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Mass Effect: Andromeda's Biggest Problem Is That It's Kind of Boring

Seriously, forget about the animations for a second.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

It's been a week and I already barely remember Mass Effect Andromeda. It feels strange that a 50 hour game would leave so little impression on me, but that's the case with BioWare's latest, which is just sort of... there. In five years I doubt I'll even remember reviewing it.

To me, that's much more damning than silly animations. I've loved a lot of games with bad framerates and terrible animations because they've executed well elsewhere. Dark Souls is the ur-example of a janky game that nevertheless managed to be completely amazing. Seriously, remember Blighttown?

Between the framerate and the difficulty this was worse than anything in Andromeda.

We ultimately loved Dark Souls because it brought so many new and interesting ideas to the table; because the combat was immensely satisfying, and because it had some of the most memorable level design and boss fights ever. Mass Effect: Andromeda has none of those things. Putting aside its reliance on bland, time-tested fare, it has no verve. It has no spark or personality. It's Pirates of the Caribbean 4—the obligatory sequel that tries to hit the right notes but mostly just feels stale.

It sets the tone for what it's to come with an especially drab opening. Your big 600 year plan is going horribly wrong and your brother is in a coma, but there's somehow absolutely no urgency. The odd pacing, stilted dialogue, and lack of a memorable soundtrack combine to make the intro feel flaccid and uninteresting. Everyone just seems to be going through the motions as they first deal with the disaster, then move to the Nexus, which tries to be creepy but is somehow completely lacking in atmosphere. You then head to Eos, which—as someone observed—looks less like a exotic alien planet than Arizona.

After the protracted opening, Andromeda settles into the familiar and comfortable routine of a Mass Effect game. You meet Cora and Liam—the archetypal Tough Lady and Quirky Guy with a British Accent—as well as Peebee and Drack, who quickly fall into the role of being BioWare Party Members. Peebee is the sexy and energetic character, while Drack is the bitter old bastard. They aren't exactly awful, but neither do they manage to stand out in any meaningful way.

They're mostly around for this.

Once you're set free to explore, things start to pick up a bit. You're almost immediately inundanted with story-driven quests to take on, which make for a nice distraction from the main story. You get to go to harsh and forbidding planets like Voeld—a planet that is more or less Hoth but manages to get by because it feels hostile and dangerous to explore. You tool around the Nomad a bit and bounce across the interesting terrain. It gets to be kind of okay.

But Andromeda's lingering issues with execution remain. The encounter design is just the worst, leaning hard on concepts that were cliché as far back as 2011. There aren't enough interesting enemies to fight, and the more powerful bad guys rely on hoary game tropes like Shoot the Rotating Orb Until the Shield Drops. As I said in my review, Andromeda's difficulty mostly stems from the fact that it spams waves of enemies, not the fact that it has any interesting enemies to fight.

Funnily enough, Andromeda's heightened mobility might actually be an enemy in that regard. As Rowan Kaiser observed during the most recent episode of Axe of the Blood God, it removes the more deliberate pacing that defined Mass Effect 2 and 3 and encourages you to use whatever your best attack is ad nauseum. That doesn't excuse the generally poor enemy design, but it does have a notable impact on the encounters. In the end, most of the setpieces simply lack much imagination.

The same can be said for Andromeda itself. Outside of maybe the asteroid, none of the planets have much imagination. For heaven's sake, there are two desert planets to explore. Who wants to hang out on a glorified Tatooine anyway?

But seriously, why are there two planets like this?

There are also the angara and the kett, who are only notable in the sense of how forgettable they are. The big reveal for the kett is that they are a religious fanatic version of the Borg—villains who go around assimilating other races and incorporating them into their army. The first moment you see an angaran get turned into a kett is supposed to be horrifying, but it ends up feeling a little too similar to the modus operandi of Mass Effect 2's Collectors, who also have a penchant for kidnapping other races and doing terrible things to them (mainly turning them into protein sludge).

As for the angara, most of their development takes place through Jaal, the tactiturn angaran representative who joins your party not long into the story. Their main reveal is that they were actually genetically engineered by the Remnant—Andromeda's equivalent of the Protheans. It's an interesting idea, one reminiscent of some of the ideas explored in Prometheus, but ultimately has little bearing on the story. At best, the characters kind of say, "So the angarans were genetically engineered, huh? That's kind of messed up." Then everyone moves on with their lives.

