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Oh boy. Buckle your seatbelt, dear reader. This is gonna get… massive?

I bought my 360 back in 2007 to play Mass Effect. I was blown away by the character creator demos, was becoming a fan of Bioware thanks to KOTOR and Jade Empire, and was just primed and ready to go. What followed from there is probably one of the all around best video game franchises of all time, and certainly the most consistent set of games Bioware has ever created. Mass Effect 2 is probably one of the greatest games of all time. Unfortunately, they had some trouble sticking the landing and bringing the trilogy, which was ambitious as all get out, to a satisfying close (for most people). Bioware has always been a responsive company (some would say reactive or reactionary) and they were quick to try and fix issues. I think that history will be kind to Mass Effect 3 and I know I’ve softened on its narrative issues after a few years and playthroughs.

I’m not sure what history will make of Mass Effect: Andromeda. All I know is that I have a fucking lot to say about this game and I know that I’m gonna miss and leave out tons anyway. Good and bad as it is a very mixed bag and because I played Horizon: Zero Dawn just before, I was inevitably let down here. So it’ll probably wind up being mostly bad as I catalogue and process the laundry list of complaints I have about it. This game is the definition of death by a thousand cuts. For a lot of players who picked it up at launch, Bioware will never be able to recover that critical first impression even as they scramble to fix glaring issues that by all rights should not have been present at the launch of such an expensive and anticipated game, one which also had a five year development cycle. But having said all that, I still found a lot to enjoy. Major missions are very satisfying and there are many memorable moments in the game. While Andromeda mostly gets by on those bits where it does the familiar very well, I do look forward to playing it again once it’s been patched a bit more.

I will break this review into sections for ease of reading and so that you, reader, can focus on elements you maybe care most about. Most people play Bioware games for the story, and I’ll start there, but please don’t ignore the section on Technical Issues because I promise you that some of that shit will rob you of enjoyment and it’s best to be forewarned about them. Also note that I won’t really be discussing Multiplayer as a I barely got into that (it’s been a buggy mess with major connection issues) and it’s not the reason I play Mass Effect or Bioware games anyway.

It may go without saying but there will be spoilers to follow…

MASSIVE SPOILERS (hehe)

Section 1: Narrative

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Hey, cool ship.

The premise of Andromeda is that sometime between the first and second Original Trilogy Mass Effect games, a group of colonists from all the major Milky Way species embarked on a 600-year voyage to the Andromeda Galaxy, specifically the Heleus Cluster, in order to make a new home. Before setting out, they engaged in an extensive propaganda and recruitment campaign that no one mentions in the OT because Bioware had no idea they were gonna make Andromeda back then. Give that it’s a bit of a retcon, it’s well handled and winds up tying into the Reaper threat in a satisfying but still mysterious way. Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell what route Bioware is gonna go in connecting Andromeda as a franchise (and it will be that) to the OT. The sense I get from the intersections in this game is that they have plans but they are (thankfully) unlikely to roll the Reaper threat into Andromeda.

This is because Andromeda has its own version of the Reapers. Of course it does. See, the thing is that Bioware has a kind of formula they always do. Not unlike the Marvel movies, really, especially in that it’s a formula that basically works as a skeleton to hang these big branching narrative games they make. Andromeda does not deviate from the formula, which is a bit disappointing in some ways but also completely inevitable and maybe even understandable. The problem is that they aren’t basically transposing the formula into another IP, they are recreating it within the same franchise. This makes Andromeda there most self-referential game ever, which explains why some people feel like this game is “Mass Effect fanfic”. This also means players are probably going to be thinking about the “samey” quality the story has with especially the first Mass Effect rather than, say, remembering how that game felt pretty similar to Knights of the Old Republic back in the day… or how more recently, Dragon Age recalls Mass Effect, or vice versa, since Andromeda is very much Dragon Effect post-Inquisition.

But more on that later.

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I love the new armor designs generally.

