Of the various hub worlds in Mass Effect Andromeda, the first accessible to the player is Eos, named for the Greek goddess of the Dawn. Its inclusion at this junction of the game is suggestive of two complimentary themes: just as the Andromeda Initiative is supposed to be a new dawn for humanity and the various other Milky Way species embarking on the voyage of exploration and discovery, so too is Andromeda intended as a new dawn for the Mass Effect franchise.
Whereas many were apprehensive of the idea of more Mass Effect sans Shephard, despite my love for the character I never shared in that sentiment. Like BioShock, Deus Ex, and Dragon Age – series which saw differing protagonists across multiple successful entries, I’d always seen the true star of Mass Effect to be the universe itself. And just as BioShock could move its specific setting from Rapture to Columbia while still existing in the same world and tackling interconnected themes, so too could Mass Effect remove even the Milky Way and still exhibit all the same essential qualities.
But perhaps I should have felt the same apprehensiveness as my colleagues. Whereas each entry in the up till Andromeda advanced console gaming to new heights, the latest release (based on our 10 hours of early play through EA Access) feels incredibly regressive. This begins with the utterly anemic character creation. Despite sharing the same Frostbite Engine as Dragon Age Inquisition, which – along with All Points Bulletin and Black Desert Online – stands as one of the most robust and intuitive avatar makers, Andromeda’s is actually a good deal less competent than even the first Mass Effect’s from 10 years ago. It works on the same slider system – itself a relic of a more primitive era in game design – but removes the various preset options for individual facial features in favor of only global presets. Want Asiatic eyes accompanying an Aquiline nose? An unusual request, to be sure, but whereas the first Mass Effect could accommodate such, Andromeda cannot.
One would think that the purpose of such limitations would be to prevent the proliferation of player characters which more closely resemble Lovecraftian horrors than real-world humans, but the many YouTube videos demonstrating the extremes of Andromeda’s character creator evidence that this is far from the case.
For my own part, I attempted to construct more traditionally attractive Ryder siblings (unfortunately, my video capture was not working, or I’d include their images). Though I spent well over an hour meticulously pouring over every aspect of their construction, when I got into the game, each and every cut scene I was distracted by tiny imperfections on my male Ryder, such as slightly too pronounced cheekbones and a bit too gaunt of a visage. Wanting to maximize my playtime with the actual game for the purpose of this preview, I continued on instead of restarting from scratch, and now over seven or so hours into the story, I’m not sure whether to hit the reset button come Tuesday morning or endure this irritating itch in my mind come every cut scene across a 200+ hour game. Never once did I have such problems with my Inquisitor, and given that they share the same engine, it’s a shame I can’t simply import him into Andromeda to be my Pathfinder as well.
But beyond merely problems with the facial quality (and animations), the rest of the game suffers graphically as well. Whether aboard the Nexus, Habitat 7, or Eos, there’s a sparseness to the settings that betray their artificiality. Whereas last year’s The Division transported me to midtown Manhattan, a locale with which I’m incredibly familiar, Andromeda was unable to achieve the same for any of its areas, despite not suffering the handicap of comparison to the real world. This is inexcusable. Andromeda was in development for about as long as the recently released Horizon Zero Dawn, and despite the fact that it’s unlikely any of Mass Effect’s fauxpen-world sections are as large as Horizon’s immense (and load-free) truly open world, the latter nevertheless outmatches the former in both detail and density. How a game running on a standard PS4 displayed on my 55” 1080p television is significantly more beautiful than one running at all Ultra settings on my 34” 3440×1440 monitor is beyond me.
Another area in which Andromeda regresses from previous entries and compares poorly against current competitors such as Horizon is in camera control during many of the dialogues. Whereas the first two Mass Effect games always had a cinematic style to each and every conversation with even the most minor non-player characters, Andromeda is a bit lazier, often giving up authorial control of the camera to players – not once which results in any improvement over the cinematic dialogue.
The one aspect in which Andromeda is indeed a significant improvement over its predecessors is in its user interface. Though no so slick as Tomb Raider’s or The Division’s, it exceeds mere functionality and exudes style.I’ll save any judgement about the story or characters till after I spend significantly more time with Andromeda. After all, after just 10 hours with Inquisition I was still meandering aimlessly around the Hinterlands, and yet numerous story beats dozens and hundreds of hours into my playthrough left long lasting impressions upon me, and I still hold hope for Mass Effect to do the same. For now, though, Andromeda is hardly the bright new dawn for which the series was striving.