Mass Effect: Soft Reboot
tl;dr I wonder if they intended to sort of redo Mass Effect 1, or if it was some accident. Mass Effect 1, in all of its wonky and sluggish glory, sure had its faults, but it also had a soul and suggested vast potential. It made people dream. That’s why many people, including myself, liked it. Mass Effect: Andromeda might merely be reminiscent of Mass Effect 1’s soul than offer one of its own, but I’ll take it (it’s the JJ Abrams age [flashier than the original in some regards, but adds overall nothing new which happens to somehow cheapen the experience, at least for some] after all). Was probably an accident. :P A lucky one.
And now, my dear 0 to 1 readers, please enjoy my unedited (I promise), just typed down, full text:
I’ve read several good/true articles about Mass Effect: Andromeda, but they still seemed to not fully realize the one, most glaring and obvious thing about this game: EA remade Mass Effect 1. Mass Effect: Andromeda is to Mass Effect 1, what Star Wars: Episode VII is to Star Wars: Episode IV. It’s a soft reboot. The Normandy is now called Tempest, the Citadel is now the Nexus (honestly, running around in the huge Nexus and Ark segments could not possible feel more like the Citadel from ME1, they even have these tram sequences which fill in for the elevator rides :D) and the Mako is now the Nomad. These things barely look different. It’s a different take to the degree, that it seems perfectly plausible, that only different drafts were used, from art which was created back then for Mass Effect 1.
The elements Mass Effect 1 is remembered by the most, are a ton of wonky bits and pieces such as the inventory (you had to clear it out a lot and it needed way too much micromanaging) and especially the Mako drive sections on whatever planet. Those are, let’s say: unforgettable. :D Lots of people still (myself included) loved the game for its potential, even if it was never fully realized.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is seriously the 2017 version of that, in a more sluggish engine (this game suffers from not sticking to Unreal, shame on EA). :D
And yes, I think this is such a nice thing to say about a game which tried so hard to be nothing more than a skin for Dragon Age: Inquisition. I was so seriously let down and disappointed by DAI, it’s painful. I never really regretted buying a game before. But then why isn’t MEA as bad and as frustratingly disappointing? The reason for that is gameplay. In DAI the whole gameplay consisted out of holding one button down when there was a fight (because of the ranged attacks of my mage I was at least spared to awkwardly run around, this one button down-holding is even worse with a melee fighter) and waiting for it to finally end (Atari 2600 era games were more exciting to play) and picking Elfroot between fights. This too is the nicest way in which I can still describe Dragon Age: Inquisition. :P All the awesome lore was wasted on this one.
Mass Effect: Andromeda on the other hand at least has solid gunplay, which next to everyone should like, who is into third person shooters generally (I like this concept). It is also heavily supported by interesting abilities which are actually fun to use. While the biotic charge (easily my favorite ability from Mass Effect) sadly feels different here than it did in Mass Effect 3, it’s still awesome to flash through an encounter like this. I can’t even think of a game in this genre, which offers the same. This fact, of gameplay that is actually fun, also includes the driving around. Again, in Dragon Age: Inquisition the mounts were total crap, because they were only slightly faster than being on foot and it also canceled out all the party banter – the only thing that made walking around for hours (to pick Elfroot) barely tolerable. The Mako, uh – NOMAD on the other hand is a lot faster than walking and has some options like jump jets. Again, FUN. The Nomad also doesn’t forbid party banter. Come to think of it, the Mako back in 2007 didn’t either! How did they manage to forget this lesson for DAI?
The freedom of movement has never been better in a Mass Effect game. The character now supports quick, actually helpful, dashes and the jump jet is a lot of fun. It’s also so appropriate for this setting.
So even if there are a lot of insulting faces and facial animations, bugs (too bad EA couldn’t afford another 3 months of beta testing), badly optimized engine, too much MMO-esque collecting shit […] at least the game in between is actual fun to play. Something they had completely forgotten to implement in DAI.