What is this formula? There’s a great post about it here, but basically it’s a set of functional “steps” in the narrative which Bioware games tend to use. Sometimes there are new steps, sometimes they are mixed and matched, and sometimes a few are absent. But there’s a definite formula going on. Is there anything wrong with that? No. Not in and of itself. Again the problem is that usually this formula shows up across multiple IPs, but gets developed and experimented with over those IPs where Bioware has made sequels.  The problem is that Mass Effect: Andromeda is, structurally and in other ways, basically a remake/reboot of the first Mass Effect and this has to be disappointing on a pretty fundamental level, one that goes beyond my subjective ideas or desires for a new Mass Effect territory and into a place where you gotta be critical of what’s underneath it.

That is, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a game that plays it almost completely safe.

For example, let’s consider the new aliens encountered in the game, of which there are two. The first are the Reaper-like kett. Some people are going to want to stress that they aren’t really like Reapers… but yes, they are. There are many, many details that are different and even the overarching concept of the two factions is different, but the functionality is the same both narratively and mechanically. Both the Kett and Reapers use species’ own genetic traits against them, both the Kett and Reapers are introduced in the “first game” and promise to be more developed, and probably a primary series antagonist, in later games. Both groups seem completely evil, though I’d say the Kett show more promise for being complicated than the Reapers ever could (though Bioware took that as far as they could with the Leviathans). So there’s potential for the “paths to split”, and I’d say Bioware is planning to do that but they mostly didn’t do it here. And that’s crucial. The game does redeem this somewhat through themes, which I’ll talk about later.

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Don’t really know how to feel about how damn adorable the kett are to me. The Archon, the big bad, is especially cute. Like a weird kitty. kett… cat… kitty… coincidence?

The angara, the other species, are so much like the Milky Way species we already know that it becomes even more jarring. They are nicely developed as a faction and as a collection of individual characters you interact with, especially given how focal they have to be when they’re the only new friendly species to learn about, but are also too familiar to feel especially… special? Like with the Kett, they work better thematically, but unlike the Kett they are also interesting narratively because so much of the narrative is about building bridges and negotiating relations between the Milky Way species and the angara. That is good stuff and provides most of the interesting thematic weight in this game. Not everyone will even be bothered by the way this species could have been in the Original Trilogy quite easily, but I was and some of that is pretty subjective so I’ll save it for later (I know I’m saying that a lot, sorry).

Back to the main plot of the game. It’s very much like Dragon Age: Inquisition in that it’s fairly short, taking place over a handful of story critical missions, but goes big enough and has enough twists and turns to be mostly successful as a Bioware story. If you can ignore the formula and focus on the unfolding mystery and inter-species politics that form the main differentiating details, you’ll have a pretty good time with it. The rest of the setup is that you’re one of two Ryder siblings, both accompanying their dad to Andromeda to help him in his role as the Human Pathfinder. Each of the major Milky Way species had its own Ark, and each Ark has a Pathfinder whose job it is to scout, study, and lead the way in the new galactic surroundings. When your dad dies, you’re left with the job and forced to solve problems and mysteries that are way over your head. There’s already an invading alien species here, torturing the locals, and there’s ancient alien technology to discover and unlock or avoid as the case may warrant.

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The angara. Like most of the game, a very mixed bag.

The mysteries are interesting, as is the collection of huge, seemingly overwhelming problems Ryder has to figure out. This stuff provides a fairly satisfying context and backdrop for the adventure, and justifies its open world and episodic plot momentum to a certain extent. There are a lot of things to do in the game, ranging from very “gamey” bits that plagued the large maps of Dragon Age: Inquisition (for example, much-maligned fetch quests and long bait-and-switch “follow the x” quests) but the developers also seem to have taken a page from CDProjektRed’s book and created some fairly good little mini-stories in the side-quests, one of the secrets to the success of The Witcher 3 and probably one of the only intersections of game and narrative design that can truly justify an open world.

