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21 March 2017

Why I’m not worried by Mass Effect: Andromeda’s bad reviews

Despite the mixed response for the latest Mass Effect, I am still excited about playing the latest in the series. 

By Stephen Bush

The reviews for Mass Effect: Andromeda are in and they’re…mixed. “Bioware’s worst RPG yet,” is Eurogamer’s verdict. Notoriously generous examiners IGN have given it seven marks out of ten, which is essentially a four out of ten in anyone else’s estimation. “It’s a timid and tepid tale too heavily reliant on what came before,” declares Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

The facial animation is uneven, the opening mission is reputed to be dull, and the game is overladen with bugs. The game’s aggregate score on Metacritic stands at 78, the lowest rated of the entire franchise.

But I’m not worried. Why not? Perhaps it’s because I’ve just finished replaying the original Mass Effect, and many of the complaints seem familiar. The combat in the first game is crushingly dull, the supporting cast have hours of dialogue, much of it wildly contradictory in terms of what they are supposed to think, and a large amount of it is cheesy in the extreme.

Just as the beginning of Andromeda is widely accepted to be, the opening hours of Mass Effect are only mildly more diverting than watching paint crawl. As is typical of a BioWare game, you are treated to an excessive amount of exposition about the overarching plot and a dishwater dull tutorial level, accompanied by a male companion who is, if anything, even more ennui-inducing than his surrounds. In Knights of the Old Republic and the original Mass Effect, this thankless role is given to the same unlucky actor, Raphael Sbarge, who plays both Carth Onasi and Kaidan Alenko. Kaiden at least improves as the game wears on, while Carth’s only redeeming feature is that you can leave him aboard your ship once you leave Knights’ crushingly dull tutorial world of Taris.

It is also, a decade after its release, still laden with gamebreaking bugs. Only yesterday, my Shepard got stuck halfway up a hill and I had no option but start over from 20 minutes earlier. The dialogue is uneven and patchy. And don’t even get me started on the Mako.

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While there are dozens of explorable worlds, most of the planets yield nothing more than text on the screen and a couple of experience points. And yet, since the first Mass Effect came out, I have spent upwards of 600 hours playing that first entry in the series, though it is surely by any measure the weakest of the trilogy.

Why? The beauty of Mass Effect to me is that you never know what is beyond the next hill, that space feels huge and boundless, even though mostly the answer to “what lies beyond” is “a pretty sky and a whole bunch of text”. The plotline comes a distant second. As for the gameplay? I played the first two games in “Casual” mode and the last in the series in the new “Narrative” mode. If there was a “watch a pretty video of the combat to free up more time for exploring and working out which of the people you meet are down to bang” option, I would play that option.

For me, all Andromeda has to do to be a great game is have interesting characters and that same sense of exploration and wonder as Mass Effect. For it to be a good game, all I need is the thrill of seeing alien skies. And even the most damning of reviews promise open skies and near endless horizons. I can’t wait to get aboard the Tempest.