Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Some Thoughts on the Mass Effect: Andromeda Gameplay Trailer

So here's something that's been on my mind for a while. And this time, it won't take me two months to talk about it.

A week ago, the official gameplay trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda was released. I've got some thoughts about it, but first, here's a look at the N7 Day cinematic trailer from last month, which I never got around to talking about.

Honestly, I really don't have much to say about this one. The previous couple of trailers (discussed here) had a sense of wonder and exploration and discovery about them. This trailer, however, doesn't. It looks and sounds like the typical trailer for any run-of-the-mill action movie. It had a few cool moments, but overall it wasn't that compelling, and I'm not exactly hooked on the idea of the mission turning into a disaster right out of the gate. I think it'd be nice to see a bit of things progressing normally for the characters, so we can see what they're like in everyday-life circumstances, so it'll hit a lot harder when everything turns upside-down on them.

Also, it'd be really nice if trailers would stop using variations on that HONNNNNNK! sound. We've had several years of that thing in damn near every trailer. Isn't it time that sound be retired?

Anyway. Then we got the gameplay trailer last week, and the sense of wonder and adventure was back, for me at least.

Additionally, there's been a few tons of information coming out since N7 Day, and for the most part, I'm getting a good vibe from it all. I do have a few minor concerns, but more and more lately, I'm finding myself giving BioWare the benefit of the doubt. From the interviews and Q&A sessions with lead writer Mac Walters, I'm getting the impression that they've learned their lesson from the Mass Effect 3 debacle and are putting their best effort into making Andromeda a good game. They've even stated that this game will be a complete story and not the beginning of another trilogy. I'm feeling pretty good about that, since their previous attempt at an epic trilogy turned into a pooch-screw at the end. I'm okay with the devs taking their time with this game, rather than rushing out a half-assed job like ME3, and concentrating on this one story, then maybe making another game later on if they can come up with a solid story.

Another bit of info I like is the Andromeda Initiative's launch date. According to the official website, the program started in the 2170s and the Nexus and the Arks launched in 2185, after the end of Mass Effect 2 but before Mass Effect 3. The ships will take six hundred years to reach the Andromeda galaxy, and there won't be a way to return or even communicate with the Milky Way, so that's a good way to side-step the entirety of the third game and start over from scratch. We won't have any of that crap tainting this story.

Now, on to some specifics.

Well, that sure is pretty. If nothing else, this game looks fantastic, and some of the environments show that a lot of imagination has been put into them. As I kept saying in my post on the previous trailers, most of them look like genuinely alien places.

Here's a few more gorgeous screenshots.

Those are beautiful. Now I've got a new collection of desktop wallpapers to cycle through. What remains to be seen is whether equal effort was put into the story, because that's the most important thing. Without a good story, the prettiest imagery in the world won't matter. But again, from what I've learned over the past few weeks, I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm planning to buy the game and do at least a couple of playthroughs for my YouTube channel, but even if I weren't, I'd be very tempted to pick up the game anyway.

I usually play as a female character when the option is available, but I think in my first playthrough I'll play as the male Ryder just so I can name him David and go for the obvious joke.

Now I'm wondering how many other people are going to do the same thing. Probably a lot.

Next we get a glimpse of the hyperspace tunnel/warp jump/whatever else it may be called -- maybe just FTL travel within the Helius Cluster, or maybe the travel between galaxies enabled by the experimental drive the Nexus and Arks are equipped with. That leads to a new system to explore, and then we get a look at the Tempest's galaxy map.

One thing I really like is the progress meter at the top of the screen. It's nice to be able to see whether or not you still have objectives to complete. That was one of the things about the missions in Mass Effect 3 that made things more difficult than they should've been -- the way the game kept track of what had and hadn't been completed yet was ... flawed, shall we say.

Next, we get a look at the Tempest approaching a planet that appears to be orbiting a black hole.

What I like about this is that it's a type of astronomical phenomenon we weren't able to explore in the previous trilogy. The mass relay network was set up to let ships travel to stable, safe star systems, and none of them opened into hazardous regions such as those near black holes, newly-coalescing planets, pulsars, and whatnot. (Well, except for the Omega-4 Relay, but that one probably doesn't count.) Since Andromeda won't have a relay network (as far as I know, at least), there ought to be all sorts of volatile places to explore.

Next up, we see the Tempest landing on a planet, followed by ...

This lovely lady in the center of the trio. <3

Now, I never really liked the design BioWare came up with for female turians ... they just didn't look like they were quite the same species as the males. I would've expected a bit more similarity. Not only that, but given the need for protection from the radiation from Palaven's sun, you'd think being "bald" would be an evolutionary disadvantage, since turians needed to evolve a metallic carapace to protect them from said radiation. So the idea I came up with was that maybe the "bald" ones evolved in the polar regions of Palaven, which would likely get less solar radiation, and wouldn't need the additional shielding provided by the "fringes" or "spikes" or whatever they're called, that we've seen on the males previously. Which would mean that there are also bald males somewhere, but we just haven't run into any yet.

Also, other slight differences between the two could be the turian version of ethnicities -- slit pupils instead of the more roundish ones we've seen on the males, differently-shaped mandibles, and so on.

Either way, though, it's nothing I can't adjust to, and with Vetra, here, BioWare seems to have made some refinements to the design that I actually like. Part of it is possibly the "thing" I have for really tall, muscular women ... as you can see in the next shot, she's quite statuesque. Though it's possible that Sis!Ryder is below average human height, turians were always meant to be very tall. So are krogan, such as the dude on the right in the image below, and Vetra looks at least as tall as he is. It'd be a nice touch if the devs made her exceptionally tall to give her a little more individuality.

