After five years in development and possibly having a budget that surpasses the $40 million used for Mass Effect 3, it’s quite easy to understand why fans are disappointed with Mass Effect Andromeda’s animations. Unfortunately, other than the stifled animations and a host of glitches and bugs it’s easy to forget the other graphical parameters that make Andromeda a great looking game at times. The animations of the game are so downright awful and admittedly they look so last gen that much of the gamer discourse has shifted away from the other graphical parameters of the game. But believe it or not, a game is much more than its animations and Andromeda makes some impressive use of DICE’s FrostBite engine. But we wonder why the game was shifted to the new engine to begin with?
The original trilogy ran on the Unreal Engine so Andromeda is the first ever game in the series to run on DICE’s popular framework. We have already seen what the engine is capable in last year’s Battlefield 1 which was undoubtedly one of best looking games of this generation. But with each game, requirements change, the way different developers use the same engine may differ, heck this isn’t even Bioware’s engine to begin with so they probably never even got the chance to master it completely compared to say someone like DICE who actually developed the engine. After playing through the first hour or so, we were repeatedly questioning ourselves – why did Bioware had to change the engine when the Unreal Engine 4 could have worked just fine for them?
Epic Games have been doing some amazing work in the past couple of years and last year’s Gears of War 4 on the Xbox One is arguably the best looking game on that console. So why try to fix something that has been working quite well? Perhaps the answer lies in EA’s strategy to bring all their games under one framework. It makes game development rather easy and there is no need to pay anything extra since using Unreal Engine will require licensing fees. In our playthrough we did not found the level of visual fidelity that we found in FrostBite’s other offerings such as Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefield 1. What is done is done now but in our opinion, FrostBite doesn’t seem to be quite ready to embrace the open world genre yet.
If there is anything that Frostbite engine really does well is the various post processing, alpha and volumetric effects. Mass Effect is a sci-fi series and these three effects are the core pillars of the graphical fidelity these titles aim for. The amazing lighting effects as you navigate Ryder through the Nexus or the dust floating around when you first land on the planet of Eos or the dazzling effects players encounter in the vaults…all of this comes together to create a really amazing experience at times. The game utilizes temporal anti-aliasing solution on both the PC and PS4 which may result into ghosting artifacts at times but does a way better job than the FXAA option provided in the PC version’s graphical settings. HBAO is also implemented on both the versions resulting into smoother and softer shadows and edges.
As if there was any surprise, Andromeda is best played on the PC. Bioware has provided players with a decent number of options which include Ambient Occlusion, Anti-Aliasing, Chromatic Aberration, Effects Quality, Film Grain, Lighting Quality, Mesh Quality, Post-Process Effect Quality, Resolution Scaling, Shader Quality, Shadow Quality, Terrain Quality, Texture Filtering Quality, Texture Quality, and Vegetation Quality. All of these can be toggled from the Low to the Ultra settings. The game can also auto-detect the best setting for an optimum 1080p/60fps experience based on your PC’s hardware. For example, while using a AMD FX 8350 configuration along with an R290x 4GB GPU card and 8GB of memory the game auto-selects the High settings with frame rates reaching up to 60. Dial it up all the way to Ultra using a GTX 1080, i7-7700k and 16GB of Memory and you should have no problems at all running at a consistent 60 frames per second.
On the console side, we found the PS4 Pro to be an interesting proposition. It doesn’t render a native 4K resolution which to be honest is expected but Bioware have managed to use a checkerboard solution to render a 1800p image buffer. Note that this is not native 1800p resolution but according to DICE the checkerboard approach helped them to save a lot of rendering budget across various parameters such as G-buffer, shadows and lighting. There is a slight softer look to the final image quality but it looks very close to a native 1800p image quality. Unlike the PC version, the Pro version is capped to 30 frames per second and for the most part it’s a rather stable experience. However, we witnessed drops during the vehicular sections in the game’s open world.
It seems that the PC version is using bokeh depth of field compared to the Pro’s use of a slightly inferior effect. The Pro version also does a number of compromises in terms of shadows quality, screen space reflections quality and draw distances. If you are playing on a 1080p TV and the PS4 Pro, you can expect a supersampled image resulting into slightly better looking game. It seems that assets, textures and lighting wise, the Pro version and the PC at Ultra settings are pretty close.
Overall, there is a lot to like about Mass Effect: Andromeda from a graphics perspective. The game has some really great art style in some of its worlds, a really vibrant color pallete and a superb PC port that runs quite well provided you have the hardware. The Pro version, surprisingly provides an experience that comes somewhere between the High and Ultra setting of the PC version, with the frame rate capped at 30fps.
But honestly, when we look back we can’t help but wonder…would it really hurt Bioware and EA that much if they would have put in a couple of months’ effort more into Andromeda? Granted that it has been five long years since the last game came out and some players may be getting impatient but the Mass Effect brand name would have made them profit regardless. With a bit of polish in the animations department and the reduction in bugs and glitches would have gone a long way in ensuring a far better product then it’s now from a visual perspective.