Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, help colonize a far-off galaxy and discuss Mass Effect: Andromeda, which released in the United States on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-playing.
Now, join Merrin, Bach, Whitney, Howard, Keyes, and Tanner (along with their personalized avatars) as they talk about Mass Effect: Andromeda! [Note: This post includes discussion of game play experience and mechanics, but no spoilers for plot or characterization not available in the trailers.]
Merrin: Somehow I’m supposed to compress my mess of feelings about Mass Effect: Andromeda into a few bite-sized paragraphs. I’m honestly not sure how this is going to go, but I’m gonna give it the old college try. To start: the game came out Tuesday, 3/21. I took Wednesday afternoon off to play the game until the wee hours of the morning. I also took the entirety of Friday off. From Friday to Sunday, I literally sat on my couch the entire day and explored the Andromeda system with my rag-tag crew of misfits. On Sunday around 6 pm, with 59 hours already invested and 69% of the missions completed, I launched end game.
To say that I was a crying mess of feelings by 7:30 pm would be to understate so much about my emotional state at the time.
This game has everything. It has the open world feel that I loved about Dragon Age. It has the path-driven missions that I found so helpful in the original Mass Effect trilogy. It has a crew of diverse and interesting characters that I started out unsure of and would have cheerfully died for by the end of the game. It has romance story lines that feel more organic than the formulaic “oh and you’ll get a sex scene right before end-game” that the first three installments employed. (And it has SPACE BOOBS. Which is just boobs. In space).
Well, okay. So it doesn’t have everything. It took away the power wheel, which I miss like burning. I’ve been gaming for only about 2 years now and I still get hopelessly overwhelmed in combat. I tend to pick weapons that favor ammo over damage because my aim is so bad, and I miss the ability to pause the action and take aim at leisure. Also, the lack of power wheel means you can’t choose what powers your squad employs. You’ve just got to spec them up and hope for the best.
But do I feel much more prepared for multi-player mode? Yes, so I guess there are some benefits.
It also had some pretty hilarious glitches. My characters would occasionally default to the T-pose (think Jesus on the cross) during dialogue. Fiends would drop out of the sky onto the map as I turned corners, or come over mountain peaks and sit placidly in a prim and dainty pose while I murdered them for XP. One glorious time I climbed the stairs to the conference room on my ship and was suddenly in space, ponytail flapping, because I’d fallen through a floor that had failed to load. Given the size and scope of the project, though? I’m willing to overlook the occasional glitch.
Because I loved this game. I regret not one minute of the now 60+ hours I’ve invested, nor will I regret the hundreds more I plan to invest on future play-throughs (this time as Scott Ryder, who is ready and willing to save Andromeda next).
Bach: Disclaimer: Mass Effect is my number-one favorite game series of all time. As evidenced by my large assortment of figurines, multiple model ships, expensive artwork, and numerous articles of clothing, I am very forgiving of Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s shortcomings. At this point, I have 45 hours played with a completion rate of 34%, playing on an Xbox One on hardcore difficulty (one level below the hardest, called “insanity”) for my first play-through. My friends sometimes refer to these games as “the talking game,” because I talk to everyone (and everything) to flesh out the incredibly detailed world-building as much as possible. I’m still so early in the story that I’ve barely started exploring my romantic options! I had my eye on the science officer due to her lovely New Zealand accent, but I’m moving on to Peebee since she and my goofy, snarky Sara Ryder seem to have more chemistry.
So far, I’ve been very pleased with the combat because it is very similar to the polished combat of Mass Effect 3. I have yet to play the multiplayer option, but I anticipate I will enjoy it if is as similar to Mass Effect 3 as advertised. Much like the original trilogy, the ambitiousness of the game has revealed itself through periodic frame-rate drops and graphical glitches/anomalies. I agree with the the collective outcry from the internet that the game’s player character and non-player character animation sometimes leaves much to be desired even after 5 years of game development. However, as explained by animators in the industry, it is likely that the reason for this drop in quality during dialog is a result of thousands of conversations, necessitating the use of computer algorithms rather than a more human touch. The worlds you can visit, and their various environments, are visually stunning, and the puzzles are each unique and challenging.
As with previous installments in this universe, decision-making during the story is crucial. Gone is the paragon/renegade system of old, replaced with multiple dialog options pertaining to logic, emotion, humor, etc. I’m still not sure how this will effect my character’s development through this game, or games to follow. I am constantly challenged by choices that I fear will greatly alter the course of my game’s progression.
