While exploring an ancient facility known as a Vault on the planet Eos in Mass Effect Andromeda, I was asked by my AI assistant SAM to follow the coolant lines routed beyond a closed door. The lines wrapped around a corner and continued on through the door to the next area. It seemed like the logical next step according to the mission's waypoint, but when I tried to prompt protagonist Ryder to open the door, she wasn't able to. The door remained locked.
It seemed like there was an oversight on my part, like this couldn't have been the right direction to take. I spent the next twenty minutes retracing my steps, attempting to cross a gap where a crew member had gone to investigate separately, ending up in areas of the map in the Vault that players were never meant to go. I felt all along that this had to be a glitch of some sort, but because I didn't want to lose progress thanks to the game's insistence that I not be able to save during "priority ops," I kept trying alternate routes.
Instead of reloading an earlier save at first I just tried to kill myself in the expanse ahead of me so I could respawn and somehow trigger the door to unlock after being revived. That didn't happen. Instead, I fell through the out-of-bounds areas a few times and was eventually forced to revert to an earlier save about 20 minutes prior. I fought my way back to the door that gave me trouble. This time, I had no issues opening the door and I was able to advance.
It’s About To Get Ugly
At the time of this writing, I’ve reached the fourth main planet you’re meant to explore during my time with the game, and this experience and others like it sum up the whole of what I’ve seen of Mass Effect Andromeda so far. Glitches and other mechanical issues such as this aside, everything feels just a bit off.
You can’t shake the feeling that you’re playing through the video game equivalent of a television spinoff of your favorite movie. It contains elements of what made the original property memorable in the first place, but it can’t quite measure up. Instead, the show focuses on Squad B, which no one ever really cared about in the first place.
It’s disappointing, especially after having played through and completed all three of the original Mass Effect games, romancing all my favorite characters, and logging hours upon hours of time within the trilogy. Unfortunately, Mass Effect Andromeda is a muddled, slapdash attempt at establishing new and interesting plot threads in an alternate setting. It’s also awkward, boring, and tedious.
That’s How Ruff Ryders Roll
Without spoiling too much for anyone who hasn’t been briefed on how Andromeda begins, you can choose to play as the male or female Ryder twin. I chose to play as a woman. Regrettably, the archetypes presented in the character creator weren’t especially good-looking, to my dismay. The male options didn’t look so hot either. Even after I spent a good hour or so attempting to create an attractive character, she looked absolutely desolate. She ended up pretty slovenly even with the tweaks I made, with disheveled hair, a blank face, and soulless eyes. Her default expression is the thousand yard stare, which I can only assume is an unfortunate consequence of being frozen for 600 years and being thawed like a human Popsicle.
You see, Andromeda doesn’t actually let you create your character. You get to pick from one of eight or so “custom” archetypes and you can only edit your character within the bounds of that model. This is a step back from Dragon Age: Inquisition, in which you weren’t tied to any particular motion capture model that you had to base your looks on. The “default” Ryder twins are also an option if you want, but neither of them are particularly fetching. Default Shepard these two are not.
Selecting “Custom Appearance” from the customization menu will not let you edit the default Sara or Scott Ryder model, so if you want to change their hair color or other options like the depth of her chin or the color of her eyes, you simply can’t do that. You can try to rework the closest customizable character model in the Presets menu and get as close as you can, but the game’s sliders are limited as such so that you’ll be spending way more time trying to match Ryder’s overall look than you would have been able to simply pick at her default appearance.
Each preset has a different range of skin tones, so you can’t even change the skin tones of every model to your liking, which is absolutely bizarre. It’s an exercise in futility creating a character you feel is truly yours, with some presets completely lacking a pale or even a decidedly darker skin tone option. Furthermore, if the character you want to create doesn’t have a certain “type” of facial structure that fits within what the presets offer, you’re out of luck. Sure, you can mess with nose depth, size, etc. but it still looks like the same nose you started editing. If you want to make a clownlike human with bizarre facial tattoos and candy-colored hair (but no real in-depth facial structure customization), then you can do that. It’s just going to look like garbage.
