Everything Wrong With Mass Effect: Andromeda’s First Hour Of Gameplay
Mass Effect Andromeda - First Hour
(Last Updated On: March 17, 2017)

By now most people have seen a lot of the video footage of Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest game from BioWare and Electronic Arts. The Frostbite-powered game has been in development for the last five years at BioWare, but most people probably wouldn’t have guessed it. Why? Because there’s a lot wrong with the game based on the first hour of gameplay alone.

While the hype machine may have been leading people into being excited for the game with nary any criticism, the 10 hour trial for Mass Effect: Andromeda has finally broken through the veil of marketing misdirection and padded preview pieces.

Various YouTubers have already begun uploading walkthroughs for the first several hours of gameplay from Mass Effect: Andromeda, but the first hour alone provides a distinct and chilling look at many of the problems plaguing the experience. Now this doesn’t count all the issues with character creation, which was covered in a separate article, but  you can check out the first hour of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s gameplay below with a video playlist provided by MKIceandFire.

The starting cinematic isn’t too bad, but there are a few things that become apparent right from the start…

If you’re playing as Sara Ryder, her uncanny facial features and animations will not be a jaunting experience for a lot of gamers. People who don’t play video games often might not have much of a problem with Sara’s distorted expressions, though.

For Scott Ryder, the other playable sibling, he has a much easier-on-the-eyes appearance and he doesn’t have quite as many odd animation quirks as his sister.

However, you’ll still notice that even during the early cinematics things like specular highlights and poor shaders on the hair are apparent right at the beginning of the game, giving Scott a plastic Ken doll look. His hair in one sequence looked like it could pop off like a Lego toupee due to the almost matte-looking LOD rendering. You can see what I’m talking about with the example image below.

Mass Effect Andromeda - Scott Ryder Hair

Another rather obvious step back in game design are the pupils.

Subsurface refraction and adaptive reflections through the iris are not present. This gives the characters the uncanny valley “dead-eye” look that’s oftentimes compared to fish. The lifeless eyes creates a rather creepy effect of making it seem as if mannequin or doll eyes are starring back at the other character.

Mass Effect Andromeda - Scott Ryder Eyes

This is really something when you compare Mass Effect: Andromeda to Battlefield 1, given that both games are running on the exact same game engine.

If you look at the eyes and hair rendering in Battlefield 1, it’s a night and day difference where you can see how the team put a lot of time and effort into making sure the hair didn’t look like plastic and that the eyes were expressive, reflective and refractive.


The fish eyes and Ken doll hair are are just part of the problems, there’s also an issue with the facial response animations and cues.

During one sequence early on Cora Harper, the first officer of the Pathfinder expedition, resets the gravity and calmly asks “Is everyone okay?”… except, her face didn’t seem to reflect the intonation of her voice, giving off a crazed and psychotic look while she uttered the line.

Mass Effect Andromeda - Cora Harper Okay

We then have some inconsistent dialogue sequences that follow – inconsistent in terms of quality.

Dr. Lexi offers a stilted synopsis of the Ryder sibling that you aren’t playing, and delivers the lines in a disjointed manner, complete with equally disjointed facial animations to match.

Throughout the entire dialogue sequence, the characters jitter and snap between animations. Tree blending didn’t seem to factor into the flow of the way the characters emote, gesticulate and move during the dialogue scenes, creating what looks like the kind of keyframe snapping that was present in a lot of games during sixth gen and early seventh gen.

This is a bit bizarre because the Frostbite has tools built in to address this issue, and it was put to exemplar use with DICE’s Battlefield 3 from six years ago. The tools for blending are available right there in the engine, along with 4D facial scan and realized motion capture utilities called the ANT system, as outlined in a presentation by animation director and lead animator Tobias Dahl and Mikael Hogstrom.

In other words, the tools to fix all the animation problems in Mass Effect: Andromeda are already available in the Frostbite engine. As pointed out in the presentation by Dahl and Hogstrom, all the high-level blending, emotive responses and kinetic movement are up to the animators.

