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The reviews for Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest installment of BioWare's acclaimed space opera are coming in, with just a day(three for the EU) before the game's official release. The current Metacritic score sits at 78 and that puts Andromeda in the green. However, the individual reviews paint a somewhat mixed picture. Take a look:
PC Gamer 80/100:
Here's the thing, though: in the end, Andromeda still manages to be more than the sum of its parts. As a critic I can point to the things that don't quite work, the things that could be better, the things that should be better after 10 years and four of these games. I can also appreciate where improvements have been made, the basic pleasure of an improved combat system and a full-feeling, spectacular sci-fi world to explore.
Yet I'm also aware that when I'm in Mass Effect's zone a lot of these dry pros and cons don't seem to matter as much. This is a series that has always been good at getting under your skin, that has built its reputation on the moments when all of those disparate elements, good and bad, cohere into an adventure that feels like it's happening to you. Andromeda can still do that. It's not perfect. It's not consistent. But for a story about vast journeys and fresh starts, it also feels a little like coming home.
In some respects, Andromeda is most disappointing when it's at its best. There's a mission in the opening third that conjures up the spectre of Virmire - a raid on a kett facility, accompanied by a crack squad of angaran guerrillas. The shift in mood and focus is faintly miraculous: the music kicks up, the bugs ease off, the dialogue straightens out of its slouch and the combat goes into overdrive. There are familiar but pleasantly ghoulish secrets to uncover, rooms to comb for hints about kett society, and a couple of heated, deftly worded interactions with companions that genuinely get your blood pumping.
It's gripping stuff, and a reminder of the greatness of the Mass Effect trilogy - its intelligent reworkings of pulp sci-fi cliche, the taut splendour of its scenarios and aesthetic, the colour and dexterity of its writing. All that's still in here somewhere, I think. But then you pop out the other end of the mission, back into Andromeda's labyrinth of drudgery and obfuscation, and remember that you're a long way from home.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is an expansive action role-playing game with a few great moments that recapture the high points of the landmark trilogy that came before it, and energetic combat and fantastic sound effects contribute to a potent sci-fi atmosphere. Without consistently strong writing or a breakout star in its cast to carry it through the long hours and empty spaces, however, disappointments like a lack of new races, no companion customization, and major performance problems and bugs take their toll.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun Scoreless:
I’ve a very strong feeling that people are going to buy this anyway, and many will milk from it what they can in order to feel rewarded. That’s great. But as a follow-up to the previous trilogy, it’s a timid and tepid tale too heavily reliant on what came before, too unambitious for what could have been, trapped in a gargantuan playground of bits and pieces to do.
Lurking beneath the ups and downs of the Andromeda’s gameplay and story is a baffling network of technical issues, clunky menus, and unexplained systems. Finding and tracking your quests is needlessly complicated, crafting is a convoluted and multi-step affair that is rarely worth the hassle, and the limited inventory system has no reason to exist at all since you can’t access your unequipped weapons and armor in the field. Stuttering framerates and audio bugs are frequent enough to be distracting. I also encountered a handful of bizarre animations, visual glitches, and broken quests that forced a reload at worst, so they didn’t bother me as much as the other more persistent problems. However, all of this contributes to an overall lack of polish that gives the impression various components are not fitting together properly.
When taken as its own journey (and not in comparison to Shepard’s saga), Mass Effect: Andromeda is fun, and the important parts work. The narrative isn’t astounding, but keeps you invested and drives you forward. The combat is entertaining whether you're in single-player or multiplayer. The crew isn't my favorite, but I like them and they have some good moments. Even with its other problems, these are the largest forces shaping your experience with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and they make it worth playing. At the same time, I was often left looking through a haze of inconveniences and dreaming about the game it could have been.
Hardcore Gamer 3.5/5:
Mass Effect: Andromeda is an unbalanced experience. It’s an incredibly ambitious game with a colossal scope, but it doesn’t always hit the right notes. While there’s an air of mystery behind the story that will keep you going, the cast of supporting characters are far from the most compelling bunch, not to mention decision-making feels far less important than ever before. There will certainly be moments that resonant with fans, but at the same time, there are design decisions that are put into question. Combat and the sense of exploration are the key components and thankfully, they’re done perfectly. You will be engrossed in the vast new beautiful worlds and immersed within the fully versatile combat system. Unfortunately, even by open world standards, this is an absurdly bug-ridden game. I by no means regret the 60+ hours I put into Andromeda as it does have an addictive quality that draws you in, but it’s marred by frequent technical issues. Every time I begin to have fun, I’m quickly reminded of just how unpolished things are. When it works, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a stimulating adventure. When it doesn’t, it’s nothing short of dispiriting.