A lot of the tension in the game comes from just how overwhelming it all is and much of the simple enjoyment of the story is in the dialogue, which is largely irreverent, snarky, and funny. Mileage is going to vary on that, big time, but this is a much more light-hearted game, tonally, than the OT usually tended to be. At least overall, because there are still moments of awe, darkness, emotional lows, and so on. I don’t subscribe to the somewhat popular view that the game is badly written or “unrealistic” because of its tone. I do have a hard time believing that Scott Ryder is 22 years old based on most of the facial presets, though. Ryder is not as hardened (or as old) as Shepard and seems to come most alive when you’re playing them as sarcastic and caught between bewilderment, bemusement, and a sort of petulant anger at their circumstances. There’s a lot of complaining about the tone of the game, but I think most of it is ridiculous. Yeah, the stakes in Andromeda are pretty high, but there’s really a pretty good mix of reactions to it in the characters, especially the main crew of Ryder’s ship, The Tempest.

Section 2: Themes (Colonialism)

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Characters like Akksul really hammer the themes home.

This really deserves its own section even though it’s not been talked about as much I would have expected. Bioware, being a Canadian company full of Canadian employees, means that there’s a certain perspective on colonialism that may not be shared everywhere this game is played. As a fellow Canadian and someone with extensive education in the history and problems of colonialism both in Canada and elsewhere, I definitely anticipated some kind of addressing of this stuff when I first heard of the game’s premise. Yeah it’s all well and good that Milky Way folks are looking for a new home, but we knew early that there’d be other people already there calling it home, and the bad shit that historically happens when the one meets the other is basically what people mean when they say “colonialism”.

I’m happy to report that Andromeda engages with this in very interesting ways. Not only is the Andromeda Initiative prepared to be taken as aggressive colonists like our European ancestors largely turned out to be, but they also have protocols that reflect a more enlightened level of responsibility, efficacy, and value-laden policy. Of course it gets shot to tell way before Ryder arrives on scene, thanks to the many problems the AI encountered when it got to Heleus, but good intentions still matter a bit. What is interesting about it to me is that the kett were there first, acting very much in the role of Colombus-like first contact settlers/explorers. They played nice until they didn’t, and the angara have suffered mightily. In many ways, they are very much like the indigenous populations of North America, South America, Asia, and elsewhere. They have always resisted the hostility of the kett, who are blatant imperialists, and react to the new Milky Way colonists with fear and mistrust due to the experiences they’ve already had.

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Because of the focus on the experiences of the angara, let’s say that a wide range of reactions and attitudes about colonialism are explored.

This maps super well to Canadian history, where while there was no Manifest Destiny and where the defining project of colonization has been coexistence, all positives have been marred often by colonial/imperialist anti-coexistence policies that have are now rejected and commonly understood as assimilationist, genocidal, and inhumane. When the angara shudder through stories of their loved ones being taken and turned into something else, I know very much what part of the history I share with Bioware is being drawn from. I have indigenous ancestry but have not been raised in an indigenous culture, so I can only imagine what players of Andromeda with centered indigeniety will feel when they go through these sections of the game.

To its immense credit, Bioware handles this shit in a complex, nuanced manner that they are not going to get much credit for due to the low visibility of these issues and the way they are often pushed aside or buried by settler-dominated North American culture. Past that, Andromeda has caught its share of flack from newly emboldened internet trolls who spend their free time complaining about progressive values popping up in their video games. Inclusion somehow became a dirty word, but I for one am thankful that Bioware seems incredibly committed to values like equity in the way they do representation and inclusion in their games. They aren’t perfect and there are issues like tokenism and gratuitous male gaze that plague their games, but by and large they seem to be interested in being the change they want to see in the world, changes which are railed against by the privileged in video games as hard as they are anywhere.

Section 3: Characters

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Meet the new crew, same as the old crew.

