I have already talked about how the UI for Mass Effect: Andromeda’s favorites system is janky. In fact, I felt it was such a problem that it would have been irresponsible for me to have not told you how to use it; so I did just that. And it has been relatively popular. While that is a good thing for me, it is a bad thing for Mass Effect: Andromeda because it proves how bad the game’s UI is. Pro Tip: You should never have to look up how to use a game’s basic hotkey functionality.
But that was merely the tip of the iceberg with the favorites system because there is a much larger, more glaring problem with it that must be addressed.
Whenever you switch your current loadout, all of your powers enter cooldown. This is the root of what makes the favorites system broken from a mechanical standpoint. This one mechanic causes a ton of bad dynamics. It ultimately comes across as a clumsy way to patch over the problems that would have been there without the mandatory cooldown.
But let’s dig a little deeper.
ME:A’s Favorites System’s Deal Breakers
Dominant Strategy: Concentrate on 3 Skills
As I have played the game more, I have daydreamed and researched various builds. But each seems to have one thing in common: concentrate on 3 abilities exclusively.
This drastically reduces the number of builds and abilities that are viable.
Because of this, you reach a level relatively early in the game where you don’t get any new skills. And the number of passive trees useful for your build run thin after awhile, too.
I’m now in the mid-40’s and I have 62 unused skill points, which is roughly 10 levels worth.
Long AF Cooldowns
The previous Mass Effect games worked off of a universal cooldown system. If you used one ability then each ability would go on cooldown. To make up for this, each ability had a short cooldown. It was a little weird, but it ensured that you would be using an ability every 3-4 seconds. More importantly, it cut down on spamming ability rotations.
ME:A uses a traditional cooldown system. Each ability has its own, longer cooldown. Usually somewhere around 10-12 seconds, but some abilities have 20+ second cooldowns. This means that switching loadouts, and thus activating the cooldown, leaves you vulnerable.
I fell off a cliff, so the game respawned my car next to me. Can’t get it back up there though. Screw you, ME:A.
Only a handful of skills can actually help you out in these situations. For instance, Lance and Nova can be upgraded to use shields instead of cooldown. However, this leaves you more vulnerable.
There are also abilities, like grenades, that have a limited number of uses rather than a cooldown. But the ammo crates can be infrequent at times, making them hard to depend upon.
Most of all, the whole point of the favorites system is to switch into a build you actually like, not one that you can technically put up with while circumventing around the system’s bullshit.
Certain Skills Become Less or More Useful in This System
Passive abilities with long cooldowns, like the various turret abilities, become much less useful in this system. In a turret build, the idea is to use your turrets as extra team members. If or when they are killed, you can merely chunk another one out onto the battlefield.
However, as is, you need to make sure that you are keeping them in your active loadout because their cooldown is so long. This is especially true on harder difficulties where they will get destroyed much more quickly.
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, that car thing wasn’t so bad…
Skills, like annihilation field, are still useful, but also take up a vital hotkey spot. I would love to easily activate or deactivate this ability without having to switch between builds. In particular, annihilation field is essential in setting off biotic combos on shielded or armored foes, meaning it kinda has to stay in your rotation if you are playing a pure biotic build.
Certain abilities like shield drain or overload become very useful because of their versatility. Both of these fulfill several purposes. They can set up and set off combos. They do decent damage against shields. And shield drain recovers shields (regardless of whether your foe actually even had shields). Other, less versatile skills, are hard to justify using.
In this setup, shorter cooldowns are disproportionately more favorable than longer cooldowns.
Logistics in ME:A’s Favorites System Are a Pain in the Ass
If you combine the above elements you get this. Imagine a powerful shielded enemy approacheth. But I am using an all biotic build, so I can’t adequately handle him. However, I have an ability designed specifically to take down shields — overload– but I have to switch builds. This means I have to wait 12 seconds for overload to cooldown, give or take.
And if I wanted to switch back to my biotic build to slam the enemy with a throw, then I’d need to wait another 10 seconds or so. This is obviously not super responsive.
Not actually a glitch. Just cool that I can get on top of these biospheres.
Fixes that Bioware Can Implement to Fix ME:A‘s Broken Favorites System
From the Ground(s) Up
There are plenty of ways to fix this system. There is a grounds-up approach, where you change fundamental aspects of the system. In this path, I’d have abilities go back to using a universal cooldown.
This would really make the whole system harmonize. The cooldown on all abilities wouldn’t feel bad since it would only be a few seconds. That would feel normal anyway since that’s what you wait through anytime you use a skill anyhow. Switching right after you use an ability would basically mean you suffer no penalty.
As a player, it is easy to understand they wanted you to use a variety of abilities. You could even have a specific amount of time that this cooldown took, instead of using the cooldowns for each ability. Say 3-5 seconds. It would still be something you need to consider in combat, but it would not halt the flow of combat. In fact, I say it’d make the universal cooldown system make a whole lot more sense since it was never 100% clear as to why they used it in ME2 & ME3.
Who am I to judge how Angarans do squats?
A Patchwork Work of (Good) Fixes — Natural Cooldowns
The other, more natural, and more likely way is to remove the penalty altogether. Instead, you could make it so that each ability just naturally has its own cooldown. That is to say, if pull was ready used on favorite 1, then it would be available when you switched to favorite 2. If pull was on cooldown before you switched, then it would still be on cooldown once you switched over. The one problem with this is that it would allow you to equip 12 abilities across your 4 favorites and spam them. But that was always a potential problem when you gave players access to all the abilities.
In short, the old universal cooldown system would have been a continuity of their old design philosophy as well as resonant with the new aspects of their design philosophy. Reverting to a more traditional system only hurt the game. I would be willing to wager that there was a significant divide within the team about whether to stick to the old system or adopt a more traditional system.
I am not sure exactly why the more traditional system won, exactly, but I can say that I think it was the wrong choice because changing that is perhaps the easiest way to fix this system.
What do you think of Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s Favorites system? Is it broken? Are there other ways Bioware could fix it? Let us know in the comments below!