Mass Effect multiplayer underlines Andromeda’s by-the-numbers design

I don’t believe that Mass Effect: Andromeda [official site] is a train wreck. I do believe that it feels like a game made to spec, and is oddly soulless as a result. In singleplayer, this is to some extent disguised behind crusading dialogue and regular planet-hopping, but in multiplayer it is laid bare.

Here’s the thing: even after some twenty underwhelming hours with singleplayer, I still want to love Mass Effect Andromeda, to the point where I repeatedly dispute the drab evidence right before my eyes and ears. Though never a full-blooded enthusiast for the series, for the past decade or so it’s been a more-or-less happy mainstay of my gaming life. Over-the-top space shenanigans every few years, videogame sci-fi at its most ostentatious – a reliable constant.

For the past few years, I’ve been simply presuming that Andromeda would continue this trend. The series has had its ups and its downs, but it’s always had games that I gladly play every minute of. Why would that change now? I did not expect revelation from Andromeda, but I expected to spend a couple of weeks entirely absorbed by it. Adapting to a reality where that has not happened – one where a new Mass Effect and I simply have not clicked – is an ongoing challenge. Frustrated by singleplayer, where the single greatest problem has been not feeling invested in its events, I turned instead to multiplayer, hoping that, free from rubber faces, leaden lines and an absence of intriguing sci-fi ideas, pure and simple space marine warfare might allow me to enjoy Andromeda.

Instead, what I found was yet more evidence of Mass Effect Andromeda’s by-the-numbers design.

Broadly speaking, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s team co-op vs AI multiplayer is quite similar to Mass Effect 3’s. I rather enjoyed that, as a series of lightweight but engaging skirmishes that were more about having a blast than trying to be lord of all. The similarity is a double-edged sword. On the one side, it’s using solid foundations, but on the other it suffers from the same creeping sense of ‘been there, done that’ that the singleplayer campaign has. Moment to moment in Andromeda’s multiplayer, it took real effort to recall exactly which Mass Effect game I was playing and what year I was playing it in.

This is not to say that MEA’s multiplayer is bad, or even that I dislike it – instead that, simply, it feels perfunctory. It is Mass Effect 3 multiplayer redux and will likely satisfy its fans, but it’s hard to feel moved by more of the same – especially when it’s more of something that was derivative in the first place. Mass Effect’s multiplayer is AnyGame clad in a superficially high-tech skin, an endlessly spinning merry-go-round of shooting indistinct enemies for ephemeral prizes. The experience of battle is not of a desperate fight for victory or survival, but of hoping to ensure you will earn hundreds of thousands rather than merely tens of thousands of experience points.

Beneath all else, MEA’s multiplayer is concerned only with an absurd amount of numbers, many of which also involve absurdly, meaninglessly high denominations. Experience points, three different types of in-game currency (one of which can be paid for with real money), character classes, character levels, character ranks, character skills, character Apex ratings and character-wide universal buffs, weapon rarities, weapon mods, short-term percentage boosters, purchasable packs with randomly allocated rewards… No individual action matters. No individual reward matters.

If anything, the meta-game here is significantly more involved than is the game itself, which involves solid but unexceptional bouts of fighting waves of AI attackers, with a mix of gunplay and hotbar powers. It’s perfectly serviceable. I have no particular complaints, other than that the movement doesn’t feel quite as fluid as it might in full-fledged shooter. I have no particular praise either, other than that nothing went wrong – no need for facial animations or expository conversations here – and that the moment in each mission where you have to hold out against endless enemies for a couple of minutes until evac arrives can be tight and thrilling.

Notably I have cared more about chasing this torrent of different numbers than I have about any character in Mass Effect Andromeda’s singleplayer, including my own. That those numbers feel more personal than do any the stories or relationships I have thus far become embroiled in. No matter how many times I might roll my eyes at my lizard brain, it will always respond to a game that knowingly courts it, and this is no exception.

In the moment, every number feels essential. It is only afterwards that I question how I have passed the last hour or two of my time. About how I only kept playing because I might unlock this or that, but when this or that failed to truly change my experience, I simply turned to pursue the next this or that instead.

Stripped of singleplayer’s saga, I see Mass Effect Andromeda more clearly for what I am sure it really is: a repackaging of what has gone before in order to sell it to a newer, younger audience, rather than to build upon past successes and create new ones.

All games are of course designed to sell, and sequels aren’t known for often taking risks, but I expected more from Mass Effect’s big fresh start in all areas. Instead of spinning in a new or different direction as it diverged from the older trilogy I got the guns-and-numbers structure I already know well both from this series and a thousand other games, particularly the ones which populate the AAA tier.

