Monday, April 03, 2017

Massive Effect

Just another quick check-in on Mass Effect: Andromeda. I’m now about 50 hours into the game, which I think is just counting the singleplayer portion; I’ve probably played about a dozen hours of multiplayer on top of that. I’m still really liking it. I have plenty of complaints, but that’s par for the course with a huge, ambitious game like this.

I wasn’t expecting this, but ME:A has felt a lot like Dragon Age: Inquisition. The original trilogy of ME was very distinct from the first two DA games, in technology and tone and interface and design. At the surface, these games are still pretty different - Mass Effect is a sci-fi shooter while Dragon Age is a fantasy roleplaying game - but a surprising number of underlying mechanics are shared between the two. Some particular examples that jump out to me:

Resource collection. Collecting elfroot has turned into mining aluminum. As with DA, there are multiple ways to acquire these resources: personally picking them up within the world, or ordering your organization to handle it for you.

Influence in DA:I has become Andromeda Viability Points in ME:A, and Perks have become Cryo Pods. They’re sorted similarly: Forces / Secrets / Connections / Inquisition now map onto Military / Science / Commerce. Many of the specific perks provide the same upgrades: larger inventory, automatic resource collection, special inventories unlocked, discounts on transactions, etc.

The War Table in DA:I has become Apex in ME:A. It’s a similar link between in-game actions and “missions” that take place in the real world. The fiction behind both is pretty much the same: you recruit folks and then send them off to perform tasks that your main character can delegate. Rewards are similar as well (credits/gold, research/influence, resources/resources). There are a couple of differences - most War Table missions were unique one-time affairs while all of the Apex missions are repeatable, you actually level up your Apex operatives over time, and you can fail Apex missions.

Multiplayer is pretty similar, both the in-game fiction (Inquisition forces in DA:I, Apex strike teams in ME:A) and the overall progression. So far I’ve been enjoying ME:A’s multiplayer a lot more; I think I prefer the unlocking/upgrading mechanic of DA:I, but the actual matches in ME:A are more enjoyable, and while it has issues so far it’s been less buggy than DA:I’s.

The Mass Effect series seems to be taking the same evolutions over its predecessors as Dragon Age has. Where earlier games were more focused on the exceptional actions of one extraordinary individual and their cool friends, the latest game places that person in a position of authority in a larger organization. You aren’t on a quest to save the world: you’re rallying a civilization behind you, growing its influence and shaping its policies. On the flip side, both franchises have shifted from largely bespoke, custom environments to more sprawling open-world-ish zones. And added jumping! We now have huge, gorgeous areas to wander through, but also more fetch quests and a less focused narrative.

And, of course, the shared core BioWare DNA drives even more similarities between the franchises: the dialogue wheel, focus on companions, epic plot line, generally diverse cast, lots of customization options for the player character.

There are also changes from the original trilogy, beyond “making it more like Dragon Age”. A couple that spring to mind:

Paragon and Renegade are gone. I’m generally happy with this - Paragon/Renegade is way better than Good/Evil, but I still vastly preferred Dragon Age’s more complex and situational morality. That said, the new system is a lot less impactful. It reminds me a little of Dragon Age 2’s “tones”, which included categories like Diplomatic, Sarcastic, and Aggressive. There are a bunch here: Emotional, Logical, Casual, but they don’t seem to carry as much weight. Which might be a good thing… I’ve never gone, “Oh, I’m playing a Logical character, so I need to click the gear to proceed.” But there also doesn’t seem to be all that much difference between the choices.

They’ve also replaced the old Interrupts (which had to be either Paragon or Renegade) with a new system of “Impulsive Action”, which is always a binary choice to do something or not. I really appreciate how, like in the original trilogy, you sometimes (maybe often) DON’T want to take the action. They seem to be a lot less common than in the old games, but it’s been a while since I played them and I may be mis-remembering their frequency.

ME:A continues the Dragon Age tradition of putting big ole’ hearts next to the buttons that you click to initiate or pursue a romance with another character, which is a change I 100% approve of. As in DA:I (and ME3) there are a variety of sexualities represented, which is cool to see. ME:A also adds a new type of icon, called “Friendship”, which… I don’t really get? So far I’ve only seen it pop up for a single character, and my Ryder’s line-reading of those choices sounds several levels more intimate than pure “friendship”.

