A 600 year journey to a new galaxy can leave you with such a crick in the neck.
Our intrepid explorers have given up everything to travel to an unexplored corner of space known as the Andromeda Galaxy, travelling onboard the Ark Hyperion – a huge spaceship holding 20,000 cryogenically frozen souls. We learn off the bat however that things are not always that simple (what’s that about the best laid plans?), and the Ark is disrupted as soon as it gets to Andromeda by a root-like structure in space called The Scourge.
This forces you to get acquainted with your team pretty quickly as you’re tasked with making an emergency trip to one of the nearby ‘Golden Worlds’ to see if it’s as habitable as previously thought. Well things just go from bad to worse from here really; the whole things been buggered up by the Scourge, storms rage on all of those planets previously earmarked as humanity’s new home rending them, well, pretty horrible. As the Pathfinder on this mission, you’re expected to be the tip of the spear on this mission and find just where the travellers can settle. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
This is what we’ve come to expect from Bioware’s epic space opera; a vital mission that only you can undertake, a space station full of people with problems, your own crew with whom you can have some sexy times and a lot of nondescript bipedal bad guys trying to kill you at every turn. This is all well and good, and it’s the reason that I loved the previous entries in the series, a lot of what was going on around you was genuinely interesting. I always saw Mass Effect as more of a talking simulator with firefights thrown in for good measure. More talky talky than shooty shooty, essentially.
It’s because of my love of Mass Effect that I struggled to get on board with Andromeda for so long. While the staples of the series are still here (some, in my opinion, have even been improved on) it’s the transition to an open world format that seems to have hurt the cohesion of the narrative somewhat; driving around in your fancy car looking completing fetch quests for nameless residents diluted the main story for me. The idea of stepping off of your ship on to an unexplored hostile environment initially seemed an exciting prospect, but the excitement soon turned routine; something we’ve done countless times before in countless other open world adventures, just with a sprinkle of ‘super space explorer’.
It’s not terrible, though. Setting off in to the unknown of a gorgeous landscape is a beautiful and noble endeavour, and the mystery of your new surrounds does itch that inner pioneer spirit inside me somewhat. The landscapes are truly breathtaking, it’s something that the frostbite engine really nails as we’ve seen in Battlefront and indeed Battlefield. It’s a shame really that the snow-capped peaks and the dusty expanses of Andromeda’s planets ultimately end up with the player just killing time running mindless errands.
While the Frostbite engine can render the players surroundings with beautiful realism, something that I (and indeed the entire internet, it seems) have struggled with are the character models and animations. A lot of the humanoid characters you come across have a blank look on their faces which very rarely conveys the emotion of what they’re saying. The biotic on your team always seems to have a smug half smile on her face regardless of the situation; whether its Ryder trying to sweet talk her or some scaly-faced brutes trying to burn her alive, it’s like she’s in on a joke that really isn’t that funny.
The writing is nowhere near the level I’ve come to expect from a Bioware RPG. The conversations don’t seem to flow, with more than the occasional dud line finding itself amidst the small talk, and even worse is the main narrative. With the crew being thrust in to a completely unknown galaxy it would be safe to assume there would be.. well, new things to discover. Instead we’re only treated to a couple of new species and some robots. It’s a shame really, since the original trilogy has such an interesting cast of races, some of which we never really got to grips with.
I can’t help but feel like the opportunity to get to know a whole galaxy’s worth of life has been glossed over; the new additions to the cast are for the most part uninteresting, and the challenge of getting acquainted is taken away from the player for the most part. The more friendly of races you get to meet have no real mystery to them due to the all-knowing ‘translator’ you have on you at all times. I’m guessing that this is the A.I. that is on board the ship, as it’s never really explained, but it means that everyone you meet you can speak to and understand as if that were speaking english. The first meeting with that bad guys takes on a tense ‘what do we do’ situation. I opted to follow protocol and approach them with my hands raised, in the hopes of garnering peace. The knee high cover strewn across the area should have warned me that this would merely turn in to one of many firefights fairly quickly.
Combat is actually one of the things that Andromeda improves on quite a bit, though. The arsenal at your disposal is varied and all seem quite effective if used correctly. The weapons pack a good punch, and feel quite satisfying to use. The addition of being able to change your character’s class also adds a decent strategic element to the combat; towards the latter part of the game I was a noble biotic killing machine. Boosting my way around the battlefield, throwing people around with my powers and finishing them off with my shotgun, It feels great, and almost makes up for the same-y nature of a lot of Mass Effects combat situations.
It’s not that Andromeda is terrible, it’s far from it really, but just that I was expecting so much more from a series that meant so much to me in my formative days. The frame rate issues and countless bugs do indicate that the game may have been a little ways from actually being 100% complete before release, but I’m guessing that the release date was something the developer had little room for manoeuvre on. Bioware have indicated that there are several patches in development to improve the performance, but with a lot of the issues coming with the awkward animations and occasional bum notes in the narrative, is it a case of too little too late?