There's Beauty In Mass Effect: Andromeda, If You're Patient

Image: Kotaku

Exploring Andromeda's Heleus Cluster is a huge pain in the arse. The bloated, unskippable animations that take you from planet to planet are frustrating to sit through and once you're there the rewards are never more than a handful of XP or resources. But if you do have the patience to make it through, each cluster, system and planet has its own humble story to tell, paired with some truly stunning cosmic scenes.

When I first played Mass Effect: Andromeda, I found the exploration scenes as frustrating as most people have - especially while trying to rush to the end before the end of the review period. But when I got the chance to slow down and take each scene as it came, I found that the galaxy map could be a gorgeous zen game all of its own. Exploring it now tends to involve a cup of tea, a cat on my lap and veritable pillow fort around me. With the right conditions, I've easily spent hours at a time exploring the unknown galaxy. I've come to love the new galaxy map music, the way it weaves in the old, familiar refrains and still remains its own distinct theme.

After what feels like hours of zen-like exploration I've now visited every planet, comet and spaceship wreckage you can visit in the game. Most of these are complete non events, plotwise. But like Andromeda's other beautifully crafted incidentals, they build the galaxy out in a real, yet subtle, way.

Image: Kotaku
Image: Kotaku

Exploring the wider galaxy in your ship is the part of Mass Effect: Andromeda that feels the most like real space exploration, at least as we know it today. As a space nerd, I can't get enough of the little blurbs accompanying the hundreds of planets the Tempest never lands on.

Image: Kotaku

In one sector it may be the remains of a gas giant, stripped away to its core by the forces of an aggressive black hole. In another, it's a thin-atmosphered planet being battered by solar storms, as is theorised was once the fate of our own neighbour Mars. On some planets, oddly specific conditions give rise to tiny patches of life - even if that life is an algal forest or a type of moss that thrives on the sides of violent volcanos. Hell, one planet even plays host to a colony of jellyfish-like aliens.

Image: Kotaku

We're living in a time when space travel is experiencing a massive resurgence and the search for life outside our planet has become a greater priority. In this context, these quiet explorations through Andromeda's map feel the most real. Because let's be honest - if we do find alien life it's far more likely to be within an algae-rich extra-terrestrial sea than it is to be a civilisation like the angara.

Our search for a new habitable world may one day mirror Ryder's.

Image: Kotaku
Image: Kotaku

Beyond these little snatches of lore, there's another reason exploring the cluster keeps me coming back again and again: It's beautiful. While the long, drawn out zooms into each planet are a pain to sit through again and again, most of the vistas they reveal are nothing short of stunning. Even the Scourge has a different characteristic to its chaotic clusters in each system. In some it spirals around the fringes of the system in softly glowing turquoise, and in others pulses an angry, threatening red.

Each system has a flavour all of its own, which is generally compounded by a small snippet of dialogue spoken when the ship first enters it. Most of the time it's Suvi speaking, but sometimes your companions will weigh in on your destination, like the moments when Jaal explains the meaning of angaran system names. You can almost imagine the crew gathering on the bridge for the first glimpse of a beautiful, unexplored system.

Image: Kotaku

Thought has clearly gone into naming these places. While many planets are classically named after legendary figures from the Milky Way races or the angara, others are named for contemporary pioneers from the Initiative. Some of the best names are thought up by the slightly less poetic exiles, though. One planet is simply called 'Grill', named for its hot, metallic surface.

Despite the obstacles to exploring it, I've somehow come to love the Heleus Cluster and its strange and beautiful worlds. Thank god we're finally getting a 'skip' button though.

Image: Kotaku
Image: Kotaku
Image: Kotaku

Comments

    Kotaku continuing to desperately make this game acceptable.

      Its a step sideways from three, but its hardly bad.

        It is a bad game made by amateurs and shouldn't be full price.

          Wow man, I don't know what to say.

          Sure a lot of the old guard are gone, but I think you are taking this all too seriously.

          Instead of trolling, why dont you explain why it's a bad game so we can have a discussion about it? It's definitely not a bad game (ave rating of 70-75% based on reviews) and there are a number of Kotaku users who really enjoy it. So if you can explain why it's bad we might take you more seriously, if you're not able to do that, then good day to you sir.

            The article is about how you should suffer through loads of boring, badly designed bullshit to get to something that is maybe (huge maybe it's literally some text and cutscenes of space) worthwhile summarises the entire game.

            It's a shitpile game and saying a 70-75 is good in video game reviewer world is ridiculous. Game is indefensible trash in the year 2017 and shouldn't have been advertised or priced as a AAA title.

              There's a patch tomorrow that addresses a number of the issues, including the "badly designed bullshit" transitions between planets, and they have said there is more to come in the near future. Most of the issues people have raised outside the animations (also being addressed tomorrow, with further improvement coming) have been the result of glitches, not bugs per se, as they only affect a small portion of the playing population. Glitches happen, unfortunately, and are often the result of some unforeseen interaction that got overlooked in the QA phase rather than a systemic design issue. And I'm sorry, but as someone who is on his 5th playthrough with over 130 hours logged on this save I strongly disagree with your assertion that the game is "indefensible trash".

              The 70-75 score is largely the result of the animations (which results from using the Frostbite engine for extensive close-in character animation, which it was never really designed to do) and comparison to the previous Mass Effect games by a different Bioware studio, which is frankly a bit unfair as you wouldn't see that sort of comparison if it was an original IP.