But even though she appears to be quite tall ...

She doesn't look fragile. One of the things I noticed immediately -- and really like about her overall design -- are her upper arms. Look at those pipes. And her upper body in general.

Vetra looks like she works out frequently. :D Not only that, but from her pose in the above image, she's giving the impression that she's not only tough, but calm, sure of herself, confident in her abilities to the point where she doesn't need to telegraph it.

A friend and I were talking about this yesterday, and he called my attention to it by pointing out that it'd be interesting if they wrote Vetra that way -- badass, but feels no need to broadcast it to everyone. No need to act badass, but she simply ... is. I really like that idea. It'd be so refreshing to see a character who is secure enough that she doesn't need to strut or boast like so many of the characters in the Mass Effect setting often do. Imagine her just going about her business, then when the shit hits the fan, she casually takes out the enemies and immediately goes back to thinking about some mundane task, like she barely even registered that she just beat the holy horsepiss out of fifteen mooks. If Vetra turns out to be that kind of character, or even similar to that, it'd be worth the price of admission all on its own.

Oh, and I'm hoping she'll be one of the romance options. It'd just make a fascinating story in itself, if it's done right. Particularly given the issues with turians being based on dextro-amino acids, while humans and most other Milky Way species are levo-based.

Next, we see a bit of scenery as Ryder jogs through what appears to be a marketplace. We see quite a few krogan, another turian woman, and a couple of new aliens off to the left, no doubt native to the Andromeda galaxy.

Here, we see a guy talking to a turian, and she totally looks like she's trying to ignore him. XD

Here, Ryder is being escorted to one of the local big shots by a pair of krogan. I chuckled at the annoyed look she got after one of them shoved her. Again, the room they're in looks really good, particularly the lighting.

The conversation quickly goes south and the big shot tries to have Ryder removed at gunpoint. This is where we get our first look at the new "interrupt" system, and I think it's a big improvement. It has a timer so you'll know how long you have to choose whether to use the interrupt or let it pass by. The previous games didn't have that, so you never really knew exactly how much time you had to decide. The new system also tells you what kind of action the interrupt is -- in this case, "disarm." It'll be really nice to have some idea of what action Ryder will take if you push the button. The previous games didn't have that, either.

Then we see Ryder take that action, and I love that smirk she has after she takes that dude's gun away.

And here's where I go off on a bit of a tangent. I'll try to keep it brief. I brought this up the last time I commented on a pair of trailers for this game, but the subject keeps coming up, so here it is again.

Yet again, there are people ranting about how "ugly" this character and others are, and again, I just don't see it. Some of the animation looks like it needs work, but Sara Ryder's default appearance looks just fine to me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So default-Ryder isn't a supermodel, but there's no reason she should be expected to look like one. She's more like someone you'd meet in everyday life, and I've got no problem with that.

I dunno, maybe I'm looking at this from a writer's perspective. Someone who looks perfect and has no blemishes just doesn't strike me as interesting to look at. On the other hand, let's take a look at my GTA Online character.

Maybe a lot of people would think she's ugly. I think she's kinda cute, but more than that, she looks like someone who's got some amazing stories in her past. Those pockmarks on her face suggest she's had a rough life, maybe had quite a few close calls and narrow escapes (or maybe just a skin condition) -- yet she's still smiling and appears to be generally happy. And there's got to be a hell of a story behind those creepy, solid-black eyes. As a writer, that's the sort of thing that holds my attention.

Anyway. This is just one of those things that irritates me. Moving on ....

Next we see Ryder scanning a crime scene, searching for clues. Some sort of murder-mystery subplot, looks like. This could turn out to be quite fascinating, adding some nice variety to the gameplay. We've seen the scanning before, in the 4K Tech Demo video, but here it's being put to a more specific use.

Also, the cause of death sounds horrifying.

Below, we have a look at the Nomad. I like its look, and I just hope I can drive it without crashing it into everything in its path, unlike the Mako. I liked the Mako's durability ... and nothing else about it. I know it's more the fault of the game's driving mechanics than anything else, but that thing was so frustrating to drive, I didn't shed a single tear when I found it among the Normandy's crashed remains on Alchera. I shed a few for the Normandy itself, though....

Next, we see the jump-jetpack in action, just before Ryder does a biotic charge and a bit later we see it again. Handy little gadget. Looks like it's useful for sideways-dodging moves, as well.

The rest of the trailer is fairly standard action-movie type stuff showcasing various weapons, which I don't really have much to say about. There's one, however, that I found interesting. It appears to be a knife or dagger or a really short sword that's charged with either biotic energy or something similar to an electrical build-up.

I'm kind of a sucker for things like this. I'll probably keep trying to use it and end up being shot full of holes or burned to a crisp over and over.

And then there's what appears to be a shotgun that fires lightning bolts! WANT! :D

Anyhoo. Overall, this is looking pretty good. I'm willing to give it a chance. There's still no release date other than "Spring 2017," but I'm okay with that. I'd prefer the devs take as much time as they need to get everything right and make the game as good as they can make it, rather than rush it out the door for a quick buck.

And as I've said before, I want this game to be good. I want to be able to enjoy a new Mass Effect game again. So until spring, or whenever the actual release happens, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

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