Bioware’s latest addition to the Mass Effect Universe is set to release on March 21st and for the past week, gamers have been experiencing the first few hours during the 10 hour trial preview. While there was a great deal of excitement and intrigue for a new Mass Effect story, the initial trial has brought some very harsh criticism towards the dialogue and animation, especially the facial animations. There are also issues with the voice acting, which only compound the problems with the facial animations. However, Mass Effect: Andromeda is not without strengths, so all hope should not be lost.
First and foremost, harassment of anyone is not acceptable at all regardless of your opinions regarding aspects of a video game. A former EA employee was subjected to a wave of abuse and personal threats as she was identified as a lead facial animator for Bioware on the Mass Effect project. While Bioware released a statement and denied that the former employee was a lead member of the Mass Effect: Andromeda team, at no point should an individual be harassed and threatened.
After playing through roughly five hours of the trial period, I can confirm that the criticism toward the game is warranted. For me, the most noticeable problem was the voice acting and dialogue. For the majority of the trial, it sounded like many of the lines were delivered without emotion or the voices did not fit the characters. For a game that is heavy on dialogue, this is truly a problem that is not only glaring, but is surprising for a Bioware game. One of the aspects of immersion into a game is feeling the emotion, but the deadpan lines coupled with the visual and audio disconnect between the characters made it hard to feel a part of the game. The dialogue itself can be cheesy and over explanative, which will either make you laugh or cringe.
The facial animations themselves, especially on humans, are at times horrendous. The movement of the lips and lower facial movement don’t conform to what you’d expect from human facial expression. Human character eyes and foreheads don’t appear to move at all. Characters apparently don’t even need to pay attention to what they enter into data pads because not once did I see their eyes gaze down to their data pads. Yes, that’s a small complaint but again illustrates the lack of detail of what is expected of a Bioware game. Once you speak with Addison and she goes on about the peril, the mutiny, the deaths, her face is emotionless (as is the voice acting). Perhaps her line “my face is tired” is some sort of inside joke at Bioware to say “hey, we know the facial animations stink.” Despite the facial animations, there are some really cool scifi moments in the cut scenes that blew me away.
It took me a bit to get used to the combat in Mass Effect: Andromeda and the more I played, the more I liked it. The jetpack has to be one of the best additions as you can hover, and dash forward and laterally to dodge attacks. The cover system doesn’t glue you to a surface, so you can easily move from one point to the next. Couple it with the jetpack and you can quickly outmaneuver the enemies. Your character will take cover if you get close to a surface, but I found that even the slightest movement took me out of cover.
Along with the change in the cover system, the combat has been streamlined (at least on console as I played on the Xbox One). Unless I missed it, there is no combat wheel so I can freely use my powers with ease. Fighting felt very smooth and I could quickly use my powers, especially when I was in trouble. My small gripe is the lack of control over my squad mates. Other than directing them to specific locations, I didn’t find any obvious way to order them to use their abilities.
While the character creation isn’t as deep as other role playing games, Bioware still provides a wide array of choices to alter how you want your character to look. You not only get the opportunity to control the look of your character, but you also get the chance to mold the look of your twin. Yes, your character has a brother or sister depending on whether you choose a female or male lead. Much to my surprise, the look of you and your twin also alters the appearance of your father, Alec Ryder. My first playthrough was on the premade male Ryder so when I created my own male Ryder, I was a bit apprehensive of creating a character that looked distinctly Asian. I feared Alec Ryder would still look the same as my first playthrough, but surprisingly Alec Ryder looked Asian, as well, which I thought was pretty awesome that the game took into account my choices. I’m not entirely sure what the impact is of choosing the gender of Commander Shepard, but perhaps that will be revealed later in the game.
The open world design is very similar to that of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which for me, is very appealing. This game is about exploration and finding a place for humanity and other alien species of the Milky Way to live. With what little bit I’ve been able to explore, I did enjoy the freedom to explore and roam around on the surface of planets. The mission tracking is difficult to navigate and is a bit frustrating but isn’t a game breaker for me.
As for the story, it’s hard to say based on what little time I’ve been able to invest. Unfortunately, the trial doesn’t allow you to progress very far so my character is currently standing at a door on Eos waiting for the full release so I can open it. I do like the fact that our Ryder is not a hardened veteran that is expected to be a bad ass. In a galaxy of uncertainty, you’re an inexperienced pathfinder setting out to explore, uncover mysteries, and find new homes to establish colonies. Yes, this game is far from perfect, but so far it’s delivered a fun and exciting scifi adventure that is worth looking past some of the sloppy work by Bioware. I think as you progress in the story, you’ll be treated to some classic Bioware storytelling and hopefully an ending that will not leave you frustrated.