Mass Effect: Andromeda – A Review
There are spoilers here, you have been warned.
I want to start this review off by saying my final opinion on it, because I don’t want anyone to misinterpret what I am saying here as a condemnation of the game. I genuinely think that Mass Effect Andromeda is the greatest game I have ever played, it has all the aspects of a roleplaying Game, action game, and open world game that it needs in the perfect quantities.
A lot of reviews have focused to strongly on the bugs of the game, and OH BOY is the game buggy. The bugs are more of a distraction though and they rarely actually break the game. As well bugs are expected in open world games, and people tend not to judge them to harshly in such games. I think that perhaps the fact that the game is not easily identifiable as open world from the beginning that it made people more aware of the bugs than they would have been otherwise.
So I am not going to talk about them… to much, there is some stuff that needs to be addressed but I will get to that.
The games greatest strength is that it has you exploring many new worlds and establishing colonies on these worlds. You take the role of the “pathfinder” and the game makes you own that role, and it feels good.
But the game goes out of its way repeatedly, again and again, to invalidate every single experience that makes being the pathfinder wonderful. I am going to have to run through every example of this to make it make sense.
First off, there is basically no alien species that the player encounters and makes first contact with.
The first alien species you encounter is the “Kett” the Kett are an interesting enemy, despite the fact that their leader is a as mustache twirling as they come. And eventually you learn that the bulk majority of The Kett are biologically converted from Angara, another alien species that you meet in the game. This invalidates them as a legitimate species, and thus takes away from the first contact experience.
Then you meet the angara, which is one of the best moments in the game. But later they establish that humanity has already made contact with the Angara and that the Angara are aware of your species. So first the game robs you of this experience of meeting the angara, then it takes it one step further. Later in the game you learn that the Angara are an artificial species created by another, thus invalidating their status somewhat as a legitimate species.
Combine this with the fact that “The Remnant” is just a collective of non-sapient technology… and Mass Effect Andromeda goes from having three alien species, to having no alien species that you make contact with. Technically the angara are still a legitimate alien species, and them being artificially created doesnt hurt their status TO bad, but it still means that the player meets no alien species within the area of space that are natural to that area of space.
You meet literally no natives of any of the planets you are exploring.
And those planets that you are supposed to be exploring and colonizing? You only get to colonize one planet, and two half colonization efforts on other planets. There are five worlds in the game that you can make viable for colonization, Havarl, Voeld, Elaaden, Eos, and Kadara.
Eos is the most legitimate effort in the game. You colonize the planet, you solve its problems, it is overall great and wonderful.
Havarl is the home world of the Angara, it is a fun little world to explore teeming with life with a unique ecosystem (never mind that it is a low light moon of a gas giant, and that the Angara need a lot more sunlight than humans need to survive). You help the angara reclaim their foothold on the planet, and that is about it… you get nothing out of this but a handful of scientists stationed on the planet.
Same situation with Voeld, it is an angara world (a world that would have made more sense as their home world), you help out the angara and you set up a trading outpost on the planet. You never colonize the planet in any way, you just get a trading outpost.
Elaaden is a krogan Colony and you can reconnect the krogan colony with The Nexus and you bring stability to the world. Aside from Eos it is the most legitimate attempt at colonizing an alien world… and it is also a desert planet.
Kadara is in third, because it is a similar situation to that of Elaaden. You reconnect with a group of people who colonized this world after leaving The Nexus, but you don’t actually set up a colony you retroactively set up one and then you establish a trading post.
So all-in-all you only really colonize one planet… one… in a game about exploring and colonizing worlds in a different galaxy. Just like how you only make first contact with one alien species, in a game about exploring space.
I make all this sound like a bigger deal than it actually is in the game, these things are more frustrating than they are “bad” and the game is filled with a trillion frustrating things like that, it is like the someone on the development team wanted to go out of their way to ruin all the great things the developers wanted to make the players feel.
Another thing the player does in the game aside from establishing colonies and exploring alien worlds is searching for the Arks for every species from the Milky Way Galaxy. And while finding them is satisfying and all that, there is still some slight problems with this.
Some of problems involve the turian ark and the story around it. See turians have a genetic difference with all of the other species, their DNA twists in the opposite direction and as a result they cannot eat the food that any of the other species eat. So the story handles this by having people from the ship stranded on a world where the cant eat any of the food, with no explanation of how they are surviving there.
