May contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.
There’s no easy answer here, mostly because, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Now, I have never known a time without video games, since the first Atari came out a year before my birth. That being said however, I have seen my share of sh!t games – the ones so bad that 10 minutes in is too long to have played them. And my share of epic’s – the ones you cannot put down, don’t sleep for days while playing, invest in adult diapers, purchase astronaut nutrient packs, and have to replay a dozen times til your sated (I’m guilty of some of that). Full disclosure here: I have loved the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series since picking them up, they both squarely fall in the Epic category for me (I also loved Neverwinter Nights). So I’m sure to some this will seem like a biased, Bioware ass-kissing review; to which I say… Opinions are like assholes – everyone has one, and this one is mine. This is based solely on my 1 complete play through of the game and doesn’t cover everything. Now with that gem of a disclaimer out-of-the-way, On to the review!
First, the Andromeda galaxy is gorgeous. I have spent hours just traveling between planets and systems, sometimes more than once and not for any real reason other than it is fascinating to watch the travel animations (my kids love that part to). That being said, after 4 or 5 hours (less for most I’m sure) – cumulatively not consecutively – you realize that your just looking at things; unlike the original ME trilogy where you’d find bad guy bases to explore and blow up, pieces of Intel, interesting relics, rogue AI’s – not just space junk or a geological find. On that note, I don’t need XP for finding a volcano, river, or crater, that seems silly – turn it into something usable. I managed to reach level 62 in one play through, so a paltry amount of XP for these things is pretty moot, akin to a drawstring on spandex. All of your time is spent between 1 space station and 6 planets (if you count the broken one, which at this point is just a large asteroid – albeit a very fun one). In a galaxy of 100’s, maybe 1000’s of orbital bodies this seems lacking.
The planets we can explore are lacking in diversity. Sure they are all a bit different in looks, dangers, hazards and topography; but they all have the same flora and fauna – not to mention bad guys – which to me seems odd. I would not expect to see Earth’s plants and animals on Proxima B. If we were to find life at all, I would imagine it will be completely different from what we know (if it is somehow the same on another planet in just our own galaxy, it sets up a whole new can of worms – that is another conversation though). Even here on earth all plants and animals have a preferred climate that they grow and thrive in. You cannot grow artichokes in the desert or cactus in the snow, at least not without serious intervention… this should be a universal truth. In the same token, it’s a game, and forcing realism on it is not always a good thing or necessary; and after learning where the Angara come from it does make some sense, though only slightly.
Why does every Bioware game include ass-hat politicians? Honestly, that far in the future and humanity’s “ideal utopian democracy”, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, hasn’t reared its head? Even in Shepard’s time humans should have reached a bit more enlightenment; and before anyone yells at me, I know those now in Andromeda are technically from Shepard’s time. I’m just saying, it says nothing of our species that we are unable to grow in roughly 160 years. Come on humans grow the EF up already!
I feel like every ME game attempts to give us a full range of personalities aboard our ship, which is good, diversity is good. However, pigeon-holing certain crew members into specific roles is awkward. Why are the strait human males always the boring ones? I would have rather boinked Gil, at least he was funny (can I be a Mongoose). In my opinion the best human characters are Suvi (she’s sweet but I’m not into that) and Gil (who’s playing for a different team), bummer. I do not think it would be difficult or world-shattering to make Everyone available to Everyone… Come on people it’s 2819, for crying out loud, free love is making a comeback right? If we can have sex and relationships with aliens that are probably toxic to us and definitely require antibiotics, ointments and maybe hospitalization afterwards, then why can’t we just boink anyone?
That said, I’ll break them all down a bit.
Cora: I hate this chick about as much as I hated Ashley, maybe more, it’s a tough call. If she wanted to be an Asari so badly she should have traveled with them. She’s pissed you got her job, I get that, but she is clearly lacking the strength of will or ability to have the job anyway. And She Won’t Shut Up about it…Ever. Plus, she talks about your dad like she was his favorite child, constantly quoting him, wistfully reliving fond memories of their time together; they better have been boinking or something.