Bioware games are about their casts of major characters as much as they are about anything. Andromeda, more than most, feels like it is remixing concepts and details from all their games. And again, this isn’t a problem as much if it was more “Dragon Age characters with Mass Effect versions” as opposed to that andOT Mass Effect characters with Andromeda versions”. On the one hand, you have series staples like the two human squadmates that you begin with, solidifying the anthrocentric perspective of the Mass Effect series yet again. On the other hand, a seasoned Bioware fan can tie each of these characters’ personalities, background, and overall concepts to a handful of specific examples of other Bioware characters. For example, Peebee is basically Liara 2.0 though this time with a dash of Sera from Inquisition thrown in (and spread out between her and Liam really). Most of the characters in Andromeda are like that, and while they have storylines and motives and characteristics that set them apart somewhat, it is still surprising and disappointing that they feel so much like New Hotness versions of characters we are already familiar with. The mistake here is not only trying to recapture the lightning in the bottle of the OT, but also in taking characters that are by now much beloved (like Liara) and “tweaking” them. It’s like 90’s edge versions of the X-Men or something.

That being said, Andromeda is famed for having more dialogue and voiced lines than any other Bioware game to date. There is a lot of commentary and character-enriching interactions in this game, especially with the squadmates. Technical issues and weird design choices take some of the joy out of that, but I think people will emerge from Andromeda pleasantly surprised by a few characters and with new favorites to add to their rosters of Bioware and/or Mass Effect series faves. Another caveat, though, is that it’s clear that they preferred certain characters to others and underwrote a few, especially the non-squad crew of the The Tempest. Gil, Kallo, Suvi, and Lexi all feel shorted by the narrative and since Gil is the primary homosexual male romance option in the game, this choice flirts with egregiousness more than a little and Bioware has to answer for it on social media already. One of the things people miss when they say shit like “why does it matter?” or “keep your gay agenda out of my game!” is that for queer and questioning gamers (probably gamers of colour as well), Bioware games are one of the few corners of the whole industry where they can find representation, where they can fire up their consoles or computers and see versions of themselves reflected back to them in the characters they play as or with. This is so rare and it needs to be safeguarded.

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Jaal is easily the best new character, but he also basically boils down to “cuddly Javik”.

With a smaller, tighter squad there is a higher focus in this first game on “found family” than there was in the first Mass Effect. It really took three games and a handful of critical DLCs to really sell that in the OT, but Bioware knows how much their fans love that shit so they definitely go for it in Andromeda and prove, like they did in every Dragon Age game that you don’t really need a trilogy of 30-hour games to pull this off… maybe you just need one 100-hour game to do it. Again with the varying mileage though.  Likewise with the romances, which are a bit bizarre here. I liked the core characters and I liked that Andromeda lets you flirt and mess around a bit before committing to romances, but they also locked much of the full culminations of flings and romances behind the main story, creating a jarring situation for people who try to resolve their romances and commitments before embarking on the final mission. One amusing and maybe intentional (I hope so) side effect of this is that you can wind up feeling pretty guilty as a Ryder who plays the field and leads people on. Peebee and Vetra both have sweet, earnest scenes where they try to take the relationship to the next level and it’s hard to turn them down which feels like a slightly disapproving, or at least consequence-laden acknowledgment of your cavalier attitude toward the romantic feelings of characters in the game.

There are other things that work or don’t work for the characters in this game. Good stuff would be the Ryder family saga and any of the secondary characters that come in and out of the narrative at different points (Bradley is a good example). Some one-off characters are memorable, but most are not and while Bioware does a good job aping some of that Witcher 3 magic, they have a long way to go yet.

Section 4: Gameplay and Design

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Not a lot of new here.

One of the places Andromeda reactions have been almost unanimous is in the disappointment at many of the gameplay and design choices. They range from baffling or self-defeating at worst to “promising, needs improvement” at best. And yes, this includes the combat. Being that this was Bioware Montreal, which has been widely reported as Bioware’s “C” team, who have never before made a full game (they made Mass Effect 3‘s surprisingly excellent multiplayer). A lot of the problems are hung on them, but I really think Andromeda‘s design flaws are the result of way too many fucking cooks in the kitchen and a likely heavily compartmentalized design process.