Ryder, no matter which gender or look you choose, has been thrust into the role of Pathfinder. The Pathfinder’s purpose is to coordinate colonization efforts on several planets previously thought to be uninhabited. Arks carrying humans, turians, salarians, krogan, and asari were launched into space as part of the Andromeda Initiative, a program which called for thousands of each race to be frozen in cryostasis for 600 years while traveling to the Andromeda galaxy. The idea is to establish outposts on “Golden Worlds,” or the pre-approved planets meant for exploration, not to eradicate pre-existing life or push off others who may already be living there.
When the Initiative arrives in Andromeda and things go awry, your Ryder must take point as Pathfinder. This means making tough decisions like allocating resources to defensive operations or science and research facilities, or which colonists have the skills most needed to ensure the outposts flourish. You’re given a ship with which you can explore Andromeda (the Tempest), a vehicle that’s a vast improvement over the Mako rover of the previous games (the Nomad) and your own chain of command to work with so things can actually get done. It’s a difficult job with the potential to feel extremely rewarding, but instead it’s actually extremely mundane.
Mind Your Business, Lady
As Ryder, you spend much of the game trying to pull yourself out from under your father’s shadow as you’re asked to take his place as Pathfinder. The result is a parade of incredulous Andromeda Initiative members who don’t respect you, question your decisions, and make passive aggressive statements about you or toward you when it appears you’re not paying attention.
While it’s understandable that they’d jeer you when you’re hardly the most qualified for the position, it also puts you in the uncomfortable place where you’re trying to command respect while still saddled with the most milquetoast “leader” the Mass Effect universe may have ever seen. My Ryder has “um-ed” and “ah-ed” her way through diplomatic situations left and right, despite my attempts at asserting dominance.
Unlike the previous games’ Shepard, who was assigned the (particularly impressive) role of the first human Spectre, generally considered as being above the law and a position to be admired, you’re stuck with a position that doesn’t actually grant you all that much power. Others seem to behave like it does for some reason, but the reality is you’re not in a position where you can grant some of the things people ask you for. Ryder’s father Alec would have been a much more exciting character for players given his Alliance Special Forces background as well as his involvement with the first Mass Relay, but instead we’re stuck with one of his children, neither of whom are intriguing in any real way.
Ryder is frustratingly bland. Perhaps it’s my own fault for selecting certain dialogue options, but I’ve gone out of my way so many times over to be a complete and utter jerk to get things done and the game simply doesn’t let that come across. It could be all in the choices I’ve selected, but it’s not as if the game really spells out how your “tone” choices affect Ryder’s personality overall, aside from a quick tutorial that’s all of ten seconds long at the beginning of the game.
Emotional, Logical, Casual, and Professional tone choices are explained to you during your first conversation with Dr. Lexi T’Perro aboard the Tempest, and they’re denoted by icons on the dialogue wheel: a heart, a gear, a spiral, and a square-shaped squiggle. Once you see them for the first time, you’d better remember their meanings, because the game doesn’t explicitly remind you again.
The Emotional choices tend to be safe if you want to avoid offending people. Logical choices offer fact-based reasoning. Casual choices often include quips and sarcasm, though you often simply get relaxed or calm responses. Professional choices demonstrate the fact that you take what’s going on seriously. That’s all well and good on paper, but as we saw previously with even the Paragon and Renegade systems in prior games, your dialogue choices often have little to do with what’s actually said. This was already an issue before, but with the cavalcade of cringe-worthy lines delivered by nearly every character, it becomes a headache to carry on even the most simplistic conversations -- especially the ones that involve any sort of flirtatious advances. It doesn’t add any sort of organic element to conversations and instead makes them feel stilted and even more gamified than before.
Relationships weren’t perfect in the other games, so I wasn’t expecting a nuanced and fulfilling pairing that could rival the one I’ve found in real-life or anything, but I did expect more than a “press this button to flirt” option popping up after I’ve only just met a new crew member. It’s happened after a few rounds of conversation with some characters, and others the very same initial “welcome aboard” speech when bringing them onto the Tempest. Yet there my Ryder was in a certain scene, ogling crew members with their shirts off having only spoken to either of them once or twice. It felt a bit off having never really interacted with them in meaningful ways before cheering them on to keep working while shirtless. Beyond that encounter, one of the crew members didn’t seem particularly interested in me otherwise.