In order to sell big, they need familiarity and they need compulsion loops. Sometimes, this can be hidden – either by smart gimmicks or by engaging characters and tales, but Mass Effect Andromeda struggles to do this.

In multiplayer I fought half-height ED-209s and clomping rock-things, other times I fought humans and Salarians and Krogan and all the rest, and there was really no difference other than that some are weak, some are strong, some snipe and some thump. But at least, in multiplayer, those numbers are very directly tied to my own actions, my own successes or failures at shooting people in the head or space-knifing them in the belly or space-magicking them on fire.

This makes it, for all the numberwang presentation of levelling up, that little bit more meaningful than slack-jawed planet scanning or passing my tricorder over a new environment in the hope of finding glowing orange things that give me research points. It gains meaning by removing the pretence of meaning that haunts singleplayer.

To play this new Mass Effect’s multiplayer for an evening or two or three or every evening for couple of months is not at all unpleasant. It is compulsive, even, in a low level way – and no doubt a fine platform for friends to casually play together. But it is an endless climb up a ladder we have climbed so many times before and without anything that makes this ladder stand out.

That, more than anything, is what makes me disappointed in Andromeda. There’s nothing new under this new sun. This could be any Mass Effect. AnyGame.

37 Comments

  1. Booker says:

    Also, the problem with this thing obviously is, that it’s so buggy. For example this entry here only lists a few of the problems that pop up constantly while playing it: link to nambulous.wordpress.com

  2. Booker says:

    That’s what happened today when trying to play it, after the patch was installed: link to i.imgur.com

  3. brucethemoose says:

    Bioware should’ve just hired MGamerZ to port his ME3Tweaks interface to Andromeda.

    If we could have fun custom games: say, a wave of pure Wraith spam, or power-only rounds, waves with an insane number of mixed enemies and so on, Andromeda MP would feel… fresh. Instead of being compelled to grind out rounds and steadily increase numbers, people would play just for the fun of it more often.

    That’s what happened to me in ME3MP. Once I got most loot and became competent in platinum, I got bored… Then I started making my own sinister waves, and I sunk more hours into the game than I’m comfortable discussing publicly. I hosted many of those games publicly, and quickly hit the Origin friend limit. In fact I already miss it, and it’s only been, what, 2 weeks?

  4. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    This somehow comes across as sadder than the vitriol spewed elsewhere about the singleplayer.

    Goodbye, Mass Effect. You were a fun series.

    • LexW1 says:

      RPS seems to have a special hatred for ME:A. It’s not even 50% as bad as they suggest.

      The multiplayer isn’t very different from ME3. OH NO, a crime, right? Jesus.

      • Ghostwise says:

        The heroic battle to understand that several different opinions are possible about a given thing continues.

        Victories seem sparse, though.

        • lglethal says:

          Hehe. I lol’d. NIce one Ghostwise.

          Take a chill pill Lex. So the RPS crew have been disappointed with ME:A whilst you liked it. Different people, like different things. Be happy that your time with the game was enjoyable, and feel sympathy for others that havent enjoyed it.

        • ansionnach says:

          I don’t think he’s suggesting that there’s only one possible opinion. If anything, this “other people have opinions too, you know” response is the bane of the internet for me. Unless somebody demonstrates otherwise it should be fair to assume they know this and that what they write is their own opinion. Who goes about spreading other people’s opinions, anyway?

      • Crimsoneer says:

        Taking a series that managed to be heart-wrenching, exciting, and a fantastically fun wromp and making it feel pedestrian is definitely not okay.

        I’ve played bloody loads of it this week, and had a great time. But it’s such a waste of the “we’re pioneers in a new galaxy”.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Given the near-continual stream of vitriol you levelled at The Expanse on a recant ME:A thread, pots and kettles spring to mind.

        • Ghostwise says:

          Pots, definitely. Kettles have been overpowered since the cooldown revamp in patch 2.0.5.

  5. Whelp says:

    I really enjoyed Andromeda, but it seems to be almost as hated as NMS for some reason.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Don’t confuse “hate” with huge disappointment in a wasted opportunity. In either case.

      • sosolidshoe says:

        Some say wasted opportunity, other are happy with more of what they already liked. I’ve never understood this desire some people express to see things they ostensibly enjoyed changed into something else – if you’re done with the thing as it was, move on to something different. It’s wierd, people get locked into their own little corner of fandom and refuse to budge from it, but of course over time their tastes change because they’re human people, so they start demanding Star Trek is changed into Star Wars or The Expanse rather than, you know, just going and watching those things.

