Mass Effect Andromeda: Before the Patch

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At the time of writing, version 1.05 of BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda is sitting on an Xbox One, daring me to quit my productive university work and install it. Issues such as lifeless eyes, a transgender faux-pas, and the now infamous “noot noot” mouth animations are slated to be fixed, alongside some minor balancing tweaks and bug fixes. As a result, now feels like a good time to discuss some of the issues, and the surrounding criticism that has circled the otherwise perfectly enjoyable game since its release.

Before I start, I should probably preface this with a disclaimer- I am a Mass Effect fanboy; Andromeda could be an unplayable mess where nothing works and you have to manually brush your teeth on the Tempest every morning and I would still find myself at least somewhat compelled to defend the game. However, despite the claims of trolls and wildly overreacting members of the gaming community, Andromeda is no such travesty. It has issues, certainly, mostly regarding animation and the occasionally frustrating bug, but overall it is a very solid game, with BioWare delivering on its strongest suits once again, with good, three-dimensional characters, an engaging storyline and a universe that feels like it could be real.

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Unfortunately, while I could talk all day about the nuances of Jaal’s character, or just how ridiculously awesome the Memory Triggers quest was, the fanfare currently surrounding the game is regarding those aforementioned faults, and as such needs to be addressed. I think the upcoming patch is necessary for the game to achieve its true potential, which is sad. On the other hand, in an age of No Man’s Sky and that god-awful Batman game, these issues are, in my opinion, trivial. While it’s unfortunate that more and more developers are relying on post-Day One content to “fix” the problems with their games, context is required- Andromeda is still an excellent game even without the patch, and the willingness of BioWare to release this patch so quickly while dealing with all of the issues fans had with the game, shows that they genuinely care about the quality of their games.

To address the issues directly, I would now like to talk about the animations in the game. Problems with the Pathfinder’s “zig-zag” walk and whatever Foster “Pingu” Addison’s deal was are undoubtedly annoying and immersion breaking, and should not have been in the game at this point in development. Addison, especially, with her expressionless face and make-up that looked like it was applied by a child in the dark, was at times so poorly done that it made me laugh. At some other times as well, with mouth movements in particular, I felt like I was being taken out of the moment by some ropey animations. On the other hand, there are some truly excellent sequences within the game- I have yet to see any grossly unnatural body movements within the gameplay sections, for example, and Cora’s romance scene is flawlessly executed, if surprisingly explicit. And finally, while the default Sara Ryder has come in for criticism by some, I personally have no complaints regarding her animation or appearance.

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Another criticism levelled is regarding the eyes of some human and asari characters, as well as the identical model used for almost every asari within the game (Peebee being the only one with a different face). The default Scott at times looks like he is falling asleep, and the texturing makes some characters aimlessly stare into the middle-distance with lifeless eyes (cue Jaws quote). On the other hand, the more alien species have incredible detail placed on these areas, in particular the Angara and Krogan, who at times look genuinely lifelike. While this inconsistency is annoying, this is another problem fixed in the patch (and from the few screenshots I’ve seen, it makes a huge difference).

Finally, there has been minor controversy with Dr. Hainly Abrams, a relatively insignificant NPC at the Prodromos outpost on Eos. Through dialogue, she reveals that she used to be called “Stephan” and left the Milky Way for a new start. As such, this pretty strongly suggests that Hainly is transgendered (although it would not be unforgivable to not know Stephan isn’t also a girl’s name in the future, as some players assumed), making her the only such character in the game. The problem, to my understanding, is not with her inclusion (assuming you live in the real world), but with her off-handedly “deadnaming” herself- which is not something that people in that situation do, especially to complete strangers. Therefore, some members of the LGBT community were offended by this, and pointed out the mistake. Speaking as someone with little knowledge on the subject, this was not something I was aware of, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have not known this before. In the same vein, I don’t think it is outlandish to assume that Andromeda’s writers, who probably included the detail in the name of inclusivity, also did not know this, and meant no offense. Therefore, considering that Dr. Abrams’ dialogue is listed in the patch notes as a change, they have admitted to their mistake, and corrected it at the first opportunity- again proving that they care about their audience’s enjoyment of the game.

