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Sunday, August 6, 2017

"It's a Video Game!" - Mass Effect: Andromeda

“Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of the Survey Ship Tempest. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Ryder has gone before… and no, I ain’t just talking about dating a hot asari either!”

Well, it has come to this. When I heard that another Mass Effect game was on the way, I was stoked. The Mass Effect trilogy is one of my favorite video game series. I think every ME fan was throwing that “my body is ready” meme around or something. Then, as we started to see more of it through trailers and gameplay, the excitement started to die down. Also add reports of things going on behind the scenes. Then, the game was actually released. The reception was pretty mixed overall. Some liked it while others thought it was really flawed for what Bioware is known for.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was released during March this year. The reports and videos about the game did leave me worried, so I thought I’d wait until those game patches got released. Besides, I’m an adult with bills to pay, so it had to wait. I did rent it through Redbox first to see how the game actually was. Later, I finally bought the game along with the latest Witcher game. I’m playing that now and… well, I’ll keep my opinion on whether it’s better than MEA.  After over 70 hours of gameplay, what did I think of this spinoff?
The Many Faces of Ryell Ryder. I played around with some looks and they worked for the most part. I did have that weird gaze that everyone has, though.

Mass Effect: Andromeda takes place roughly 600 years after the original trilogy. In 2185 (between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3), the major races came together and formed the Andromeda Initiative. The plan was to make a one-way trip in four giant ships (arks) and the Nexus (their version of the Citadel) to the Andromeda galaxy and explore new planets. 20,000 citizens from each race (human, krogan, turian, and asari) volunteered for this undertaking and they were all put to cryogenic sleep for the long, 600-year trip.  One of the leaders of the Initiative was Alec Ryder, a former Alliance soldier and one of the Pathfinders for this undertaking.
Daddy Ryder!

You’ll either play as Sara or Scott Ryder, Alec’s children. When the Hyperion (humanity’s ark) makes it to the galaxy, they run into trouble. Hey, it’s the Mass Effect universe, so you know things will go bad. It turns out that the planets that the races are supposed colonize aren’t perfect. Add new threats, new races, and infighting with your people into the mix.  Top all of that off with something happening to Alec and you are made humanity’s Pathfinder, the one who’s supposed to lead the colonization of these planets. With a new ship and new crew, you’ll have to brave space and make the Heleaus Cluster a viable place to settle.

If I could describe this game, it would be a mix of Star Trek: Voyager, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and (unfortunately) Dragon Age 2. If you know anything about those properties, you may know where I’m going with this. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a fine game. Unfortunately, when you compare it to the trilogy and even more recent RPGs, it does come short of being really good.

PROS
While this game is flawed, it does have a lot of merit to it. First off, this game does its best to invoke the feel of Mass Effect. We get the familiar trappings of the universe and some updated ideas from the trilogy. We’ve got the familiar aliens as well as the backstories to those aliens’ histories. Exploration was one of the coolest things about the first game and it comes back here in a pretty major way. We’ve got a few planets to choose from and a lot of land to explore. Since you’re the Pathfinder, you’ll have to go to different worlds and lay ground for the new Milky Way inhabitants. You’ll use diplomacy, kick loads of butt, flirt with everyone, and wonder why the Nomad has no gun.
Now that's the look of a man who's had enough of giant tentacle robots.

I do like the story even though it's not that good. As Ryder, you get a lot of stuff thrown at you when you’re made the Pathfinder. Not only are you paving a way in making these planets livable, you’re also mending fences and making alliances. When you make it to the Nexus, the central hub for the Milky Way inhabitants, stuff’s already gone bad. A bunch of people were exiled from the Nexus, the other arks are missing, and there’s a new race called the kett causing problems. Add the fact that the cluster you live in has a lot of anomalies and weird alien tech called Remnant. What I’m saying is that you get a lot to do and most of it is pretty good.