Keep in mind that this is the same technology that powered Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst and Battlefield 1.

What’s more baffling than anything is that the blending between animation sets during combat in Mass Effect: Andromeda is actually quite good. It’s almost like two completely separate teams worked on the combat movement and the character face rigging, with the team doing the combat animations clearly having a strong idea of how to make characters move and react smoothly.

The issues so far, for Mass Effect: Andromeda, are all obvious within the first 10 minutes of the game.

Now in the one prologue sequence on the Hyperion when Ryder first learns how to use the Scanner, one player captured a moment where the leg adjustments for the characters undergo a waddle-like transformation when moving up and down the steps, courtesy of dscottwilson.

Before even getting to the 20 minute mark, Captain Dunn is introduced with extremely stiff facial animations.

The screenshot below is basically how her face looks even when it’s moving. She has no jowl muscle indentation and her cheeks don’t seem to bend or flex with her face expressions or mouth movement, resulting in her mouth looking as if it only opens from side to side.

Mass Effect Andromeda - Captain Dunn

For some reason Cora Harper also has a perpetual smirk on her face, even when she’s making serious remarks.

Surprisingly, in motion, Alec Ryder actually has some of the better animations, even though he still suffers from a lot of facial rigidity. Almost all of the character seem to have some sort of limitations on their ability to emote, as if they’re rigged only around the mouth and orbital structures of the face. The muscles attached to the mandibles, ramus, cheek bones and nasal area don’t seem to move much, save for in certain cinematics.

It’s almost as if some parts of the characters’ faces aren’t entirely rigged to the emotion displayed through the dialogue.

Surprisingly, the game gets a lot more decent once players make it to the ground and have an opportunity to run around.

Of course, things go back to being unpolished once players can sneak and move around the environment more freely, and it’s made obvious that despite having decent combat movement, the animation programmers didn’t implement object collision detection to prevent environmental clipping. In the image below, Ryder is moving through a giant mushroom’s geometry.

Mass Effect Andromeda - Object Clipping

There are other inconsistencies as well. Despite the obvious clipping issues, the environments actually feature some impressive volumetric fog and smoke effects almost on par to what you find in Battlefield 1, which obviously creates a jarring contrast to the rather low quality facial animations and dialogue sequences.

On a non-technical note, near the end of the first hour of the trial, Liam decides to become unhinged and unload his clip multiple times into a dead body, defying first officer Harper’s orders to cease firing, only to finish up his mental episode by saying “Now I feel better.”

Mass Effect Andromeda - Liam Unhinged

The significance of this issue is that it comes out of nowhere and seems to make no sense to the character at all, who previously showed no signs of mental fatigue or breakdown. Having a character randomly go crazy was another one of those jarring moments during the early goings of Mass Effect: Andromeda, especially since just 15 minutes earlier he was talking about getting a beer with Ryder.

There’s also another odd sequence shortly after that one, where Cora demonstrates her biotic abilities for the first time.

Mass Effect Andromeda - Cora Biotic Ability

The scene is somewhat anti-climatic since it comes out of nowhere and is over as quickly as it begins. I’m assuming the cinematic is there to show Cora’s biotic abilities? It was done in such a trivial manner that it might make you question what purpose the scene served at all. The pacing between Liam going crazy and Cora blocking an atmospheric lightning strike just seconds later was an odd way to transition from one scene to the next. What’s worse is that both sequences are readily forgotten about by the other characters just seconds after they happen.

The issues with Cora continue to persist even during the opening hour prologue sequence (usually the part of the game that’s supposed to show the most polish, since that’s what everyone will see first). During another cinematic with Alec, she makes observations and combat suggestions, once again, in a cool and collected manner… however her eyes are bugged out as if she’s seen a ghost, betraying her calm demeanor.

Mass Effect Andromeda - Cora Crazy Eyes

This sort of dichotomy between the character faces and their dialogue can easily take you out of the game since it plays such a heavy part in the immersion factors (or the lack thereof).

The combat is obviously the best part of Mass Effect: Andromeda even though as a third-person shooter it’s only barely above serviceable.