Sections of the game’s core loops and elements, the menus, crafting, open world level design, and combat balance, all feel like they were designed by completely different people. The level design of the major self-contained episodes in the game, the critical missions and major side story content (like loyalty missions) are vintage Mass Effect and by far the most satisfying experiences in the game. If you skip the vast majority of the rest of the other shit the game offers and instead focus solely on that content, there’s a good argument that you’re playing the best possible version of this game.

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You spend huge chunks of time driving this around.

A lot of game content from the first Mass Effect returns and it really feels like they were trying to refine and perfect different aspects of that game and its sequels. Everybody hated driving the Mako, so the Nomad controls much better but you still spend way too much of this game driving around, stopping for a too-short fight or some widget on the map, and then carrying on. Open worlds in all their glory, right?

A lot of the time, Andromeda feels completely at odds with itself. For example, the game wants you to roam the galaxy and enjoy the beautiful art assets so they set many side quests and little rewards out in the stars to enjoy. The problem is the game launched with a baffling amount of travel time, forcing the player to watch overlong and vainly choreographed scenes of planets coming into view diagonally (and slowly) before rewarding you with extremely paltry chunks of resources for the game’s poorly designed crafting system. These rewards, by the way, are seldom worth going for. This is bizarre since I refuse to believe no one in the design process of this game pointed out that generous resource rewards would be a great incentive to players who aren’t inherently interested in obsessively scanning every place.

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The Profile mechanics are a mess.

Another example is in the combat, which many reviews claim is the game’s best part and major redeeming quality. I think the combat is well designed, but the underlying mechanics and systems really hold it back. Take the opening up of Ryder’s skill tree to include all possible combinations of the traditional six-class (now seven) system in Mass Effect. The game pays lip service in many ways to concepts of exploration and experimentation, not only in the narrative and world-building, but in the gameplay mechanics. However, swapping profiles is (on console) a tedious process and the game frequently locks its most experimental elements behind arbitrary limitations. There is a lot of variation in weapons and gear in this game, but you can’t freely change stuff out and there is no practice range to test new or experimental weapons. You’re constantly forced to engage tedious menus, load screens, travel time, and other processes to “explore and experiment” which means the game is consistently undermining its own gameplay priorities.

Some good news? The profile system has a cool in-universe justification and the skills are satisfying when they work like they’re supposed to (like… there’s no physics damage in this game and no one is sure if it’s a feature or a bug). If you can get over the shit you have to put up with to actually experiment with character builds and skills/armor/weapons combinations, you will find a lot of interesting depth and many rewarding playstyles. Of course, true to form you can’t really say anything good about Andromeda without an immediately qualifier, I’ll talk a bit more about why combat is kind of undermined more below.

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Gorgeous, though.

I tend to be pretty easy going toward open world games but I don’t have much use for Ubisoft’s policy of filling maps with endless stupid shit to collect, and I really dislike obvious attempts developers make to pad out their game length in this way. What makes it worse to me than it would be on its own is that padding out game length is a reaction to the worst types of gamers, whiny little shits with too much time on their hands who have therefore decided that quantity = quality and convinced game developers to pander to them with their favorite pastime: bombarding social media with poorly justified and myopic negativity. Andromeda kind of deserves a lot of negativity, but even in this case those fuckers took things way too far. Confirm that for yourself by spending a few minutes on youtube.

Anyway, Bioware tries to capitalize on the open world design of Inquisition with a similar (to that game) focus on gorgeous scenery, interesting corners to explore, and tons of little things to do. Most of it is definitely in the Ubisoft vein, which is annoying, but Andromeda does course-correct from Inquisition by making travel more forgiving and making sure most side quests have meaningful or amusing dialogue interactions at the very least.

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There are moments like these, sometimes that’s enough to carry a play session.