It all culminates in a non-interactive space battle, a stakes-free race on the Nomad, and an incredible gamey final fight in which you leap from platform to platform hitting switches and battling waves of enemies. Even without the excellent finales of Mass Effect 1 and 2 looming over everything, it would have been disappointing; but in the context of its predecessors, it's even worse. More than almost anything else, it highlights Andromeda's profound lack of imagination.

Axe of the Blood God: What Went Wrong With Mass Effect: Andromeda?

PODCAST | We discuss Mass Effect: Andromeda and Torment: Tides of Numenera in this week's episode of the RPG pod!

What Mass Effect: Andromeda Gets Right

BioWare's new space RPG isn't all bad.

A Lack of Ideas

That brings me back to probably my biggest problem with Mass Effect Andromeda: It just doesn't have many interesting ideas. It feels like BioWare has no inkling what to do with its setting other than to have you drive around on planets. As a result, the few original elements in Andromeda are massively overshadowed by the races and conflicts from the previous games, who take center stage early on and never relinquish it.

In that, it feels more like an exercise in catering to the fans than an attempt to move the series forward in any meaningful way. You can almost see the wheels turning behind the scenes with this game: "Okay, you want more RPG elements, you've got them. You want open-ended relationships? Sure. You want exploration? We'll give you the Mako back and let you drive around vast, empty planets." In that, it's a decent approximation of a scaled up Mass Effect, but it also feels hollow and uninteresting. Whatever flare the original series had, it's long gone.

The thing is, I think Andromeda's lack of inspiration could have been forgiven with better ideas. Given better pacing, better encounter designs, and frankly, better music, it might have made a much better impression. Instead, it mostly feels like a ham-fisted attempt to keep the series going, the areas where it succeeds being overshadowed by how boring and gamey everything is. I haven't even gotten around to the Remnant sections, which by every measure are the goddamned worst.

That's why it's so funny to me that everyone is so fixated on Mass Effect: Andromeda's tech problems. Putting aside that they are kind of overblown—a slew of out-of-context gifs that encourage people to pile on it—they are seriously the least of its problems. Its bigger sin is that it leans too heavily on its source material in an effort to appease fans while being kind of boring in the process. It's blandly inoffensive, but not memorable in the least. And in a month like this, that's a death sentence.

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Comments 24

  • Avatar for TomMog #1 TomMog 6 months ago
    For a title that US Gamer gave a fairly average score, there's been awful lot of follow up on it. For how long are we going to get an Andromeda article almost every day?

    "Here's the problem with it. Wait, here's a good thing I will backhandedly compliment it for. No, okay here's the real problem with it. You guys still hate it right? Please click through to our latest article, which you can use as fuel to power your Twitter vendetta against Bioware. You can trust us, our less than perfect score proves commitment to 'ethics'!"
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #2 Roto13 6 months ago
    Considering how relentlessly negative you've been about it, that 3/5 score seems pretty high.
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  • Avatar for descent303 #3 descent303 6 months ago
    I'm enjoying the game, but I really agree with most of this. Especially the part about making it open world. At first I thought this was necessary to facilitate the new vertical aspect the game introduced, but then I played the mission on the pirate Kett ship. That mission felt so much like old Mass Effect, God, even some of Liam's lines were good! I was never one of the people that complained about the universe being a series of corridors in 3, I always thought it lent itself to making locales more atmospheric and focused. I don't think the switch to DA:I style open world has done this game any favours.

    I don't agree at all about the combat or alleged lack of interesting enemies. None particularly stand out in my mind from ME or ME2, and only the Banshee does from 3 because they were creepy AF. The combat itself (I've only played Vanguard and engineer so far) feels like a dialled up version of 3. You say it encourages you to spam your most powerful ability, I'd say it actually does this less than 3 did. In 3 I pretty much used charge-nova charge-nova with some punches or shooting to prime enemies. As a soldier I used Adrenaline and Flare and nothing else, and this made me more or less unstoppable. Removing shared CD but limiting available powers means that you're never using an ability instead of something else.