It also tremendously helps to imagine, that these zones are closer to what they originally wanted to build, when they could only do these barren landscapes in Mass Effect 1, planets which only differed by having different colors (well mostly). On most of these (side-) planets in ME1, you couldn’t do much more than pick up the same 2 things (Tali had to open all of these damn probes :P), it helps remembering how it was back then, when one is about to complain here.
Still, I guess now it’s time to talk about the main bad guy here, the root of all evil, the mother of mediocrity. And that is, to the surprise of no one, “open-world”. Unless you happen to be CD Projekt RED (or maybe Rocksteady before Arkham Knight), open-world is almost generally the cause for an unmissable decline in overall quality of content. It might be a good idea for some games like GTA, but in general you have either quantity or quality. The fact that “every” dev now tries to shove an “open-world” into their game, whether it makes sense or not, prevents many of these games to be anywhere near as good as they might have been otherwise (I’m skipping the debate here, if these several different zones even qualify as open-world or what brand of open-world those are then).
If I would have been the game director on MEA, I probably would have cut 50% of its content (although MEA entirely lacks actual places/cities like Novigrad in Witcher 3! Why not build something astonishing like that?!?). I’m not even kidding – I don’t like obvious padding. I meant hate. Mass Effect 2 was criticized too (by some), for abandoning some of the ideas of Mass Effect 1, but they were only being realistic, about what they were able to do and what not. As a result, we might have gotten a game that might have felt smaller in scope, but at least their focus made the content we did get pretty good. To me, Mass Effect 2 was their Empire Strikes Back. Best characters in the whole series and there were actual stakes, since everyone (including Shepard) could die. We are not seeing anything like that anymore.
It’s not just that squad mates in MEA can’t even leave you and it doesn’t matter what you say to them, they also recruit themselves. That is so weird. They just show up and declare themselves crew, without giving the player any options. Mass Effect 1 could be played from start to finish without even recruiting some of the people! The mere existence of that option is awesome. This must also be the sole thing DAI did actually better than MEA, because at least there you can send several of your potential companions to hell. Wouldn’t it be interesting for the pathfinder to end up alone, if the player messes things up or simply wants it that way? Yes, so we obviously can’t have that!
MEA isn’t exactly as buggy as some describe it, I had maybe 2 (minor) quests which were outright broken and couldn’t be properly completed. It’s more about the general unpolished feeling of… almost everything. It’s a very clear case of a game which would have needed a beta of at least another 3 months, easily. The craziest thing that happened to me during gameplay, was when I was driving up a mountain with the Nomad, while also using the booster. Suddenly I was just standing there on foot with my companions and the Nomad was gone. It was so bizarre. Thankfully there is fast travel in this game. I would have died out there in this desert on foot otherwise.
What actually drags the whole game noticeably down, is how sluggish gameplay feels overall (Andromeda shouldn’t have shipped like this). Other than what some videos might want people to believe, MEA isn’t that much of a major bug infestation as many other games. This game is far from Arkham Knight for example. And yet, there is constantly something happening, usually minor, that reminds you that they could have done much more QA on this game. Or should have. Even if they would have done 3 more months of beta instead of releasing, they would have had their hands full. That much is painfully obvious. What’s aggravating, is that Mass Effect would have sold 3 months from now too, just with much nicer reviews/reception. There is such a long list of glaring glitches in this game, I don’t even want to type it down anymore. It’s 10+ things everyone will encounter who plays this for just a few hours. I wanted to type it down, but I can’t now. I didn’t even try to make screenshots of the problems in this game, and yet I accidentally captured a lot of them, simply because this doesn’t need any kind of special bug hunting.
The real tragedy here is what I call by now “the BioWare problem”, because they are known for hardly fixing anything, which means if a game releases in a bad shape, this is basically how it’s going to stay. Some other companies do a “Director’s Cut” of their games a year later and MEA is a prime example of a game which could desperately need that. But none of that is going to happen ever, instead the game ends with announcing the next DLC – they are going to sell for more money.
Quarians, which are usually a fan favorite, are very prominently absent from this game, but just before the campaign ends, you receive a transmission from their ark, which is really nothing but a very thinly veiled announcement of the Quarian ark DLC. Which will probably cost at least another 15 bucks. If not 20.