The companions are fine for the most part. They all are diverse in race and in personality. My favorite ones were Peebee, Drax, and Jaal. While there is little control over them this time (no alternate uniforms??), you can upgrade their abilities. There are loads of people to interact with on the different planets. You also interact with a new alien race to interact with called the angara, Jaal’s race. The Tempest, your new ship, is pretty cool. It’s no Normandy, but it does the job and you even get a bigger bedroom. You get a MAKO-like vehicle called the Nomad to use on most planets. I can honestly say that it’s fun but there’s no gun.
It's not the best crew, but they work.

The missions were mostly good. They were your standard action-RPG shenanigans. I can also say that the final level does make up for ME3’s last level a little bit. The gameplay is good for the most part. The combat system is pretty awesome. You get a lot of control, a lot of weapons, and a lot of abilities. They overhauled the leveling system a bit and made it so you can use different profiles (formerly known as classes) during your playthrough.

The graphics are pretty good for the most part. There are issues but the graphics for the planets, space, and the different equipment do look good.  Traveling through space looked pretty nice. Finally, the music is alright. It’s not as noticeable (nor memorable), but it does the job. I do think the main theme playing at the beginning of the game is pretty good. Other than that track, the rest is alright.


CONS
While MEA has merit, it still fails in some areas. Everyone was aghast at the facial animations for the humans. Bioware did their best to fix them up in patches. Still, they do come off a bit weird at times. I think it has to do with the eyes or something. It sucks since you’ll spend a lot of your time talking to people. I even ran into some glitches as well as couple of game-breaking ones. For example, the Nomad would sometimes freeze up on me when I driving it. Now, I’m not a stickler when it comes to some of this stuff. Heck, you’ll find weird problems in excellent games. Unfortunately, those areas aren’t the only places where the game falters.
Those eyes...

While I liked the story, it felt pretty tame. After the opening missions where major stuff happens, it just treads along for a long while. There was peril but it felt a little too safe at times. There was another reason I compared this to Star Trek: Voyager, after all. Some things weren’t fleshed out too much. The companions were an example of that. Outside of Jaal and maybe Peebee, the companions felt a little off. There must be something about human companions that don’t interest the writers because both of them (Cora and Liam) felt weak.

The kett, your main threat, also felt a little underwritten. The main villain, the Archon, was a bit on the bland side. The kett also felt pretty recycled from former villains. I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a point where you find out some chilling stuff about them. While the twist was shocking, it felt really familiar. For a shorter game, the kett being underwritten wouldn’t be much of a problem. For a 70+ hour game, it becomes a bit of an issue.

The choices to make your custom character also felt pretty limited. Bioware did expand the looks a bit in patches but my dude had to go through some changes. At least I was able to change my dude’s looks on the Tempest. The voice acting strangely felt a little off at times. I usually didn’t run into this problem before with some of Bioware’s games. I can’t really say why it does but some of it just didn’t stand up. It could have been some of the dialogue which did feel off at times as well.

While you had good gameplay, there were missions that did get a little repetitive. Some of them also tended to be “find this thing” missions. In 70+ hours of gameplay, that can hurt a bit. I ran into this problem with another Bioware creation, Dragon Age: Inquisition. In fact, MEA feels a lot like DAI at times with the way everything’s structured. That’s not really a bad thing (DAI was good), but it looks like MEA also brought the things I didn’t like about DAI too.

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In the end, this is still a nice game on its own. When you compare to other Bioware creations (especially the first Mass Effect), it does fall short. Now that I know about the development of the game, I know why it falls short. Let’s just say there are reasons most of the things I mentioned felt off. It just sucks because there was a lot of good things in this game. Hopefully, the next installment will continue to build from what was established here. I haven’t played the multiplayer yet, but if it’s anything like Mass Effect 3’s, it probably pretty good. If you're curious, check it out and make your own opinion.

Well, I'm outta here. Peace, God Bless, and be careful out there. Find some cool  folk to chill with all that's going on these days.
Okay, what's up with Cora's eyes in the back???

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