Then the game explodes the planet that they were going to colonize (literally), so not only is the player robbed of the chance to establish the turian colony. But they have effectively doomed the Turians to extinction because the only planet they could find where the turians could eat the food was blown up, or at least doomed to depending on hydroponic gardens.
Now this wouldn’t have been a problem if we had to find them another world to colonize… or even if they had just made it the asari or salarian world that was destroyed instead of the Turians. This is more of a meta-writing thing than it is a writing error, but the reason this sucks so much is because the turians are perhaps the most loved species in the entire franchise and the species that the franchises most beloved character was a member of.
Just a slight tweek of switching the asari and turian arks locations and homeworld destination would have made the story far more palatable. And maybe adding the turian colony world as a world to colonize and set up for the turians (maybe put the stranded turians there huh?)
Continuing the trend of “minor tweaks that would make a world of difference” is the distribution of the animal life in the games. It is perhaps the most baffling aspect of the game, each planet has roughly 3-4 animals on it, and there is no animal species that is not repeated on another world… but… there is at least 15 different types of animals in the darn game. There was never any reason to repeat animals between all the different worlds, and it comes off as annoying.
Havarl: Kaerkyn, Drall, Galorn, Rylkor, Einroch, Manta, Shemrys
Eos: Taurg, Kaerkyn, Challyrion, Shemrys,
Voeld: Echidna, Einroch, Galorn, Challyrion
Elaaden: Fiend, Wraith, Challyrion
Kadara: Manta, Echidna, Einroch, Adhi
Suggested adjustment for creatures based on lore surrounding the creatures and the lore of the planet.
Havarl: Galorn Adhi, Rylkor, Einroch,
Eos: Kaerkyn, Spitbugs (triple their size), Pallads (never encountered a pallad not sure its real)
Voeld: Galorn, Einroch, and Rylkor (but all reskinned to be white and furry?)
Elaaden: Drall, Taurg, Wraith, Fiend,
Kadara: Shemrys, Challyrion, Echidna,
They actually do explain it somewhat, as all the planets in the game were terraformed be a single species and thus it is logical they would seed all of these worlds with what species of animal they had on hand. It is baffling to me that they put in enough work that all of the planets could have had completely unique animals on all of them, but then simply decided not to give all of the planets unique animals.
The main villain of the game also fails to impress, despite the fact that all of the ingredients to make him a compelling and interesting villain are there to see plain as day and completely obvious. The Archons species “the Kett” has forsaken sexual reproduction in favor of assimilating other species and turning them into more Kett, they no longer possess the capacity to reproduce on their own because of this technological path, and this path forces them into conflict with other species time and time again.
The Archons goal is the hub of a terraforming network created by a species that were masters of genetic engineering, to the point that they created the Angara. The Archons goal is to take control of this network and destroy any and every planet in the network unless their inhabitants bow down to him and submit to being converted into more Kett. His obsession with the remnant technologies of the species is a source of dissension between him and his subordinates, but only because he is obsessing over it.
How about this instead… just a slight tweak… The Archon, a man from a species that revolves around genetic engineering wants to have this technology, created by the masters of genetic engineering… for genetic engineering purposes? And perhaps take it one step further, he wants this technology because he believes it is his species best chance at restoring their natural reproductive methods?
Suddenly this mustache twirling psychopath becomes sympathetic, he is progress and wants to end the eternal conflict between his species and others. But his subordinates want to continue to do things the old way, assimilating other species and to hell with the consequences. But the Archon, he realizes that if they continue this way eventually they will be wiped out, or best case scenario… run out of aliens to assimilate.
The Archon could have been a a far greater villain, and all it would have taken was for the writers to step back and look at what they had.
I know that it sounds like I am being extremely hard on this game, and in a sense I am, but these things are not “bad” they are just frustrating because of how… okay and average they are. As a writer I can see all of the minor tweaks that they could have made that would have made an immense difference to the players playing. Most players will not care about all these little nitpicking details, but it will irritate them subconsciously and they will take it out on superficial factors like minor bugs or facial animation… Kind of like how Star Wars fans take out all of their frustrations towards the prequels on Jar Jar Binks, or all of their frustrations with the original films on the Ewoks.
The last problem with the game after all of these factors can be summed up with one word “Kadara” the developers were banking way to much on this planet. The game railroads you into going to this planet, with probably eight times as many quests to go there as every other planet in the entire game, and the planet is ultimately miserable compared to every other world in the game.