The biggest issue is that a large part of the game centers around dialogue sequences and cinematic conversations, and yet that’s part of the game’s biggest weakness. There’s even a comparison video from YouTuber xLetalis who compares Mass Effect: Andromeda with Mass Effect 1 from a decade ago, and it’s astounding how the original game had characters who showed more emotive expressions and gesticulation while talking than in Andromeda.

The uncanny valley faces and perpetually smiling female characters has already resulted in a variety of compilation videos and memes spoofing the game’s poor cinematic quality when it comes to character interactions, such as the video from Truongasm.

And if you think things begin to pick up beyond the first hour… actually they don’t. Instead, they get worse.

About two hours in you’ll meet Peebee, who actually starts off with some halfway okay facial animations, but then there are other characters who seem to have muppet-like face expressions, including the now infamous NPC who exclaims that her “face is tired”, and the walking animations featuring goofy looking movements from characters like Cora, Sara Ryder and some of the other background NPCs. Beast Gaming has a short minute long compilation of some of these sequences.

Obviously, everything is worse for Sara Ryder, which is a real shame given that BioWare spent so much of their time using Sara to promote the game during most of the trailers.

The game is just a few days out from launch, and unless they have a 20GB patch to fix all the faces, animations, character creation options, dead-eye effect, lip-synching issues and facial reaction patterns to match the intonation and inflection of the voice acting, then what you see here is what you get.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is due for release on March 21st for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Some gamers have decided to cancel pre-orders after they found out one of the designers on the game was actively spouting racist comments and was being supported by the general manager and studio head at BioWare.


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About

Billy has been rustling Jimmies for years covering video games, technology and digital trends within the electronics entertainment space. The GJP cried and their tears became his milkshake. Need to get in touch? Try the Contact Page.

  • Lydia Derhake

    Wondering if the author played the game or just watched the vids. These are similar problems that existed in 2: off-putting expressions, misaligned speech and mouth movement, bizarre shadowing that made people look like they had a severe fever. This isn’t new.

  • Diggerjohn111

    I am reminded of George Liquor from the old Ren and Stimpy show when I see the facial animations and that appalling walking animation cannot be brushed aside, that is an immersion destroyer. It’s 2017, your game should have better animation than a PS 1 tech demo.

  • Diggerjohn111

    I am reminded of George Liquor from the old Ren and Stimpy show when I see the facial animations and that appalling walking animation cannot be brushed aside, that is an immersion destroyer. It’s 2017, your game should have better animation than a PS 1 tech demo.

  • Christ, I can’t help but see Anita Sarkeesian every time I look at the female Ryder’s face now

  • Christ, I can’t help but see Anita Sarkeesian every time I look at the female Ryder’s face now

  • Christ, I can’t help but see Anita Sarkeesian every time I look at the female Ryder’s face now

  • Disqusted

    Environments look way better, but characters look worse. Hair still looks like shit. A friend showed me that female Ryder walking/running thing a few days ago. Hilarious and sad.

    As has been pointed out by pretty much everybody, if you’re gonna make a game that focuses so heavily on the characters… maybe hire decent character artists and animators.

  • Smug

    “A brave effort”

    Joke of the year

  • TBill

    Wow, when even someone overly nice like Oxhorn is criticizing/mocking your game, you know you fucked up.

  • Keystone

    I foresee trouble in Bioware’s future
    http://i.imgur.com/ciq5sOZ.jpg

  • Ghost

    Sounds like you’re describing the first mass effect.

  • V_for_Vodka

    NOOT NOOT

  • Mr.Towel

    MacIntosh Effect: Androginy

  • Gorgon

    You know, all the tech talk about facial animations aside, they look worse than animations in the first game.
    https://fat.gfycat.com/OrganicExcellentAmbushbug.webm
    Dargon Age Origins had better facial animations, even. I don’t know what is happening at Bioware, maybe it’s just their Montreal team, but there needs to be a change in management and at least some quality assurance.

