Monday, June 12, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda


Rating: 6.7
Happy Price: 19.99

Gameplay

Mass Effect expands on the previous trilogy of being a third person shooter/RPG with extensive dialogue, but lacks heavy narrative decision making seen in previous versions of the game. You'll customize armor, guns, and different party combinations. Selecting a class and building it out how you want to play it is one of the most rewarding parts of the game, but at the same time can feel more restrictive than in previous games. 

Quest Design

You'll be flooded with things to do, and not really know what is important or not when you first start playing the game. After a while you realize you're running around doing chores that don't reward much experience points or make any impact on the main story, yet they'll appear in your journal as incomplete which will bother you endlessly. It can be confusing because the dialogue for all these side quests is compelling and the voice acting is done well, which conveys emotion though the screen. You'll really want to save the botanists brother that may have been kidnapped by raiders, but after the 10th time you've heard this story it begins to lose its luster. Sometimes doing side quests unlock cool rewards like heavily discounted black market shops which help you in the long run, and other times you just get a pat on the back. Not knowing what the rewards are prior to doing the missions can result in a massive waste of time at points.

It's not always the content of the mission that takes a long time however, it's how these missions are constructed. You might start out on the Tempest (main ship) and have to fly to another planet [loading screen]. Then land on the planet [loading screen]. Walk around the station on the planet and talk to people [multiple loading screens opening doors and such]. Venture out into the wilderness of the planet which consists of long drives in the nomad which can be painfully slow at times. Then you'll fetch whatever you need to get. Return back to the planetary station [loading screen]. Be forced to read your email, which can only be accessed on the Tempest [loading screen] and then a follow up task from there which repeats this cycle. It made doing side quests a chore at times and it gets to the point where you just want the game to end. 



There are also missions that result in you having to wait for something to happen, and its not clear what has to happen for the follow up mission to unlock. Is it time duration? Real time or game time? A certain side quest? I still don't know. It will literally have a red ON HOLD: statement next to critical missions like companionship quests. I've completed the game and I have two companions still in this state with no idea how to progress. The main story quests are done well and have decent cinematics that progress the story. They consists of a linear set of tasks that have a good balance of combat time and dialogue time. There isn't the issue of multiple loading screens and they have a great flow to them. I enjoyed the main story quite a bit, but the side quests took away from the experience of the game especially when comparing to previous iterations of the game. 

Combat

Gunfights are much improved compared to previous versions, which we've seen steady improvements since the first Mass Effect was released back in 2007. There are new additions like jetpacks, dashes, hovers, and hovering which make you feel nimble on the battlefield and allow you to fly around and wreak havoc. These new tactics also come in handy when in tricky situations and you need to rush to cover or evade a barrage of bullets. The enemy types and their variety of behaviors gave good balance to each skirmish. There was a great range of enemies that included ones that rushed, normal assault rifle wielding enemies that utilized cover, the heavy's, and snipers. This forces you to switch weapons and have strategic loadouts that would make you versatile. I was constantly switching between sniper rifles and shotguns during skirmishes and combining those with my biotics. Each skirmished had enough tension to make me feel challenged, but wasn't overly frustrating.



Choices made outside of battle affect how your skirmishes will go. Wielding a scope on an assault weapon might be a good idea for some, but when I tried this it didn't go so well. Later in the game I had an assault rifle that was single shot but high damage and a low magazine size. The scope on this weapon was a great idea and I felt like I'd created an overpowered weapon and learned from a mistake I made earlier in the game. Guns are balanced very well, they range from high fire rate and low damage with large magazines to the polar opposite of that. There are modifications however that can make something overpowered however, and if you're strategic about how you're modifying weapons you'll have a good edge in battle. For example my high powered single shot assault rifle was equipped with a scope and a modification that increased the magazine size by 50%. I also had a low damage assault rifle with high fire rate equipped with a modification that made all my bullets sticky grenades. This allowed me to damage enemies near my target, or spray tons of grenades on the ground near a group of enemies.



Exploration

Most of the time exploring hostile planets will be done in the Nomad, which is the 6 wheel drive all terrain vehicle that features no weapons to shoot at all and extremely slow uphill speed. In order to upgrade things like speed, shield, and life support in this vehicle you'll need to mine some pretty rare resources. By the time I had enough resources to spend on the Nomad, I was debating if I should spend them on weapons, so I didn't spend them at all until later. When later came, the game was pretty much over. Despite that, the worlds you explore are beautiful and it's somewhat of a fun experience. The occasional jump here and there makes things bearable, but this vehicle needs guns so I can shoot at stuff as I drive across a planet to fetch someone's data pad that had missing research on it. 



A good game will feature something to do while driving, take lessons from a game like Forza Horizon which rewards things like getting air or burnouts. Things like this should allow for upgrades of the vehicle, or offer some reward so I have something to do while driving. Instead I spent my time looking around and being pretty bored while driving actually. Driving in real life was more fun than driving the Nomad which is a rarity in video games. The trailer made driving the Nomad this super cool experience of this badass vehicle. It doesn't become that until much later in the game when there are resources available to upgrade it. 

Progression

There are a limitless amount of abilities that can be upgraded, but at any given point only three are accessible abilities. Instead of the ability wheel we've seen in the past, you are now restricted to three abilities that are mapped to controller buttons. Abilities can be changed at fixed points in the world when your loadout is changed, places this can be done are on the Nexus which is your ship or resupply stations on planets. It is a bit counter intuitive that an "ability" needs to be changed out at the same location as armor and guns, since an ability is something housed inside your body. Because of the hassle of changing abilities at these stations, I just built out three main abilities I never changed and then built out all passive skills. I essentially became an expert at using my abilities, but at the same time was stuck with the same stuff for 60 hours of gameplay which made things feel stagnant.




What was surprisingly cool is the different combat archetypes that are unlocked. I started as a tech specialist that constructed turrets and disabled shields. When I started building out passive Combat skills like more damage from specific guns, I allocated enough skill points between the combat/tech trees to unlock a new archetype known as the Infiltrator. I unlocked an ability that allowed me to go invisible for a second while dashing which was surprising, and then also had a new set of buffs that combined damage and shield damage. Experience points are gained by both completing missions and killing enemies. Sometimes a skirmish that takes 60 seconds can yield more experience than a side quest that lasts 45 minutes, so this part didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Art and Animation

There are plenty of articles written about the animations in this game underachieving what a AAA studio like Bioware should be capable of doing. I'd like to highlight some of the positive artwork this game presents. The planets are highly detailed and beautiful to explore. Something I found a bit cheap was the main planets you go to follow common Earth environments but to an absolute extreme. You'll be on a planet that is full of ice, one that is a desert, one with poisonous swamp gas, etc. Even though they were not creative in this sense, the artists brought these places to life and made them worth exploring and spending time in. I found places where I could drive and see a spectacular sunset, or even appreciate something like the fauna on the tropical planets. There is a lot to complain about with this game, but the artwork was something that kept me going.




Summary

Combat has been much improved, but the franchise lost ground in terms of narrative, quest design, decision making, and animation. The thought of a sequel to this made me cringe. I'm not sure if I have much more faith in Bioware after this game, by the end of it I felt like I was playing a game that had a good story but was full of chores. 

Art: 9
Animation: 3
Design: 5
Combat: 9
Story: 6
Acting/Cinematics: 8

Total: 6.7

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