This is a review I wrote for an assignment way back in April. I found it on a USB recently and decided to post it here. Enjoy. Or Don't. Either-Or.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is the latest role-playing game to be developed by BioWare. Five years after the last entry’s release, Andromeda invites players to return to the immersive world of space battles, blue alien babes and interstellar exploration that first arrived on shelves back in 2007.
The game opens with humanity’s first entry into the titular galaxy. After six hundred years in cryogenic storage, the player’s character, the male or female Ryder, awakens to find the golden worlds they sought to colonise damaged beyond habitability and is then tasked with finding a new planet to call home. The fate of humankind, as well as the people of the many favourite races from the series, rests on their shoulders.
Though it is a definite return to the Mass Effect universe, everything about Andromeda has the sheen and gleam of something new. There’s a new protagonist captaining a new ship with a new crew to discover new aliens on new planets in a new galaxy, powered by a new engine and produced by a new development team.
One particular classic feature made new again is the game’s dialogue system. In their stellar track record of RPGs, BioWare has made it their staple, branching the narrative with the player’s choices of what their character says and players normally spend half their time in the game in critical conversations with other characters. Mass Effect: Andromeda is no different. The game still sports the dialogue wheel, the small interface that lists snippets of how the player can respond to the situation for selection. However, in Andromeda, the system has been revamped.
Gone is the Paragon-Renegade-Neutral system of the previous entries. Instead, there’s now a wheel that supports four potential voices: Emotional, Logical, Professional or Casual. Though this change may come as a shock to some long-term players, BioWare has explained their removal of the series’ original system by claiming that the new one allows for more nuance in the player’s character. Speaking with GamesRadar+, Director Mac Walters said, “We’ve been looking for other ways to engage more of those shades of grey; less about it being obviously being right or wrong and more about giving people a sense of choice.”
In previous BioWare games, trends in the speech options you picked would inform your character’s ambient dialogue. In other words: even the lines you didn’t choose would be chosen by you. In Andromeda, however, all of Ryder’s ambient dialogue is the same no matter if you pick mostly Logical options or favour a Casual voice. BioWare claims this is so your Ryder isn’t locked in to a decision you made early in the game and will allow that mentioned nuance. On the other hand, it will also mean that, a lot of the time, your character will sound no different to anyone else’s.
It should also be noted that, often, only half the wheel will be made available, limiting you to two options.
The number of times each personality voice is picked is tracked in a menu and apparently will have some effect down the line. At twenty hours in, however, the nature of this effect is not clear. These changes in the story are apparently so nuanced that you will never see them.
The system itself aside, there’s a lot to be said about what’s actually being said.
Mass Effect: Andromeda apparently has more uniquely speaking characters than the previous two games combined, the number on the table being 1,200. That’s not including random NPCs milling about on planets or the people you trade with, that’s 1,200 characters, each with their very own dialogue tree. When you take into account every possible path and every possible response made by Ryder (doubled for male and female voices) and then include those random NPCs and shopkeepers mentioned earlier, you’re left with a tremendous number of words being spoken and, based on the law of averages, not all of them are going to be golden.
There are plenty of awkward lines littered throughout the game and they are blatantly apparent when you reach them. Some are from minor characters such as “My face is tired from everything”, others end up being said by Ryder themself: “I’d prefer to eat lunch, not be lunch.”
With so many characters and so many lines of dialogue to write, it seems like a lot of shortcuts were taken. If a character is minor enough to get away with it, they’ll sprout cliché after cliché and, as a result, a lot of NPCs end up feeling like caricatures. Two supporting characters even give the exact same joke consecutively, sending you a copy of their thousand-word thesis on something innocuous and apologising that it’s “not longer”.
There are also problems in the implementation of the words themselves, such as in the timing. Characters will often stop midsentence as if they are interrupted by something only for the thing to happen after an awkward half-second. Occasionally, the opposite will occur, with characters saying two sentences back-to-back without the required breath in between.
In terms of the lines’ actual delivery, Andromeda fares well. The main cast is adequate and none of the stars give a particularly flat performance. There are, however, some lines that are spoken as if in a vacuum. Often two people engaged in conversation will sound like neither is actually hearing what the other person is saying and, when the occasional something explodes, they will react as if they don’t quite fully understand the gravity of whatever situation they’re in.
Lip-synching can be off as well, but that’s less of an issue when you consider, in the fiction of the world, most of the characters are only being translated into English. This will likely only break immersion for some players.
Though the sheer volume of the game’s dialogue is light-years beyond anything BioWare has done previously, in this case, quality is more important than quantity. Containing a dialogue choice system with nuances that can sometimes be indistinguishable from limitations and awkward lines said with clunky delivery and poor spacing, this game offers an experience that many will find unsatisfactory.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is now available in video games retailers and online in EA’s Origin store.