The Circle Debate: Mass Effect: Andromeda

 

Contributors/ace interns Donovan Floyd and Jeffrey Mizrahi are deep into playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. Donovan’s logged 40 hours thus far, Jeffrey, a little less. As they play, they’ll debate the high and low points of the game. Away we go!

Donovan: I’ll start with the Mass Effect Andromeda’s gameplay -which I think is really fun. I can tell that they really listened to the fans of the Mass Effect trilogy that wanted to bring back the RPG elements from the first game. They took that and ME3’s combat system and just ran with it. The crafting system is a little overwhelming at first but it’s easy to pick up. The exploration is compelling and I felt rewarded by the planet viability system. It’s so vast that even though I spent most of my 40 hours of playing time exploring, I feel like I barely made a dent. The combat is still as amazing as it was in the preview. The jump jet makes it all more fast-paced and easier to pull  offmore Rambo-style moves and get out of tight spots quickly. They were true to their word about the cover system as well: fluid, natural, and not too sticky.

My only issues are that the research system can feel a little redundant at some times, and I’d like an easier way to upgrade the weapons I already have instead of going through the whole process of research and development. No problems come to mind with combat, however.

Jeffrey: On the topic of combat, I agree that Bioware definitely made that a focus this time around. I have always been a believer that if a game has a good story, but the gameplay is horrible, then that is not a game worth playing. That is also the primary reason I used to suggest newcomers to start with Mass Effect 2 because the gameplay in the original was so stiff and cumbersome.

However, it’s been a decade since then, and while the jump jets create a completely fresh gameplay experience, the overall gameplay still feels very true and authentic to the series. While the trope has been seen in many other sci-fi games, it’s new to the Mass Effect series. The mid-air float is my favorite new addition to the game. When aiming down the sights on any weapon while in the air, your character floats for a few seconds which allows you to both survey the area at a higher vantage point as well as shoot at enemies hidden behind cover. In this area, Mass Effect Andromeda proves that Bioware has learned some new tricks from more modern games.

However I found myself wondering why they left in so many minor annoyances from games of the past. The archaic item pick up system, and poorly placed checkpoints are just a few things that turn what could have been an amazing game, into simply a good game.

Donovan: I can also add the lack of quicksave/quickload options to the list of minor annoyances. I’m honestly still puzzled as to how that got left out as it’s a pretty fundamental feature for most games these days.

We can also move up a notch to the major annoyances. One of them is the awkward writing which I briefly mentioned in the preview. I noticed from the beginning that the characters banter seemed a little bit forced and out of place at times. For example, I know they tried to make Liam kind of a bro-type-character to Ryder, but I just wasn’t convinced that they had the chemistry that the writers were trying to convey. I’ve already gone into the subject of the animations and the character creation system, but I’d like to hear what you think about the two.

Jeffrey: There is definitely something off with the writing this time around. The back and forth between the characters seem very forced, like you mentioned, as well as painfully awkward in certain areas due to the games infamous facial animation issues. However, that isn’t even the biggest hold up for me. I can do with weird faces in games, I have been doing so for over a dozen years, what I can’t deal with are the games bugs. So far I’ve spoken to the top of Drak’s, your Krogan squadmate, spacesuit twice because when I entered his quarters on the Tempest, his character model spawned three feet underground. I have also gotten stuck behind certain areas in the game’s geometry during intense combat sequences a number of times. It seems that for every major thing Bioware does right with Andromeda, there are about three minor flaws which counter the good. You mentioned the R&D system earlier and oh boy is that bad. It’s not so much that I don’t enjoy the minutia of dense RPG systems, I just think that with the need to research an item using one of three resources, then develop that item with four out of dozen other resources, the whole thing can be very complex just for complexity’s sake. It also doesn’t help that in these menus there is no way to sort weapons by damage, or sort armor by damage resistance, which makes me feel like it’s just not worth my time and that I’m better off using the overpowered guns that came with the deluxe edition. But at the end of the day, those are just my minor grievances with the game. I’m interested, however, in what you think about the small list of squadmates this time around. Returning to a core six isn’t something we’ve seen since the original game and so far, I prefer it.