Though I try to save manually whenever I can, one of my biggest gripes is the inability to manually save during “priority missions.” This has proven to be frustrating, especially when playing at this higher difficulty, if I die after over an hour of mission progression without an auto-save.
I have not yet played around with the crafting system, though I’m interested in the extended options this might give me for customization of gear and weapons to complement my play style. I also haven’t experimented with changing my character specifications on the fly.
One of the things that intrigued me about this game was that the characters set off for a new galaxy in the middle of the timeline of the previous trilogy — they left during the events of Mass Effect 2 and have no idea what happened in the Milky Way galaxy, now 600 years ago. If you haven’t played Mass Effect before, this is a new universe to explore without the baggage of the events of the previous trilogy. This makes it very accessible to new players who might not want to invest hundreds of hours of game play to “catch up” on the story. If you have played the previous games, though, there are tons of winks and nods that veteran Mass Effect players are sure to appreciate.
Bach is an IT professional in the U.S. Air Force who has been playing video games since he could hold a controller. He’s a big fan of RPG and adventure games, which explains his obsession with Mass Effect. Female Sheppard is the best Sheppard, and if you disagree you’re wrong. He is married to regular Speculative Chic contributor J.L. Gribble.
Whitney: Full disclosure. My bedroom is decorated with Mass Effect lithographs. I have Commander Shepard cosplay hanging in my closet. I named a cat named Mordin. I have an omni-blade on display in my living room. My fiancé and I took our pet Nomad out for a walk last night, and I met said fiancé in Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer while he was a glitched krogan and I was a nervous salarian infiltrator. Mass Effect has been my life for going on 10 years. But despite my…enthusiasm for the franchise, I was skeptical about Andromeda. After the disaster that was Mass Effect 3 (mention the ending and there’s this vein in my forehead that still immediately starts to throb), I refused to buy into the hype. But about 20 hours in or so, the game is neither as bad as I’d feared nor as good as I’d hoped.
Let’s start with the good, since so much of the press seems pretty eager to latch onto the bad. Despite the slow burn to get there, Bioware still succeeds at what they do best: characters. Ryder herself is a treasure; she has a much more defined personality than the intentionally vague Commander Shepard of the original trilogy, and she is poignant, relatable, and often hilarious. Likewise, her unconventional crew is full of richly defined characters who develop not only through their interactions with Ryder, but with each other in ways that are incredibly rewarding. Being back in the Mako-esque Nomad feels like a return to the classic Mass Effect that was built about exploring new worlds, this time accompanied by actual in-game jokes about Ryder’s penchant for driving off cliffs.
But the game’s detractors have reason to gripe. Andromeda needed several more months of quality control before roll-out, painfully evident not only in the plethora of bugs and glitches but also in the poor design choices (I nearly had a midlife crisis thinking my inability to read my HUD was just me getting old until most everyone I knew confessed to having the same issue). The much-discussed facial animation problems are not as big of a distraction as you get deeper into the game, but they accompany several other bizarre character model issues (really, who the hell thought that a color wheel was a great idea for makeup, but not for hair color?). On top of this, the game suffers from frustratingly poor conveyance and a terrible auto-save feature that doesn’t save nearly often enough, and to add insult to injury, won’t let you save either, in many cases. All of these things combined are a big turnoff, but if you’re willing to stick with it through the rough start, the ride smooths out and becomes really satisfying. At least 20 hours or so in. I can’t speak for the ending yet, and we all know Mass Effect’s history with endings. But if you have an opinion on the story — PLEASE DON’T SHARE IT I DON’T WANT THE SPOILERS.
Howard: I was a huge fan of the Mass Effect series… until Mass Effect 3’s infamously awful ending. I played through Mass Effect 1 and 2 several times, but couldn’t force myself to play through Mass Effect 3 a second time. And while I wasn’t part of the group that sent BioWare gag cupcakes and I didn’t file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, it could definitely be said that I thought that Mass Effect 3’s ending had “ruined” the franchise much in the same way that the finale of How I Met Your Mother ruined the series in retrospect. All that build towards an awful last-minute twist is just a terrible idea that leaves a sour taste in your mouth.
But the thing is, I loved my pre-ending experiences with the Mass Effect series so much that I was really looking for an excuse to forgive BioWare, and Mass Effect: Andromeda shows a BioWare willing to make the most of that opportunity. Emphasizing exploration and freedom for the first time in the series since the first game was a good move. I’m enjoying boost jumping my way around alien worlds, making them more habitable, and going Magnificent 7 on the outlaws in the Heleus Cluster’s frontier.
