Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Mass Effect: Andromeda
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (45.21 GB)
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Let’s get this out of the way. The cinematics in Mass Effect: Andromeda are pretty bad. Not the execution or writing of them specifically, but the facial animations as well as some of the inverse kinematics in the eyes of the characters in particular.

And that’s the last I’m going to talk about them, since it’s wasted writing space, as the rest of the internet has bled the topic to death.

Hidden underneath all of that manifested internet rage is a worthy addition to the Mass Effect universe, and one that I consider better than the previous entry into the series as I wasn’t a huge fan of Mass Effect 3.

For starters, Andromeda does something that few, if any, space-faring games have done in the past: get us the hell out of the Milky Way galaxy. This game transports us from familiar territories to a completely new area where everything is actually “alien”.

Of course things don’t go as smoothly as expected with a new antagonist making itself known and not being too happy with your presence in the galaxy. Again, what kind of game would this be if everyone played nice when we arrived at our new home?

And hell, it’s not just the aliens being assholes here. The planets we thought to be habitable in Andromeda are not nearly as life-nurturing as the pioneers hoped and it’s up to you as the new Pathfinder to work with your team to solve ancient alien mysteries in order to make them livable for your 10,000 travelers from the Milky Way.

Fortunately, your team doesn’t come from boring ol’ Earth as defenseless travellers, this is Mass Effect after all. Armed with the familiar weapons cache of old, your characters are more than ready to take on the alien scum of Andromeda and never ask questions later.

… the real meat of the conversation system is in some of the moral choices you will make …
Bioware has managed to make the action sequences entertaining by streamlining a few things. For example, while the cover system still exists, it is now automatically engaged, so approaching a wall will snap your character to it. I found it refreshing, though it did initially make it difficult to guess when I would take cover and when I would not.

Other skills contribute to the enjoyment of combat, like being able to boost into the air and also dash at your enemy, with one skill giving you the ability to go into stealth immediately after dashing. While this makes for a more action-oriented role-playing game, I still felt that tactical positioning and managing your skills were both required for successful engagements.

And speaking of “engagements”, this game has no shortage of carnal rendezvous with other characters as it seems to be a staple of the series now. But the real meat of the conversation system in is some of the moral choices you will make in the game. While not nearly as many consequences were evident in my playthrough compared to the rest of the franchise, some decisions appeared to lead to different outcomes, though at this point, I haven’t played through the scenarios twice to verify this.

One component that I have a love/hate relationship with is the leveling of characters. While the options available are still pretty robust, you can no longer truly customize the abilities of your companions, not like before anyway, nor can you equip them with armor.

… there is a very special feeling to discoveries in Andromeda …
While this eliminates a lot of micromanagement from the previous games, it also eliminates a lot of micromanagement from the previous games. And quite honestly, I rather enjoyed tinkering with my characters, so I will somewhat miss this. Still, I can see how this would make things move quicker, but since role-playing gamers expect pacing to fluctuate in their games, I never really saw the micromanaging as an issue.

I found the extra planet exploration to be a welcome distraction from the main storyline, if a little lonely. The environment sizes are decent and there is plenty to discover. But your ultimate task is making them habitable so there’s more to this than just exploring, and that’s another place where this is a departure from the past. You are absolutely the first humans here, and if you allow yourself to succumb to that notion, there is a very special feeling to discoveries in Andromeda.

Visuals:
I will not be focusing on cinematics. But that doesn’t make this game exempt from all criticism in the visuals department as there are other issues plaguing it. Fortunately they don’t affect the gameplay too much, but they exist and they shouldn’t. Framerate inconsistencies can be seen throughout as well as some serious texture pop-ins that make the otherwise engaging dialogue cringeworthy.

Once you look past this, the various environments you visit are sites to behold. While they didn’t impress me nearly as much as this series’ fantasy brother, Dragon Age: Inquisition, I still found myself lost in their majesty and I was eager to explore them.

… Poor facial animations might hinder that experience …
Despite the videos going around showing wonky animations during gameplay, I rarely encountered any of these situations. Quite the opposite in fact. I found that some of the interpolating animations are well done, such as when Ryder is running in one direction and I decide to switch his heading immediately. In this case Ryder responds with a believable animation to compensate for the inertia shift.

Furthermore, while the human models in the game might be the recipients of scrutiny, the alien races look fantastic. While this almost goes without saying since we don’t see these creatures in the real world which gives us nothing to compare their expressions to, it’s still a testament to great creature design.

Audio:
I have no real complaints here. Sure some of the dialogue is laughable, but most of it isn’t. Some folks might even mistake silly animations for poor audio, but that’s simply not the case, as the voice acting is a completely separate entity. Poor facial animations might hinder that experience but do nothing to undermine the strength in most of the performances.

Music has also been a staple of the series and I hear that trend continuing here as the score is worthy of celebration. Even the theme playing before you start the game is amazing, and the level of quality carries forward through the game.

… the sum of its other parts make for a good game …
Online/Multiplayer:
I didn’t spend too much time with multiplayer, but what I did is reminiscent of Mass Effect 3. It’s a co-op experience with reward drops and the same gameplay mechanics from the single-player campaign, so a lot of the strengths in that system are carried over.

This is a wave-based affair with you and your buddies using your skills to defeat AI opponents. You are offered a class choice so your role is defined by these choices. One thing that did give me pause was the nudge to use real-world money to purchase items.

I refrained from spending a dime and I didn’t play quite long enough to determine if the multiplayer difficulty would escalate unnaturally to encourage spending real money on healing salves, but my playthrough didn’t seem to indicate this was the case.

Conclusion:
Video games with certain issues have been forgiven for much, much more and Mass Effect: Andromeda is not perfect. It has a visual defect that the internet has run with like that meme with 1960s Batman running with a hot bomb.

That defect is limited to cinematics but this is a very story driven experience so the importance of this issue cannot be simplified. Cinematics are only one component of a much grander game filled with discovery and a very enjoyable combat system not to mention some epic moments that rival the original trilogy.

I’m not giving it a free pass for having poorly executed story sequences, I’m simply stating that the sum of its other parts make for a good game, and one that kept me entertained. I just made it a point to have my character wear a helmet as much as possible.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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