We have been playing and evaluating Mass Effect: Andromeda on PC since it was released. We have retested its performance since the 1.1GB patch was released and also with the very latest AMD and NVIDIA drivers using 19 video cards.
This is a somewhat difficult review for us to write as Mass Effect: Andromeda has received a lot of negative press for a slow start, broken animations, bugs, and weak writing, but we believe that the longer one plays the game, the better it gets. We also found that the patch addressed many of the animation issues and some of the bugs.
Unfortunately, we were not immediately drawn into Mass Effect: Andromeda, but we stuck with it and have completed the main story after about 25 hours of play. Here are our impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda, including a mini-performance and IQ evaluation.
Mass Effect: Andromeda was developed by Bioware and released on March 21 in North America by Electronic Arts (EA). Mass Effect: Andromeda is a third-person view, action-adventure role-playing video game developed for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One using the Frostbite engine. It is the fourth installment of the popular Mass Effect series.
Mass Effect: Andromeda starts inside the Milky Way Galaxy during the 22nd century, where tens of thousands of Initiative pioneers from the 4 main races are heading to Andromeda to populate new home worlds. Each race has sent 20,000 recruits in an “Ark” lead by their own “Pathfinder” who has unique skills by being joined with advanced AI. Once the races arrive in Andromeda, they help build the Nexus which is a huge space station that serves as a center of government and a base of operations for the colonists.
The player will take the role of either twin, Scott or Sara Ryder, inexperienced military recruits who join the Initiative and wake up in Andromeda following a more than 600-year journey in cryostasis. Their father is the human Pathfinder. I picked Scott and customized him the best that I could from the limited choices that the game allowed.Unfortunately, things do not turn out as the Andromeda Initiative planned. The area of the Andromeda Galaxy that the Initiative planed to populate has been plagued with a dark energy cloud that they name The Scourge which has rendered space flight difficult and has also rendered the planets that they were planning to colonize, uninhabitable. And the Nexus has had to deal with every crisis imaginable including civil war when the Ryder family and the human ark arrive.
Before the human ark arrives at the Nexus, the twin you choose is part of an exploration team headed up by their Pathfinder father which heads to one of these Scourge-damaged planets to find that an ancient civilization’s artifacts may help restore the planets to a habitable condition, but now a Andromeda savage race bent on galactic domination is standing in your way. Since I chose Scott, Sarah remains in a coma after an aborted attempt to waken her until she is needed late in the main storyline.
While on this first away mission to the planet’s surface, Scott’s father is killed in action and Scott inherits the role of Pathfinder by being joined with AI, even though he feels completely unprepared for it. And now Scott has to deal with a rival – a potential love interest – who expected that she would be the Pathfinder to succeed Scott’s father.
Unfortunately, up until this point, little of this story is terribly convincing nor is it particularly accurate even from a science fiction point of view. To make it worse, the build-up is painfully slow with the player being forced to run very mundane quests. It isn’t until the human ark joins up with the Nexus that the story begins to make sense and actually gets very interesting about ten hours into the game. If you are able to handle it that long, then the story really starts to get good.
But the story isn’t as much the issue as the characters you have to interact with. They are emotionless and rather dull, and the conversations are superficial except for flashes of occasionally brilliant writing.
Even the romance options (except for one) don’t really have too much of a payoff, and you can choose an exclusive same sex or opposite sex companion, or you can just flirt.
Probably worst of all, the original animations were … well, creepy. The body and especially the eye movements were very strange and distracting, but they have been greatly improved by the patch.
Once you are deep into the game, you get to planet-hop and there are a lot of planets to explore. Each world is beautiful and quite different from the other worlds. You can ignore the side quests and just concentrate on the main story, but your game will probably not top 25 hours. And after you complete it, you can restart the game and pick the other twin as Pathfinder if you wish.
There is also a problem with choice in Mass Effect: Andromeda. You cannot play as a “bad” Pathfinder. Even if you pick a sarcastic response, it really doesn’t make much difference to the way the game proceeds nor how your fellow explorers view you. There are probably only one or two major decisions that really has a major impact on how the game ends.
That said, the second half of the main story makes up for the painfully slow first half as you start to see what you are doing actually impacts the humans and allies that are depending on you. Scott really grows into his role as Pathfinder and earns the support of his team. There is a real sense of progression as the Pathfinder gains experience and levels-up. You also get to use an all-terrain vehicle when you are on a planet’s surface which gives some nice variety to exploration, and fast-travel is an option using forward stations.The game finally gets going when you discover that the hostile Andromeda race you are in conflict with has a terrible purpose, and you have to race them to discover a way to end their threat as well as learn to use ancient technology to repair the planets you wish to colonize or the Andromeda Initiative will fail – and much worse will befall the thousands of Milky Way immigrants still in their arks.
