I spent nearly two weeks playing through “Mass Effect Andromeda,” and I couldn’t escape one feeling: I haven’t felt this conflicted since that scene in “Thor” in which Chris Hemsworth tries on people clothes for the first time.
I enjoyed “Andromeda.” I had fun. I will likely continue to have fun, as BioWare’s 5-year, 200-plus developer undertaking offers about 100 hours of only slightly repetitive gameplay. But anyone with eyes and ears – and certainly someone paid to objectively review video games – can tell “Andromeda” is a deeply flawed game.
As soon as Electronic Arts’ embargo lifted on reviewers/influencers, many slammed “Andromeda” for its horrible animation – particularly the facial rendering.
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“It can’t be that bad,” I said, loading the game for the first time on launch night.
“Oh sweet Milky Way – it’s terrible,” I said, 10 minutes later.
I was surprised at just how average the game’s graphics were in general. Combat and space travel don’t look bad, but we rely on each AAA release – especially one widely seen as the biggest of the year – to set a new bar for visual excellence. Say what you will about the “Call of Duty” franchise, but it delivers in this respect every year. So did “Horizon Zero Dawn.” “Andromeda” did not.
The original “Mass Effect” was released in 2007.
But as bad as the bug eyes, ghoulish expressions and wandering mouths are, I was able to tune them out after a few hours and dive deep into the game. “Andromeda” is the franchise’s first open-world title. It allows Ryder, the player character, to choose where to explore and what to do when he or she gets there. These new features blend well with the trademark “decide which civilizations live and die” conflict present in each “Mass Effect.”
I should note here that BioWare released a massive patch Thursday aimed at addressing the glitches and improving the graphics, among other things. I was not able to test out the new patch before publication, but it’s possible that many of the issues I had with “Andromeda” could be fixed by the time you read this. Sorry. But did you look at those patch notes? There was a lot that needed fixing, so don’t yell at me when you see my review score.
The story starts out with a painfully predictable first few hours. Electronic Arts did not send me the game, as they are the only minor or major game company seemingly incapable of responding to press inquiries, so I don’t have to follow the rules I am sure they sent out with each review copy. That being said, the only players who didn’t know Ryder’s father was going to die in the opening mission are those actually from the Andromeda Galaxy. No one on Earth was surprised or felt the loss “Andromeda” seemed to expect from us.
However, just as my hungry eye hysteria subsided, so did my harsh judgment for the storyline. It gets better. I wouldn’t say the plot is an all-time world beater, but it’s fine.
“Andromeda” features real-time combat – a departure from the first three games’ turn-based style.
I was pleasantly surprised by the multiplayer mode. I look at “Mass Effect” as one of the last great solitary role-playing game experiences. Given that the “Elder Scrolls” and “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” franchises have moved to multiplayer-only, I was leery about the “Andromeda” mode. I only clicked on it to ensure a thorough review, but it’s pretty fun. It feels a lot like the “Call of Duty” zombie modes, which I always enjoy, but I’d argue the “four players vs. increasingly difficult waves of bad guys” formula works better in “Andromeda” due to its rich character customization options.
By now, you should have sensed this entire review is a seesaw affair. There’s more bad. I found one game-breaking and one annoying bug that I had not seen previously recorded.
Earlier this week, I pressed escape to open the game menu, and it was totally gone. The sounds were there, so the menu had loaded, but it was a blank screen for me. The game worked fine other than that, but without a menu, you can’t check objectives, equip new items or – you know – save the game. These are pretty important commands. I eventually had to minimize the game and end the program, which caused me to lose my progress.
The other, less irking bug was the game’s audio randomly shut off for me. I tried reloading it and logging out of EA Origin, but it stayed quiet. Other games and programs had audio, but “Andromeda” didn’t. It worked fine after I restarted my computer, but little annoyances like this added to my conflicted feelings.
I had fun playing “Andromeda” – enough fun to make me want to replay the main story, which is something I rarely do. I’ve always said the fun factor is the most important component in measuring a game’s worth. But the latest “Mass Effect” has enough flaws to keep it out of the conversation for the best game of 2017. And it’s only April.
Mass Effect Andromeda
Video game review
▪ Rated mature for blood, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content and violence
▪ Developer: BioWare
▪ Publisher: Electronic Arts
▪ Out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC