Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda

   I haven't really felt like writing out any formal reviews of the games I've been playing, and this is going to continue the trend.  So all this will be stream-of consciousness ranting.
    Amazingly, I have been playing a game that came out this year. Shock and awe!  Actually, thank you Redbox for letting me try out a game that I didn't know if I'd actually want to play.  I played all three of the original Mass Effect games, and liked them overall (of course, the original ending to 3 sucked, which no doubt any computer gamer has heard of).  I've played all the Dragon Age games, including Inquisition (sadly), also by Bioware (which I mention because I'll reference it later), and mostly liked those as well (first was the best IMO).  So I was kind of looking forward to Andromeda, but not exactly jumping for joy to see it.  Let me run through a few things from the (admittedly limited) time I've played.  I have only made it about half-way through the game, so there won't be any spoilers.

    The biggest complaint I heard about before playing Andromeda was the animation.  You can find tons of YouTube videos on the bad facial animations and general animation bugs.  I first played after a patch, which helped fix those, but being partially deaf I always play with the subtitles on - so I could easily ignore the faces, which are mediocre for the most part.
    Okay, so that out of the way, overall I'd say it was an okay game, but not amazing.  It felt like a Mass Effect game overall, not as big as 1 but broader than 2, not as scripted as 3.  It was alright in terms of being ME.  You start the game as one of the Ryder twins, who are low-level explorers under their dad, just arriving in the Andromeda galaxy on a one-way trip.  It's different from ME 1 where Shepard was already known, you choosing what he was known for.  So it feels a little different, but I found that a good thing as it helped subtly detach me from missing Shepard so much.
    Classes are gone, you can choose between Tech, Biotic or Combat as you will.  That is cool in a gameplay sense - you have freedom to try different playstyles and tactics.  It makes the story weird though.  One of your first companions, Cora, is a Biotic, and will talk about how she was basically ostracized for her powers - and never mention that you too could be a Biotic, thus sympathizing.  Also, at a later point she uses her powers in a pretty dramatic way - and again you get ignored even if you fully spent that way.  It's a small thing, but it really stood out to me the few times it popped up.
    The trees seem pretty well-rounded.  Most of the Combat skills didn't appeal to me, and it felt like a lot of the Biotic skills were meant for melee - so I went mostly Tech.  I did try them all, Tech just fit better for me (as it did in ME 3, prior to that one I had always been a soldier).  The abilities are okay, but introduced a new combo system - some skills primed a combo, and some detonated a combo, and combos do a pretty significant amount of damage and so are quite useful.  But, there are a lot more primers than detonators, which made it feel like you had to stick to a few skills, and it was impossible to co-ordinate with your companions to have one of you prime and the other detonate, which would have been awesome (yes, companions can prime, but you have to notice what they're doing to whom, which can be quite difficult in the chaos of combat).
    Also, you could only keep 3 skills (no more power wheel) active, on the Xbox they were left/right bumper and both together.  That really feels limiting after opening the game up so you can choose from so many powers.  I hated that part of the game, the old power wheel would have been much better.
    Your one wheel is now your guns and consumables - maybe it's just me, but I always forgot I had consumables.  They can recharge your shields, launch a rocket, or give you disrupter or incendiary ammo - so they are useful; I just forgot about them.  I don't remember that system ever being in the previous games, and I did play on the easy difficulty (I was paying by the day to rent it, so I wanted to get as far as possible - though it could still be nicely difficult at some spots) so I didn't need them as much as someone or Hardcore (or the equivalent).  You also start with only 2 gun slots, have to buy in the combat tree to unlock 3 and 4, and gun weight can slow your power recharge speed.  All of that was fine, I would recommend getting the 3rd slot so you can keep a short, medium and long ranged weapon, which you can get fairly light versions of or abilities to increase your carry weight (assault rifle, shotgun and sniper rifle left me at -3% with my tech heavy build).
    Weapons are okay, there are a lot of different types, but you have to craft them. You almost never see a weapon drop from an enemy unless you researched it (more on that in a sec), or even for sale.  That totally sucked.  The weapons do shoot fairly differently, so it would be great to be able to try them out on a gun range type setting (like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided).  I really like assault rifles (can passably snipe distance, short bursts work at medium, and if someone gets close you can hold down the trigger - so they're jack-of-all-trade weapons) and just kept the one I started with for the game, mostly (crafted one upgraded and modded version).  The Reegar Shotgun (not sure of spelling, too lazy to look it up) is Totally Awesome - it Shoots Lighting!!! I loved it, it's wicked at close range against just about anything.  One of the Kett (your enemy race) sniper rifles has explosive shots, which was also fun.  I'd recommend watching some YouTube videos on the different gun types before playing, to save yourself some grief.
