It seems fashionable to bash this game, or at least it was when it came out. By now the community has moved on to the next thing, like making fun of Bethesda. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to find the silver lining, Andromeda really doesn’t have any.
At first it seemed like people were just being ruthless about how bad the animations were or how the graphics were downgraded from previous builds. Truth be told, it got out that EA literally outsourced a lot of work on Andromeda to college students and freelancers. The majority of the game was completed within the span of 18 months. So it came as no surprise, once context was established, that this kind of shit made it into the game.
I guess to be fair, most of that is hilarious as fuck. The first few times. But once you get stuck on the same invisible wall literally every time you go to the slums in Kadara (still hasn’t been fixed in June) or you see that the animations haven’t improved, ever, it stops being funny and starts being infuriating. You paid for this game. Almost full price, or maybe even full price. EA hyped this garbage with no plans on what they were actually making, using an inexperienced developer who repeatedly expressed concerns about the direction and management of the project and even the tools they were using (they knew from the beginning Frostbite 3 was not going to work out well) so they could shit out a game in 1.5 years. In the meantime, they happily sold the hype on probably their most popular franchise to date.
Now that the topic of the animations has been broached, it may as well be said: Andromeda received a graphical downgrade. Graphical downgrades are apparently SOP now – they are normal. Hell they may even be listed as “features” in design documents at this point. Take a look at any given picture – modded game or not – of the first three games, which were made in the Unreal engine. Compare it to Andromeda, and even Mass Effect looks better. It’s not just that Andromeda doesn’t look “as good” – it did. It had different lighting and there were better effects in the game before release.
Obviously it’s hard to say one version is entirely better than the other, but they seem to have changed from a darker, more texturized look to the pastel, solid colors that pervade every bit of imagery in the retail game. Mostly that applies to characters and some certain areas of the game world , while overall the worlds still look decent. The characters themselves are what drive the story – they’re the most important element. So when they look and act like weird animatronics at Disney World, compared to the image and animation quality of all other people in Frostbite 3 games such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, Battlefield 1, Battlefront 1 and 2, and Anthem, it doesn’t help the game engage you.
The massive failures of this game to deliver on any reasonable level of graphical quality would be forgivable, if the game were to have actually capitalized on its promise, such as offering worlds Mass Effect hasn’t seen before. Andromeda’s planets may be pretty but ultimately they are empty, boring affairs lacking any charm. One of the things missing from 2 and 3 was actual explorability – open worlds where the player could step outside the small handcrafted area that quests took place in, like in Mass Effect. In the first game, most of the worlds where you could freely drive the Mako (without being on a main story mission) were large borefests with 2 or 3 Cerberus bases or some sort of alliance outpost. Admittedly Andromeda has bigger worlds with more stuff to do, but a lot of those quests are fetching. Scan this mineral, find and pick up that plant. Find this memory trigger. You can freely drive the Nomad, of course, and at least that’s better than the Mako. Right?
When it was first shown, the Nomad seemed like a welcome improvement – stepping backward in order to move the series forward again, by restoring elements that made the game feel more open. After playing it, though – that’s just not the case. The Nomad may control and look better and be customizable in comparison to the Mako, but its a necessary pain the player must endure to do anything in this game. It isn’t even the vehicle’s fault – although it lacks any weapons and that’s plain unacceptable – but the world designers fault.
Every single planet is a mind-numbingly annoying and painful task when it comes to exploration. They’re all composed mostly of huge mountains and the Nomad simply cannot drive up these monoliths, even in 6WD. You have to constantly switch between modes and it just seems like EA tried to take a step in two different “right” directions. Put in vehicles, but make the world fucking annoying. The Mako controlled and drove like shit, but it would literally drive up a 90 degree wall if you wanted to. The Nomad drives wonderfully, but the terrain is all complete trash and you rarely get to go full speed for long. Hell, you can’t even kill enemies by running them over unless you run them over repeatedly. At no point is this sadistic world design more focused than immediately after you build an outpost – when you have to place a satellite dish. All of them are on top of mesas with no easy way to ascend, forcing you to do some infuriating mountain climbing with the Nomad and then jumping out when it eventually fails to get anywhere.