A few more things about the potentially strongest part of the game, the combat: Adding the jump jet was a great idea, no doubt. It’s an ideal fit for such an action game, although it makes it harder to overlook, that outside of combat, e.g. during running around on the Nexus, walking can be a little bit like walking in water – I wish controls would be faster, more responsive; even ME3 was more slick in this regard.
The various powers/abilities alongside the now trusty guns make it a lot of fun to fight all the various enemies. The guns are still the same ones which were introduced as early as in Mass Effect 2 in 2010. That’s not a negative for me, since I like them (the weapons are also the sole noteworthy “loot” in the game, there is nothing else unique/of interest to find). It’s kinda cool to come back to them and have something familiar wait for you. The various weapons, which were really fleshed out in Mass Effect 3 were always a strong point for the game. It’s about guns and conversations after all. Especially in ME3 all guns had these distinct features of sound and behavior, not just their looks to make them memorable. Of course they also added a lot of new weapons, although those haven’t gripped me as much. A few weapons out of the ME3 arsenal seem to be missing now, sadly. I immediately noticed that the M-12 Locust seems to be gone, which disappointed me, it was a favorite weapon of mine in ME2. For some crazy reason they nerfed it in ME3 into an almost useless state (which also contradicted the ME2 lore, that it was this super-powerful weapon and therefore rare collector’s item) – at least as far as the MP was concerned.
Another very weird choice/bad call was made, when they removed the SMG category in MEA. Yeah – SMGs are now “pistols”. That’s… why? I don’t get it. Of all the things they could have cut, this is what they chose? Maybe that’s part of why some weapons like the Locust vanished, since they are so clearly not pistols. As fun as the combat mostly is, I couldn’t help but notice, that guns usually don’t “feel” powerful, because they do not have any effect on enemies, except have the game subtract the damage values if you hit them correctly. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? In ME3 there were ragdoll effects going on left and right and heads were ripped off almost constantly. Did they save money on animations? Is this a ratings thing? Na, saving money sounds more likely. :D
But speaking of animations, one of the things I loved about ME3MP, was that all the various characters had their very own dodge animations. Didn’t matter if you played as an Asari, a Vorcha or a Human. All of them had their own lore-friendly animations. That was great! In the multiplayer of MEA however, all characters seem to have (obviously I haven’t unlocked all of them yet) the identical jump jet-dodge. Sad! It cut out a lot of flavor. Speaking of MP. Something feels a little bit off in comparison to ME3MP. It really shouldn’t, since it is an almost direct copy of it. There were hardly any changes made. The jump jet is welcome here as well, although it is surprisingly not as necessary as it is in the single player, since there are not really any obstacles to overcome. In MP it’s purely there for fun. The best new addition to MP however is, that you can now mute these bastards, who hear loud music while playing and don’t close their mikes. Or who do even worse things like singing or screaming suddenly. Once I had a guy fight with his girlfriend while he was playing ME3MP. Also, a lot of people were on the phone during their sessions. It’s inconceivable how crazy some people are. Finally I don’t have to rip my headset off any longer and play in total silence just to protect my sanity. :P
So what’s left to say? I liked how quests often used all gameplay elements the game has to offer. Driving, shooting, scanning and the galaxy map. I even kind of liked the Space-Sudoku, at least there’s something besides shooting and walking/driving (I’m the one person on the planet who didn’t hate the minigames in ME2 for the same reason). Some quests contain following a trail on the galaxy map and are ended by landing somewhere and fight it out there. That’s great, to tie it all together like that. As far as I’m concerned, I would have loved it if they would have gone much farther with that. I would have liked one or two missions in which you would have to sneak in somewhere, for example. Or maybe even just as an alternative, with different rewards then.
