Shiny, shiny faces

The next game in the near decade old franchise comes out this coming week and until now I’ve been rather sceptical. I loved the first three games and the world they built but until now very little had been said or shown by the new game. So I decided to spend £3 on EA Access for a month and play the 10 hour trial version of the game to see how it plays and I am happy to say that thankfully for the most part this game is great.

Characters:

Characters are what make and break a Bioware game for me and while the initial trailers made the squad look quite bad, in particular Miranda 2.0 and Jacob 2.0 for the humans, after getting to know them a bit better I have to say the improvement compared to the older games is really noticeable.

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Unlike in the previous games where every character had a fucking sob story a mile long, here the characters come from a diverse background whether it be wanting a fresh start, a sense of adventure, or doing their bit. In particular the new Turian character Vetra Nyx really stands out for me. For a series whose Turian characters have always been rather regimented towards “duty and honour” Vetra is pretty much the intergalactic equivalent of Del Boy, a wheeler-dealer who knows how to get anything you need from anyone who has it.

So far I haven’t found a single Kaiden or Jacob Taylor level pointless supporting character thank god.

 

Voice Acting:

The performances by the voice actors go hand in hand with the characters and these two have so far been almost without exception great. There’s a lot of variety in tone and attitude that matches the character they’re trying to portray, with no sense of “phoning it in” for the contract. Vetra sounds like she’s always looking for an opportunity, Liam has the sense of wonder the words imply, and Gil the engineer is just someone who likes to take the piss. It’s a nice difference from earlier games where a lot of the time characters could be quite monotone.

Vetra Nyx, probably the best supporting character in the game

 

Combat:

The main part of the game the development team wanted to show off beforehand was the new combat system and after using it myself I can see why. While the games have always had functional at best systems before here they finally look at other third-person games to borrow from. Sprint for example is now mapped to left stick like every game ever made instead of the a button for example.

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The shooting itself feels fluid and fun rather than a fight with the controller itself, easily able to pick out and lay down fire on the enemy. The shoulder buttons have also been freed up from weapon and power selection to instead using them like you once again would in other games.

 

Exploration:

Unlike Dragon Age: Inquisition, which is how I feared the game could end up like, resources are plentiful and maps aren’t simply going round picking up plants. Most missions have a purpose that feels more in the vein of Witcher 3 than just fetch quests, all with at least some story behind them. So far this has included solving a murder by looking for evidence and placing a memorial for someone’s fallen family member.

While some have criticised the new galaxy map system as being worse than Mass Effect 2 I really don’t get what they’re on about. Here, instead of flying the ship across the map, you jump from planet to planet within the system much like the first game expect there’s a small custscene of you moving from planet to planet. In the end it basically takes about the same time as flying between planets in the older games.

Story:

While the story has major potential so far there have been the usual Bioware early game pacing issues. After the first 30 minute or so introductory planet, which is fast-paced and frantic, it quickly hits a long rut on the Nexus itself as you talk to everyone and everything. Who doesn’t love all those nested conversation statements.

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Clearly it could pickup from here, with the first major planet being much better paced, but so far get ready for Citadel introduction pain in the arse yet again.

All menus have this format, and refuse to work unless the image in the center is appearing like it should

 

Menus:

The Bioware team have clearly attempted to improve their information system after the original series of games. In the first game we all remember the utter wall of items that got presented to you whenever you opened it and tried to interact. Here however the solution goes too far the other way, with everything in folders of folders of folders which can end up making that one piece of information you wanted being hidden away.

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Models:

This is an interesting one and a subject of fierce debate since the first gameplay footage and here’s my non-conclusive take on the subject. The aliens are all fantastic without a doubt. All of them look real and fitting of their various cultures set up since the first game. The humans on the other hand are a completely different story.

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In short they’re terrible. They have this weird skin shine and the hair is still clearly pasted on with many of the styles. Also the designers have this awkward tendency to slap makeup on every female human to the point they look like clowns. Why my science technician is wearing bright pink lipstick and very heavy blusher I have no idea but it just makes her look ridiculous.

Animation:

Yes it’s true, the general animation of faces in this game isn’t great. Again this is a mainly human issue in terms of lipsyncing that doesn’t really effect the other races. Thankfully however it doesn’t really distract too much except for the really bad one every now and then.

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Outside of this there is one weird thing in that the Turians are a lot more bow legged than last time, giving them an awkward squatting look from certain angles.

For a character introduced talking about her 60 page summary thesis on the quality of dirt the make-up is a strange combo

 

General polish:

Much like every modern Bioware game this game sadly has a number of polish issues. While it’s easy to look past there are some that are just ridiculous. In one case this saw Liam move his face clean through a box during a conversation and carry on as if nothing happened.

In the end Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good or even possibly great game from my initial impressions. Despite initially being sceptical of the project this very much feels like what Mass Effect 1 could be like if remade today after what Bioware have learnt and lost over the last 10 years.