Friday, April 14, 2017

First Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda


WARNING: This post contains minor spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Exploring the galaxy, discovering other species, and enjoying grand adventures on alien planets are themes that have driven some of the most epic stories, shows, movies, and of course, video games for generations. Since the first game released in 2007, the Mass Effect series has captivated gamers around the world, creating an enthralling universe, incredible storyline, and exciting gameplay.

Anticipation for the fourth installment in the series was building before the game was even announced. At 2016’s E3 conference, the first trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda was unveiled, revealing that the new game would take place 600 years after the first one and would be more about exploration. Unlike the first three games, which were incredibly linear, Andromeda boasted an open world style of gaming.

When the game launched at the end of March, it generated a mix of excitement, thrill, and disappointment for many Mass Effect fans.

The first thing needing to be said about Andromeda is that it looks absolutely incredible. The graphics are mind-blowing, with so much detail in the planets, ship interiors, and outer space that much of my first play-through has already been spent just looking around in awe. There is so much colour and texture to everything, creating the feeling in many cutscenes, and even in parts of the gameplay, that you are watching a live-action movie rather than a computer-generated game.

One feature the graphics failed miserably on, however, is the characters. The NPCs look quite incredible, giving more life to some of the species we have come to admire and love in the original trilogy. The default settings for Sara Ryder are a different story, looking more like an attempt at creating an awkward Disney princess than a realistic-looking lead. It’s not even so much the specifics of her physical appearance as it is the manner in which they were drawn.

While there has apparently been a patch to fix this, there are also major issues with the way a customized MC appears in gameplay. Bugged-out eyes, higher-than-normal mouths, and what I’ve come to call ‘monkey jaw’--because it makes Sara look like a talking ape--appear often in the cutscenes.

The actual customization options available for your character’s appearance in-game are also quite limited, taking some of the fun out of character creation. Where Bioware nailed the customization in Dragon Age: Inquisition, they definitely bombed it with Andromeda.

It should be noted, however, that a lot of the issues with Andromeda have more to do with a new studio taking over for this one. The creation of the latest Mass Effect game was taken from Bioware to Bioware Montreal, a studio known for--wait for it--singing games.

One major change in this fourth game is the elimination of the need to point your character in the direction of becoming either a paragon or a renegade, something which had great influence over the outcome of the first three installments. Instead, the developers opted for a different system, where your character has multiple ‘reaction’ options in conversation. Rather than your responses affecting everything from party loyalty to the actual conclusion of the game, these responses seem to have more of a limited impact. Namely, each response possibly triggers a different ‘reaction’ from the person with whom you’re conversing.

At this point in the game, while I enjoy the chance to experiment with having a more emotionally-driven character, I’m not sure I like that there are very little consequences to the options I am choosing in conversation.

One major disappointment so far for myself in this game has been the romancing options out of party members for Sara. In the original trilogy, there were a lot of complaints about not putting enough depth into the LGBT options for lead romances, which was a fair criticism. Andromeda seems to have fantastic LGBT romance options for both Scott and Sara, with cute banter and sweet conversations.

If you’re looking for straight romancing options for Sara, however, don’t get your hopes up. It’s almost as if Bioware Montreal took the criticisms, addressed them, but put all effort into the opposite side, leaving any heterosexual options floundering. I won’t go into details with the options, but let’s just say the introduction to the romance leaves much to be desired.

The story itself is pretty good, but it builds much slower than the previous three games. In Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3, Shepard is often literally thrown directly into a non-stop storyline, created with a sense of urgency which often leaves you afraid of doing side missions for fear your slowness will result in the destruction of the galaxy and all life inside it. Andromeda replaces the urgency with a calmer feeling, one encouraging exploration over desperation.

Much of the exploration is done planetside, utilizing the redesigned Mako--now called a Nomad--to drive around toxic planets and set up outposts for the Initiative to settle and expand through the Andromeda galaxy. Although the developers boasted about how the Nomad is supposedly way better than the Mako, it’s not. The controls are just as finicky and the new sixth gear isn’t very impressive. Plus, you no longer have any weapons on the vehicle, meaning when you encounter enemies, you have to get out, even if it means you’ll nearly die because of the atmosphere while doing it.

The side quests include a lot of back and forth, and useless scanning, and more back and forth, with the first major side quest being something of a let-down. The setup of it gives you the impression you’re about to have the opportunity to set the tone for justice in the Andromeda galaxy. Then it kind of just drops off a cliff into nothingness.

All criticisms aside, the game is good. Bioware and EA continue to release patches to address concerns raised by fans when it comes to glitches, design, and even some gameplay issues. The story is intriguing enough to keep playing through, and I have a feeling the deeper I get into it, the more action I’m going to see.

The combat is incredibly well done, taking the best of each of the original games to create what I feel is one of the best formats yet. There are obviously some flaws, but I don’t know if there will ever be a combat system capable of pleasing everyone.

This far into Andromeda, I’d say I give the game a solid 8/10. It looks, feels, and plays like a Mass Effect game, and as a hardcore fan of the series, that is one of the most important aspects. For those trying to play it as a standalone game, I’m not sure they’ll find the same kind of thrill in it. I have high hopes for the rest of Andromeda, but I won’t be replacing my N7 decals with an Initiative one anytime soon.

What are/were your first thoughts during the early stages of Mass Effect: Andromeda


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