Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda — Phenomenal narrative marred by technical shortcomings

According to BioWare, Mass Effect: Andromeda was in the making for 5 years. With such an extended development time comes certain benefits and challenges. While the Andromeda galaxy is a gorgeous setting filled with intrigue, the technical aspects of the game are less than stellar. Poor animations and frequent frame rate fluctuations mar the Mass Effect: Andromeda experience on Xbox One.

Mass Effect: Andromeda takes place over 600 years after the events of Mass Effect 3. The crew of the Andromeda Initiative awaken from cryogenic sleep and land on a planet research suggested was a golden world. Unfortunately, the planet turns out to be an unstable, hostile environment filled with a new alien threat. Certain tragic events lead to you—the Pathfinder— taking over the search of finding humanity and its allies a new home among the stars.

The Andromeda galaxy is a gorgeous setting filled with intrigue

Mass Effect: Andromeda’s plot is quite complex despite its humble beginnings. The game pits you against the kett and their leader, the mysterious Archon. Without giving too much away, the crux of the story revolves around The Remnant, a mysterious race whose structures hold the key to the Andromeda Initiative’s survival in this new galaxy.

Enemies in Mass Effect: Andromeda share similar emotions to what humans and other species express in the game. One scene which will resonate with you has to be when the Archon encounters the original Pathfinder. The Pathfinder—due to augmentations—can interact with the devices left by The Remnant. This is cause for great bewilderment which leads to jealousy. The antagonists are fueled by relatable motives which forms a believable foundation for the plot.

Unlike previous Mass Effect titles, the gameplay features a new mechanic called viability. Viability varies from planet to planet and completing missions transforms each world into a habitable zone. Exploring a world also leads to uncovering numerous secrets and finding devices which can make a habitat even more suitable for life. Aside from the upgrades to the customization and shooting mechanics, viability has to be one of the most significant additions to the franchise. It may also be one of the most important additions to open world games because you can affect your surroundings to an unprecedented degree.

The Andromeda galaxy—at least the sector you’re limited to—is filled with copious amounts of content. There are other races indigenous to the galaxy which you meet throughout the campaign. While the characters are interesting, the character design isn’t. When you explore the universe, you hope to encounter fantastic creatures which aren’t remotely similar to what you’ve seen in previous Mass Effect games. A new galaxy should hold beings which defy our understanding. The artists should’ve taken more risks when conceptualizing these characters. For example, the Angara look like mammoth felines. Gamers who were hoping for an experience similar to what moviegoers witnessed in Arrival will be disappointed.

Alien encounters on Andromeda seem too similar to each other

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos left a lasting mark on many readers. The adapted show garnered even more fans for the astronomer and perpetuated his vision for what an encounter with aliens from inhospitable planets would look like. The book discusses the types of features aliens in distant worlds may exhibit. We may see beings with giant gas pouches which allow them to float in the air. You may encounter primitive cultures which pose new challenges when it comes to communication. BioWare could’ve gone in so many directions for Mass Effect: Andromeda but instead the exploration feels more along the lines of a military operation rather a sojourn in Star Trek.

The developers should’ve unleashed their creativity when designing alien encounters because they seem too similar to humans. While this has its advantages in terms of narrative and mechanics, it stifles the possibilities. Mass Effect: Andromeda makes the universe feel a little generic.

As reported earlier, Mass Effect: Andromeda in its current state suffers from significant frame rate fluctuations on Xbox One. While multiplayer doesn’t appear to be affected, the single-player portions become frustrating. Indoor areas, like your Nexus base, are mostly free of these problems, but when you’re out exploring planets, the frame rate drops to 20 FPS. These issues are particularly noticeable in the opening sequences where you have to reach the Nexus after crash landing on a hostile planet.

During that hour, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s frame rate drops almost all the time on Xbox One. This causes issues not only when it comes to combat, but also when you’re involved in exploration. Frame rate fluctuations make the controls feel odd and clunky. The game already runs at 30 FPS so any further dips feel like you temporarily lose control of your character. The issues persist on planets with a lot of foliage or other effects in the background. They also make driving the Nomad feel like a chore.

Andromeda suffers from significant frame rate fluctuations on Xbox One

The multiplayer portions of Mass Effect: Andromeda are addictive but don’t compare to games like Gears of War 4. Playing missions with a group of friends is a satisfying experience but the claustrophobic maps become tiresome after a few matches. Going back to frame rate, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s multiplayer should run at 60 FPS like many popular third-person shooters nowadays. Gears of War 4 and Uncharted 4 run at 60 FPS, and due to this maintain their competitive nature and following. Mass Effect: Andromeda feels outdated in this regard. The developers certainly made many questionable choices when making this game.

Despite its problems, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a great title but doesn’t live up to its full potential on Xbox One. A myriad of technical issues detract from the game and significantly impact the level of immersion—that doesn’t even include the bizarre animation quality or unbearable texture pop-in! Throughout the playthrough, gamers will be more focused on the frame rate drops and stuttering because they’re so disruptive. Mass Effect: Andromeda needs more polish on Xbox One despite having a great story and fun multiplayer component. Hopefully, BioWare will address these pressing issues soon and improve their product. We just need to wait until then.

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