                I agree that's it is NOT a very good game. Granted I'm only on the second planet. I will admit there are good things in this game... but overall I'd probably give it a 6/10 - maybe after the patch it can pick up another .5 to 1 if it's lucky.

                I loved 1, 2 and 3. They had their problems, and clunkyness, but I feel ripped off by Andromeda.

                Now I'm going to rant about some of the shit they did poorly in Andromeda (mostly I'll skip the glitches and obvious issues)

                Dated Graphics Engine
                Bad lighting, bad animation snaps (the stompy glitch animations are kinda funny though), poor performance on a high end video card and decent system.

                Levels/Worlds
                Terrible 'patchy' feel to game play on worlds. Just cruise around and find random tiny kett base/remenant outposts everywhere with just 3-6 guys and a chest with useless loot.

                Even the key locations on those maps can feel pretty 'meh' (again I've only been on two worlds... the start planet was interesting... but the second is meh)

                Overview Map
                Zzzz

                Space Navigation
                ooo pretty... well it would be if it wasn't held back by horrid pop in on a dated engine. :|

                How lame is the animation between each planet! how does this kind of shit pass approval in the first place?

                OMG huge mineral deposit, +130 minerals...

                Gameplay
                Running out of ammo and having to run to ammo boxes that are EVERYWHERE is just lame. Just give me more ammo.

                The loot and item system is kinda lame. Nothing feels very worthwhile so far.

                The 'scanning' new tech, etc. is implemented poorly. It's a good idea, just so sporadic it's stupid. One of the first things I did was enter and clear out a large Kett base, full of unknown tech by an alien race... I scanned like 3 things. Then I find these Kett bases with some huge unknown machine thumping the ground. An ally yells "omg, what is it?" ... "we should check it out"... then you get there and there is nothing to scan, and nothing to do, and nothing of interest.

                Finding the right location to mine with the buggy is stupid.

                Calling in those forward command posts is kinda meh.

                The patchy life support zone mechanics is fkn dumb.

                The random enemy outposts everywhere with absolutely no value just feel like lame filler.

                The 'classes' and balance between weapons, powers recharge, etc. is silly. I understand their intentions here, but it just feels poorly implemented overall. Maybe this will change as I level up.

                Why can 5 enemies with small arms rip my buggy apart as a drive past 200m away? feels mega weak. :(

                Player/companions yell "Hey Kett/Remenant Technology we should check out", then you get there and there is actually nothing of interest. Just those lame filler outposts again, pathfinder.

                dialogue
                Pathfinder, the conversations between team members would be great ... except they say 2 lines, then stop talking for 2 minutes, then continue the conversation for 2 lines, then stop for two more minutes, etc.

                Dialogue when you walk up to a random NPC with a side quests... "OH HI, let me tell you about this 'secret' security thing even though I don't know who you are..." I don't know about you, pathfinder, but I think that's just stupid.

                Or when ever you choose to help someone, pathfinder, it feels like you are always gagging to help.

                omg, I went on a bit there - and could keep going, but I've had enough.
                Anyway, once my net is connected at home I'll try the update and hopefully it'll take away some of the more annoying issues. I want this to be fantastic, but it just isn't.

                  omg. I should have just posted the link to the Honest Game Trailers: Mass effect Andromeda video.

                The comparison is warranted because the dev and EA sold it as being superior to the original, not as baby's first try at making a game.

        I agree, it's not as terrible as everyone is making it out to be, there is something for everyone to like or hate about the game but it's essentially a decent game with room for improvement. Could be a lot worse and I'm glad it isn't.

      Nah, it's pretty good at doing that on it's own.

      I dunno dude, very few pieces of work are completely bad 100% across the board. Finding and talking about what actually does work in a game is just as important as pointing out it's flaws. Mass Effect is pretty damn... well, pretty!

    The bloated, unskippable animations that take you from planet to planet are frustrating to sit through

    Good news, Hayley! They're being made skippable in the first patch.

      I saw! This story was written before that announcement but I did add the link in at the bottom :D

        Ah, I missed that bit. Too busy looking at the pictures.

          I mean this story was mainly an excuse to show off my favourite fake astro pics.

    For me the best moments are listening to Drak and Vettra chat. Its actually surprisingly deep watching them talk about fictional families from different perspectives.

      It's actually really refreshing having characters who talk about their families in ways other than "I have daddy issues".

        I dunno, I normally like to identify with my characters, so daddy issues should work better for me. XD

        But on a more serious note Drak and Vettra have the best conversations.

    I get that skipping is a great inclusion for those with no patience... I just don't understand WHY you would watch these animations over and over...

    I watch them once, 100% the clusters and Move on. Of course, there may be more backtracking later on, but... surely they're pretty enough to watch once.

    I just have a bowl of green and a bag of chips handy to while away those seconds I'll never get back ;)

      First time is fine, but a lot of the later missions have you constantly planet hopping or scanning space junk.

      Honestly, after the first few systems a great deal of the animations don't really show you anything new at all. When you get to the destination is when you might see something new.

      And there are a LOT of them to sit through for very little gain, the simple fact they were all completely unskippable gets beyond tedious.

      Later in the game I actually stopped fully exploring systems purely because of the fact.

    I liked hiding the hud and taking in the scene...then i was like "ah hurry elite dangerous and come out on ps4"

    Definitely enjoying the game. After Eos it opens up. Loved each planet.

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