Ryder is growing on me even more. I’ll always love Jennifer Hale’s Shepard, but I really appreciate how Ryder’s background lends itself to a more purely fun personality. Shepard was military, and by default adopted a gruff, no-nonsense attitude. (The perk being, when she DID turn sarcastic, it was unexpected and awesome.) Ryder is more quippy and seems to be enjoying her job and the thrill of exploration and making new friends more.

I think the companions are, across the board, more pleasant to be around. This isn’t NECESSARILY an improvement - some of the most memorable BioWare companions have been the divisive ones with strongly negative qualities. But I think the cast here is one of the most purely likable of any recent BioWare game; there’s no equivalent to broadly-disliked characters like Jacob or adversarial companions like Anders/Ashley. (Though this might change by the time I finish the game! I’ve done everyone’s loyalty quest so far but I’m pretty sure I still have a ways to go in the main plot.)

A few more complaints to append to my previous list:

The economy is janked. I’m not super-surprised; it’s never been great in any BioWare game, and is especially hard to do well in open-world RPGs. But I think this is the worst of any game I’ve played lately. I’m about 50 hours into the game, and have built up about 41,000 credits in small increments of 40 and 50 credits, and there’s absolutely nothing that I want to buy. Here’s the sum total of everything I’ve purchased:
  • 20 credits to respec my character
  • A couple hundred to buy unique quest items to complete specific missions
  • A couple hundred for collectible ships (zero gameplay benefit, just for fun)
  • I guess some nomad upgrades? Let’s say a few hundred credits total. This is the only mechanically useful thing I’ve found yet that’s worth buying.
That’s IT. There’s no point in buying any weapons or armor: you find plenty while questing, and the stuff you can craft is an order of magnitude better than anything you can buy. There’s no point in buying resources: you get a ton while playing the game (or even while NOT playing the game, based on your Apex / Cryo choices), and the stuff that’s actually rare like Remnant Cores aren’t available to buy. There aren’t any money sinks at all that I can find. DA:I’s economy wasn’t great, but at least it had somewhat-meaningful options to dump the excess, where you could buy raw Influence or cosmetics. I have no idea why I’m still earning money, when I’ve spent almost none of it and have nothing worth saving for.

Skill economy is pretty bleh as well. I just reached level 40, and have no idea what to do with all of my skill points. You can only have up to 3 active skills at a time, which will take a total of 63 points to max out. You can put more points into passive trees, but I’ve already maxed all of mine out, including the useless ones in Biotics and Combat. It made a bit more sense in the earlier games, where you could have more active skills at a time, but I’m baffled at what I’m supposed to do now. I suppose I’m probably supposed to invest in more skills, and switch between different sets depending on the situation? But constant remapping of keys seems like a huge pain to me.

But also a few new bright spots:

While the hair is still bad, it isn’t AS bad as in DA:I. In particular, I’ve found one NPC with a ponytail that I like, so, yay, we know that good hair can exist in this galaxy!

I like how there isn’t any fall damage. It makes exploration more fun. It also makes perfect sense within the context of the game world: Ryder is wearing a jetpack, after all, and could definitely ease the descent. (There are some annoyingly well-hidden crevices in underground maps that lead to infinite falls, especially on a few combat maps where you’re moving around quickly without a lot of time to plan your route, but fortunately these just strip some health and set you back at a safe location rather than insta-kill you.)

Here’s my wish list for changes to this game, sorted from most important to least.
  1. Shut SAM up. I’m at the point where I would gladly pay for a five dollar DLC to permanently disable him. Though it would also be cool to research and develop a “mute” switch for him. Or just an in-game audio option. I don’t care. Just make him stop talking, please.
  2. Add a screenshot button, or convince their friends at EA to add one to Origin.
  3. Mirror of Transformation-style thing to re-morph Ryder’s face in-game. I’m generally really happy with her, but would love to just touch up her lipstick a little.
  4. For character creation and armor customization and any paint-related thing, add a “revert” option. It’s easy to mess something up, and (as far as I can tell here, as in DA:I) impossible to switch back to what you were using before, short of saving and re-loading.
  5. Better goals for multiplayer. I really miss the old weekend challenges, and the new nameplates are a lot less cool than the old banners.

BioWare is apparently making an announcement tomorrow, so we’ll see if they answer any of my wishes!