        I can understand being disappointed by the execution of a formula, but in most cases the only ones who actually object to the existence of formulas are game reviewers who end up prizing novelty to an irrational degree because of their job and hipster-types who just want to emphasise how they’re much cooler than normo-gamers.

        • Crimsoneer says:

          We liked it *because* it was an exciting, new, fresh adventure every few years. Not because it was a generic galaxy full of identikit aliens asking you to solve their boring-ass problems for the umpteenth time.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      No one at RPS hates MEA, and nor does anyone hate NMS for that matter. (If anything, a number of us love NMS despite itself.)

      Neither my review nor Alec’s MP review here has expressed anything like hate. We’ve expressed massive disappointment.

      It’s our job to point out when things fall short of the standards we expect, and it’s perfectly possible for someone to enjoy mediocre games. I know I do. (But the key part of our job is to be able to recognise that it’s mediocre while still enjoying it.)

      My MEA review is carefully argued throughout, with stated examples of its most egregious flaws and failings. I was shocked by how poor it was, having so enjoyed the three previous ME games, and made my case for why I believed this to be so.

      • Masky says:

        Eh, I’m at least mildly annoyed by your statement “its mediocre” since I found it overall better than ME 1-3. I wouldn’t call it great game, but none of Bioware games feel great to me anymore. I guess some of them might be as standalone games, but as series yeah no.

        Like, I just feel like that lots of the criticism of Andromeda is based on rose tinted glasses and justified by the obvious lack of polish. Comments on the “soulless”ness is particularly kind of stuff that is really subjective. Andromeda doesn’t feel like less work was put on it or that it went through committee, it feels like developers were inexperienced.

        • Ditocoaf says:

          I don’t doubt the developers are experienced. They’ve probably all been hired to do the exact same thing they’ve done before.

      • shockwave says:

        Your MEA review was carefully argued. But the failing of your review seems to be in scope, not in argument. I didn’t disagree with any particular argument you made; the conclusion of the review (that the game is “a poor game”) simply doesn’t resonate while I’m playing the game. While I’m playing the game, all of these concerns – which I agreed with – completely melt away. I honestly haven’t had this much fun playing a game for several years.

        Is it the McDonald’s effect? Am I just enjoying something fake and cheap, allowing my brain to pretend I’m enjoying something that’s actually subpar? It certainly doesn’t feel that way. I recognize the lack of polish, the silly dialogue, the stream of odd bugs and disappearing enemies. But while I’m playing, all of those complaints seem almost pointless. I’m clearly not the only one to feel this way; every comments section of every critical MEA review I’ve seen has several confused players wondering if they were given a different copy of the game than the reviewer.

        This is my frustration with these reviews. There are so many legitimate gripes, but when taken as a whole, I just want to respond, “So what?”

        • Agnol117 says:

          So much this. I’ve read several…let’s go with “less than positive” reviews of ME:A, and while I’ve found all of them to raise valid complaints about the game, when I’m playing the game it’s hard to actually care. It reminds me of the article RPS ran a few months back about “perfectly average action games.” (link to rockpapershotgun.com) It’s reasonably good at what it does, and more importantly, it’s fun, and for that I can forgive some wonky animations and awkward dialogue.

  6. Freud says:

    So many games are hamster wheels for no reason these days. Especially multiplayer additions to primarily single player games.

    I can understand it if it’s a MMO or moba, where you most likely will be playing it for a while. There unlocking stuff serves a purpose as a carrot to play.

    I used hex editing to gain the war effort reward of the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3. Who has time to grind pointless multiplayer to gain advantages in single player? It’s just bad design and wasting my time. Guess it was a sign of things to come.

  7. Wulfram says:

    If the worst you can come up with is that this multiplayer with its unique and innovative gameplay is too similar to its popular and beloved predecessor, then it must be pretty good

    • fiendling says:

      The multiplayer is a bit of a mixed bag. The combat is quicker and definitely more dynamic (when the almost ever present lag and some random CTDs permits it) but the enemy variety and the (significantly fewer) maps are worse. It still has the potential to surpass Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer but that would require some serious TLC soon, while there is still a decent player base.

      The Mass Effect 3 multiplayer was definitely much, much less buggy at release.