With a little more focus, Andromeda could have been a great game. The premise of exploring a new frontier in space is exciting and original, and the cast of characters inhabiting this new world - be they the fresh races, or the people you’ve dragged with you from the Milky Way - are more interesting than not. Some of the worlds have a real beauty, and the main narrative itself is compelling enough to carry you happily to the end. But there’s too much quest padding. Too much technical jargon. Too much fighting for a game with a poor fighting system. Too many clever little animations and quest-steps in between the stuff that’s actually fun to do. Place the resulting experience next to infinitely more finessed open-world games like The Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn - or even the original trilogy - and Andromeda compares very poorly indeed. Not a disaster, but definitely not the fresh start this series needed, or the one fans have been waiting patiently for.
In many ways, Andromeda feels like a vision half-fulfilled. It contains a dizzying amount of content, but the quality fluctuates wildly. Its worlds and combat shine, but its writing and missions falter--and the relative strength of the former is not enough to compensate for the inescapable weakness of the latter. As a Mass Effect game, Andromeda falls well short of the nuanced politics, morality, and storytelling of its predecessors. For me, the series has always been about compelling characters and harrowing choices, so to find such weak writing here is bitterly disappointing. Yet even after 65 hours, I still plan on completing a few more quests. The game can't escape its shortcomings, but patient explorers can still find a few stars shining in the darkness.
ANDROMEDA SUCCEEDS, DESPITE A HOST OF PROBLEMS
After a number of complaints, it might seem odd to end on such a positive note. Let’s be clear: I’m conflicted about Mass Effect: Andromeda. There’s a lot of roughness throughout the game, and the technical issues, while not game-breaking, are often incredibly distracting.
But it’s my time with the cast that I’m still thinking about, and the mysteries about the world that haven’t been answered that make me feel like I’m waiting once again for a new Mass Effect game. And if I’m judging a game by where it leaves me, Andromeda succeeds, even if it stumbled getting there.
At times, Mass Effect: Andromeda can feel like an expansion and not a true follow-up. A lot of strides have been made to improve the already dazzling combat system (which is leaps and bounds more exciting than your average cover shooter), but so much of it feels like a regression. That slip still puts it a cut above a lot of others in the same space, but the failure to iterate after the divisive conclusion of the original trilogy isn't going to do BioWare any favours. They're still putting out some flashes of brilliance, but they really need an internal wake-up call and a sincere heart-to-heart with EA on their love of mandatory microtransactions as they re-assess their priorities going forward.
But the crux of the issue for us is not that the script is poor, but that it leaves so little for you to latch onto. None of the Mass Effect (or Dragon Age) games were particularly well written, with most characters and situations just reusing simple tropes and stereotypes. But there was an enthusiastic naivety to the adventures, where the simple fact that you spent so much time with these characters leading you to superimpose your own story details on top of the bare bones offered to you.
But that never happened for us with Andromeda. We didn’t particularly like any of the characters and interacting with them often comes across like some purposefully silly-looking YouTube skit. Whereas the team behind Andromeda’s action and role-playing elements have used the five years since Mass Effect 3 wisely it feels like those working on the script and story have only just woken up from hypersleep themselves, and dashed out this rushed and worryingly flawed game in a matter of weeks, not years.
Additionally, while scouring the web for reviews, a certain issue came to my attention. GearNuke reports that currently the game disables the Quick Save function during Priority Missions and describes how to circumvent this. As someone passionate about that F5 button, I would be remiss not to mention this. Here's the gist of it:
To attempt the Quick Save trick with the priority missions, you will need to open the main menu and check out the quests section. You can manually select a different active quest from there and you will need to do so in order to allow a custom Quick Save. This won’t cancel or drop the priority mission, it will simply alter the mechanics so Quick Save is possible during them. You can put the active quest back as the main target once you are done with saving in the game.