Mass Effect Andromeda has been receiving a hard time in the press lately. As I have only got my copy I cannot go into a full review however what I have experienced so far has shocked me. Despite the furore over the facial and other animations, the real crime is how poorly the first act is handled. While the game improves dramatically when you get past the intro the first hour reminded me of Passengers 2016 more than any game intro from the studios past. It is so bad that newcomers will immediately be put off especially this month with two of the generations greatest games released in Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda Breath Of The Wild.
Starting with a clichéd, wake from cryosleep due to some external factors your character is analysed by one of the many crewmates on the ship. This is when you will first see the hideous creation you have made in the game’s character creator. Usually, you spend hours making them look as close to yourself as possible, here you will probably spend five minutes. One piece of advice using Mass Effect Andromeda’s character creator is this. DO NOT GIVE YOUR CHARACTER A FULL BEARD. Even if you have a full beard, in reality, it is not worth staring at what looks like something from the Lego Movie or a cheap piece of carpet on the characters face for upwards of 50 hours of gameplay. This is not a new occurrence in a Bioware game, my worst memory of the excellent Dragon Age Inquisition was the ‘lip gloss’ effect on characters lips. These quirks are easily forgiven if te game itself drags you along.
Dragon Age Inquisition had the epic attack on the temple and your quick rise to the role of Inquisitor facing a world-ending the danger. The original Mass Effect had the ‘Training Day’ esque revelation that your mentor was the antagonist. All these games have a streamlined and action-packed opening that gives the player a great impression of what is to follow and gives them the mental drive to carry on through a long action RPG.
Without spoiling the entire opening, Mass Effect Andromeda starts with a simple mission gone wrong that lands you on a hostile planet. As the son of the ‘Pathfinder’, you assist them as they search for hospitable planets to colonise. All interesting and good in the grand scheme of things and overall story but without a well put together opening the game is allowing this to effect many people’s criticism of the game.
An opening level needs to be a few things. It needs to be interesting, it needs to be reasonably easy and it can have no form of player frustration at the systems of the game or indeed the mechanics. While there are notable exceptions to this such as Dark Souls, and the recent Nier Automata, they are exceptions to this rule by design, not accidentally.
Mass Effect Andromeda has a number of big problems. You pick up skill points that the game encourages you to use immediately without any explanation or direction in how to use them. You can, of course, go into the menus and read what these points will effect but you are basically playing a guessing game. More criminal than this is the amount of loot and weapon modifications you pick up that you cannot use. Playing on normal difficulty the first level has a few points that are a decent struggle to players of any ability and as such means, you immediately want to equip any modification that could help you in these fierce fights. Of course, these fights wouldn’t be as fierce if the introduction level had a well-designed map and layout that encouraged easy cover based shooting. It doesn’t and regularly you will head to what looks like cover only for your character to not stick to it in the now standard context-sensitive way. The game also introduces a scanning mechanic which ignores the click of the right stick in favour of a d-pad command. This wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have the ability to scan almost everything in the level for resource points. If you play these games like I do you horde these resources in the early game to level up as quickly as possible. The scanner requires you to open it, target the object a hold x to scan it. Some of them light up even though scanning them will yield nothing. It is just a clumsy mechanic and as the first, you are introduced to, continues the feeling of resentment. Finally, when you are struggling to find your way through the barren map there are environmental hazards such as toxic areas and random lightning bolts. Yes, the developers have decided to put environmental hazards into the level when the player is just getting used to the floaty jump and dash mechanics. You only find out that Triangle is your melee button after you have been mauled by a few alien mutant dogs. Again thanks, developers.
But luckily these are teething problems and the game does smooth itself out. But why must we go through this horrible experience before the game starts properly? Surely this contributes to the online hate and vitriol that has been spewed in the direction of the game since the embargo was lifted. Think of the amazing first hour of Metal Gear Solid 5. The escape from the hospital, the general craziness the lack o difficult player input. It all got you psyched to play the rest of the game. Think of the beginning of GTA V. The bank heist in the snow, again it was adrenaline charged and had solid mechanics. It exuded a feeling of quality that persisted through the game. That is all you really want an intro level to be. Luckily Mass Effect Andromeda recovers from this and comes close to the game you think you are buying, it’s just a pity so many people will have had their view tainted by this poorly implemented opening.
You can see for yourself here