    • LurkerJK

      They are not just “worse”, they are so bad its hard to believe, the problems are not isolated, almost every animation has problems

      When they stand around the animations do not connect with each other so they look like they are shaking

      Some animations havent been motion captured properly (or just done by hand), the motion path is not smooth so when Ryder turns his head at 10:15 in the long video of the article it looks like it was animated with stop motion

      All walking animations seem to have been directed by some crazy person, it just keep getting worse as you see more examples, some walk like they are in a michael jackson video, other ppl, like Cora, clearly shat themselves, maleMC moves his shoulders and arms waaaay more than necessary and most of them keep their backs far too rigidly

      The mouth animations for humans is hilariously bad and very different between characters, surprisingly the alien ones look very good, wth

      Then there are the weirdly placed emotes, most characters are emotionless during conversations (even when they should be emotional, maleMC doesn’t give a flying fuck about his sister does he?), then sometimes, 1 or 2 seconds after talking they do a forced face that has no connection with the context, look at the asari at 8:39, wtf is that ? same happens when they meet Peebee, she appears to mug for the camera, why ? it looks completely out of place, what the hell

      Then you have the eyes, everyone has their eyes too open and starting way too much, sometimes both eyes do not match what they are looking at properly (look at maleMC go cross eyed at 24:55), there are a lot of rapport rules they are not following right, they dont blink as often as they should, they hold eye to eye stares for to long, its creepy at hell, this is Uncanny Valley at its utmost, you cannot help but notice it, they do not act like humans and its repulsive, its not surprising the game looks best when everyone has their helmets on

      Oh and the body proportions are all out of whack, arms too thin, hands too big, bodies too small, heads too big, it seems to be worse for men

  • LunarArchivist

    You know what the best thing about the whole “Mass Effect Andromeda” train wreck is? If the regular textures and animations look this bad, just imagine what will happen when we get to the full frontal nudity and sex scene animations. 😀

    • Ghost

      Maybe that’s where all the work went and thats why everything else is so subpar.

  • giygas

    Can’t wait for IGN to call people ‘entitled’ again for expecting an RPG to have relatable characters.

  • Unbeliever

    “While the hype machine may have been leading people into being excited for the game with nary any criticism, the 10 hour trial for Mass Effect: Andromeda has finally broken through the veil of marketing misdirection and padded preview pieces.”

    You didn’t faced any bioware fanboy yet did you?

  • ItEotWaWKI

    I had forgotten that all EA games were using FrostBite now. Jebus, if I was Dice I’d be throwing shit-fit for making my engine look like trash.

    An aside about the animations… they’ve never really been a strong suit of BioWare, but part of the problem is lazyness/cheapness. In the original trilogy, FemShep, (Also known as ‘the real Commander Shepard’), walked and sat like a man ’cause they just reused the default ManShep animations. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the bulk of the motion capture was done by a man and they’re using it for both genders again. It would explain why Male Ryder is less awkward.

    • It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the bulk of the motion capture was
      done by a man and they’re using it for both genders again. It would
      explain why Male Ryder is less awkward.

      Definitely appears that way, especially in the clip where Sara throws the punch and her animation box is clearly outside the impact zone, resulting in her hitting air and the NPC reacting like a wrestler who sells better than 1995 Shawn Michaels.

      • LurkerJK

        Thats probably it

        Let me make a guess here, they hired a few inexperienced nobodies either by nepotism or for white knighting reasons, these Dunning-Kruger addled geniuses bit more than they could chew so they had to reuse animations for different sized bodies to finish the game on time and here is the result

        It could also be that they kept messing with femMC’s face in the name of diversity and broke the animations like that

        btw, check the lastest Ralph Retort article, one of the facial animators is apparently “very experienced”, rofl, oh and she hates men too, all that in one wonderful package

        • Diversity hires, yo.

          This is what it looks like when what’s between your legs is more important than the qualifications of your skill level.

