March 31, 2017

Mass Effect Andromeda - Review

The Mass Effect series, was one of the previous generations best, not only did it tell an in-depth story, with choices that followed you from your first steps to the very end, it did it in a wonderful built world, full of characters and locations that you had to explore, so does the transition to a new galaxy give this series a fresh perspective?

From the get go, the choices are once again at your command as not one which of the twins you pick, Scott or Sarah Ryder, you even get to choose their look and then the twins look, so it’s entirely possible that you can create someone who looks like John Cena for Scott and then Ellen DeGeneres for Sarah. Once your character has been created though, they will come out of the cryo sleep that they are many of the 20,000 others have been in, while the Hyperion makes its way towards Andromeda, which is our closets galaxy to the Milky Way, but as Ryder wakes, the Hyperion crashes into a large cloud of something, later referred to as the scourge and is it is orbiting the world, known as habitat 7, that is a problem for the humans.

As Ryder, his father and other members of an expedition team make their way down to the planet, to attempt to see if it is somewhere that can be lived on, as was promised, a giant ionised storm takes the shuttles down and leaves Ryder partnered up with Liam and together they discover their first alien species, the Kett. When first contact goes wrong, Ryder and the rest of the shuttle crew find themselves fighting to survive and by the end, Ryder becomes the Pathfinder. Eventually the Hyperion makes its way towards the Nexus, the advance ship that left ahead of the arks, to establish a foothold in Andromeda and things have not gone well for the crew, with a mutiny, dwindling supplies and no outposts on any of the golden worlds. But now that you, the Pathfinder is here, things can change for better, or at least the people aboard the Nexus hope. Over the course of the game another new alien species is introduced, this one friendly and many planets are scanned and explored.

When you are on foot on those planets, it is where the game changes from the past games, while there is still a very deep level of rpg embedded into the core of the game, it is much more action focused than the original games were. Ryder has a slew of new biotic abilities, including the ability to jump to great heights and dash around the worlds, combine that with the biotics and the result is combat becomes more of an annoyance than anything else, more so once you start getting better weapons. Your squad selection is still critical to your success and while there is never going to be a singular squad for all missions, you will determine your favourites, but unlike the first game, you can change yourself to help fill the imbalance in changing squad members all the time. In the original game, you selected your playstyle, which gave you a small boost towards that type of play, here though, you can actively change that, whenever you want, which means you can go from being a specialist in combat, to someone who takes things more scientifically.

Where the game evolves further than the older games ended is in the variety in the worlds you can explore, sure the themes are not to different, sand planet, ice planet, fantasy neon jungle and so on, but each of the worlds has more things to do. Eos is the first planet you are going to get to explore, it is also where you will acquire the Nomad, your new set of wheels and here there are minerals to mine, thankfully nice and easy still, but also enemy encampments, ancient alien ruins to explore and your own settlement to create and help prosper. Each of the worlds has a similar checklist to complete, but it is in the exploration of the world that the game provides a lot of fun, especially once you discover the remains of another one of the planned golden worlds, which now barely contains any gravity. While driving around, shooting aliens and exploring ancient alien vaults is fun, there is a reason for all the exploration, locating the arks from the other races, the Turians, Salarians and Asari and establishing outposts, to help improve the odds of survival and all the while discovering what the Kett are up to and just what the Scourge is.

Where the game shines and also struggles is with its performance, both technically and visually and while there are a lot of times when the game looks amazing, there are far too many instances of the reverse happening. Each of the now former golden worlds have two states, the pre and post vault activation and there is a significant change between the two, that you will notice, the problem is, with some worlds, the before change looks better as there is usually some form of issue, which restricts your view of the planet. Once that clears up, you gain a larger range of seeing things, which in turn reveals the ugliness of the technology behind the game, textures load in seemingly at random and while I can forgive the fade in effect that a lot of games deal with, its when a singular texture will remove itself, only for a bland colour to take its place and then at a time that only the game knows, the texture will reappear. This does not happen on the Nexus, or in cities, only in the larger open worlds, which proves it is an issue with the engine not being up to accepting the demands of larger spaces.

In addition, there are also many visual oddities that I had to enjoy throughout the game, characters who would not actually look towards the person they were speaking with, some incredibly bad lip syncing, which had characters speaking and not moving their mouths at all. Finally, the most annoying issue was the technical hiccups that the game had, load times would go from quick and fast, even in elevators, to slow and painful and those came from when the game was trying to hide them through the first-person ship flying and while those are fun the first few times, they slow the game down so much, it becomes frustrating. But while load times are an issue, the biggest one is the game locks up quite often, this is not dropping a few frames, this is quite honestly, locking up and then it taking a few moments to start up again, this would happen when walking around on the Nexus and on the Tempest, but it was far more common when driving around in the Nomad, once again showing that the game can’t handle open spaces. While all the issues listed above are annoying, I have encountered an issue that has killed my game in that, I am now unable to leave the Nexus and while the game does an admiral job of auto-saving, the manual saves I have done, have almost 11 hours between them, so my choices are stop playing, or replay a dozen or so hours.

One are the game has maintained itself from the earlier entries is in the sound department, once again it helps sell you on the world. From the sounds of the engines on the Tempest kicking in when taking off, or the sounds of the planets you visit, all having that touch of familiar yet alien, no matter what, the sounds just work. The score is once again a highlight and while it does not have any singular theme that stands out, unlike the original game did, each track and planet does have its own draw, which is welcome. The only complaint I can issue against the audio is the voice work and not from the main characters, or members of the Tempest itself, but against the people who live on the Nexus, Kadara, Aya and so on, I can’t begin to count the number of times I would enter those locations, only to hear the exact same conversations taking place, in fact, in relation to the Nexus, I don’t think anything changed, outside of Ark arrivals, the same people are in the same spots, having the same conversations in the same boring, yet somehow whiny tones. Seeing as you have to make your way through the crowds to get anywhere on the Nexus, hearing the same repetitive stuff over and over is annoying. Still, with the bass turned up, hearing Krogans speaking is always a welcome.

Mass Effect Andromeda is a decent first start for the series on the current consoles and like the original game, it has some growing pains. Sadly, while load times are an issue, the constant buckle the game deals with thanks to the engine and the game destroying bug I found drag the experience down to something I just can’t recommend.

Thanks to Electronic Arts for supplying the game for review

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