While the game could probably have used one more coat of paint on the facial animations, and there are a few glitches here and there, there were no problems as bad as the reviewers had suggested. I kept reading about “bad writing” but I’m not sure what they’re talking about unless they’re using Witcher 3 as a basis for comparison, which is really not fair to most other RPGs made in the past several years. The better characters in the Mass Effect series took more than one game to develop, as did the setting. Setting things up in Andromeda isn’t taking any longer than the setup in Mass Effect 1, which is a lot rougher around the edges than most people remember. At its root, Andromeda is a gameplay remake of Mass Effect 1, with superior control, more detailed planets to explore, and a far more flexible growth system with more enjoyable powers.
In short, I recommend this game to fans and newcomers of the series and I’m looking forward to finishing it… if Persona 5 doesn’t end up sidetracking me.
Keyes: I was obsessed with Babylon 5 in high school, so it goes without saying that I am deeply taken with the Mass Effect setting insomuch as that it is deeply influenced by the science fiction shows of the nineties. One need only take a peek in my wardrobe to see that — I am running out of Tali-patterned things, and I own an N7 hoodie I practically live in from October to May when I am not in the office. We went so far as to name the second cat Tali (because she was small, gray, cute,and very sweet — she’s also the stupidest cat I have ever owned, but I suppose hoping for the perfect feline embodiment of her namesake was asking a bit much). Mass Effect 3 quite put me out (a near perfect game, story-wise, defeated by its own ending) but I had enough reserve love for the setting (and krogans, whom my brothers and I appear to have adopted as the personification of our nuclear family’s base temperament) to approach Andromeda with an open mind. Plus my brothers liked it when they played it at PAX East and told me I would, and they’ve been watching me game long enough to be pretty good judges of what I like.
I need to note that this game is in many respects much more like Bioware’s last offering, Dragon Age: Inquisition, than it is like any of its series predecessors, right down to the fact that every time the opening notes of the theme play I turn and look at my husband and go “the dawn is coming again.” If you don’t get the reference, do yourself a favor and go play Inquisition. It’s not as good as Witcher 3 — what is, really? — but it is still a very solid game and well worth the 100+ hours I’ve sunk into it over the past 2 years. I also need to note that everybody is freaking out about the human facial animations for a reason — they totally look like wax mortuary masks. My Sara Ryder has a cold, dead stare, and not because she is an experienced bad-ass. But that’s a relatively minor quibble — you do get used to it. I mean, it took me, like, 10 hours to not shriek every time a human face appeared on the screen (which was very disconcerting to the cats). But I almost never look at Sara and go “How are you on a higher-gen machine than Mass Effect 3? HOW?” anymore. EA’s proprietary engine was not ready for prime time in that regard.
Given the limitations of my work schedule (which is INSANE), I’m not as far along as my husband (or my friends, or my brothers, or, like, anyone else I know who plays video games) are but thus far, again about 10 hours in, I am quite enjoying myself and expect to spend many more delightful hours exploding kett and scanning worlds (…I may be the only gamer on Earth who misses Mass Effect 2’s probing mechanic).
Tanner: Shoddy writing, frame rate problems, criticism over facial animations? Don’t let the critics fool you. Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t dead on arrival. If you are a returning fan of the Mass Effect series, you will find a lot to love about the game. The well-developed sprawling sci-fi universe, interesting characters, fast-paced combat, and deadly-yet-lovable krogan are all still present in full force.
The beginning is a little slow, but the longer I play, the more I’m enjoying it. I like the fact that I can really customize my skill set more than in any of the previous games. Perhaps more importantly, I simply love unraveling the mysteries of the Mass Effect universe. Being set in a brand-new galaxy, Andromeda has them in droves.
That said, it’s not without its problems. The game is big and ambitious. Perhaps more so than its developers could wrangle. There are definitely a couple questionable design decisions. Primarily in that it’s light on tutorials. This makes the piles and piles of salvage, augments, weapons, resources, and other assorted junk very confusing. It also means it’s not really all that friendly to players new to the series.
Despite its issues (yes, even the long travel time from planet to planet), I don’t believe they outweigh the game’s merit. They certainly haven’t stripped me of my love of the series.
I would say if you’re already a big fan, Andromeda is worth taking a chance on. If not, or if you’re overly concerned about reviews, you may want to wait until they inevitably put it on sale later this year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I still have to decide who to romance.
Have you played Mass Effect: Andromeda yet? How has your experience been so far? Unlike apparently everyone here at Speculative Chic, are you (gasp!) playing Scott Ryder rather than his much-cooler twin sister Sara? Tell us in the comments!