In my review of Mass Effect Andromeda, I criticise the UI of the game as being quite bad. While it is aesthetically pleasing, it’s lacking in terms of functionality and is a pain to navigate. It’s a bit of mess. Since my last article was about an Inventory UI mockup for the next Elder Scrolls game, I figured I’d give Mass Effect Andromeda’s UI the same treatment.
There are 4 points I was following while making the mockups:
1. Reduce the number of clicks required to access different menus.Avoid saturating the screen with too much information.
2. Avoid saturating the screen with too much information.3. Try to maintain a style that would fit Mass Effect Andromeda.
3. Try to maintain a style that would fit Mass Effect Andromeda.4. Maintain controller-friendly navigation in spite of PC focus.
4. Maintain controller-friendly navigation in spite of PC focus.
While I think I managed to keep to these 4 points with a certain measure of success, I’d say that I was most successful at the first point. When I played Andromeda, the things that bothered me the most were the needless obfuscation of information and the absurd number of submenus. The most egregious example of that is the Research menu, where to find out what resources are required to craft an item, you need to access the Research and Development interface, click on Research, select one of the three technology categories, select your item type (weapons, armour, augmentations), select the specific item, choose the level you wish to research and then click on View Details to find out about the ingredients. Development is slightly better since it shows you the ingredients when you select the item, but mousing over them does not tell you what they are. You are required to click on ‘View Required Materials’ to find out what the little icons are. While this may be unavoidable with a controller, it remains unnecessary with a mouse.
I use slideshows to display the various mockups I made. If you are unsure what screen you’re currently looking at, the bottom left corner of the image should have a descriptor.
The Skills menu is not bad, but I still think it could have used fewer clicks. My main aim was to make upgrading your Profiles less annoying. Profiles require a number of skill points investment to be upgraded, some across multiple skill trees. To know the number of currently distributed skill points, you are required to go inside the ability tree, which means backing out and entering another tree if you need to upgrade hybrid Profiles. I opted to have all three skill trees display on the same page, with their allotted skill points visible at all times.
The downside to this layout is that there is potentially too much information being displayed (and Scott Ryder should probably be in the middle of the screen rather than on the left) but this way, you can quickly navigate between Combat, Biotic and Tech. Skill descriptions are to the direct right of the list, which, while a minor thing, makes information intake slightly faster. I wanted to merge the Profiles tab with the Skills tab, but given the relative rareness that Profiles are switched out compared to Skills, it was deemed more trouble than it was worth.
Another thing that bothered me with the Skill menu was the manner in which abilities were assigned to your (limited) skill slots. The second image in the slideshow is an example of what a pop-up system could look like. Simply clicking on a skill slot will open a small window where all learned active abilities will be listed. If using a controller you are stuck with the vanilla method of skill-assignment.
Lastly, the companion wheel around Scott Ryder will allow you to access the skill menu of your teammates. The currently selected name will be replaced with ‘Ryder’ if you wish to switch back to the Pathfinder. I’m using a wheel-type menu because then, with a controller, you can use an analogue stick to navigate through it. Simply click on the names if using a mouse.
Possibly the most annoying part of Mass Effect Andromeda’s UI, the Inventory really takes the cake when it comes to time wasting. While Research-and-Development is worse, you don’t use it all the time as opposed to the Inventory. To reduce the number of clicks required, I placed all information related to, for instance, a Pistol, directly on the screen. Consider the current UI:
It’s pretty, isn’t it? You can read about the lore of the weapon and see its effects and mods, but you are none the wiser as to its stats. You have to click on View Statistics to see the damage, clip size, attack rate, etc. That is an unnecessary step, not to mention you are required to back up one level and then enter another weapon-type folder to look at another gun. Additionally, you can only compare weapons with currently equipped ones, which is a bit limiting – even more so if you consider the fact the weapon and armour can only be equipped at special loadout stations. The way in which comparison is done is a bit clunky as well.
As you can see, expandable categories allow you to see all your weapons without the need to backtrack (the plus and minus signs in boxes are Expand All and Collapse All respectively). Clicking on [X] Compare Weapon will ask you to select a weapon from the list. Selecting that weapon will place the two-arrow icon next to it, indicating that is the weapon to the right of the screen. All the information you need is right there.
Because of the open-world nature of Mass Effect Andromeda, quest-tracking becomes something of a necessity. With the UI in the state that it is, picking what quest to track can sometimes be a pain to deal with. Similarly to how you navigate folders in Windows, you will have to navigate them in the game to go from category to category and their subcategories. Honestly, there is a lot of wasted space there and so I had a lot of screen real estate to work with.
The first image is my version of the Journal screen. As you can see, the main categories are above in the same style as the Inventory in the vanilla UI, but you can easily navigate them with your movement keys. A and D will go from one category to the next and W and S will move up and down the list on the left. Remember, this is all mouse-compatible, I’m just making sure a controller wouldn’t have a hard time with this. I’ve added a [C] Show Tasks button to allow some of the Task-type quests (collectathons, really) to feature in the list in case they can be completed on that planet. As with the Inventory mockup above, subcategories are expandable and collapsible.
The next image is for Additional Tasks. Those are the ‘fetch-quests’ and they are usually dependent on a location, though not all, hence the ‘Other’ subcategory.
Now, this may not have been necessary, but I figured I’d merge the Research screen with the Development screen to streamline the whole thing. Having to switch from Research to Development all the time was annoying, but the lack of information from the Research screen made it hard to care about the items themselves. While I think there’s a fundamental problem with having to research things in the first place, this is not what this article is about. Before I show you the new screens, take a look at the vanilla RnD UI:
Where to begin? The biggest issue with Research is that it doesn’t show you the materials needed to craft something you want to make available. The information is available, but it’s hidden behind another click and you even have to scroll down to see it. It’s needless obfuscation. Secondly, items are tiered from 1 to 10, but for some reason are split into two. Once you research level 5, the advanced version becomes available, adding a new item to the list. This is nothing compared to the bizarre choice for Bioware to include all tiers of an item in the list of items you can craft. Take the N7 Armour – in my game I have this researched up to level 10 – and when I access the armour category under the Development menu I have ten different N7 chest pieces I can make. Needless waste of space.
First thing’s first: Research and Development are now both in the same place. On the left of the RnD menu, there are no duplicates. The current research level is shown by the coloured bars, but the craftable level, which for some items is separate from research level (since the highest-ranked ones drop from enemies according to your character level), is shown by the roman numeral in white. If you chose to [C] Craft the item, the Project Development window opens and you are able to choose what rank of the item you wish to make, what mods you want to add and the name you want to give it. While not strictly shown, pressing ESC will cancel the process.
Moreover, in the effort to make these menus more user-friendly, I’ve made versions showing a pop-up window in action as well as what you can do if you’re using a controller. They’re the last two images in the slideshow above, respectively.
All in all, while my mockups are potentially too information-heavy, I think that this is a far easier to get used to than to have to navigate submenu after submenu in a game that can last over a hundred hours. At the start the player might require a moment to take it all in, it won’t ultimately waste your time with hidden information and needless clicks. Within a few hours, tops, it’ll all be good to go. The current version of the UIs will waste your time regardless of the number of play hours you’ve invested in the game.