We've spent around 20 hours with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and within that time, our belief that the internet can make things seem much, much worse than they actually are has been greatly reinforced. BioWare's latest intergalactic tale is nowhere near perfect, but from what we've played so far, we reckon that the series' spacefaring soul is still alive and well.
As you may have already realised, Mass Effect: Andromeda makes for a very easy target. For about a week now, the web has been swamped in gifs and videos of the game's cock-ups - dire character animations make for a seemingly endless supply of embarrassment. And these laughable scenarios really do exist, by the way - we've been playing a fully patched version of the final release and it's rough to say the least.
If we had to write a full review now, it's safe to say that we'd be rather torn. There are aspects of Andromeda that we really enjoy - the combat is a genuine step forward, for example - but at the same time, there are issues that we simply can't ignore. The aforementioned animations immediately spring to mind; human faces in general look painfully awkward, to the point where you won't be able to concentrate on the current conversation because you're trying to work out how the monstrosity that stands before you ever came to be. The lack of quality is baffling, especially when you consider how much better Dragon Age: Inquisition's cast looked back in 2014 - and even they weren't great.
We don't want to rant on about facial animations, but the bottom line is that little details like this can pull you out of the experience. On that note, it's worth mentioning that we've encountered a number of bugs during our time with the game - the kind of bugs that end up in YouTube highlight reels. From squadmates assuming t-poses for the duration of whole conversations to both allies and enemies dropping their animations entirely and skating across the battlefield, there's an overbearing feeling that Andromeda has been rushed to market. And when you consider how long it's been in development - not to mention the fact that it was delayed - it really makes you wonder what happened behind the scenes.
Performance isn't great on a standard PlayStation 4, either. The frame rate sees some noticeable drops in busy areas or during large firefights, and environmental pop-in is prevalent when you're driving across a planet's surface. All of these negatives, no matter how minor, begin to add up.
We question whether they're enough to outright ruin the game, though. Andromeda manages to capture an enthusiastic sense of adventure as you and your buddies hop from planet to planet, discovering ancient alien technology and putting bullets in the local wildlife. When you're done gallivanting around alien worlds, you return to the Tempest - a sleek looking ship that acts as your hub during your travels. It's a lot cosier than the Normandy - the vessel that starred in previous titles - and watching our squad transform it into their home has been one of the game's highlights so far.
Indeed, there's a warm camaraderie at the core of Andromeda. Unlike Commander Shepard, Ryder - whether male or female - is very much an explorer, not an elite soldier. He or she is here to help find humanity a home in a brand new galaxy, and as such, Ryder comes across as a more lighthearted protagonist. So far, it's an approach that's worked quite well, as we've found ourselves enjoying role-playing as Ryder - a likeable rookie who's just about as clueless as we are.
That brings us neatly to the writing, which, as mentioned, is surprisingly hit and miss. BioWare partially built its name on creating well realised characters that we could connect with, and although Andromeda has already offered up several seriously interesting personalities, we've found ourselves cringing at some of the dialogue. There are a few one-liners here that would make even the cheesiest of action movies blush, and after squadmate Liam came out with "Hah, I think I really p*ssed that one off... Maybe because I shot him in the face" during combat, we decided there and then that he would never be coming on another mission.
It's the kind of cheap and dirty dialogue that we really don't expect from a studio such as BioWare, but much like the other issues that we outlined earlier, it's not quite enough to kill the fun. There's clear evidence of a great Mass Effect title here: the much improved punchy combat, the intriguing alien worlds, the addictive process of unlocking cool new abilities for Ryder, and, of course, the tension that comes with making tough story decisions. Right now, we just need to see all of this good stuff shine through the game's disappointing exterior.
Are you looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda? We'll have our full review ready soon, but until then, jet off to another galaxy in the comments section below.