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Overall, while I can accept that I perhaps view the game with Element Zero-tinted glasses, and what I look for in the game is not necessarily universal, I refuse to accept that Andromeda is an objectively bad game. For every wooden animation there is a stunning backdrop; for every doll-eyed stare there is a heartwarming character moment, and for every irritating bug there’s a boatload of great gaming experiences. So, for anyone who thinks the game is “literally unplayable” or any other unnecessary hyperbole, I suggest you put down your pitchfork and take the game at face value. Maybe you’ll actually enjoy yourself.

 

The views expressed in this article are purely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Minimum Effort, who are probably sick and tired of Pete playing Mass Effect for the 5th time in 18 months.

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The Greatest Game Ever Made

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Benportrait1While everyone at school had an Xbox 360 or (in some cases as well as) a PS3, I made do with the trusty PlayStation 2 and a Nintendo Wii. So, as you can see, I am a real gamer (don’t worry though, I have rectified the situation by getting my hands on a second-hand ‘360).  Anyway, while sitting in an airport in Madrid, an intriguing question was asked- “What is the greatest video game you have ever played?” Of course there was only one answer in my mind, Star Wars Battlefront II, and after playing it again recently, I am going to attempt to tell you why the game still holds up today.

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First things first; graphically the game still holds up. This is primarily down to the clever lack of face to face interaction and, most importantly, the lack of dialogue between individuals. Instead, voice over actors are used to perform memorable film quotes, providing the campaign narration and letting you know what is happening around the battlefield. This means that the faces of characters didn’t have to be animated for speech, and ten-years-on the game only benefits from this, the lack of facial expression goes unnoticed. What would go noticed is crappy 10-year-old facial construction. Also, the backdrops and battlefields, while dated, are still spectacularly designed and in my opinion still look great. Yeah they aren’t as visually impressive as modern games, and I expect Battlefront (III) to dwarf its predecessors in terms of technical qualities, but the care and attention that went into II which has enabled it to hold its own 10 years after its release is something special. (That might just be the nostalgia talking though).

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Secondly, the huge number of maps also gives the player variety not seen in other games- 19 conquest maps and 6 space maps (not including those used in the campaign), many of which can be played during the Civil War or the Clone Wars (although why you would want to play the latter is beyond me). As well as the Conquest mode, there are Capture the flag and Hunt missions available too. That is an incredible variety, and all of the maps are fantastically finished. The variety and options means that the game can be played for hours without doing the same thing twice.

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Battlefront is still a challenge. The Primary reason for this is that, essentially, the friendly AI is utter crap, but the enemy AI has the ability to find you and kill you, while your team stands there the entire game with their fingers up their nose. This means that if you want to win you have to get stuck in. Also, in most games, after playing the maps a few times, you begin to figure out how to win. In online games such as Call of Duty you find the best spots and short-cuts to do the most damage, this isn’t the case for Battlefront. Depending on what side you choose, some battles are almost impossible to win. Fighting for the Imperials on Endor is one battle in particular that springs to mind; I have fought it every way I can think of and somehow I always lose. The challenge of this and other levels means the game is still worthwhile playing (In all seriousness, if you have won as the Imperials on Endor I congratulate you, and I would also like video evidence of you doing so). The Battlefront campaign is also very good. With a nice number of mixed easier and more difficult levels providing you with a challenge without getting frustrating. The film inserts also allow the game to feel like it’s truly a part of the larger Star Wars world.

Battlefront II battles sexism… yeah, it does. The Heroes vs Villains fight in Tatooine is arguably one of the most fun modes in the game (not really a fan of it to be honest- Lewis). And while the Heroes almost always win, who is the most kickass Jedi in the game? No, not Yoda or Mace Windu… no, Obi Wan is a close second, but the most badass Jedi is…. Aayla Secura. She is able to kill everything that stands in her way without even breaking a sweat.

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Admittedly, nostalgia is a major player in this game. You get to fight for freedom as the Rebellion or fight for the evil Empire, reliving the planets and stories that captured our imagination as kids (that sounds corny but it is true). And if the nostalgia doesn’t get you, the joy of killing countless Gungans on the Naboo hunt level is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done… watching as Gungan after Gungan falls to my Super Battle droid.

Finally, the game is fun, and when it comes down to it I am not playing a game that isn’t fun. Even now you get the jump scares when Gamorrean Guards start running at you, the terror that fills you when Darth Vader strides towards you, the sense of achievement when you are able to shoot down an enemy fighter, without using the tracking rockets. The bemusement as, despite fighting the hardest you can, somehow your side still loses. This game is second to none.

So yeah that’s is from me, I am off to go and play Battlefront II.

Cheers, Ben