Granted, It was my choice to take those actions originally because I was interested in seeing how and when a real relationship or at the very least a date or sex scene might occur for review purposes. Dozens of hours in, I’ve still yet to reach that point with any of my potential suitors, though most have shown definite interest in me despite the most lackluster conversational topics of all time. There isn’t any real way to make Ryder less awkward and automaton-like when letting others know she’s trying to put the moves on them. During an encounter with a male crew member after I chose the “heart” icon, denoting flirtation/emotion, she actually said something to the tune of “I’m interested...over here...showing interest.”
I wanted so badly to choose a better response for her aside from the corny, overused “quirky, self-deprecating” character archetype and just start macking on men and women alike in so many situations, but I just couldn’t. It’s irritating and renders any fun I could have had with this area of the game moot. I’d never in my life approach someone like that in real life, and it’s a real shame the writers at BioWare deemed it necessary to neuter these interactions in such a way. Is it different if you play as a male character? I’ll have to find out.
There’s also the strange “you’re not my type” responses I’ve received from characters who are not-so-subtly trying to let me down easily, but for a game that wants to wear how progressive it’s trying to be on its sleeve, it shies away from speaking to me like an adult and expressing other sexualities. Obviously I’m assuming in some of these situations it’s simply male Ryder that they want (or vice versa if you’re playing as male Ryder already) but it seems as though the game is too embarrassed to just tell me that. It turns an interaction that could have been a simple, “Oh, I’m gay,” into a ridiculous scene out of an early-90’s sitcom.
But it isn’t just flirting that’s a problem, nor the formation of relationships. The dialogue in general, and the writing in turn, is lackluster. In some cases, it’s absolutely abhorrent. On one trip out on a certain planet, I managed to catch the Nomad on fire. One crew member aboard asked if she could get “one of those Angaran heaters,” referring to tech created by an alien race new to the game as I continued to drive the Nomad because the heat in the Nomad “wasn’t doing it” for her. This wasn’t a planned quip that I could tell, and a normal line of dialogue since it had taken place on a cold, desolate planet. Things like this happen far more often than they should, resulting in some outright stupid things heard from both important and unimportant characters, such as “My face is tired from everything.” What does that even mean?
I Resort To Violence
Luckily, there’s more to do than walk around and make awkward advances. Between exploring and readying worlds for colonists to live on, you do fight things, too. Unlike every other aspect of Mass Effect Andromeda, combat has seen some improvement over the original trilogy. While the aiming, gunplay, and special attack controls of the first three games feels a bit sluggish and archaic now, Andromeda has brought the series into modernity as far as third-person combat is concerned, and it helps balance out some of the frustration with other aspects of the game.
You can now use jump jets to leap and evade across the battlefield, and mobility is a key focus of Mass Effect Andromeda’s combat. There’s a large and diverse arsenal of weapons to choose from, and you’ll end up with the ability to research firearms, melee weapons, and armor from the Milky Way and Andromeda. You want an assault rifle that shoots grenades? You can get it. You want a shotgun that shoots giant ferrous slugs? You can get that too. Almost every weapon has its own firing characteristics and special abilities, and it’s fun finding which one suits your playstyle.
Biotics, techs, and combat skills make their return in Andromeda, and they get some added interactions. You can now set up combos with your teammates to deal extra damage to enemies. Some special moves set up combos, like setting your enemies on fire, while another will detonate that combo. It actually gives you a reason to be interested in what abilities your squad has and how they can interact with each other instead of just auto-leveling them and forgetting about it.
However, combat isn’t all sunshine and flowers. There is one absolutely terrible design flaw that makes fighting your enemies incredibly frustrating at times. Instead of sticking to cover through the use of a button, Ryder automatically takes cover when she’s in front a barrier. The issue comes with it being much too easy to unstick from cover, and as soon as you unstick Ryder will stand straight up and into the line of enemy fire. There’s no real indicator as to which objects in the game world can offer cover either. You’re left to guess as to what Ryder will use to shield herself, and this can be catastrophic in the middle of a firefight. Running for that rock or small barrier to duck behind for cover? Too bad, that’s not tall enough for some reason and Ryder will just stand impotently in front of it as she’s slaughtered by kett, the alien antagonists of Andromeda.