Cora = Fail / Loyalty mission = Should have been a priority mission
Liam: He’s basically Jacob with a bit more personality; that of a 16-year-old. Likes his shirt off and of course exercises, and drinks his beer that way. He is literally a walking pile of oops – “I tried” but “whoopsie daisy, Pathfinder fix my EF ups please”. Plus, how idealistic do you have to be to assume dirty, guerrilla tactics shouldn’t be used on an evil, oppressive, genocidal species? Um, Hello? Survival at all costs! I do like his banter with Jaal; it’s funny and vaguely reminds me of the Garrus/Vega or Garrus/Wrex relationships. However, by his own admission, he was a bad cop and not very good at his HUSTL job… so then, how did he get approved for this trip? Seriously, was no one doing psych evals? background checks?
Liam = Fail / Loyalty mission = Awesome
Vetra: I kind of like her. She can be funny, sweet and sarcastic all at the same time. She is not, however, Garrus. I think that’s what they were pushing for here: a female version of everyone’s (pretty much, anyway) favorite Turian. She is still a favorite crew member to take on planet for me, for her skill set, but her banter with others in the Nomad seems stiff and forced to me – perhaps by design; as a military species, Turians tend to come off as having a stick up their ass.
Vetra = Acceptable / Loyalty mission = Needed a bit more Umph
Drack: I love Drack! Don’t get me wrong, he’s no Wrex (yet), but he’s adorable. Is he always talking about quads and hurting people? Sure, but that’s typical for both Krogans and most Grandpa’s. He old and rough, but has a soft spot and is one of the few Krogan that will react approvingly towards the “PC”, overly caring, ‘heart’ conversation options.
Drack = Awesome / Loyalty mission = Good
PeeBee: At first she bothered me: “Oh great, another kid on my ship? What is this, an after school program for difficult teens?” In time, she grew on me – able to take my sarcasm in stride and her sense of wonder, awe, and drive for exploration turned out to be enduring enough. Pet peeve though: why does Bioware always seem to try to ‘force’ the Asari on you? Liara bugged me to no end… she was Always There, in your face (especially in ME3). Peebee is not that different; despite never having flirted with her, not once, she has the gall to try and push it? Seriously Bioware, give up the Asari love affair, I find them to be a pompous, irritating species, and I’m not into chicks (funny how they try to force this, but limit your other options).
Peebee = Not Bad / Loyalty mission = Cool
Jaal: He’s…Purple. Ok, I can get past that. Weird bony structure on chest? Par for the alien course at Bioware. Nice ass though! He’s emotional…Overly so… What the EF? I’m not saying it’s bad, quite the opposite really, it just caught me off guard. Crying is something that is actually missing from a good space opera like ME, at least from crew members. I can almost guarantee the Perfect Miranda cried herself to sleep a lot: why? Because it is impossible to maintain that level of decorum, perfection and professionalism, day in, day out, without it getting to you. So…emotions. On the plus side, we finally get a character who can express his feelings in more than a headbutt or shooting contest (don’t get me wrong though, I love Garrus and will ALWAYS love him). We also (talking to the Garrus fans) get alien boinking without armor on – finally! The final scene is also fairly well written and animated. His conversations with others, including the Pathfinder, range from candid to funny to awkward and everything in between. More like what integrating a new species into a team should be; odd.
Jaal = Awesome / Loyalty mission = serious exercise in trust
The Combat system is a deviation from previous titles, in that, now there’s jumping (which I love), hovering, and dashing/dodging involved; no problem, I can get behind that 100%. What I can’t get behind is being limited to 3 powers at a time (4 if you count dash/dodge). Where did my “Wheel O Powers” go? And why is it so difficult to get the ammo screen up to select cryo bullets? Maybe this is just a PS4 issue? I honestly don’t know the button layout on other platforms, but some of the button choices seem clunky to me (triangle for everything? Why not X like every other game?). Also, it’s a lot more difficult to be a good sniper when the bad guys DO NOT stand still or they tend to stay in thick cover for more than a minute.