Donovan: Actually, the last Mass Effect game had only six squadmates as well, but the characters in this game are pretty interesting – so far. Nakmor Drack, the token Krogan of the group, is my favorite, followed closely by Vetra Nix, the new badass Turian on the block. Some may see them as carbon copies of Wrex and Garrus, but their backgrounds anf certain quirks make them similar enough to draw in the old fans but different enough to make them stay. Jaal is also currently becoming a favorite. He’s different type of character that we haven’t seen before, the strong, silent, and emotional type. This takes it even further away from the military story that we’d previously been a part of by offering ironically more human reactions to some of the events. Peebee and Liam have unfortunately fallen victim to the trying-too-hard style of writing and I just don’t think Cora is very interesting. Who are your favorite squadmates? Also, I know you’re about 20 hours in now, what do you think about the game’s story so far.

Jeffrey: I was hoping you would catch that remark about the squadmates. While the base Mass Effect 3 game had only six squadmates, a launch day $10 DLC included a pretty important, and memorable, seventh character named Javik. This nickel and diming made many players feel cheated as if the $60 they spent on the game already wasn’t enough. Luckily, we didn’t see any of that this time around. On the topic of story, I would say I’m probably halfway through the main campaign, and have completed both Drak’s and Vetra’s loyalty missions. I find it odd that Bioware’s retreading familiar ground with yet another ancient alien species with superior tech that we know nothing about. While there are differences between the species, the whole situation is far too reminiscent of the Protheans and Reapers. And another hang up for me was the Initiative’s first contact protocol and interactions with the new bad guys, the Kett. I don’t understand what they expected. For there to be no hostility when entering a new galaxy? Or that even if there is, we’ll kill them all? You would think that these futuristic spacemen would have learned something from human history (let alone the First Contact War between humans and Turians, in which the same scenario occurred). However, there are some story sequences I can get myself invested in, such as when Liam expresses his feelings that the fate of the new galaxy rests on his shoulders, or the surprisingly addictive side quests that have you explore base worlds doing some detective work. Moments like these make Mass Effect: Andromeda feel much more personal than previous games in the series. Which makes me wonder, Donovan, after completing the game, how do you think Andromeda stacks up to the other games in the Mass Effect series. And where do you want to see Bioware take this series next?

Donovan: Believe it or not, I still have yet to finish the main missions. I keep getting stuck doing all the side missions and getting any planet I visit up to 100% viability. I guess that goes to show how much content Bioware really put into the game.

However, compared to the trilogy, Andromeda still doesn’t quite feel like a Mass Effect game. I think that it’s because the characters, the atmosphere, even the galaxy itself are all so new and far away from the trilogy, that it’s whole new game in itself. That’s not a bad thing, though because I’m pretty sure that’s what they were looking to do. In the next game of the series I’d like to see Bioware go more into the relationships between the characters, make them go from the awkward sidekicks to lovable badasses like the ones we got in the trilogy. I also hope to explore more of the Andromeda Galaxy outside of the Heleus Cluster and meet more alien species.

On the technical side, I hope they fix all the issues with the animations, awkward voice acting, and lackluster character creation system. Bioware is usually pretty good at listening to their fans concerns, so I am pretty optimistic that most will be addressed. The question is what will be sacrificed for that, and what will fans find to complain about next? Despite its shortcomings, I really like the game. It’s fun to play and offers a pretty well thought out story with great potential. What do you think about Andromeda and the future of the franchise, Jeffrey?

Jeffrey: Like I said earlier, I think Mass Effect Andromeda is a good game. It’s honestly such a shame that, in my eyes, the bad outweighs the good in almost every aspect. Let’s take a look at the planet viability system you just mentioned. I thoroughly enjoyed the minor story missions you would encounter when landing on each planet. All these little things you do add up to establishing a colony in some far away galaxy. They truly help further the overall narrative of what the Andromeda Initiative has set out to accomplish. However, traversing these planets is frustratingly cumbersome at worst, and simply boring at best. Driving the clunky Mako in Mass Effect 1 is unanimously agreed upon as the worst part of that game, so I really can’t fathom as to why Bioware would bring it back in the form of the Nomad, a slightly better controlled vehicle. My desire to explore these new worlds sadly does not outweigh my aversion towards driving the Nomad. At the end of the day, I would really love to see Mass Effect Andromeda through to the end, but I just don’t think I can. Right now, in this videogame golden age that is Q1 2017, there isn’t enough time to be watching ridiculously long planet animations, replaying encounters due to poor checkpoints, or falling 50 feet down a mountain because I didn’t switch gears in the Nomad at the right time.

While we disagree on the quality of the game, Donovan, I agree with you that Andromeda definitely has tons of potential and hopefully the jump in quality to Andromeda 2 will be similar to what we saw with Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2. It was really great speaking to you about this, Donovan. Until next time!

 

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