I’m really digging the loyalty missions so far. In particular, I think Liam’s is my favorite one of the entire Mass Effect series, and maybe better than the Dragon Age ones. Everything about it is wonderful: the tone, the plot that keeps spiraling further out of control, the comical music cues, the timing, cinematography, creative level design, squad bonding… it’s so tight and so focused and so packed with personality. I love it so much! I was lukewarm on Liam before this, but now he’s one of my favorite squaddies.

So far I’ve been in my “romance everyone” phase. There was a relatively early hookup opportunity with Peebee that seems to be along the same lines as Morrigan in DA:O and Isabela in DA2: a “just for fun” fling that simultaneously terminates the romance line. Learning from my mistakes in those earlier games (and with some nicely guarded guidance from my brother, who has already beat this freakin’ game) I took the easy out rather than stringing her further along. I really like both Vetra and Suvi, for very different reasons… I’m currently learning towards Suvi, who has a fantastic voice (and the odd but endearing character quirk of “tries to eat things that she really shouldn’t”). It looks like I’ll need to continue the plot further to lock in the romance, though.


Thus far, Valiri Ryder’s primary objective has been building up the Initiative/Angaran alliance, which has been the deciding factor in a couple of major decisions so far. When deciding the fate of the Kett “exalting” facility, Ryder’s generally compassionate and companionable orientation was overridden by the explicit plea of the Moshae. While Valiri generally gets along with Jaal, it seemed more prudent to appease a crucial figure like the Moshae.

Apart from the alliance, Valiri is mostly driven by a general desire to help people: make the galaxy safe, reconcile the Exiles with the Nexus, encourage and support her team. Some of the decisions give good opportunities to explore and express these values; others just seem dumb. The murder investigation is an oft-cited example of an annoying quest, where a complex situation gets reduced to a rigid binary choice that satisfies nobody (though, in my case, the epilogue seemed to end things in a better way than I had expected, with the murderer voluntarily re-entering stasis). Another one that seemed dumb was the protestors who were demanding their family to be release from cry. Which… for what?! The Initiative is still trying to feed and house the people it already has; bringing more people out will just make them miserable. It isn’t hurting anyone to keep them in longer, and if we DID start thawing out people, why would we set the precedent of unfreezing the relatives of people who complain the most? Things like that could have been more compelling with different parameters (life-or-death, or deciding the order of revival after the colonies have been secured), but as delivered it just seems weird.

The game seems to put a lot of emphasis on Ryder’s family relations. I didn’t feel particularly invested in the paternal bond, so I’ve been picking the options along the lines of “we weren’t that close.” Which I’ve been pretty happy with and the game seems to be honoring; I get annoyed when a game pushes the idea of “the player character feels very emotionally invested in this character!” (one of the most frustrating aspects of ME3), and it’s nice to be able to opt out of that bond while still letting it be an important element of the plot.

That said, the quests and choices seem to have been getting better and more interesting the further I get in the game. I was ambivalent about Sloane’s regime on Kadara for a long time: her methods can be cruel, and I want to encourage exiles to return to the Nexus rather than establish opposing power centers. Still, at the end of that quest chain, I ended up saving her and shooting Reyes: not so much because I agreed with Sloane’s political platform as because Reyes personally irritated me. Sloane may be corrupt, but I can work with her; Reyes is even less trustworthy, and without any solid information from him on how his victory might benefit the Nexus, I wasn’t at all inclined to support his move.

Let’s see, what else… I saved the probably-evil AI on Voeld and set her up with SAM. I suspect this will have disastrous consequences, but want to see how it plays out. It reminds me a bit of the decision with the Rachni queen back in the original Mass Effect. (And, now that I think of it, it's also very similar to how I handled APEX in Shadowrun Dragonfall. Hm, there may be a trend here...)

I’m sure there’s more; I’ll probably do a full run-down in a post-game post, as well as a more structured reflection on the story as a whole.


Okay, back into it! I’ve been digging the game a lot so far. I think I still have a fair amount left to go; up until now I’ve been following my standard operating procedure for RPGs and focusing on all of the side quests. Sooner or later I’ll roll back onto the main priority missions and blast through to the end. Looking forward to seeing where this story goes! It’s been fun on its own terms so far, and is also a promising indicator for what the future of the franchise might look like in Andromeda.

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