Animations: By now we should all be aware of the failed animations in ME:A. Does it bother me? Yes, at times. Do I let it detract from the overall gaming experience? No. It only really bothers me when I’m in a cut scene that should have a certain tone and the animations are clearly not in line. Is it as bad as some of the animation problems that ME:2 or 3 had? Nope, not even close. I remember having full conversations with team mates where Shepard was looking the wrong direction the entire time (a couple where she was trying to break her own neck). Or character bouncing/clipping issues that were so comical I’d reload to play them again. Question ME:A: what is with the cartoon white eyes? Just on Ryder… Dunno if it’s just me but my Ryder’s eyes are Way too white, they look completely unnatural. My Ryder also, somehow, has a partial lazy lip: I’m sure it’s a mesh glitch/error, but it’s annoying when half of the time, half of my lip is doing something it shouldn’t be.
Cut Scenes: Most of these exchanges are well written and thought out, others could use work in the writing department. One example: When you meet Jaal’s family… That whole thing is odd, uncomfortable and not realistic. Someone doesn’t declare their adoration for you while you sit there smirking like an ass in an awkward elbow reclining position. I like the intention behind it, but I think it was done poorly or too quickly.
Conversations: One thing that has bugged me in every ME game… sometimes the conversation wheel blurbs do not match what is said. You go to pick the snarky answer and it comes off sounding whiny or lame. Pick the intelligent answer and you sound like a robot or asshole. Sometimes there should be a different answer all together, because your choices suck. Also, why is it that if I’m being snarky to, oh I dunno, the bad guy, he always gets to one up me? EF that, I should get the last word; give me some more interrupt options, spit on him, kick him in the nuts, anything! I’m so tired of the bad guys talking sh!t and me not getting that last “EF You” in.
Bugs: Yep, it has some. Though, I am unaware of any game that was released without at least one, so I expected it. Are they game breakers? Not really. I got halfway through my first game and had to start over due to a bug; was I bummed? Sure, but I’m not gonna bitch and moan about it. A bug or 10 does not define a game for me, they are just an inconvenience until they are patched (which they will be, they almost always are).
Update: I realized that originally I neglected to mention character creation, so here is my take on that…
Character creation: I have always been confused and pretty disheartened by Bioware’s default leading ladies looks; Default Shepard and Ryder are both pretty ugly in my opinion, and yet, the default males are always “acceptable”. At least in the original trilogy I was able to make a fairly good looking female Shepard that I was very happy with. ME:A is terrible when it comes to character creation; I spent 2 hours trying to get something other than a bland, average and failed. I spend my real life as an average looking person…I do NOT want to spend my gaming life doing the same; I play to escape reality NOT relive it. Default male = strong masculine features, and easy on the eyes. Default female = ? Not soft feminine facial features or easy on the eyes. I don’t know what y’all are getting at Bioware, but it is perfectly acceptable to make women beautiful. Lara Croft wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular if they had made her homely. The idea that a tough woman cannot also be beautiful is very archaic, like dark ages; even the Greek and Roman goddesses were depicted as “fair of face, supple of body, but seek not their ire”. If I were Bioware, I would have, at the very least, kept the ME:3 facial creator: it just had more room to for us to work with.
Overall: Look, the game is not perfect. It has its issues, some of which can and will be fixed, eventually. It is, however, a REALLY good game, with a really good story, and it’s obvious that a good amount of love, devotion and time went into it. If you don’t care for it, that’s your prerogative, but it does not automatically make it a sh!t game. I never played WoW because it looked to cartoon-like for my tastes, it doesn’t mean that was/is a bad game: it’s just my personal opinion. To dismiss the game in its entirety for a few flaws just means your petty and unable or unwilling to look at the big picture of the project as a whole. If you are a fan of ME or any Bioware made RPG, Andromeda is completely worth the time and money. If, however, you think you can do better, get off your ass and get to work, or apply for a job with any game studio and add your 2 cents to a project.
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