Monday, September 4, 2017

Kyle's and Travis' view on ME:A

Hey folks, our first full-length episode of The Canon Fodder Podcast is now live! Check it out here, or subscribe on your podcast app of choice. This morning, in addition to the episode, we're posting some post-mortem thoughts on Mass Effect Andromeda itself, and where we feel it went wrong. Agree? Disagree? Shout in the comments or on Twitter, where we're tweeting @canonfodderpod!

Kyle's View on Mass Effect: Andromeda

I have been a Mass Effect fan since the beginning. Yes, the first three games have their flaws, but the stories they told were compelling, and it was something that hadn't been done a hundred times before--like many of the Call of Duty games as of late. However, Mass Effect: Andromeda has been a huge disappointment to me. From the gameplay mechanics and interface, to the way the story unfolds, to the poorly designed open world.

Let me break down the gameplay first. To me, personally, it felt that old jalopy that someone has in their driveway and drives every once and a while. You see them fight with it, but for some reason they still drive it around, and you just can't understand why. That is what the gameplay--and the control scheme--felt like to me. To be frank, the control scheme made the game hard to play, and none of the controls seemed to be intuitive to the design of the game itself. Even the tutorials felt like they were hamfisted in, as though they were an afterthought. To illustrate how useless the tutorials are, and how unintuitive the control scheme and game mechanics are, consider this: it took me twenty minutes to figure out how to put the Nomad into six wheel drive to get up an incline, because the tutorial prompt flashed for only a few seconds and then disappeared because one of the NPCs started to talk over it, and their captions erased the tutorial!

And speaking of the NPCs, let me unpack my second point: the story telling is deeply disappointing. I can't tell you how many times I lost track of the story portions or objectives of the missions I was playing through, because the game talked over itself itself with typically mindless banter from your teammates. To be fair, if you had the right combination of characters on your team, the banter was pretty decent. (I usually ran with PeeBee and Drax and their banter back and forth while you were driving around in the Nomad was pretty good and made me chuckle more than once.) But on top of the frequent self-interruptions, the overall narrative was hard to follow because your main questline got lost in the onslaught of side-quests and trivial little things that didn't seem to mean much to the game itself...and was just filler. This is the biggest problem I have with open world games: if you don't get the main questline right, and don't make it really compelling, it just gets lost in the vastness of the game world and forgotten about until you stumble upon it, or you run out of random side things to do...which the latter didn't happen very often.

My last point of contention with this game is the poor open world design. I don't understand why on a planet the size of Earth, you have a hundred different things to do in the same ten square kilometer region. I understand the constraints of map building in games, but to have the same three Monoliths that control the weather for an entire planet (and on every planet) just doesn't seem right from a narrative perspective, and the game's story-science doesn't follow. For something like that, the Monoliths would have to be posted all around the planet for atmospheric control to work properly, right? But the problem is larger, and lazier than that. Even though it's a game made of many open worlds, they seem to be awful similar to one another--especially with the vaults. The first vault you go into is massive, and extremely impressive in both scale and design...but when you get to some of the other ones in the game and they're not much more than only half a dozen rooms at the largest, you realize the designers packed these identical spaces with Remnant enemies that it seems like the vaults are larger and more different than they actually are. That is just lazy design and makes for poor gameplay.

I have more complaints, but these three will do for now. There were some good points to the game, like the banter between characters, but not enough to outweigh the core disappointment of the overall experience. I am not a big fan of review scores, so I am not going to put a score on here, but I wouldn't recommend the game to someone who is a Mass Effect fan...I wouldn't even recommend it to someone who is coming into the series for the first time. It just isn't as compelling as the previous games in the series.


Travis' Views on Mass Effect: Andromeda

No matter what Kyle tells you, I've been a Mass Effect fan longer than he has. That said, we're in complete agreement that this game is a major letdown. Since he laid out the issues with the repetitive map design, the bewildering and aggravating control/interface design, and the self-interrupting garbled nonsense of the story, I'll keep my thoughts nice and short: Mass Effect: Andromeda is a piece of trashware.

Mass Effect as a game, and as a series, is about exploration, adventure, and making hard choices to protect your loved ones and the people you are responsible for. It's about delving into the shadowy depths of the galaxy, dropping onto dead worlds to pursue pirate scum, about holding the line against bullies, and ultimately about forging alliances between individuals and nations because we're stronger together than we are in pieces. So where is the grand sense of adventure? The kinetic and frenzied combat? The wonder of exploring the galaxy?

It's lost on a meandering and nostalgia-grab story that seems, sadly, more like a guilt-trip than a proper narrative. The urgency and energy of the story is butchered when the story renders Ryder, the only surviving Pathfinder for much of the game, into an interplanetary tool and resource gopher. For all it's hem and haw about grave consequences, first contact, and epic threats in the form of the Forerunner sentinels left behind in the staggeringly massive (but still somehow so small) Prothean ruins for unknown purposes, the story manages to hang itself by wrapping too many side-quests, fetch quests, NPC tasks, Nexus restoration assignments, and Strike Force missions around Ryder's neck. By distracting the player with so much unnecessary garbage, such bad top-down design, the game manages to trip and curb-stomp its own building narrative threat--in the form of the Covenant investigating the Engineer remains--and after the end of fifty or sixty undeserving hours, simply gutters out unceremoniously. It's like trying to get romantic with a ringing phone in the other room and and the neighbor committing weedbicide with a weed whacker next door while their dog yaps at the sun.

By the sweat of Thor's thighs, even the combat grows tiring after a few hours. Few of the enemies have anywhere near the firepower or fortitude to stand up to Ryder & crew, and their tactics are so simple that they seem like an artifact of generations bygone.

For all its graphical gusto, sweeping score, and earnest ennui, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a limp little game that is not worth your time or energy. It's sad, and it hurts to admit it, but the last of my goodwill was burned out while driving mindlessly across Elaaden's surface wondering how something so disappointing had taken up so much of my time.

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