It is the outlaw world, where all of the exiles from the nexus have been banished. And that may sound cool to the developers, it may sound cool on paper… but in practice, you end up going there and killing hundreds and hundreds AND HUNDREDS of members of each species that was brought from the Milky Way to Andromeda. Your character becomes are walking genocide while on the planet, species like the Krogan especially cannot afford to have members of their species slaughtered.
And as mentioned before this planets existence severely harms the first contact with the Angara by showing that you did not in fact make first contact. As a matter of fact this was an Angara world before it was taken over by the exiles.
Being on Kadara just… feels bad. This planet would have worked a lot better if the players weren’t railroaded to the planet so hard, if it was only outlaw Angara that interacted with the milky way colonists, and perhaps if the planet itself was home to a native sapient species! Perhaps what we see as a world of criminals the natives see as a world of saviors who rescued them from the oppressive Kett who were dominating these primitive people.
It would fit the already established story of kadara but just with a minor tweak save the planet from feeling miserable. And to top off all this, Kadara is basically the last planet that the players will get to help set up and establish for colonies, thus you end the whole “establish colonies” thing on a very low note.
not to mention that this is about halfway through the games main story, the funnest part of the game… exploring new worlds and meeting new civilizations just kind of stops at one point. And I know why it happened to, the developers clearly expected the players to take a loooooooot more time colonizing each of these worlds, they clearly expected the player to go through all of the story missions for the games main story before going back and establishing colonies.
To the point where if you finish colonizing all the worlds, it will trigger dialogue that mentions the colonization of meridian, which happens at the end of the game (and the player does not get to explore the surface or spend any time doing anything on the world). The developers literally did not expect the players to finish establishing colonies on all the worlds they were given, until they had already beaten the game.
That says to me that the developers are somewhat disconnected with how… people work, not just gamers but… people. People would want to do everything in their power to make sure these colonies are established before moving on, people want to get a foothold against the enemy, not wait until they have defeated the enemy. People want to explore planets and see all the unique creatures on them, not see the same creatures on every world… they want that feeling of discovery, and Mass Effect Andromeda has that in droves, it is amazing feeling.
But the writers for whatever reason did not understand that they were repeatedly taking away from these moments, it really feels like a case of there being to many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to writing. Or at least it feels like there wasn’t an editor going through and making sure everything was cohesive.
Again, I re-iterate it isn’t bad. I in fact think that it is great… it is just frustrating. It is like enjoying a bowl of popcorn and repeatedly getting kernels stuck between your teeth.
And finally we come to the last thing about the game that everyone is throwing a fit about… the bugs. I am not a video game expert, I am not knowledgeable on what causes glitches/bugs in video games, I am myself pretty numb to them at this point because I have been playing open world games since I was ten years old and every single open world game is buggy to hell (remember when people were driving motorcycles on walls in GTA5?).
But I am suspicious about them, the fact that you run out of worlds to colonize relatively early on, and the presence of these bugs. It makes me think that there were planets or huge stretches of content deliberately scooped out of the game for the purposes of selling as downloadable content. That a lot of these bugs are the result of them not patching all the holes left by their brain surgery they performed on the game late in development.
It makes sense doesn’t it? Build a game where you can colonize and explore a bunch of planets, and then sell new planets as content? Early videos by developers showed at least one planet that did not make it into the final game, a post apocalyptic world with broken down technology and highways and such.
I really love Mass effect Andromeda, I genuinely think that it is a great game. Even an amazing game, but a lot of that love is because the game has some great characters, and because the game is a pioneer that shows that a balance between Action, RPG, and Open World elements is entirely possible.
But it has so many frustrating tiny little details about it, that it cannot help but make you sigh a little bit as you play. If I was rating games I would give this a solid 8.5 out of 10, and I mean it when I say it earned that score up from a zero crawling through the muck and hell that is the franchises baggage, technical problems, and all of these frustrating worldbuilding problems that it has.
I will end this with a final though and a prediction, buy this game it is definitely worth your time, just brace yourself for the frustrations it has.
And I predict that the first DLC pack will involve colonizing a post apocalyptic planet with a struggling native species, and a good chance that this colonization effort will be because the quarians and turians cannot live on any other worlds because worlds with compatible foods for them are so rare.