BioWare and EA themselves showed of the game in promotional material.

Textures are flat and often pop-in dramatically. Cutscenes are sometimes still trying to fully render someone’s face while they’re speaking. Whole sections of the map may be missing as the player arrives and will have to snap desperately into existence. Andromeda is littered with the distinct hallmarks of an underdeveloped project rushed to completion.

Such an assumption isn’t exactly hard to make, given BioWare itself has indirectly admitted as much by promising the fix the game “over time.” Releasing an unfinished game and updating it over time is something Early Access exists for, but I suppose Origin doesn’t have that feature yet.

As a note, the first patch came out just before this review was ready to publish. The list of fixes addresses nothing of what I’ve spoken about so far.

Frustratingly, Mass Effect: Andromeda really isn’t all that horrible a game. The writing improves after the initial hours, introducing a villain who is at least interesting even if he isn’t particularly complex and a few plot twists that do a good job of surprising the audience. Side missions range from awful to exhilarating, with bigger loyalty missions tending toward genuinely great writing and additional tasks coming off as the afterthought they clearly were.

Perhaps the most stunning bit of bad narrative (inconsequential spoilers incoming) came up during an early side quest in which you try to determine the fate of a Turian accused of murder. It turns out the victim was actually shot by Kett – the Andromeda Galaxy’s obligatory baddies – but the Turian did fire a shot and thought he’d hit.

The logical assumption is to charge the Turian with attempted murder, a crime you can be charged of because it’s real and happens and almost every adult knows about it. Maybe they don’t have that in Canada, because Mass Effect: Andromeda lets you choose to proclaim him innocent or see him found guilty of murder. Nothing in between, no nuance. He’s guilty or he’s innocent.

Neither option represented justice, but the idea of changing the charge isn’t even floated by Ryder or her associates. It’s an infantile all-or-nothing scenario.

Good writing could have done something with the inherent lack of real justice, turned it into a plot point rather than plot hole. This is not what BioWare did here. In fact, not one clue hints that they even figured this storyline was completely fucked up.

It’s but one example of the glaring oversights present in this game’s script, but it perfectly encapsulates how illogical and downright abstract one’s options can be.

Loyalty missions and other larger side quests are much better, often containing moments of genuine humor and some decent character building for those few party members who have character.

Giving Ryder four dialog options that provide no clue as to what she’ll actually say is something cribbed from Fallout 4. There, it was mildly exasperating sometimes, but here they went to effing town. When given dialog options, you kind of have to guess what Ryder’s tone will be – sometimes the text choices don’t even reflect what finally comes out of her mouth.

The overall premise of Andromeda is a fascinating one, and that fascination is stoked when attempting to locate the rest of the Initiative. Each species traveled to Andromeda aboard an “Ark” but the fleet was scattered across the galaxy. When Ryder locates each of the lost races, they have their own horrifying backstories attached that really help solidify what a mess the Andromeda Initiative turned into.

Andromeda is all over the place, tonally and in terms of quality. Fleshed out characters are fantastic but others are completely one-dimensional. A lot of love was put into the Ark missions, and yet nobody thought to perhaps make the Angara – an all-new race for the Mass Effect universe – a bit more freaked out over encountering five new alien species at once.

I’ve spent most of the review damning Andromeda with faint praise while predominantly savaging it, but I should stress that I didn’t have a terrible time playing it. There was enough – just enough – story to keep me at least attached to the main campaign, while the combat was surprisingly fun.

Though players may switch classes for some reason and active skills are limited to a mere three, the cover-based shooting mechanics found in Andromeda are, to be quite fair, better than what you find in a lot of sci-fi action-RPGs. Fast-paced with just the right amount of chaos, even small scale battles feel like intense shootouts against relentless opponents.

Weapons pack a satisfying punch and can of course be crafted and modded with all sorts of cool stuff. However, while Ryder does need backup to draw enemy fire and deal with the sheer volume of opponents faced, party balancing really doesn’t feel important at all. Ryder’s skills and weaponry are enough to where her allies are more meat shields than carefully tuned supporters making up for any weaknesses in a player’s build.

No matter who I had in my party, I felt just as effective the whole way through, and I felt particularly effective.