When Andromeda was announced, the appeal to most people was that this would be a whole new galaxy. A galaxy where the species of Mass Effect didn’t live yet. A galaxy the player would get to explore – flying between the stars and seeing some cool shit, settling planets. Driving the story, rather than just coming along for the ride. It was too good to be true, and so it couldn’t have been true. Alas, it wasn’t. Andromeda once again gives you a lived in world with the same old problems. The same species and even the same groups of assholes causing problems, whether it’s the Asari being arrogant or the Krogans bringing their grudges and their genetic research problems with them, or the Salarians being stuck up scientists.
After the complaints about how ME2 and ME3 basically lacked anything resembling exploration, it’s not just disappointing – it’s downright offensive. Including the planet where the prologue takes place, there are literally 7 planets with any purpose in the game and the Nexus, which is basically a significantly smaller version of the Citadel (basically one big room with 3 instanced big rooms inside it). The other 100 or so are just balls floating in space where you might discover an abandoned space ship, or a crater, or some minerals, and get XP for scanning. Worse, when the game first came out you were forced to watch a cut-scene every time you traveled between star systems, and every time you traveled between planets orbiting the same star.
As soon as the game starts and the main plot is revealed, one can tell the game is going to have very little depth or even a rewarding story. The elements are there for a boring, straightforward story and worse than that, everything more or less has a happy ending – with very few potholes along the road. Dozens of boring fetch quests and simple “stand in this circle while SAM hacks a thing, defend against waves while the timer runs out” affairs provide just as little quest variety in this title as in Witcher 3 yet somehow they managed to make these quests even less interesting. BioWare even included some missions where you literally have to track footprints with your magic wrist scanner.
The combat is the only area of the series that has seen any improvement here, and just barely. Now you have a jet-pack and can jump around, as well as dodge. Jetpacks allow you to do cool things like jump in the air and then pause – in midair right in plain sight – and shoot at enemies, or get the drop on them. You can only equip 3 skills to yourself and apparently only 2 to squad-mates. One of them is probably going to be grenade, if you liked using grenades in the previous games, which is now a skill instead of a default ability, so you have two spots to work with. There are a robust set of skills for each character, but the only way to really use them is to switch between different character builds on a routine basis. In a game that people are playing primarily for the story, forcing them to change character builds over and over seems like an impediment to fun. If they wanted to play a game for its actual game-play, they definitely wouldn’t be picking Andromeda.
BioWare did well to pay attention to Witcher 3 – not that putting in tedious and painful side-quests benefited either game – but they seemed to have learned….something. Crafting in the game seemed, at least on paper, like an interesting alternative to the simple “collect every piece of gear and item you find” equipment micro-managing of Mass Effect. However, you literally don’t need to craft anything or pay any attention to the gear whatsoever. You can go twenty or thirty levels in the game without changing a gun, and still easily triumph in combat. On top of that, you get so many skill points every time you level up that your character builds will actually be held back by arbitrary level caps. You’ll be sitting and waiting to unlock your max level for most skills until level 40, meanwhile with 40 or more skill points just waiting.
Andromeda is one of the few games that currently supports Nvidia Ansel, and even that is a disappointing tease. Not because of Nvidia – in fact Ansel is probably the coolest thing Nvidia has ever done besides continually make great products. Essentially it’s a screenshot tool – named after famed American photographer Ansel Adams who is best known for his work in Yosemite – that allows you to pause the game at any point during play and use a free floating camera, with very basic controls, to take panoramic wrap around images, VR images, or super-sampled images up to 10 gigapixels in resolution. However, even Ansel doesn’t work correctly. In other games like Witcher 3, you can be in mid battle and hit Alt + F2 to take a cool action shot of Geralt impaling or decapitating someone, getting bulldozed by a Chort, whatever you want. In Andromeda, the moment you press Alt + F2 it cancels any animation Ryder is in the middle of. This makes it impossible to get any action shots where you’re taking cover, aiming, or doing anything cool except jumping.
I don’t think it can be overstated just how significant of a disappointment this game is. On the most fundamental level, Andromeda lacks any charm or sincerity, any player agency and any hook factor required for someone to sink the 60+ hours into this game necessary to complete all the singleplayer content. Every hour of this game was an agonizing chore. EA isn’t wrong for wanting to branch out and be able to have more than one developer work on Mass Effect, but good god they couldn’t have done a worse job.