Yeah, I Know It’s Pitiful
Beyond its various narrative and structural issues, Mass Effect Andromeda has a glut of glaring problems with character animations. As you may have seen via countless gifs, videos, and compilation posts online already (including ours at Shacknews), there’s an inordinate amount of problems with the game’s facial expressions, body movements, and even dialogue scenes.
Despite how unpolished and brazenly sloppy these issues felt, I dealt with them the same way I’ve always dealt with graphical anomalies in games in the nearly 30 years I’ve been playing. I laughed at them and moved on, though I made sure to capture and catalogue the hilarious instances I saw throughout my time in Andromeda. However, we shouldn’t be comfortable accepting shoddy work like this when other games, even prior Mass Effect titles, seemed to get things right more often than they got them wrong.
A particularly hilarious incident happened on the Nexus space station in the security office, where a turian security officer would walk over to a human near the corner of the room, then casually stroll over to a console. He would then tap out what appeared to be a text message on his Omni-Tool, presumably to the man in the corner of the room (were they texting each other about me?) and stand in front of the console for a moment before sliding over to the prison cell in front of me. He then walked back to the man in the corner of the room. This movement path would repeat itself over and over if I let it.
Another encounter found me chatting with Peebee by the lift to Engineering on the Tempest. She was idly leaning on the railing by the lift with Cora in the Cargo Bay area. I had gone to speak with her to see if any new dialogue options had opened up after our first lengthy (and extremely irritating) encounter, and of course there were not. I noticed that even when I walked up to her side, she would turn to face me as if I had walked up to her back and then turned in the opposite direction. In other words, she did a complete 360-degree turn. Once our conversation ended, she was facing in the opposite direction, her arms folded as if she was still leaning over an invisible rail.
This was baffling to me, but related to something I had already noticed throughout the game. Characters, including your crew members, will usually turn to face you despite approaching them from the front. Sometimes, with characters stationed at a desk or in the same static location, you’ll get a straight-on conversation. When you approach them while out and about or even on the Tempest, this occurs for whatever reason. Not only that, but if you begin speak to some NPCs at the wrong angle, the camera will float behind Ryder to a point where you can’t reposition it. This makes for some extremely awkward encounters. They’re not game-breaking, but it sure takes you out of the experience when characters you routinely communicate with are moving so bizarrely.
Coupled with the problems I had with the game refusing to load a saved game, Ryder spawning in the Tempest and taking damage somehow, phantom character models, and other annoyances, all of these things took a toll on my experience as a whole. These are issues that could and should have already been ironed out before customers had a chance to experience them, and it doesn’t look like there’s an animation patch on the way any time soon.
Got A Point To Prove
Weirdly enough, despite how frustrating and silly all of these problems were, I still wanted to push ahead and see more, but not because I expected anything to improve. Part of it was my nostalgia for the Mass Effect trilogy. Another reason I wanted to keep going was because I genuinely hoped there might be some way to redeem all of the bad parts that have kept me steaming and laughing my head off at the same time.
Mass Effect Andromeda is like the schlockiest science fiction B-movie you can find to rent and laugh at all night. It tries so hard, so desperately, to be everything to everyone. But its biggest pitfall is taking itself so seriously with a cavalcade of issues that not only break immersion but sometimes prevent you from advancing or enjoying the game in a manner that doesn’t involve saving, stopping, restarting, and going back into it hoping the problem has been fixed.
There’s still so much I need to see and test. I’m still waiting to test out multiplayer and I’ve yet to see how a relationship will unfold, or if I’m even close to seeing that happen. There’s a lot that could still happen, narrative-wise, especially some twists I’m hoping to see, that could change my mind about how little I care about the characters at present. I’m going to soldier on, laughing all the way through at what’s here, and what could have been. Expect more in the upcoming final review of Mass Effect Andromeda.
Note: Shortly before this review-in-progress was written, there was a 500 MB patch downloaded and applied to the review version of Mass Effect Andromeda on PC. No patch notes were provided, so who knows what it actually did.
This review-in-progress is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Mass Effect Andromeda will be available in retail and digital stores on March 21 for $59.99. The game is rated M.