      • Traipse says:

        ^ This is exactly it: it’s okay. I’ve played it a few times, and it’s entertaining, but it’s not going to become a habit for me. The small number of maps feel small and labyrinthine, and could probably do a better job of taking the players’ remarkable mobility into account. The interface is as not-great as the rest of ME:A. It’s fun to shoot stuff occasionally, but then I get done and go back to the single-player game. I’d rather they’d have spent the time and effort on making a better single-player game instead.

        I do, however, very much like that they give you the option of skipping the multiplayer entirely and sending your teams on missions instead. Tying rewards in ME3’s singleplayer game to the multiplayer was a bad call, and it’s good to see them not repeating it.

      • Wulfram says:

        Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve heard some talk about the bugs.

        Is that less variety compared to ME3MP now, or at release?

        • fiendling says:

          From what I can remember (and Google confirmed) ME3 had one or two more maps at launch. The maps were also at least 50% larger but lacked some of the current verticality.

          Don’t get me wrong, Andromeda’s multiplayer is fun, when it works. Unfortunately, it crashed to desktop in about a quarter of the matches I’ve played before today’s 1.05 patch and also had severe, random lag spikes. Hopefully these issues are now resolved.

          • welverin says:

            I’m not sure how much of the MP I’ve played yet, but other than getting booted once I haven’t suffered any bugs.

            Single player on the other hand I’ve had so many system crashes caused by the game I’m to the point I’m somewhat afraid of even playing and have been lucky if I can make it an hour or two without out a crash of some kind.

            Once I loaded the game went to the MP menu to send off some strike teams, switch to SP and the game crashed seconds after loading and it was one of those screen turned black and my pc stopped responding to anything but the power button ones.

  8. barelyhomosapien says:

    While I appreciate the PoV on the MP and agree to some extent, you just have to look at the ridiculous Dawn Of War 3 is a MOBA rage crowd to understand why devs would be concerned about making changes to a loved formula.

    I think ME:A is getting unfairly battered by over expectation, the other Mass Effects were chock full of goofy animations, bugs, dud acting, etc, but the rose tinted glasses cover it all up.

    This year seems to be the year of “This is a slap in the face” style commentary on any game that doesn’t exactly meet critic/consumer expectation, it’s April and I’m already bored of it :(

    • Crimsoneer says:

      I definitely don’t remember that being the case for ME2 and 3…1, sure, but that was Bioware making their foray into sci-fi, which was exciting for a whole different set of reasons.

      I’ve just finished the game, and have 5 quests in my game that are totally stuck, have had to restart the game due to bugs a fair few times, and have noticed a fair few quality of life issues as well. Definitely don’t remember than in 3.

      • barelyhomosapien says:

        link to youtu.be

        Sorry if the sound is terrible I didn’t have sound on when I found the video

        I love the Mass Effect series but it was far from perfect and I stand by my opinion that a lot of the commentary around Andromeda is overblown.

        • Von Uber says:

          I know what you mean! I seem to be one of the few people enjoying it. I loved the trilogy but there are some serious rose tinted glasses going on.

    • Horg says:

      ”rose tinted glasses”

      I will never cease to be amazed by the number of commentators who doubt the ability of others to view past events with clarity, context and objectivity.

      • Furiant says:

        Agreed. On a related note, I’m fed up with being told that the reason I don’t like something is because Twitter told me not to, as if only social media celebrities have the capacity to formulate real opinions and the rest of us are just drones in their hives.

  9. IgrokU says:

    My own personal opinion- I just finished the main story on SP= not bad. Well worth the 65 hours I played, yep it is a new ME,, but I enjoyed it. You can keep going if you want there is still a lot of game left after you finish the main story, up to you as a player.
    The MP is definitely like the 3rd one, but that isn’t a bad thing for an extra mode on a game that is mostly designed for SP. It is fun in short bursts.
    I never had any game breaking bugs- jumped over a boulder once and my nomad disappeared from under me, but nothing major at all.

    So for me it has been and will be for the probably a few more play throughs- a good purchase- just my opinion.

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    MajorLag says:

    “I don’t believe that Mass Effect: Andromeda [official site] is a train wreck. I do believe that it feels like a game made to spec, and is oddly soulless as a result.”

    And the latter is a much greater sin. Sonic ’06 was a train wreck. A glorious train wreck. The kind that instills awe in the consumer at just how fucked up something can be, and in the audacity of the developers who released it in that state. It has become a touchstone in gamer culture and playing through it is like a rite of passage for Let’s Players.

    Train wrecks are interesting. Mass Effect Andromeda is not.

  11. Killerspinach says:

    Let’s Play is trash