I’m worried about the new Mass Effect. I gorged on the early access ME Andromeda trial for the last day and I’m here to report a verdict of…meh. I’ve been on the ME bandwagon since the first demo premiered at E3 2006. Its original console exclusivity was a big factor in my decision to buy an Xbox 360. I was with Commander Shepard when he first struck down Saren. I was there when he cured the xenophage to restore the Krogan. We worked together to help the galaxy recognize Legion’s right to exist. I watched time and time again as countless friends laid down their lives under his leadership. Pick any Mass Effect and I can think of a dozen memorable moments with bunch of awesome characters. In every game you feel the weight of your responsibility. It’s pushing down on you constantly and each new crew member is another welcome shoulder to help with the burden. The characters have always been interesting and full of depth. Getting to know them felt rewarding, like untangling a massive knot with small strands of backstory and motivation falling out. It got to the point that I found myself fighting on just as much for my crew as for the galaxy as a whole. This feeling was present throughout the entire franchise. It’s something that Bioware has always done very well. Unfortunately, MEA has been crafted with a much less thoughtful and nuanced approach.
The big criticism currently being pitched at MEA is its poor animation, but I’m afraid things are a bit grimmer than that. There is a definite unpolished feeling around several aspects of the game. The facial animation and lip sync are atrocious. There’s no arguing that. Human skin has an odd sheen to it Everyone looks like they’re either sweating bullets or made of plastic. It feels even stranger when you notice that everything else in the game looks great. The dead-faced glass-eyed humans stick out like a bunch of assholes in every scene they’re in. They ruin the harmony of an otherwise beautiful universe. The moment is made even worse when you see some of the comically bad walk cycles. There was also an instance when the lip sync was so bad I had a character moving their mouth for a full two seconds without any actual dialogue. This game reeks of a rush job. Either quality assurance phoned this one in or their suggestions were not headed.
All my complaining aside, technical concerns aren’t the primary reason I’m worried about MEA. These characters are a bit shit. Your custom protagonist and starting squad are flat and underdeveloped. There’s Liam, the quirky black guy. Quirky here meaning, “owns an old couch.” You also get Cora,(Ashley Williams 2.0 platinum blonde edition.) Look out now, she’s sporting a hip side shaved hairdo, so you know she’s both hip and tough. The three characters may have known each other before they spent 600+ years in cryo sleep, but I’m not certain. The narrative is not particularly well structured. Characters appear and disappear quickly. They step on stage for a moment, deliver a diatribe of dialogue then step back into the wallpaper. Speaking of background players, the ambience in this game is weak. Most NPCs you walk by will either be executing short animation loops or standing in the same pose. Literally, the exact same hands-at-your-side, arms slightly bent, fingers straight pose. It’d be funny if it weren’t so crushingly disappointing.
Look, I’m still gonna play it. It’s still Mass Effect. I’m still galavanting around a massive sci-fi setting full of action and adventure. I’m still kicking vicious alien ass with a complement of fun weapons and armor. The core combat mechanics feel usable. Of course therein lies the dark secret of modern AAA game development. This is the curse many franchises fall into. They get to the point where they release a game that is “just enough” of the core experience to get people to buy it. There’s nothing innovative here. No envelopes are being pushed. After my ten hour early trial ended, my biggest takeaway is that Mass Effect Andromeda is an unfortunate step backwards for the series. This time around the galaxy might not be worth saving.