    The story and the characters is where this game truly lets you down. My biggest issue is actually with Ryder. I don't know if it was part of jettisoning the Paragon/Renegade dichotomy, but I feel like there's 0 difference in anything I do or say. No option I have is ever particularly ruthless. My favourite part of the ME series was shooting Mordin in the back, because head-cannon wise my Shepherd would do anything to stop the Reapers, even gun down someone she cared for. It doesn't feel like goofy ass Ryder will ever be capable of making any such truly hard decision. Just the ol' shoot him or let him free decisions.

    Speaking of not being able to murder crew mates, that's actually a shame. I would happily open the airlock for Liam and Peebee and probably wouldn't even notice if Cora and Jaal happened to get sucked out with them.

    Oh well, at least Drack and Vetra are cool..
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #4 chaoticBeat 6 months ago
    @TomMog Kat committed to a full 50 hour play through of this game. I would write a few articles about it if I had done the same. There have been a lot of review follow-up articles floating around the net lately because there was such a build up of hype and hope for Andromeda and it was so disappointing. Sure, USG gave it an average score, but there was hope that it would be beyond average like the original trilogy was.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #5 Kat.Bailey 6 months ago
    @TomMog I apologize for covering the well-known game that has been out for just over a week. I'm not even sure what you're talking about with the whole "Twitter vendetta against BioWare" thing.
    @Roto13 I mean, define relentlessly negative? I wrote at some length about its relative strengths in another article. I'm pretty hot and cold on this game, which is why I pretty much split the difference with the score.
    @descent303 Yeah, I agree with the lack of the Paragon/Renegade dichotomy. It's not the most elegant approach, but it did lend weight to your decisions. Andromeda sorely misses that aspect.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #6 Tetragrammaton 6 months ago
    @TomMog I appreciate the articles about Andromeda, as a former ME player I wouldn't pay attention to the game at all. I imagine there's a lot of people who swore off future ME titles after 3 (or 2, like in my case) who were hoping the series could find itself again with Andromeda. The middling reviews are a sign that there are redeeming features in Andromeda. These articles are useful in deciding whether the good outweighs the bad. For most people the answer seems to be "no", but that doesn't mean it's the case for everyone.
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  • Avatar for TomMog #7 TomMog 6 months ago
    @chaoticBeat Publishing an in-depth follow up that can include discussion of spoilers you couldn't talk about in the review of a game is expected, but to hammer the same title over and over seems self-indulgent. I felt the somewhat the same about all the Breath of the Wild coverage too, but I'm a lot more tolerant of repetition when it's praising something already widely acclaimed, as opposed to hating on something contentious. The latter might be perfectly innocent and well-intentioned, but it looks an awful lot like pandering. Which US Gamer has every right to do. I'm just sick of hearing about how lousy Andromeda is, I guess. I already wasn't going to buy it, and I suppose I don't need any more people telling me I shouldn't.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #8 Kat.Bailey 6 months ago
    @TomMog This article is a function of the fact that everyone is kind of fixated on its tech problems, which, as I said in my article, is really the least of the game's problems. It was also a chance to talk about some of the spoilers I left unmentioned in the review.
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #9 Jonnyboy407 6 months ago
    I appreciate that conversations about games can continue past their initial release :D
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #10 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    @Jonnyboy407 YEah, we need much more of this, over the longer term too. Gaming is a medium is often frustratingly transient.
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #11 Ohoni 6 months ago
    Wow, lotta spoilers in this one for parts of the game I haven't gotten to yet, so thanks for that, really improved my experience.

    Anyway, I've really been enjoying this game so far, the exploration of the game world has been a lot of fun. So was learning the lore's secrets as they came.

    Was.
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  • Avatar for davidchambers98 #12 davidchambers98 6 months ago
    I'm really enjoying it.
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  • Avatar for Verkambj #13 Verkambj 6 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey please do not listen to the critics, Kat. I enjoyed reading a different perspective about the game and appreciate how you try to cool everyone's jets when it comes to tech problems. This person just created an account last week when the review came out and has only commented on articles relating to this game. Sounds upset that the game is not perfect and would prefer not to see constant reminders.
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  • Avatar for ChairmanYang #14 ChairmanYang 6 months ago
    Personally, I appreciate it when writers revisit games for another look, whether that's a week, year, or years later. Please keep it up, Kat. I prefer interesting discussion rather than getting caught up in everlasting hype cycles.