Focusing more on combat, I found there were many really great fights in the bigger, more narrative missions of the game. These missions had well designed and paced action where you really felt like you were fighting. Because the combat is more three dimensional in terms of movement and avenues of attack or retreat, there is often a very dynamic feel that can become sublime if you have a great loadout of skills and weapons and are able to end those incidental fights quickly and with style, or if the design and difficulty of an engagement means you are forced to swap profiles and gear like Alec fucking Ryder in the game’s opening missions. The vast majority of combat takes place in the open world, however, and is undermined by a series of annoying design choices, some of which I’ve mentioned already.

The two biggest ones are the reliance on health/damage resistance to drive difficulty and the relative smallness of many of the encounters. To the first point, you’ll find yourself hard pressed to kill even the weakest regular kett with even the most showy combos or fully evolved powers. They almost always require an annoying extra hit or two to die, deviating a lot from the satisfying crunchiness of the OT’s combat (especially in the latter two games). The solution in the OT was to throw a lot of enemies at you and mix up their tactics and resistances to force you to use your narrow range of gear and skills effectively. Because Andromeda is almost stupidly more complex on the level of possible loadouts, the compensating choice was to make enemies blanket resist all forms of damage in similar ways and to similar extents, which too often makes fights even with very diverse enemies feel pretty much the same. It also means certain combinations of powers, modifications, weapons, etc are grossly ineffective in almost all situations, which again undermines what the game seems to want you to be doing: exploring and adapting. By the time you’re getting to the end, you’ll either have figured out the narrow range of things that work well or you’ll be hitting the stupid scaling bugs that mean enemies continue to get dramatically more powerful even as levelling and gear progression completely falls off. Thankfully that’s more a problem for New Game+ which is otherwise an awesome feature for a Mass Effect game and one of the choices they made that I really would approve of… if it fucking worked right.

I guess this brings me to…

Section 5: Technical Issues

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I guess this isn’t a technical “issue” per se…

Andromeda launched in a laughably unpolished state. It’s probably one of the most unpolished major releases I have first hand experience with. It’s funny because Dragon Age: Inquisition launched with almost all of the same issues (banter bugs, animation issues, content not firing properly, missing content, etc) and it seems like they really just doubled down on the limitations of either Bioware’s skills or the Frostbite engine. Honestly, I’m not sure at this point where Bioware just needs a big infusion of technical skill and improved workflow, or if Frostbite just can’t really do the games they want to do with it. Given that the issues with Inquisition are well documented and Andromeda is almost the same game with different assets, it’s pretty unforgivable and frustrating that it was allowed to launch this way. Of course, it came out just as EA (who own Bioware) were ending a sales quarter, so there’s really no excuse other than pure profit mongering for this shit. I won’t even go into the bizarre choice to demo the first 10 hours of the game, which really got the hate ball rolling and prepared the whole fanbase that eagerly anticipated the release of this game for the range of severity of disappointment that most of us are now left with.

Some of these issues have been fixed in the games sole patch (heh), which was released weeks after launch. Bioware has been very quiet about huge problems with the game that have not yet been fixed, perhaps worst of all being the way saved games seem to bleed into each other. This was also a problem with Inquisition, apparently, where for whatever reason saves on completely different character profiles would have weird connections to other saves and characters, causing bizarre bugs and progression issues like characters being mentioned before they even enter the game, or quests concluding/firing off out of sequence. This is why the New Game+ feature doesn’t really work currently. There are quest-critical items that stay in your inventory and that the new save registers which fucks up the order of their related quests. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg with regard to quest bugs, inventory bugs, and the mysterious and bizarre connection between the game’s alert system (for its journal, codex, and inventory) and the proper functioning of the banter. Because dialogue and character are so critical to Bioware games and why fans like them, that Andromeda launched and floated for weeks with a version of Inquistion‘s banter bug is just another in the thousand cuts, but definitely a fucking big one.

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Even now, they still can’t make certain aspects of character customization work.

