It has been over 5 Earth years since Commander Shepard answered the call to Take Earth Back from the Reapers, and I have sat and waited patiently since then for BioWare to work their magic and release the next installment of the story-driven, space exploration 3rd person shooter epic that is Mass Effect. I have played through the original Trilogy at least 4 times, and it is safe to say that this is one of my favorite game series, but one that is not without its flaws. EA forced Mass Effect 3 out earlier than BioWare wanted, resulting in one of the most disappointing endings to a game I might have ever witnessed. It was so bad in fact, that months later, they actually rewrote it and released it as a free patch/DLC, going down as one of the biggest blunders of the modern gaming era. Since then, BioWare has released a new Dragon Age game, which I have not gotten the chance to play yet, but has gotten rave reviews from critics and I have heard nothing but good things from those that I trust. Does that mean BioWare has learned their lesson and will be putting out a near perfect game on launch? Grab your omni-tool, it’s time to do some analyzing:
Mass Effect: Andromeda’s story begins shortly before the Reaper invasion of Earth. The Counsel Races have decided to embark on a journey of colonizing a new galaxy – Andromeda. Doing so means sending 40K people from each race across dark space in “Arks,” which is a journey that will take over 600 years to complete. Since most of the races do not live that long, they are put into cyro-stasis, only to wake up upon arrival. Basically, it’s a one way ticket to uncharted territory and everyone you know back home is gonna be very dead. Either way, there’s apparently no way to communicate back to the Milky Way yet, so the Reapers and outcome of Mass Effect 3 are completely unknown to your group.
You play the role of either Scott or Sara Ryder, twins and children of Alec, the Human Ark’s “Pathfinder,” which is a fancy title for “person who is in charge of finding a planet to colonize.” People really seem to like this title, as everyone says it with some reverence. Upon arrival into Andromeda, things do not go as planned, and pretty quickly, you become the new Pathfinder, which you are pretty damn unqualified for.
Hey, it’s a great career option that comes with a lot of perks, but you’ve inherited a big mess, and there is a lot to get done. There were various identified planets in the galaxy that were supposed to be viable to support life (Golden Worlds,) but when you reach them, they’re all kinds of fucked up. Whatever happened to them seems to have been man– er, alien-made. It’s up to you to find out why, while also exploring space and worlds where life evolved very differently. I really love the concept, and find it to be a great way to bridge the series for longtime fans, and those completely new to the universe, that don’t need to know all of the details of the past games to have fun.
If you’ve played the other games in the series, Andromeda is going to feel pretty different from the get-go. To me, it plays like a cross between Dragon Age and Metroid Prime: Dragon Age in the way the items pickup and collect items, free roam and conversation system, but using Metroid’s jump pack (by far the best addition) and scanning system. Additionally, snap-to-cover, where you previously spent a majority of your time in combat, is gone and has been replaced by a system that automatically puts you into cover when you approach an object with your weapons drawn. The scanner is also an interesting addition, which makes sense for someone exploring a completely uncharted galaxy, and plays a role in upgrading your items as you find new technology and life. Also like Dragon Age, you can bone just about everything that speaks and walks on two legs, except (at least so far) a Krogan, an aggressive reptile species, well known for having a “quad” rather than a pair, which may upset Buddy Cole and some female gamers looking to check that experience off the list.
So what do I think about all of this? I really like the direction that BioWare is trying to take the series, but I think that they failed on some execution. For starters, on paper the new cover system sounds great, but since most cover is not flat and you no longer snap-to it, I often find my character standing up unexpectedly when moving behind it and getting damaged, instead of just being able to crouch in general. Using your scanner will cause your character to move very slowly, for seemingly no reason. If the thing had a better range, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but I often see this as slowing down the game more than improving it, as it’s not always terribly clear what should and shouldn’t be scanned. Plus, if you get damaged with it out, you immediately swap to your weapons, which is terribly annoying when trying to identify new enemies before they often melt away after blasting them into space dust. There is also no longer a light melee attack, and the game doesn’t do a great job of locking onto an enemy before executing this heavy move taking about 2 seconds to complete, leaving you a sitting duck if you miss.
Other than that, I see a few too many small graphical issues that annoy me and make the game feel rushed. When you interact with some characters, they turn around and are seemingly right in your face before it cuts to the conversation screen where they are suddenly not terribly invading your personal space. You will often find guards crouched behind nothing, with their weapons drawn in cities where there is no fighting. Characters faces and the planets themselves don’t seem to be textured very well and it’s pretty noticeable since you spend a lot of talking and zooming between them, with a dramatic closeup on arrival. These issues are not game breaking, but I notice them every damn time.
That being said, there are some great positives. The locations feel very fresh and are designed beautifully. Your character has access to every skill tree and you can level them up entirely as you choose. While doing so, this levels up your classes, and you are free to swap between them at anytime so that you are not stuck playing as something you don’t enjoy just because you picked it before the game starts. There is also no longer a Paragon/Renegade (Good/Evil) meter, and your while your choices still very much matter, it no feels more like you are being a person rather than having to be either Jesus or Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Multiplayer is where I think this game really shines. Taking the great system from Mass Effect 3 and tweaking it was all they needed to do, and it works the way it should. Matches are up to 4 person survival co-op, with some scattered objectives. The number of waves has been reduced slightly to speed up games, and challenges actually yield some rewards, other than just boosting your dickhat points.
The best thing about this is that certain multiplayer missions can give you rewards in the Campaign for completing, which is a great way to encourage people to play more.
Overall, I am enjoying the game a lot, but it is not drawing me in as much as I was hoping. With only about 15 hours into the Campaign, there is still much to do and hopefully the story will override my few gripes, as multiplayer certainly has.
Anyway, a lot has come out recently: Nintendo has launched the Switch and a new Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5 is now out for PS4, and the infamous Dark Souls series has released their third installment: The Ringed City. So DFO, with respect to Mike Wallace and Gromit, what’s been getting your drives hard?