Divisive as it might be, Mass Effect: Andromeda has a lot to like. Its menus, however, are not one of those things.
Patricia summed it up nicely last week: in the first five hours, Andromeda can be real overwhelming. It's not just because the opening level on Habitat 7 outstays its welcome, or that the game effectively introduces you to two hubs in the Tempest and the Nexus. It's because Andromeda introduces a suite of more complex crafting, inventory and quest management systems that the series has never seen, and it's an awful lot to take in.
Inventory management is part and parcel of open-world RPGs. But part of Andromeda's problem is that on top of displaying your loadout on a weapon wheel, all of your quest lines, game lore, the map, research and development, blueprints and resources for both, profiles and XP metres are shuttered to a separate screen outside of the in-game action.
Several hours in, you'll already have collected a suite of blueprints that quickly become redundant.
The kicker, as you can see above, is that there's no option for sorting items. There's default settings for each menu, depending on the tab you're in. Resources are sorted alphabetically, irrespective of rarity. Armor and weapons are sorted first by class, and then alphabetical order, which is irrelevant given Andromeda is like every other RPG in that you'll always want to be wearing the best gear when possible.
Research is divvied up the same way, which is a royal pain given that you'll quickly amass a ton of blueprints that will quickly become useless, never to be looked at again. The only value for the blueprints is to display their bonuses and the requirements for crafting each, but those requirements are also visible whenever you visit a research centre - which you have to do, if you ever want to craft any of them.
Like Andromeda's opening level, it's too bloated. The mass of items helps add to the sense of size and scale, but when you're ducking in and out of your inventory for the 40th time it gets a touch tiresome.
Another bugbear is the contextual menus out in the wild. The transition is nice, but you'll be opening hundreds, if not thousands of crates and containers as you explore Andromeda, and after a few hours I found myself wishing the whole process was sped up a tad:
It's an old-school way of displaying menus that doesn't really belong in 2017. A pop-up that occupies the entire screen; contextual information that takes a second longer to parse than necessary. The information isn't that useful either: what does "low" value really mean versus "medium"? Why assign text-based values and not a figure that could be immediately and easily understood?
And speaking of wasting time, let's check out the loadout screen:
You can't access your loadout unless there's a forward outpost nearby, but even still, surely that transition could be faster. If the game can transition from an indoor environment to Andromeda's massive outdoor worlds without a loading screen, switching out your guns and mods shouldn't pose an issue.
Having a smart and snappy UI has become so important that Microsoft and Sony have overhauled their platforms - multiple times - just to ensure the interface doesn't get in the way. The PS4's recent change to the share menu is a good example: it doesn't take up the whole screen and tries to interrupt the experience as little as possible.
A simple lesson can be taken from Horizon: Zero Dawn, another game with a weapon wheel. You could select your weapon, but you could also view the ammo count for each bow type without having to select it. You could craft items on the same wheel, none of which interrupted your view of the in-game world. You could also view the amount of consumables available on the main screen, and every time you picked up resources the game also told you how many you just picked up, and the total currently in your inventory.
Given Bioware Montreal overhauled Andromeda's combat to be a more fluid, natural extension of the Mass Effect experience, it's a shame the UI and HUD didn't receive similar treatment. Not all hope is lost though, as fans of the The Witcher 3 discovered.
Mass Effect. Andromeda sprawls and sprawls, eagerly offering you so much to see and do, that it nearly loses itself in the process. In this massive and uncertain voyage into an alien galaxy, the best way to center yourself is to hold on to other people, and trust that the mission will accomplish at least some of its ambitious goals.