Mass Effect: Andromeda will finally grace consoles and PC next week, and I’ve been lucky enough to have spent the good part of the past few days blasting through Bioware’s overwhelming, intimidating sci-fi space opera epic.
Ahead of next week’s review embargo, EA has permitted reviewers to offer initial impressions of the game’s prologue mission, and the first planetary mission, or, roughly, the first 2-5 hours of the game, depending on how you approach it. In my case, it’s about my first 2.5 hours of the game.
I’ve learned a lot about Mass Effect: Andromeda in the proceeding 30-or-so hours, so it’s a bit tough to really hone in on such a small patch of gameplay, although I do feel that a lot of what is established in those initial missions are thoughts that will likely stay with a majority of Mass Effect fans throughout their playthrough.
Here are the thoughts I wrote down throughout those opening hours.
There’s a distinctive difference in relationship building
In the original Mass Effect trilogy, I felt that establishing and building relationships relied upon a more structured general consensus between the characters, because there was more hostility in that narrative universe.
Andromeda feels different in that characters bounce between unbridled hope and cautious optimism, rarely downright fear or regret. That goes with having travelled 600 years with the sole purpose of reestablishing life in a new galaxy. While things quickly turn sour in the game’s opening moments, it still feels like a more empowered and upbeat environment for the characters, like as if they’re excited to explore and navigate.
That goes with how you establish dialogue and character relationships — of course — but I’ve found characters to be a little less hostile and defensive, and more open to discourse and debate. This may change later in the game and/or sequels, but initially, I feel it really sets Andromeda and its world apart.
Ryder’s growth makes for an interesting journey
The way in which Ryder becomes the pathfider is somewhat shallow, but what I really like about Andromeda is that it’s mostly a story about exploration and discovery, not so much about investigation and conflict. Those two do exist, sure, but the primary function of the pathfider and its crew is to find viable habitats to establish colonies. Sometimes that involves conflict.
I went the male path for my playthrough but have also spent some time with the female character, and not much changes between the two. Their personalities are fairly similar, and the reactions and outcomes seemingly identical in those first few missions.
Dialogue options are a little more … grounded
This may be a bit hit and miss for Mass Effect fans. Bioware did away with the somewhat restrictive and simplistic Renegade and Paragon dialogue options, in which you could choose either a hostile/aggressive response or a peaceful/rational response, respectively.
With Andromeda, you have multiple options: Emotional, Logical, Professional and Casual, and each can often have multiple options, or appear as a combination.
The reactions — and direction of your character — aren’t as obvious, but it’s clear what type of relationship you’ve established with characters, based on responses. Characters I’ve been a little more emotional with have been more likely to open up with me (one character openly spoke with my Ryder about god and faith, for example). Others that I have been a little more robotic and direct with have only ever spoken to me about missions and objectives.
It’ll be interesting to see how it stretches out throughout the whole game, and if on a second playthrough there are major differences. So far, however, the changes are subtle but certainly influential.
Mass Effect still can’t get scanning right
I’ve always hated the scanning and mining elements of the Mass Effect series, and Andromeda is no different. The scanner your Ryder has access to is fairly limited. You can use it to scan environmental objects for data and researching projects, and occasionally it opens up new mission objectives, although they simply open up once you stand close enough to them, even without the scanner open.
It will help you unlock new research for weapons and armor, but you can always just buy this stuff from a vendor or find it randomly throughout the world.
Combat is drastically improved
Bioware has mentioned how tough it was to introduce the jumping mechanic to Andromeda. It’s a very important addition to the game’s combat as it allows you to quickly manoeuvre in and out of heated situations.
Guns and powers also feel fantastic. The Mass Effect series has evolved from RPG to action-RPG and Andromeda is the peak in that regard. It really is a lot of fun to guide and direct squadmates during battle, and to use a great combination of jumping, shooting and powers on hostiles.
Bioware needs to stop making auto-cover a thing
My only issue with combat is that auto-cover isn’t great. It’s difficult to differentiate between which objects can be used as cover and which can’t, and sometimes Ryder locks into the wrong stance regardless of the height of the object. If he’s too close to a tall object but you want him to cover next to a short object and crouch down, he’ll probably just cover and remain standing, which in some situations can leave you incredibly vulnerable.
The difficulty of the combat and enemies has been increased tenfold, but I’ve died countless times because the cover hasn’t protected me when it should have. It needs to be fixed.
Levelling up is quick and easy
I guess this will either be a positive or a negative for most of you. For me it’s a positive. You will level up fast, and have a great number of skill points and options available to you.
I wouldn’t say it’s “rushed”, but relative to the scope and size of the game, it’s a good enough pace to feel like you’re making genuine progress.
The UI is a complete mess
Holy wow, I absolutely hate navigating through Andromeda‘s menus. This game throws so much at you, so quickly, and it seriously seems as though Bioware has just bundled it all together and left it to the player to form some sort of coherent message out of it all.
Crafting, levelling up, profiles, loadouts, mission summaries. Just about everything about the structure and layout of the UI is infuriating for me. Granted, I eventually find my way around it, but I doubt I’ll ever get over some of the UI’s more stupendously complicated layouts.
Bioware needs to fix checkpoints and autosaves
This has proven to be the most frustrating element for me. I highly recommend saving during heated battles, as the game will only autosave before you enter these areas and certain open-world areas. You will be half-way through a mission and then die, only to find yourself back at the start. Safe to say Andromeda is not generous with auto-saves, and it can prove to be frustrating.
Save your game manually, and save it a lot.
That’s all I have to say about Andromeda thus far, so stay tuned for my full review early next week.