This isn’t an issue if you’re just looking to shoot things. Andromeda does shooting really quite decently. It is not, perhaps, what BioWare fans typically want first and foremost, however. For me, it provided reasonably enjoyable shooter with some RPG elements, and I can totally understand any disappointment from those who wanted an enjoyable RPG with shooter elements.

My thoughts on the game have fluctuated much. I’ve been thrilled by some of the larger fights and story missions. I’ve been bored to tears to by monotonous planet scanning and repetitive recycled boss encounters. I’ve been laughing my head off at the game’s selection of ghoulish, sub-Bethesda glitches. I’ve been burying my face in my hands at some of the terrible writing, and nodding with impressed curiosity at some of the great writing.

It’s also got multiplayer I guess. It has microtransactions and stuff. Whatever.

Andromeda is an undeniable mess, one that is now being hurriedly fixed after it already “enjoyed” its most effective sales period. The state it released in – considering the money and publisher behind it – is hard to conceive, let alone forgive, but a game can be a buggy mess and remain fun.

Andromeda is fun… sometimes.

Other times it’s a dreary slog through recycled cutscenes, infantile character interactions, and a lot of badly masked loading screens.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is so full of ups and downs it might as well be my trousers at All You Can Fuck Buffet.

About the best thing I can do is just split the difference, so…

5/10
Mediocre

GrumpyMishka
Guest
GrumpyMishka

Apparantly the world has long decided that the game is shit. I don’t think the game has deserved it, but whatever. Funny thing about major part the complains in the review (terrible writing, it being a slog, terrible quests etc) is that it’s coming from someone who says FarCry Primal and Fallout 4 are fine. Not that it matters in the slightest. The bottom line is, there won’t be a follow up to this game, I can’t imagine it could happen in this day and age after the reception it got. Maybe some other game with Mass Effect title will… Read more »

Savage Vu
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Savage Vu

My biggest gripe and why I feel as if I can’t get into this is as much as previous Bioware games is that, so far, (I’m only about 20hrs in) it feels like I can’t pick WHAT Ryder says only HOW he/she says it. Like I’m not making any decisions (no mages v templars, no rachni living or dying, no choice really) just following a rigidly set narrative. WHEN I agree to do a quest, do I want my tone to be professional, goofy, passionate or rational (not even jerk or hardass responses). It’s like they were obligated to have… Read more »

Chürz
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Chürz

It’s definitely worse than 3.

prh99
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prh99

I can’t say I am surprised given it’s well documented issues.

Syndrake
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Syndrake

It seems to me that this has great gameplay, but a lackluster story. Which honestly feels wrong coming from Bioware, who makes great stories with lackluster gameplay.

Jerome Handy
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Jerome Handy

FWIW Jim, thank you. I called you out for jumping on the “Andromeda’s got issues” poop party that started a week before launch. Like others, you dug into the game more than a fair bit over the animations and bugs that were in the game. At the time, I sensed a very negative review coming from you. I asked only that you judge the game as a whole, instead of seeing who can make the most fun out of a game put out by a studio that no longer has the people who made it famous AT that studio. And…you… Read more »

Max Lion Rechenmacher
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Max Lion Rechenmacher

BioWare cucks BTFO?

Jallen
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Jallen

Actually quite glad I’ve had all desire to buy this game squashed. As that would involve getting either another new console or cowing to Origin.

Of course I hope this is a blip for Bioware, sales haven’t been awful but apparently below expectations, wouldn’t want them to get the EA chop.

Jiryn
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Jiryn

I have a love hate with this game. When it’s good, it’s really good… but when it’s bad… It’s bad and the rest of the time it’s ab boring slog. I find my self only able to play a few hours at a time before wanting to do something else. I’m now just under 40hrs in and have done every companion and etc mission, just finishing up the last 8 or so assignments let before beating the game. I didn’t touch the tasks, they were just lay, boring fetch quests, or felt like them. I do feel the characterization is… Read more »

confusedguy
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confusedguy

Honestly this game would have been less disappointing if it wasn’t released in the first quarter of 2017. We’ve had a cavalcade of greatness heaped upon us these last 3 months in a variety of genres and settings. It just seems somewhat unacceptable for something as high profile as this, released within spitting distance of so many instant classics, to come out in the shape it is. I do find it kind of funny that Jim thinks ME2/3 were still more RPG focused like ME1 and that this more shooter focused direction is a new thing ;p Only ME 1… Read more »

Xetelian
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Xetelian

Before EA BioWare was a respectable well loved studio with plenty of great original IPs.

