The good and the bad: Mass Effect Andromeda first hands-on impressions
It’s one of the year’s most hotly anticipated games and we’ve got some first hands-on impressions of Mass Effect Andromeda to share.
This past week I sat down with BioWare and EA to play the first 90 minutes of Mass Effect Andromeda. Set some 600 years after the events of the original trilogy, the pioneering RPG studio has decided to tell an all new story that’s occurring somewhere else in the same universe. In this case, that tale begins with a ship containing 20,000 human colonists, sent to the Andromeda Galaxy to try and establish a new home. The other races of the Citadel Council have sent similar ships of their own, but a lot can change in a 600-year journey, and the destination isn’t in the state expected upon their arrival.
This time around the hero characters are twins Sara and Scott Ryder. You can choose who to play, with the other twin playing the supporting character role and remaining part of the narrative. They are young yet capable soldiers under the command of their father, who is the one tasked with locating a home for the colonists. The so-called Pathfinder.
Before I detail my impressions from the hands-on, some caveats. The build was exported during the week starting February 13, so roughly five weeks ahead of the game’s release on March 23. My guide, producer Fabrice Condominas, told me that even just in the week between the export and our hands-on session, some 5,000 bugs had been exterminated. So I think it’s important to keep that in mind when reading the below:
The Good of Mass Effect Andromeda
- It Feels Like Mass Effect: It may sound like a “der” comment, but this is a new story, with new characters, a new setting and – most importantly – a new game engine in Frostbyte. It could have felt… off. But from the opening Title Screen and its ambient music, to the look and feel of every surface and item, there’s no doubting this is Mass Effect. It all fits like a glove.
- Combat Feels Awesome: The initial combat sequences are obviously only a taste of what will come as you dive deeper into the unlocks and levels, but already I was liking it. The initial pistol feels weighty and impactful as you launch volleys at enemies. So too did the assault rifle I picked up soon after. I didn’t get an opportunity to re-test battles on harder AI difficulties, but I will share more on how that works when I publish my Condominas interview in a few days time.
- It’s Big: The amount of content on offer is quite incredible. Overwhelming, even. From the bustling hub locations to the planet-specific side stories, the inter-character relationships, multiplayer modes and, of course, the core missions, there’s a fair chunk of your future free time that will be consumed. I was unable to test out the crafting mechanics, but Condominas informed me it is arguably the biggest time sink of them all.
- Busy Landscape: The first 90 minutes only gets you to the surface of one planet. When Ryder’s scouting mission is derailed by the destruction of his/her ship, you find on the surface a freak electrical storm and hostile aliens. I was happy with the amount of detail in the landscape, with plenty of variations in vegetation and textures, impressive alien objects and buildings, alien creatures to behold, and scattered remnants of previous inhabitants. The lighting and sound effects are particularly sharp. The first planet is open-ish, but certainly not open-world. You feel like there are a few paths to follow, but ultimately they all lead you down the same path. Still it’s effectively a tutorial mission, so a poor indicator of what other planets will offer up.
- Solid Premise: After the grandiose spectacle of the original trilogy, I was initially concerned whether Mass Effect Andromeda could grab me and suck me in to the start of what will be another epic tale. But it did. The initial setup works well to define the scene, and you’re pretty quickly down to business on a planet surface filled with mysteries to uncover and alien tech to discover. The new aliens look suitably ugly and fierce, too, and I want to go back and see more.
- Fast Movement: The ability to jump and dash, or jump then dash, or jump then hover then dash, works really well and feels fantastic. To the point where I was doing that way more than using my legs (like a sucker). You can fire while airborne, too, and aiming remains consistent during these moments and predictable. It’s a bit like the system used in Re:core, except the game around it isn’t completely broken.
The Bad of Mass Effect Andromeda
- New Engine Wobble: The big side effect of going with a new game engine is having to start again with pretty much everything, and as a result I didn’t quite feel the big leap in visual quality I expected from 360 to XBO. I’m not sure if I am being fair with this comment, given an RPG has a lot more to deal with than a linear action title, but it’s my honest opinion. It’s still a good looking game, just not a generation leap ahead. It’s a thought that is significantly impacted by…
- Face Palm: …the way Sara Ryder looks. There is something really whack about her appearance in what I played of the game, and the human cast in general. Perhaps Naughty Dog has ruined it for every other developer by being so awesome, but there was enough oddness in the way the characters moved and spoke that I began to break out of the game’s illusion. I ran this concern past Condominas and he told me the facial animations are the last piece of the puzzle being worked on, as they need to go in after all the dialogue has been completed. So hopefully this will be an area of big improvement over the next month.
- In and Out of Cover: Mass Effect is a cover-based third-person shooter, and this was a bit hit and miss for me. Sometimes my character would instinctively hug into some cover like no other approach had ever been considered. Other times she would stand there eating bullets like a Muppet as I fumbled at the controls. This was the one bit of the movement and combat experience I was having troubles with.
- No Man’s Land: I didn’t get too long to cruise the galaxy from the cockpit of the Tempest, but when I randomly chose a few planets to go see, I couldn’t land on any of them. No Man’s Sky has taught me that I can fly down and see what a planet looks like, and being told I couldn’t by Mass Effect was disappointing. For some reason, I had been given the impression in the lead up to Mass Effect Andromeda that the planets were going to be fewer things to be scanned from space, and more things to be explored. Maybe I got unlucky with the planets I chose. Maybe I can visit later after I unlock something. We’ll have to wait and see.