Sunday, March 19, 2017

My first ten hours with Mass Effect: Andromeda

I decided to get early access to Mass Effect: Andromeda. Now I have opinions. A word on spoilers: I try not to give away anything important (as far as I know) here, but... if you're sensitive to spoilers I make no promises beyond this point.

You know about the animation problem. It's like they forgot to put muscles around the eyebrows and cheeks. It is a problem, and I hope they are able to fix it. This is compounded by the slightly cartoonish textures and color pallet. When the animations go wrong, they can look like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Only... unintentional.

A lot of people are screaming that this is the end of the world. They say Mass Effect sucks now. But does it?

The basic combat feels similar to previous games - duck behind cover, shoot enemies who are also ducking behind cover. They have removed the ability to tell your squad mates to use specific powers, but you can still tell them where to go during a fight. You are no longer married to a single class. Instead you swap out class profiles from the menu (or hot keys f1-f4) at any time. You unlock profiles by putting skill points in one of three ability trees. They have added a 'jump pack,' which allows you to leap up approximately 30 feet and to dash about 10-15 feet. Depending on which class you have equipped the dash may have additional attributes such as invisibility or warping. Finally, abilities combo off each other better now. They are clearly labeled with something that says "This ability starts a combo" and "this ability ends a combo." You shoot an enemy with the first ability, then the second, and something awesome happens - my character has been triggering explosions with a 10 foot radius, but I understand there are other things you can do.

Overall I like the changes to combat. I was never much for ordering my squad mates to use powers - though it was a requirement to get through the game on higher difficulties. The ability to change builds on the fly addresses a concern I had in previous games where my build was at a clear disadvantage in some fights, while it was laughably overpowered in others. I like that I can use singularity as a sniper build, or that I can switch to a shotgun-wielding teleporting biotic with hp/shield buffs when the situation demands it. The various scenarios the game threw at me in the first section of the first open planet were diverse enough that I didn't feel like I was running down a linear hallway or fighting in to one of four prefab buildings.

Which leads me to the dichotomy of uniqueness. The more hand crafted the environments are, the fewer of them there can be. So far, no two places on the first story map are the same. In fact, they seem pretty different and clearly have a history. That's great... but if there are going to be dozens of planets I don't know if they can keep this up. There are 7 "golden worlds" that the explorers intended to colonize. I imagine each enemy faction will have a center of power, and then there are the missing ark ships. The impression the demo wants me to have is that each of those are filled with pretty great stories of tragedy, betrayal, and redemption. I want that to be the case. I just am not sure it's possible on the scale I've been shown so far. Eventually I expect to see enemy bases to repeat themselves; maybe in three tiers, like outpost, military hub, and capital. In the demo we are supposed to find one such base. If you decide to push the boundaries a bit there is a second; obviously with the same architectural style. I wasn't able to explore the second one due to what I assume was a plot element, but it seemed to be a good bit different than the first base.

Multiplayer. It has it. I tried maybe five games? Maybe eight? Somewhere in there. The match making sucked. I had two playable games. A few others that I slogged through but did not enjoy. When it made me host (what, why?) my computer slowed down like crazy, team mates were complaining about rubber banding. I bailed on it. I hope it worked out better for them once I left. My computer is VR-minspec, it hasn't had problems with other recent games so... I dunno what's happening there. Hopefully the day one patch will fix some of that?

The final thing I want to talk about is story and player choice. I will dissect a complete side quest, so it will get spoiled. I will talk about them AFTER I post the videos of my play through from twitch. I do not complete the sidequest in the videos, but it does get pretty spoilery.

Here are the videos.

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Okay, still with me? Great. If you've played a Bioware before you've seen some variation on the "Help! My husband is wrongly accused of murder, please prove his innocence!" quest. ME:A has one such quest. You gather evidence and find out that while he did not commit the murder, he meant to. I think this is a new wrinkle in the way that quest goes. Ignoring the fact that it is incredibly unlikely that two people would shoot at a person at the same time, and that one would miss, it leaves the protagonist in a strange place. This person is an attempted murderer, but he is about to be exiled for a crime he didn't actually commit. Of course the game doesn't present you with an option to retry him for the lesser crime... you can either free him or exile him. So what would you do? The justice system was wrong. The guy is wrong. If you exile him, he's likely to join your enemies. If you free him he's likely to do something stupid when things get bad. It's forced, but it's a shade of grey that Bioware games rarely achieve. ...then they spell that out for you. "Life is rarely black and white," says some shitty bureaucrat who refuses to do his damn job. I am hopeful that this quest was supposed to foreshadow choices you have to make throughout the game. The hamfisted nature of it and the dialog leading through it make me uncertain that it will deliver on that front. Still, if they get 50 tries to make a quest that's morally ambiguous, a couple of them will be good even if it's accidental.

I will be streaming as much Mass Effect Andromeda as I can manage starting at 11pm (or whenever the game releases) Monday, March 19th. Come check it out.

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