Friday, May 5, 2017

Some Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda

So ... gradually pulling myself out of another depression, during which I got almost nothing done in the past week or so. I did finally finish Mass Effect: Andromeda, and I gotta say, it was a hell of a ride.
I really don't get all the negativity the game's been getting. It does have its flaws, and the problems with character animation has been well documented, though a recent patch has improved it a lot. The game has been getting a lot of hate, from complaints about game-breaking bugs to people simply stating, "It sucks," as if their opinions are fact. For me, it wasn't quite a home run, but it's a good, often great, game with characters I really liked and had a hell of a lot of fun watching, listening to their conversations, etc. Maybe a lot of people just decided to hate it because Mass Effect 3 was an almost total pile of shit, and I was in that camp when the game was first announced. I just assumed it'd be terrible because ME3 had become my gold standard for bad storytelling.
But the trailers and interviews and whatnot gradually changed my mind. The developers seemed sincere about wanting to make this a good game, and clearly put a lot of effort into it. So I decided to give it a chance. And I'm glad I did.
I didn't have the same experience with game-breaking bugs that many people seem to have had. The game crashed twice in 100 hours of playing, both times on the same side-mission. That's it. That's the only serious trouble I had, aside from one point where Ryder got stuck while trying to climb up a cliff, and I had to reload. And even then, the reload dropped me just a few feet from where I got stuck, and I was able to go on from there. Maybe it's because I played it on a PC. I dunno. Could be there's something about consoles that cause more problems. Or maybe hardware on PCs that couldn't handle the game.
Or, possibly, some of the complaints are exaggerated or completely made up.
I did have some issues with frame rate dropping and a few other things, with my previous graphics card. I decided to upgrade again to the one that was recommended for the game. Which, on the AMD side, was an RX 480 with 4GB. While looking for a good price on one, I found a 580 with 8GB for a lower price, and went with that. Still had some frame rate dropping with all the graphics set on Ultra, but once I turned it down to High, it still looked good at 4K and ran smoothly.
Story-wise, it probably could've been better, but I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway. Had some frustrations with the combat at the lower levels just because I suck, but once I leveled up a little and got my hands on better weapons and armor, I started having a much less rough time of it. I still absolutely hate the way the screen zooms in when I right-click to aim the weapons, because Ryder's body ends up blocking a quarter of the screen and it's impossible to see enemies approaching from that side.
Another problem is the lack of a mini-map in the corner of the screen, like the previous Mass Effect games and other games such as Grand Theft Auto V have. With the mini-map, you can see the red blips representing enemies approaching from the side and sneaking up behind you. Mass Effect: Andromeda has a bar at the top-center of the screen that's not exactly intuitive, at least not if you're used to the mini-map. Blips and waypoints at the far ends of the bar are actually behind you, but if you're not accustomed to the navigation bar, they look like they're just far to the right or left. It got quite frustrating, wandering around in circles like an idiot trying to find a waypoint off to the side when it was actually behind me.
Also, when trying to use the ability mapped to the "1" key, I keep hitting the "~" key which pops up the console and prevents me from even moving because when trying to move, I just end up typing in the little box up in the corner. And at higher resolutions, it's really hard to see when it pops up because it's tiny and there's so much else going on on the screen.
I also despise the puzzles you have to solve to activate certain Remnant technology. I ended up having to look up the solutions in walkthroughs, or use decryption keys found in the game. I just thoroughly hate puzzle mini-games.
On the positive side, I didn't find any of the side-quests tedious at all. With the first Mass Effect game, I found most of them to be something I just slogged through to get to a more interesting plot-related mission, but with Andromeda, all of them held my interest and I had no problem taking the time to do each one.
The characters were the high point for me. They're just fun. My fave's Vetra. My initial impression of her, from the few seconds she was on-screen in one of the trailers, was completely off the mark, but she turned out to be awesome in a whole different way. Unlike many turian characters in the previous games, she's friendly and casual right from the beginning, and is often downright adorable. So is her sister, Sidera. The romance subplot with Vetra is sweet and packed with "d'awww!" moments.
The two human team members you meet at the beginning of the game, Liam Kosta and Cora Harper, are actually interesting, unlike the human squadmates in the previous games. Kaiden and Ashley were so uninteresting that I didn't even care which one lived and which one died during the "big decision" moment in the Virmire mission in Mass Effect, though Kaiden was at least nice enough to be likable, whereas Ashley was kind of a racist asshole. Jacob seemed a friendly enough guy in Mass Effect 2, but was kind of bland, and Miranda was so cold, arrogant, and hostile until she defrosted after her loyalty mission that I never even wanted to speak with her. Liam was kind of a dick to the other squadmates, going out of his way to pick fights with them (and they all verbally raked him over a cheese grater, which was glorious), but in conversations on the Tempest he came across as friendly and very down-to-earth. And his loyalty mission was often hilarious and was one of the most fun parts of the game.
Drack was even more fun than I expected him to be. Badass, sure. At first glance, he seems like a typical krogan, but once you talk with him a few times, you see a whole other side to him. For instance, when one of the failings of his species is pointed out, instead of getting pissed off, he laughs and says, "Fair enough." PeeBee is not even close to the typical aloof asari. She's hyperactive, an adventurer, and likes to goof around. And Jaal isn't at all what I expected, either. I figured he'd be a stoic Proud Warrior Race Guy, but he's anything but stoic. It's a nice departure from the way a character like that is usually portrayed. His reaction when he found out what the kett really are was just heartbreaking.
And the ending. Unlike Mass Effect 3, this didn't derail into a load of pretentious, nonsensical, rocks-fall-everyone-dies horseshit. I thought it was thoroughly satisfying. It was the kind of ending ME3 should've had. There were a couple of blatant DLC/sequel hooks, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.
Screw the haters. This is a good, solid game, and it's a step in the right direction after the previous game.
I'd started recording my first playthrough to post on my YouTube channel, but had serious technical problems with the recording software -- bad enough that I had to scrap the idea and just play through the game without recording anything. I've tried at least a dozen different programs for recording gameplay, and the only one I'd ever gotten to work was Fraps, but then I started having trouble with it, as well. Once I finished the game, I decided to try recording a NG+ with ReLive, and it actually works, aside from the image freezing every few seconds, seemingly at random. I'm still trying to determine if the problem is in the game itself, my computer's hardware, or in the settings.
I posted the first episode on my channel last night:

Anyway. Yeah. It was a good ride, and I want to see where it goes in upcoming DLC and sequels.

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