    You can also mod weapons and armor - which sucks overall.  Fallout 4 did a much better system, Andromeda is a mostly useless sub-system.  You have to scan objects in the world to earn research points, and there are 3 different types of research points which making different weapons, armors and mods.  Research is kind of hard to come by in the early game, so it really hurts to waste points on a weapon you don't like the feel of (hence my suggestion to look them up before playing). Later in the game you get a good pool of points, but it uses the stupid treadmill system every damn stupid game has to use - so you pay to research Avenger 1, then pay more for Avenger 2 and so on and so on until Avenger 10 (or whatever).  Each level is only a little better than the one before though, so it doesn't feel like you got much for your investment.  From 1 to 2 is a step, since at 2 you can add mods to a gun and enhance it, but even from 1 to 10 is only like a 10-20% increase (or so, I don't have the game in front of me to verify the numbers) - so it doesn't feel like an accomplishment.  I kept my first crafted and modified assault rifle thorough the half-way point of the game I ended at.  Again, being on Easy might have made it less noticeable, Hardcore people might need to stay upgrading, but I just thought is was crap, and it's crap in all the other games that do it.  Far better was the mod system, where you could make a weapon not use ammo but overheat (like ME 1, which is still my favorite system and totally fit the lore), or shoot lightning (though you have a cool shotgun noted above for that) or plasma balls - you can really see and feel the difference with mods.  Those mods, and turning the different weapon types into mods, I would have loved (so, there are like 4 types of assault rifles, one that is a general full auto, another is higher damage but single shot, another shoots bursts only, and another full auto but has a spin-up time like a minigun - all of those would have been better as mods to the base "assault rifle" template in my opinion).
    You can also craft and upgrade armor - but again crafting sucks.  You have to harvest a stupid number of different materials (making it really hard to remember which one you need for your current project, or figure out where to find that stuff), and your options are really crappy for some items.  I really wanted to make the N7 armor my dad designed - but it only buffed Biotic powers, kind of stupid given dad could do all abilities like you.  Useful armor mods were hard to find for me (like +health or +shields), I only saw them in a few stores, and the ones you can craft are very limited in scope.  In order to craft you also have to mine, which you do by driving around in circles (literally) on a planet when the computer tells you you're near some materials.  I Totally Hated That Time-Wasting Crap.  Buying them is kind of expensive, and you can't really find them from orbit like ME2 (though ME 2 had a similar system, which also sucked).  In all, look online for the guns you think you'll like, research them a level or two, craft them - and then forget about the whole system.  It's honestly more of a waste of time than it is helpful.
    Combat is good though, it's more fast-paced, your jetpack and dodge let you zip around the battlefield (and a Biotic ability creates a shield that reflects bullets, which is fun for when you want to walk right up to somebody's face).  The enemy AI seemed decent, and there are different enemy types.  Overall I thought the combat was the best part of the game (and you do plenty of it).
    Dialogue, however, sucks.  Forgetting any animation glitches, you almost never know what exactly you're going to say, and it really felt like it didn't matter what you said (something Fallout 4 did as well, though I don't know if I remembered to mention it in my post).  I really hated talking to people, which I was hoping would be a great part of the system - and I liked lots more in ME 1-3.
    Companions are okay, most all of them are interesting characters in a variety of personalities.  Their random banter can be really cool, which I remember loving in Dragon Age: Origins and am happy to see in Andromeda.  There are romance options like always, actual nudity in the obligatory sex scene (why? though it is better than the underwear scene from DA:O), but nothing really different from the previous games.  Which is good, if it ain't broke don't fix it.
    The story, however, blows chunks.  It is not really that engaging, has several easy to see plot points, and just didn't seem like it was that much fun to do the main quests.  It is full of side quests, most of which felt like a waste of time, which reminded of the worst of Dragon Age: Inquisition (though not as horrific as DA:I).  I was really hoping for multiple alien races, I only saw one, which felt odd given all the many different races, with different personalities, in the previous games.  I got about half-way through the main storyline (according to internet research) and honestly I don't care if I ever finish it.  Doesn't seem like you make many meaningful decisions, and the lack of Paragon/Renegade didn't help (even though those were mediocre morality systems, they did have some great interrupt moments)(loved pushing the guy out the window in ME2).
    Also, being strangers in a strange galaxy, there is a kind of base-building system.  You can earn points by terraforming planets to wake up more colonists and gain different abilities from the ones you thaw.  Except, the bonuses you get are really forgettable and don't contribute much.  Your first base you can choose weather to be scientific or military - and you never get that choice for subsequent bases, and it doesn't matter except for one or two lines of dialogue.  This is where it painfully reminded me of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I'm sad that after making such a suck-all base system in that game they did the same thing in Andromeda.  There's also a multiplayer thing I didn't use because I don't like multiplayer, and some rewards in real-time that were also so small as to be inconsequential.

    Overall, I'd say if you liked the Mass Effect games wait to get this one cheap at GameStop.  If you didn't care for ME, then skip this one, I doubt it will sell you on the franchise.  Or just rent it a time or two from Redbox like I did.

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