In another plus for the game, combat is varied and you are not locked into one character class. My Scott was a weapons specialist but he also had biotic powers which made him very effective against all enemies including the bosses. And my two chosen AI companions also leveled up exactly as I wanted to support the Pathfinder very well on away missions, never getting in the way and always finding them quite useful in combat.
Finding rare items to craft might be a game weakness, but is totally unnecessary on the lower difficulty settings. My Pathfinder was able to find good armor and weapons, and he never felt under-powered.
You will never run out of things to do if you are a completionist. The game offers dozens of planets for you to visit and to raise their “Viability” level by establishing outposts, and it would be easy to sink well over 100 hours into the game on the first playthrough. We will definitely give a recommendation to this flawed gem of a game and now we want to see how it performs on 19 video cards after the patch and with the very latest AMD and NVIDIA drivers. We are also going to look at a NVIDIA GameWorks exclusive, Ansel.
Here are the video cards that we tested at the default ultra settings at 1920×1080, 2560×1440, and at 3840×2160 resolutions with the very latest drivers:
- GTX 1080 Ti 11GB
- TITAN XP (2016) 12GB
- GTX 1080 8GB
- GTX 1070 8GB
- GTX 1060 6GB
- GTX 1060 3GB
- GTX 1050 Ti 4GB
- GTX 980 Ti 6GB
- GTX 980 4GB
- GTX 970 4GB
- GTX 780 Ti 3GB
- GTX 770 – 2GB
- Fury X 4GB
- RX 480 8GB
- RX 470 4GB
- RX 460 4GB
- R9 290X 4GB
- RX 280X 3GB
- RX 270 3GB
NVIDIA’s GameWorks is featured in Mass Effect: Andromeda. NVIDIA’s HBAO+ is a high level of Ambient Occlusion that adds to the atmosphere by creating better shadows and lighting. “Full HBAO” is an option beyond default Ultra’s “HBAO” that takes a pretty solid performance hit when enabled. And Ansel is a flexible screenshot capture program using a floating camera that is exclusive to NVIDIA cards that even can handle 360 degree captures.
The Mass Effect: Andromeda settings are visually beautiful and quite varied, from desert planet settings, to jungles, and from mysterious ancient technology to several kinds of space ships. There are dark nighttime scenes to brightly lit daytime scenes, and the game makes good use of the Frostbite engine capabilities.
You have to experience Mass Effect: Andromeda for yourself as a player to appreciate it much as you do a movie or a play, and absolutely not from viewing clips on a tablet, nor from watching Youtube gameplay videos.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is part of a series, and it manages to capture the spirit of the earlier games and it expands on them by heading in a different more “light” direction so that the player doesn’t feel he is letting his allies down as he chases side quests. The controls are easy to manage in this game and the combat is satisfying.
Although the main story has a satisfying ending that answers a lot of questions and provides a coherent backstory, it leaves other questions unanswered for future downloadable content, and perhaps for Mass Effect: Andromeda to continue the story in future installments.
The Mass Effect: Andromeda gameplay is good. The computer controlled AI enemy NPCs are adjusted by the game difficulty levels, and at the higher levels, they are quite challenging.
Saves and difficulty
This gamer hates the checkpoint system which is generally not an issue in Mass Effect: Andromeda. There are unlimited saves except on missions when you must depend on the checkpoints. And for the entire last mission of the main story, no manual saves are allowed.
Mass Effect: Andromeda has some definite replayability. Mostly a player will want to explore and find everything the first playthrough which may require 100 or more hours. You can start over as your twin at a higher difficulty, but little changes unless you want to try making a couple of crucial decisions differently.
Bugs, Graphics and Performance
After the patch, there now appear to be very few bugs that affect the game performance, and even during more than 20 hours of play pre-patch we only experienced two lock-ups which required us to restart the game.
The implementation of DX11 in Mass Effect: Andromeda is good, and it appears to be reasonably well optimized. Although the Frostbite engine supports DX12, the devs choose not to use it.
We played Mass Effect: Andromeda at the default ultra settings although we tried the very highest details settings. We mostly played at 3440×1440 or at 3840×2160 at default Ultra settings using a GTX 1080 Ti with excellent performance results, and then replayed much of it with 18 other video cards using our Core i7-6700K at 4.0GHz where all 4 cores turbo to 4.6GHz, an ASRock Z7170 motherboard and 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4 at 3333MHz. The repeatable Fraps benchmark that we created on Promise was about 15% more demanding than the game’s average framerate, but about 10% less demanding than the toughest boss fights which slowed framerates the most.
On the next page, we will introduce static image quality screenshots to compare some the main settings, and later we will give performance results using the default Ultra settings.
Mass Effect: Andromeda also supports NVIDIA’s Ansel which we are checking out here for the first time. Think of Ansel as a camera that is integrated into your gaming experience that allows you to capture gameplay that was previously impossible. With Ansel, players can move the camera to any angle they desire, apply filters, use super resolution capture and even capture in 360 for viewing in VR.
Let’s check out the Settings that we used as well as their impact on Image Quality (IQ).