24 March 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda ~ The First 15 Hours

I am so happy right now. My grin is bigger and wider than my face. Considering how stressful the past year has been, this is exactly what I needed. If nothing else, Mass Effect: Andromeda has consumed my life enough that I have walked into work completely exhausted and tired three days in a row. And it was worth it.

Four years life through college later and the waiting is over at last. Finally. Fucking finally.

Since I am still relatively close to the beginning of the game (over 15 hours and nearly 20% complete according to my save file as of my writing this), I will make a multi-bullet-pointed first impressions post. Twitter does not accommodate my gift in writing essays, and my poor baby needs some love, so blog away I shall!

Minor spoilers ahoy!

-- Character creation is pretty limited, as it usually is in Mass Effect compared to Dragon Age. However, tattoos make excellent additions, and scars make a comeback since Mass Effect 1 a decade ago (holy shit, it's that old?!). The crazy hair colors add a nice touch in theory, but the lighting makes bright colors shine like the sun, which works with the landscapes but not for the plain shades and varieties of ochre colors in human skin and hair.

-- Thankfully, my Sara Ryder turned out adorably excellent if I dare have the opportunity to brag. Until I can find a way to move screenshots from my PS4 to my computer to provide additional images, I thankfully managed a stream of decent technical quality. (My shooting skills and familiarity with the changed buttons, however, still need work.)

-- Speaking of technicals... yes, the facial animations are much worse than Dragon Age Inquisition's, which felt pretty damn natural and convincing. Hell, Mass Effect 3 is a much better game in that department. Frostbite's not a bad engine, but Mass Effect: Andromeda needed a few more months of putting more care in how lips and eyes move so the humans don't have puckered mouths and wide dead fish eyes during emotional moments. Not much intense emotional drama has stirred yet, so I will provide an update if such scenes are ruined by the facial animations.

-- And speaking of faces, the asari - with Peebee as the exception - look horrendous. The humans look awkward in this game when their faces move too much (usually the ones with lighter skin, hair, and eye colors... hmm...), but at least their hair can obscure some of the worst features and hiccups. Well, not everyone, right, Addison? The asari, however, have the bad animations... plus a weird effect where their faces seem much bigger than their heads and tentacles, making their cheeks look puffy and stuffed. It's uncanny. Dr. Lexi T'Perro has that problem especially, but I spare her from my wrath because I adore Natalie Dormer.

-- I have all six companions recruited, much like the good old days of Mass Effect 1. Unlike the first game, nearly everyone won me over in their first appearance and I have I high opinion of the crew of the Tempest in general. Some have fallen off the face of the map in the narrative, so I will have to wait for loyalty missions and other conversations before I can pass more judgement upon them. They aren't Tali, Garrus, Wrex, or Liara, but fresh blood is always welcome.

-- If I were to rank the companions, Liam is my favorite; Peebee is fun; Cora is adorable; Vetra is badass but understated; Drack is quiet and understated; and Jaal is... Jaal.

-- Holy shit, did I just say that the male human companion was my favorite squadmate? Why, yes I did! And you know what? I even liked James Vega in Mass Effect 3 from day one!

-- My first genuine complaint is how small this game feels. The marketing kept the specifics of the setting vague on purpose, and I can assume hype made expectations a bit too high, leaving yet another no-win scenario for Bioware. We aren't exploring the galaxy of Andromeda but a cluster within Andromeda. This is a colossal step back from the trilogy, where we go all over the Milky Way. On the one hand, this makes the scope and scale of the game to shrink from an entire country down to an apartment complex in a small city. On the other hand, the technology can't quite support that kind of travel when home worlds, trade routes, and other fundamental infrastructures haven't yet been established. Plus, I like the idea of exploring the quirks of one cluster before we jump into an entire new galaxy.

-- I take back my complaint about how blue Mass Effect 3 could get. This game has a perpetual blue filter all day every day. 