I guess this maybe should be in the “Design” section, because it’s hard to tell what’s an explicit choice and what’s a bug, but hey… that fucking character creator, amirite? Much has already been made of just how badly Bioware fucked up a central element of the Mass Effect experience, but I’ve got my own shots to take here so bear with me. You’ve already read 5000 words of this anyway, what’s a few hundred more?

It’s by now a running joke that Bioware cannot create convincing character models no matter how hard they try. But the fact that Andromeda barely looks like a current gen game on that level (the environments sell it better) is telling. The funny thing about is that Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s robust character creator was a slam dunk part of its design, and they easily could have replicated that here. Instead they tied the presets directly into other aspects of the game, namely the appearance of Alec Ryder, and forgot to explain the mechanics of it to the player. So you’ve got people who end up not only creating Ryders that look nearly identical to other peoples’ no matter what they do, but ones that are totally out of sync with how Papa looks. The presets are supposed to be mirrored across the siblings and Alec, but they’re all terrible looking so players naturally mixed and matched and ended up with hilarious results.

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Shopping and organizing inventory is just awful with these menus.

I figured this out quick so it wasn’t a big issue for me, but what I really can’t understand is how Bioware still can’t design beards that fit properly to a hairline, let alone decent hairstyles, tattoos, makeup, and scars. Again, these elements were nearly perfect in Inquisition but they are just a mess here. Hair and facial hair are especially terrible with a couple of good options for either Bro or SisRyder and a bunch more that are flatly lit, untextured, and give that gross plastic helmet effect which is just not acceptable in a 2017 AAA game.

The Witcher 3 was released over a year ago and looks better. Dragon Age: Inquisition is two plus years old and the same engine but runs on previous gen hardware and looks mostly better. Horizon: Zero Dawn is very similar in terms of models and animation to a Bioware game and came out a month prior to Andromeda and looks so much better it’s embarrassing. But most embarrassing  of all are the many visual comparisons to Mass Effect OT that wind up favorable to the OT. This is especially evinced by the diversity of faces for alien characters, where the baffling decision was made to make all the aliens in Andromeda share one or two face models. As if no one was going to notice in a game this fucking big.

Conclusion

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Hot take: I like the Tempest visually more than the Normandy.

So a lot of this review was pretty negative. Unfortunately, it’s all accurate as far as I’m concerned. I played the game for over a hundred hours (across one playthrough, and I don’t think I played especially slow though I did try to do everything), partially out of devotion to the series and partially due to sunken costs. I did want to see where the story went, I did come to care about the characters and world, and I did enjoy the game on many levels (especially visually) but most of those levels were based on its familiarity and similarity to other games. Mostly it is not satisfying on its own, though I wonder how it would have been received if it was a brand new IP with no original Mass Effect trilogy shadow looming over it. Enjoying Andromeda is very much a process of renegotiating your expectations in real time. You have to enjoy the game in spite of itself, by coming to grips with its many technical problems and shortcomings and seeing what’s left.

I know it’ll get sequels and I really hope they spend some time ironing out this engine or just abandoning it. There’s no way it’ll be acceptable for Bioware to launch an Andromeda sequel in a similar state, and they should really be focused on making sure the next launch is a good one because this was really not and it’s already cost them in PR and brand strength. To say nothing of the faith placed in them by one of the most devoted and active video game fanbases out there. I opened this review by describing my personal history with the Mass Effect franchise because I belong to that fanbase, more or less, and I have a sour taste in my mouth after Andromeda. I had major problems with Inquisition but that game had a truly experimental, out on a limb feel to it… it was the first like it that Bioware made. Andromeda is way too much like Inquisition to forgive the same flaws all over again, so I just hope it’s a sophomore slump and not the shape of things to come.

Anyway, thanks for reading all this and let me know if I got something wrong or left something out or if you agree/disagree with me. Talking about this game is something I’ve been craving since it came out, but I’ve noticed that the early response turned many of my friends (who were fans of the OT) off enough that they haven’t played it yet. In some ways, this review is for them.

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