          • LurkerJK

            I can’t fucking believe there are people still saying
            “well the animations are shit, but the game can still be good!, im sure regular players will let the derpy faces go”

            NO they will not let them go, youtube will achieve COMPLETE GLOBAL SATURATION of people laughing at those animations, are you effing joking ? lmao

          • “well the animations are shit, but the game can still be good!, im sure regular players will let the derpy faces go”

            Yeah I’ve been seeing this a lot. A lot of people saying the animations and dialogue sequences don’t matter… but that’s half of the entire game right there. It’s like saying the driving physics in GTA don’t matter because people play it for the other stuff.

            Like, WTF kind of logic is that? Especially for a game like Mass Effect that sells itself on the whole cinematic, immersive experience.

  • Michael P

    I’ve got the thing downloaded and ready to go but….there’s this overwhelming sense of dread keeping me from booting it up.

    I fucking loved the first 2 and loved about 50% of the 3rd, knowing this one is likely going to suck has me hesitating to even try it for free.

    BioWare what happened to you man, you used to be cool…

    • Ghost

      God that was soooo long ago though. I mean, once you really reflect on their games, post Jade Empire, you’ll start to notice they’ve been fucking up for a lot longer than most of us realized.

    • LurkerJK

      what could possibly go wrong ?
      http://i.imgur.com/SluqBxe.jpg
      RELEASE THE MANCHILD

      (btw, notice the size of his hands compared to Shepard’s)

      • Ghost

        It hurts my brain trying to comprehend that picture.

        • LurkerJK

          If you ever wondered why he looks like a Team America character, its because they got the proportions wrong

          how can a 40 million usd game get the proportions wrong ? isn’t that the basics of drawing and 3d modeling ?

          • Michael P

            It’s BioWare’s B-Team and it shows, that’s a David Miscavige tier manlet right there!

            Played the trial eventually, only thing that feels like a step up is the combat. Everything else about it reeks of a somewhat competent budget title (like the first Saint’s Row) but made for millennial tumblrites with low expectations.

            Everything pretty much works but the graphics/animations are laughably amateurish overall and the writing is at juvenile fanfic levels.

            Oh well, a bit of a shame but life goes on and there’s plenty of other games to play so I can’t say I’m that upset in the end.

          • Michael P

            It’s BioWare’s B-Team and it shows, that’s a David Miscavige tier manlet right there!

            Played the trial eventually, only thing that feels like a step up is the combat. Everything else about it reeks of a somewhat competent budget title (like the first Saint’s Row) but made for millennial tumblrites with low expectations.

            Everything pretty much works but the graphics/animations are laughably amateurish overall and the writing is at juvenile fanfic levels.

            Oh well, a bit of a shame but life goes on and there’s plenty of other games to play so I can’t say I’m that upset in the end.

  • MONAD

    Yeah. Still not even thinking about picking this up at the moment. Maybe after the game’s been patched and HEAVILY reduced in price, but until then.. I’ve played a few minutes of it and I can’t really say that I’m impressed by the thing.

  • Vrenna

    I wonder what kind of person made this game, but I think all the examples I have will end up being discriminatory generalizations against a certain gender, a certain generation, and a certain socio-political group.

  • Cinj

    All this talk of characters having psychotic looks to them or doing crazy things out of nowhere as if it were completely normal seems about right when you consider it was psychotic people who made this game.

    • ItEotWaWKI

      Maybe Andromeda is secretly set in the World of Darkness universe, and most of the characters are actually Malkavians. Hell, some of the Human/Asari characters look like they might even have a strain of Nosferatu in them.

      • Cinj

        I chuckled a bit.

    • ItEotWaWKI

      Maybe Andromeda is secretly set in the World of Darkness universe, and most of the characters are actually Malkavians. Hell, some of the Human/Asari characters look like they might even have a strain of Nosferatu in them.

  • Muten

    I was excited for it 🙁

    • LurkerJK
      • Jim

        Oh my god! Please tell me that’s a gif from a Source Film Maker video. Holy god, I’ve seen 80’s puppeteer effects that were better.

        • LurkerJK

          nope, watch any video where Peebee gets thrown off when she appears