My shitty phone camera doesn't count, lol.
-- We get to Andromeda, and Murphy's Law kicks in because of video game logic. The majority of the game focuses on finding potential worlds to make habitable for the Milky Way races to establish settlements in the new galaxy. Not too bad of a premise. This small, humble beginning where we venture into a new world unsure of what's ahead reminds me of the general mood of Mass Effect 1 before Sovereign's revelation about the Reapers.

-- Simply, this is Dragon Age Inquisition, except condensed, straightforward, and carrying far less bullshit. You more clearly see evidence of what progress you make in the worlds you explore and the Nexus station (basically the Citadel 2.0). Furthermore, the side quests consist more of clearing out enemy strongholds and gathering resources to improve commerce and trade so settlements can expand and more people can awaken from stasis, which is far more relevant to the plot than picking up 50 batches of goddamned elfroot.

-- The Nomad is not the Mako, but I am a much worse driver than shooter in video games.

-- Eos serves as your first world to explore, and it's... ok. The map is much smaller than the average map in Dragon Age Inquisition, but upwards terrain serves as a frustration with the Nomad. Thankfully running around on foot is very easy with a jetpack and a dash feature.

-- Actually, let me reiterate that this is Mass Effect: Inquisition, except its gameplay, side quests, pacing, and banter frequency blows Inquisition's out of the water.

-- The parallels between the Hawkes in Dragon Age 2 and the Ryders in Mass Effect: Andromeda grows more apparent with each passing hour. The story of the Ryder family still has promise, since I like how Sara or Scott (whichever you choose to play) are treated like a person more than some legendary figure everyone worships. Some choices I made have have already bitten me in the ass, and some people are treating Sara with caution or hatred based on whether I prioritized civilians and scientific research over security and military strength. Nothing major has played out yet, but little details like passerby telling Sara that she and her family should fuck off for dragging everyone out to Andromeda helps add some flavor to the experience.

-- Ryder might be up there with Hawke as my favorite Bioware protagonist at this rate.

-- Also, I can't decide if I want to romance someone in this run or not. The pool is not a bad size, but I want to get to know the fish in the pond before I proactively hunt one down and call it mine.

-- Ok, I need to get this out of the way before I get too emotionally invested positively or negatively. I am honestly getting really, really, REALLY sick and tired of Bioware creating male characters to be so blatantly fanservicy, where they have a sexy bad boy appeal, are shrouded in mystery, and have a sad side to them that make female gamers swoon and want to have their babies. Fanservice isn't inherently bad, and at least Jaal is not overflowing in melodrama like Thane in Mass Effect 2 or Solas in Dragon Age, but I have seen Bioware play this pony trick five times, and it only worked once with Fenris almost entirely due to my unhealthy, lustful obsession with Gideon Emery's voice. Still, strike one against Jaal in the first minutes of his reveal.

-- The first conversation with Jaal gave me a horrid flashback to the first conversation I had with Anders. For a guy who seems to be unsure about Ryder, Jaal sure seems openly interested in her. The writing and the voice actor seem to have him express conflicting intentions, and the dissonance is confusing me.

-- Oh, and random naked alien ass. Goddamnit, Bioware, now I have to go back and re-watch that scene to understand what the fuck was going on, and why Liam was involved! It looked like my poor Sara walked into a porno, and she shut down that big-lipped alligator moment without a single blush on her cheeks.

-- Despite my initial discomfort with Jaal, I loved the moment where we meet the angara. Watching my logical, diplomatic Sara make first contact with an alien race and try to form the beginnings of a cross-species alliance was amazing. Bravo, Bioware, on the writing and presentation of these scenes.

-- Also, I saw what looked like flying dragons on one planet. I lost my shit and screamed like a giddy child on Christmas. This is the kind of bizarre, strange alien shit I wanted in this game!

-- I thoroughly enjoy the lighthearted tone of the game, and the ambient dialogue on the Tempest has had me laughing consistently. The lack of Reapers has left me pretty happy too. The merits of the kett as villains, however, still need time to simmer on the stove.

That's about it for now! I'll make another update once I move along further in the story. More twitter reactions are likely to happen over the next few days until then.

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