What they didn’t do with the galaxy map, is the starting of new quests. Back in ME1 it was possible to find new quests like this, by scanning something. All the MEA galaxy map ever does, is to offer resources or XP. All quests are given/started on the Nexus or one of the 5 zones. Meaning, you’ll never find anything interesting while scanning whatever star system which doesn’t have already an open quest or a planet to land on. All that’s going to happen, is sitting through the beautiful and super-long planet to planet flight animations. Each time.
The main story is just kinda there, it’s not really endearing besides offering more interesting levels to play through (and have your squad mates say contextual things – the best story mission in the game is probably Liam Kosta’s loyalty mission because it’s FUN). The story is basically, a bad guy shows up and then you kill him, that’s it (he isn’t even scanned, although I’m sure I scanned everything else in the game :P). If you think you could subsume every story like that, you are not as right as you like to believe, because in this scenario, that’s actually it. There are countless Star Trek episodes with a deeper and more thought-provoking plot. I don’t know why they couldn’t just steal something (they usually don’t have any problems with that). There are so many solid sci-fi stories out there. The story isn’t emotional either, which would be one method to make even a mediocre story memorable, or at least more enjoyable at the time. It doesn’t help that, even here, they couldn’t stop themselves from making the PC a special messiah/savior again. It’s always unnecessary, but especially so in a setting like this. The pathfinder is just a glorified scout essentially, that’s seriously it and yet everyone acts like they just met god. It’s crazy and off-putting. Why is BioWare even doing this? Do they believe that all their players are narcissists or people with very low self-esteem who are desperately looking for something like this? It does not compute.
The most intriguing story piece for me was, that the Andromeda Initiative was secretly funded by a mysterious benefactor and that Jien Garson was actually murdered and not killed in an accident – which means it was probably somehow tied to the former. Of course all of this is completely dropped and never resolved. So maybe this is just another hook for a future paid-DLC like the Quarians (I hope they burn in hell if it is), or it’s just a red herring. Either way, it’s a serious letdown. Making the whole game/story about finding out what the true purpose of the Andromeda Initiative was, would have been so much more thrilling already, than anything in the story we’ve gotten instead. You could even have revealed that the bad guy was the benefactor and he only founded the Andromeda Initiative to have his victims come to him willingly, that this was his technique to get a hold of new test subjects. Nobody would have missed people then, because officially they wouldn’t have gone missing like people who were kidnapped outright, it could have been presented as a slightly smart plan. That would have been such a cool twist and it also would have helped to make the bad guy more relevant instead of being little more than a placeholder for the circumstance that there “has to be” some villain (they even have a Darth Maul in this game, the main-villain has a sidekick named “the sword” who has zero lines in the game and only shows up to be killed – silently). 5 years for this non-plot…
Before I forget it, I have scanned every single star system/planet in Helios and yet it only says 96% at the very end (all the individual systems show 100%). I wonder why that is. Does this mean the final 4% can only be completed by buying additional DLC?
btw: If anyone found it a little odd, that every single Batman villain was always in the same part of town Batman was in in the Arkham games, will really love that “every relative of every character” from the Mass Effect series mysteriously joined the Andromeda Initiative so they could be encountered by the pathfinder in Andromeda. :P Conrad Verner’s sister, Zaeed Massani’s son…
PS: Fighting the architects was much more fun than fighting the dragons in DAI, although it’s obviously the exact same thing. It’s not forbidden to be brave, to be original, to do fresh and maybe even exciting new things you know. No idea why I just said that. :)
PPS: The squad mates are nothing to write home about. You could mention them on a blog somewhere, if you must. I guess. Although Cora (probably the most normal-looking face in the game), Peebee/Not-Sera and Drack/Not-Wrex were a lot more likeable than people were lead to believe initially. It’s a little bit jarring though, that they have people like Natalie Dormer in the game and gave them hardly anything profound to say. The Ryders sound a little bit generic to me, no memorable voices who stand out the way Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale did.
Speaking of the Ryders, both male and female Ryder always exist in the game, they probably stole… took inspiration for this from Fallout 4, although it is done better here, since you can play the other one (you didn’t pick at the start) at some point. That was a nifty idea (the game could have needed so much more of), so congrats to who… WHOMever came up with it. :)