Maybe you’ve heard: There’s a big new “Mass Effect” game launching next week.
“Mass Effect,” if you’re unfamiliar, is one of the most popular game trilogies of all-time — the first game launched in 2007, while the trilogy concluded in 2012. In the original trilogy, you play as Commander Shepard, a man or woman (depending on your choice) charged with saving the galaxy from powerful aliens and sentient machines bent on destroying it.
This new game, “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” features a completely new cast of characters, and takes place hundreds of years in the future. Many of the alien races remain the same, but this time, you’ve left Earth and are leading a team looking for a new home for humanity.
I’ve only played a few hours of “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” so I can’t judge the entire game based off my experiences thus far — but while I sometimes like what the game is offering, there are too many occasions that make me frustrated for one reason or another. And as I play, I’ve been taking notes on what issues have been bugging me since I first booted up the game earlier this week. Take a look:
Now, the original 'Mass Effect' games weren't exactly known for their stellar character models and facial animations, but despite 'Andromeda' being released roughly a decade after the original trilogy, conversations and dialogue feel more rigid and plasticky than they have ever felt.
Mind you, I didn't go replay all three 'Mass Effect' games before jumping into 'Andromeda,' but having played 'Horizon Zero Dawn' and 'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild' recently, the facial animations in this game feel woefully behind the competition.
Mind you, most of the game is beautiful. Settings and aliens are done exceedingly well.
But human facial animations aren't a big deal for most video games -- this is a 'Mass Effect' game, where the real star of the show is the dialogue. Conversations -- informative, dramatic, or humorous -- have been the staple of the series, and unfortunately, the robotic-looking facial animations too often take me out of the experience.
Walking around in 'Mass Effect: Andromeda' takes some getting used to. You can walk slowly or run in a full sprint, but this game also introduces the feeling of inertia, where you'll continue moving forward even if you stop moving the joystick on your controller. Maybe it's more realistic-looking, but in gameplay terms, it leads to imprecise actions and unwanted movements -- you'll get dangerously close to cliffs, for instance, or too close to other characters you just want to talk to. Again, it takes me out of the game.
Without spoiling anything, you play as a new character (man or woman) named Ryder, the son/daughter of your military's Pathfinder (sort of a 'Chosen One' type). After a few events unfold early on in the game, you quickly gain the mantle of Pathfinder, which means you're in charge of finding a new home for humanity.
The downside: I just don't care.
Being the potential saviour of human civilisation sounds really exciting! But it just doesn't come through in 'Andromeda.' A ton of characters are introduced up front, but there's such little time to develop who they are that -- when the pivotal moment comes, and the Pathfinder title is yours -- I couldn't care less. It feels like a rushed action, when it should have felt much more momentous.
But that's just one example. The other characters I've met in my 'Andromeda' journey also don't fascinate me in the same way as they did in past 'Mass Effect' games, so I care less about the side missions as well. Perhaps I'll like these characters after more time spent with them. But, so far, it's really tough to care when the dialogue is flat and the plot is nakedly prosaic.
Speaking of the plot, the story in 'Mass Effect: Andromeda' lacks the same urgency and emotion as past games. The dialogue doesn't help: There are so many names of people, places, and organisations thrown around that it's pretty impossible to keep up. It doesn't feel complex; it feels contrived.
As a result of this combination -- boring speeches and stiff-looking visuals -- I too often find myself not caring about the events unfolding in front of my eyes. This stands out as especially glaring in the context of recent game launches like 'Horizon Zero Dawn' and 'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.' That feeling is unfortunately compounded in comparison to past 'Mass Effect' games.
And that's very frustrating! I'm a huge fan of the sci-fi genre, and space operas like 'Mass Effect' in particular. Some people might love the intricacy in this new game, but to me it feels overwhelming and not fun.
Like most open-world action RPGs, you'll come across plenty of characters who need your help. You'll get all sorts of tasks, missions, and errands. And it will all show up in the 'Journal' in your menu.
Using that Journal is a bit stressful though. It contains five separate folders: priority ops, allies and relationships, Heleus assignments, additional tasks, and completed missions. But unless you specifically choose a mission -- maybe you wanted to just wander for a bit? -- the game will show all the available mission waypoints on your map and heads-up display (HUD), which is both obnoxious and anxiety-producing.
This is just my personal preference, but rifling through a bunch of folders to find that new mission I just got from a random character doesn't feel as easy or quick as it should. This is symptomatic of the entire menu system in 'Mass Effect: Andromeda' -- it's great that there are so many options, but using it feels a bit tiresome. It doesn't get me in the exploring mood; it feels more like a massive to-do list. Again, this is probably the most minor complaint I have with this game, but opening and using the menu bugs me almost every time.
You might disagree with me on most of these points! Maybe you like the (stiff) facial animations, or the feeling of having too much to read, too many people to talk to, and too much to do. Some of these issues may also be improved over time through patches and updates. We'll see! But after just a few hours of playing the newest 'Mass Effect,' these issues don't make me want to keep playing.
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