After EA BioWare is churning out mediocrity and even 5 years wasn’t long enough to QA test before shipping it.

EA destroys everything they touch.

ahac
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ahac

I’m starting to think the PS4 version has way more bugs than the PC version. I haven’t even seen half of the bugs listed here and the people I talked to said “it’s not as bad as the internet says” but we’re all playing on PC…

David
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David

Whoa! HEY!

The worst bit of narrative is and will always be the AI trapped under the ice on Volus. That was the most fucking moronic quest I ever did. I was actually enjoying Andromeda, but that quest ALONE got me to basically stop playing it for the past week.

Jack Trevor
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Jack Trevor

Gotta say I love these mixed bag games because they are neither that great nor that bad. And watching people try an drew spin straw into gold for nothing more than a “dick measuring” contest is always interesting.

Erber
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Erber

It’s interesting because I’ve been having a lot of fun with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Sure it is a bit glitchy and I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the original trilogy, but still a solid game with a nice story and fun game play. To each their own I guess 🙂

Edward Gemmer
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Edward Gemmer

Can’t really disagree. I felt they didn’t really embrace the idea of exploring a new galaxy as much as they could have, and kept trying to split the difference between Mass Effect 1.5 and something original. The combat is fun, but not fun enough to carry 100 hours of limp story.

La Chica Incognita
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La Chica Incognita

Hey look, Jim gave a game in series I love a relatively poor score and I haven’t lost my mind and started throwing fecal matter around screaming like a howler monkey.

See internet, this is how you adult, try it with me now.

Gabriel Macys
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Gabriel Macys

“Hard to conceive, given the publisher behind it?”

Uh, JIm, you do remember that this is the same EA that has rushed Sim City 2013, Spore, KOTOR 2, Ultimas 7-9, Dragon Age 2, and who knows what else, right? I’ll give you the budget argument, but not that second part.
I’m pretty sure every studio they eventually closed was due to a buggy mess, rushed to meet a deadline that sold poorly on launch.

Gaijin-
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Gaijin-

While I do agree with most of the points on the review, I also share the view of some of the comments here on the lack of consistency when we look at the Fallout 4 review. A game that had pretty much the same issues (writing, glitches, dialogue interface, etc), but got a pass from Jim. I did point that out at the time and I still stand by it.

Daniel Guy
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Daniel Guy

Was waiting for this review. Figured it would be a bit higher. But not too surprised.

I always expect Bioware to be hugely buggy. But for some reason people take Bioware to task but not Bethesda? The same people that made a unplayable Skyrim on PS3? This is a great game. I work at a games store and the people that have played it love it. But the bad press has really made people stay away.

The patch has really helped too. Hope people come back. It’s a great game.

Drag0nSt0rm95
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Drag0nSt0rm95

It’s all well and good criticising the quests, content, writing, animations, human character models and overall graphical quality and glitches whilst giving Fallout 4 a huge pass on these problems, that are, or were just as present in that game, is fucking bullshit. Criticism is important but so is consistency. Fucking hell, the more of this I re-read, the more I continue to believe that critics are often full of shit, he even compares it to Fallout 4 as a negative, specifically the dialogue systems and suggests it’s worse in Mass Effect. Which is BS because Fallout 4 usually only… Read more »

Sam
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Sam

Seems fair. It is such a mix of ‘pretty good’ to ‘not great’ to ‘fantastic!’ to ‘atrocious!’.

Michael Alexander Seiler
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Michael Alexander Seiler
bongodude17
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bongodude17

No “please don’t hate me again reditt” tag for this one?

Oh right, everyone was cumulatively let down on this one.

DaTruth
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DaTruth

It’s funny I use to live in Edmonton and I would now and then run into guys who worked at BW when we were out drinking on whyte avenue. From what I could gather as we got drunk and bitched about our lives basically after EA Bought Bioware they brought in executive ‘managers’ who had absolutely no idea about game development and their qualification was some stupid bachelors of business and economics and these people had marching orders to get the games done and on schedule. They didn’t care about the story, constantly from day one on crunch time yet… Read more »