    I've also noticed the negative discourse around the game focused on things like bugs and animation when really, the pervasive blandness Kat talked about is the real problem. I blame a weak writing team led, inexplicably, by the guy responsible for the Mass Effect 3 ending (Mac Walters) and the guy who wrote Halo 4. I guess if they can be appointed to high positions on the latest iteration of a beloved AAA series, any of us can!
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  • Avatar for yuberus #15 yuberus 6 months ago
    @Ohoni I mean there was a spoilers tag at the very top of the article and all.
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #16 ShadowTheSecond 6 months ago
    @ChairmanYang
    I'm also glad to see follow-up on a game beyond the release. Follow-up articles for both this and Zelda have been much more helpful than just the initial reviews. My own feelings on Mass Effect have pretty much been that it's competent, but I might prefer to replay Zelda or even pick-up Persona 5...or finally get around to the new Shovel Knight campaign!

    People that buy a game on day one have already bought both games, but when people look into which game they should pick up this summer (or even fall, for people that wait until holiday bundles where they can get a system plus a couple game of their choice with it) it will be nice for them to have more info.
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  • Avatar for swamped #17 swamped 6 months ago
    Jonathan Cooper wrote an interesting thread about the animation issues.

    https://twitter.com/i/moments/845012187231895552
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #18 Frosty840 6 months ago
    @Jonnyboy407 "past their initial release"? This is the initial release. Even if I'd picked ME:A up, I wouldn't have had time to play much of it yet. I might be ten hours in at most. As it is, I'm having trouble polishing off the end of Ashes of Ariandel so's I can start on the new Dark Souls 3 DLC.
    I agree that these are nice discussions to have, but to see these almost-retrospective articles barely a week after the game's been released leaves me pretty cold. Where are you guys finding the time to play these things?
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #19 Roto13 6 months ago
    @Ohoni Poor sweet baby, ignored the giant "SPOILER" banner and kept reading anyway. :((((((
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  • Avatar for SkywardShadow #20 SkywardShadow 6 months ago
    @Roto13 To be fair, I think the spoiler banner gets glanced over like one of the many ads, at least on mobile. But even if so, stopping the moment you see one spoiler would be advised.

    Aside from that, I just wanted to comment that I'm really enjoying my playthrough so far, though I'm not halfway through yet. Only technical issues have bothered me so far.
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  • Avatar for dard410 #21 dard410 6 months ago
    This is definitely a useful article for me. I always wonder how much a review is influenced by the fact that reviewers are often rushing to complete a game before a deadline. Also, for me, the mark of a truly great game is the lasting impression it leaves. Amazing games like Super Metroid still generate enormous levels of passion and feel fresh after 25 years! On the other hand, there are too many examples of games that seem fun upon initial release but don't hold up over time (I'm looking at you, Skyward Sword). To me, Kat's statement that she nearly forgot about MEA is perhaps the most damning indictment of the game I've heard yet.

    Along these lines, I'd love for USGamer to issue retrospective reviews along the lines of what it did for Dragon Age: Inquisition a while ago, to assess if the initial impressions of the game in fact hold up. That article helped convince me to abandon Dragon Age and try Witcher 3.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #22 brionfoulke91 6 months ago
    Great article! I like to see follow up articles like this. I especially liked this line: "It's Pirates of the Caribbean 4—the obligatory sequel that tries to hit the right notes but mostly just feels stale. " That really rings true.
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #23 Ohoni 6 months ago
    @yuberus

    Now that you point it out to me, I see it, but I never noticed it before. My "this is an ad banner" filters naturally filter out anything like that. Very sneaky. If they actually wanted readers to be aware of spoilers, they would have put "[spoilers]" in the title of the article, or at least in the text body of the article. A soothing blue banner will never cut it.Edited March 2017 by Ohoni
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  • Avatar for matthewcooley77 #24 matthewcooley77 6 months ago
    I've been mostly disappointed so far, but maybe I expected more of a leap. Mass Effect was such a jump up from what came a generation before. I was hoping to feel a little more awe and thrill, but thats come in pretty small doses.

    I finally got a Switch as well, and Andromeda suffers in comparison to the polish and fun of Zelda.
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