Mass Effect: Andromeda, Rough Sailing

I’m about 10 hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda now, and I can’t help but be delighted by it.  I had some rocky moments in there when I started to have serious misgivings, but then the game dropped the mighty metaphorical hammer of awesomeness on them.   I’ll get to that.  First though, let me do justice to the problems.

Game Mechanics 101

My time at the Nexus was mostly great.  Like I mentioned before, I really appreciated the general atmosphere, and the commitment the game had to developing that atmosphere; it helped me feel invested in the game setting.  I was a bit bothered by obvious questions I couldn’t ask—if the exiles and Krogan could find a place to live, why couldn’t the Initiative; if a bunch of scientists and civilians could unite to form an elite sector-wide tactical strike squad, why couldn’t they defend a colony; who was the merchant trading with, and why—but not enough to dampen my spirits.

I was still really excited as the game set up its various systems and mechanics:  solve quests on planets to make them habitable, gather resources for the Nexus, increase “viability” so that more options will become available.  None of it was laid out as seamlessly as it probably could have been, but I don’t really object to recognizing game mechanics as game mechanics.  Besides, exploring, questing, and resource gathering have long been a part of Mass Effect, and in this game, they actually make sense.  Even more, what I suspect will become a straightforward system of accumulating “viability” to wake colonists is actually reasonable.  It makes more sense than the “Loyal people are less likely to die” mechanic from Mass Effect 2.

So all told, I was having a blast even before I got access to my starship, the Tempest.  I figured it could only get better.  After all, who doesn’t want to hop on a starship and explore the stars?

A screenshot from the PS4 version of Mass Effect: Andromeda

Well at first, I wasn’t so sure that I did.  Travel in Mass Effect: Andromeda involves a lot of zooming around, as seen from the nose of the Tempest.  When the rest of the game is third person, first person space flight is a little odd.  First person space flight as the nose of a space ship would probably have been odd no matter the setting.

Making it worse, arriving at a destination usually involves it suddenly appearing out of nowhere right in front of you at the end of your trip, instead of starting as a speck on the horizon that grows into clarity.  The models that appear aren’t always stellar even.  (See what I did there?)  The first one I saw was literally just a big blue splotch.  I don’t have a screenshot of it, because it was so shockingly horrible that I didn’t think to take one.  You’ll just have to trust me.

When I left though, I didn’t fly around the splotch, I flew right at it and it suddenly disappeared.  It was the most immersion crushing first person perspective experience I’ve ever had in a video game, and I have gotten stuck in pixelated corners before.  Then, the next place I flew was an asteroid field.  I know because it popped into existence around me at the last moment, like a swarm of giant rocky ninjas throwing a surprise party.

And while this was going on, I was getting overwhelmed by game tooltips and plot dialogue, and I didn’t catch any of it.  The tooltips vanished too quickly and I couldn’t follow the dialogue because I was trying to read the tooltips and so missed the beginning.  I couldn’t find the tool tips anywhere in the codex, either, and none of my quests had updated with the information my crew had just been discussing.  I was so frustrated that I loaded a save game and played the whole sequence again.

The tooltips didn’t load the second time, so I’m still not sure what they say.  I caught the dialogue.

This is one of the consistent problems I’ve had with the game though.  Understanding what’s going on requires careful attention to dialogue and triggered events, none of which are either repeatable or transcribed anywhere, and most of which happen without any warning, sometimes in a direction there are no reasons to face, and frequently while something else is going on that prevents careful attention.  There was a sub-quest I went on a little while later which involved my gathering pieces of equipment.  I didn’t catch the backstory for the quest.  In the middle there was a monster reveal I didn’t catch, so I didn’t understand why dramatic music was playing or why my sidekicks were complaining.  Then the quest completed and I didn’t hear its results or the explanation of why I’d just spent half an hour pursuing it.   All because everything was communicated by triggered events that it was too easy to miss.  I worry how much of the main story I’m missing.

In any event, I was getting frustrated with the game and less excited about it while I flew through space on my ship.

Luckily, I landed.

A screenshot from the PS4 version of Mass Effect: Andromeda

More soon.

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