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I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
WARNING: SPOILERS AND POLITICALLY INCORRECT OPINIONS TO FOLLOW
WELCOME TO THE REVIEW THAT NOBODY ELSE WILL DO!
1. Character creation is racially biased.
2. There are no pretty/handsome people in the future.
3. Everyone walks like they are drunk, but trying to be badass.
4. Other than that, this is a great game!
I know, I know. . .this is a comic book site. But comics and video games go pretty much hand in hand, as far as the general audience for both goes. That's why we have comic/game crossovers with Mass Effect, Witcher, Sonic, Dragon Age, Gears of Wars, Call of Duty, and so on and so forth. . .
Mass Effect is one of those games that is a huge tentpole release. It's the kind of game that gamers like me wait years for in between chapters. The first Mass Effect trilogy built a huge following based on the sweet combination of epic hard sci-fi storytelling and cover-based shooting. As far as I'm concerned, they were the Star Trek games that have never been delivered by the actual Star Trek franchise.
But Mass Effect Andromeda is a whole new creature. Set in a different galaxy, with new heroes, and only loosely tied to the originals, as it is set 600 years apart in time and light years in distance away from Commander Shepard's fight against the Reapers.
So I just bought this game yesterday. It was the game I had been anticipating the release of above ALL others. I've spent about 6 hours on it so far. . .just enough to get the flavor of things, but still not really done with introductory material. I figure since I'm so fond of letting people know my humble opinion on comic books here, why not give them a heads up on some video games as well?
And so here are my first impressions. I may come back later when I get deeper into the game.
MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA
Okay. Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room right off the top here. If you (like me) have seen some of the advance reviews and videos of Andromeda, then you know there are some. . .concerns. . .about the graphics. Those concerns are legit, for some things. Generally-speaking, MEA is a great looking game. The environments are detailed, the lighting effects are fantastic, and the overall design of things maintains the hard sci-fi look and feel of the original trilogy.
BUT. . .
Everyone walks funny. They have a strange, hunched sort of. . .strut. Like they're drunk and trying to look badass. They're hunched slightly, but have their chest thrown out and are just swingin' those arms as they stroll to the men's room to piss out the last pitcher of beer they had. It's just sort of strange, especially on the women.
Now, fair warning here: I'M ABOUT TO GET POLITICALLY INCORRECT!
The character creation system is a bit odd. And I really think that it's odd on purpose. Let's put it bluntly, you can't really create a handsome or pretty character, and you're severely restricted if you want to create a white character, especially a white female. You play as either a male or female brother/sister half of a team in this game. If you go with the default characters, they are both homely as hell. It's interesting that they let you completely modify the appearance of the sibling that you don't play as, but if you decide to play as a white male, it is impossible to make your "Twin sister" match you.
On the skin tone sliders, the male characters can go from pasty white to dark Afro-American. But with the females, the slider goes from dark tan to dark Afro-American. So if you decide to be a white guy, your sister is pretty much. . .well. . .let's just say your Dad might have wondered about the mismatch there in the hospital.
In other words, what I'm trying to say here is that you CAN'T create a white female. It's just not possible. The only white female you can play is the default character.
On top of this strange anti-white bias. . .and let me get this straight before anyone starts screeching about it. . .my first wife was a dark-skinned Puerto Rican, and I've had several Afro-American girlfriends through my life. I'm no white power guy, but I can spot reverse racism when I see it. Anyway, on top of this strange anti-white bias . . .like I said above, it's extremely difficult to make your character pretty or handsome. Especially in the case of females.
The default female character (should you give up on trying to CREATE a white girl) is so homely, it's plain to see the effort that went into making her that way. So if you play a female (I don't, but I spent an hour messing with character creation sliders) you have the choice of playing a ridiculously-Fugly white woman or you can tweak sliders to create a decent colored one. It's pretty plain to see what route the developers want you to go. The default white guy is about the same situation, but not QUITE as bad.
Now, I'm not sure exactly WHY the developers decided to intentionally inject a healthy shot of anti-white racism right into the very first minutes of their huge tentpole game, but I have the feeling that what we have here is a misguided effort at being inclusive that ended up being exclusive. Personally, I think that by trying to overcompensate the inclusivity of their game, they ended up missing their target audience.
Let's be honest here. Yeah. . .there's all sorts that play video games, just like there's all sorts that read comic books. But lets just face the fact that at least 95% of gamers/comic fans are hetero white guys who like seeing nice looking women. Go ahead and screech, snowflakes. You know I'm telling the truth.
And let's keep being honest here. Games are escapism. I don't want to play as some homely guy. I can live that out by looking in the mirror. Who wants to play a character that looks WORSE than they do in reality? If I looked like the default white guy in the game, I probably wouldn't have ever gotten married! Okay. . .so he's got sweet body armor and leads a planetary exploration team, so there's that, but the point still stands that maybe I want my avatar to be a handsome sumbitch with a sharp flat-top haircut. . .like my Commander Shepard in the first trilogy of games. And ladies? If there are any of you reading this. . .do you want your sci-fi badass to be some homely frump with frizzy hair? Aren't there pretty girls (and guys) in the future?
ANYWAY. . . Moving along.
The character creation system is flawed in an extremely politically-correct manner, and people walk like they're drunk. . . but what about the rest of the game?
The rest of the game, as far as I can tell (and like I said, I'm only 6 hours in and an hour of that was spent messing with character creation) is A-Okay. I'm actually still being introduced to game mechanics and haven't even taken my sweet new planetary exploration vehicle out for a spin, but it's all pretty engaging, even if it seems like there's a lot to learn with this game.
It focuses (so far) more on exploration of planets than the first trilogy, so I get much more of that awesome "Star Trek but Not Star Trek" feeling that the other games in the series had. I've only explored one planet so far and found the environment to be a lot less linear that before, with the addition of jump jets to your character's default equipment, there's a lot more movement and verticality to be had, and there are a lot more branching pathways and optional areas than before. Sure, you end up where the developers want you to be eventually, but the journey there SEEMS less straightforward and on rails as with the previous games.
Combat seems to be less static as well, with enemies that rush you in cover and try to flank. It's not so easy now to just wait for them to pop up from cover over and over so you can play whack-a-mole. As for the enemies themselves, I've only encountered one new race. . .extremely aggressive humanoids that seem to take a lot of damage before going down. Hopefully other enemies in the game won't be quite as bullet-spongy.
I've only gone into fights so far with the first two default teammates, and they seem to hold their own. As a matter of fact, maybe they hold their own a little TOO well. On default difficulty, I experimented and just stayed crouched in cover while the two of them took down a four man (alien?) patrol without me. I think maybe a bump up in difficulty might be needed for players who want to take more of a hand in battles instead of relying on their team to do most of the dirty work.
I've barely touched on the new crafting system, but it seems to be pretty deep and extensive. Basically, it's divided into two sections: Research and Developement. First you research things (weapons, armor, implants, etc. . .) that can be made, mostly by earning research points gained by scanning various objects, points of interest, and life forms. This research turns into blueprints (Blueprints can also just be found) that you need various materials to turn into a finished product on the Developement side of things. I find in most RPG's that crafting just turns into time-wasting distraction from the main story, but here it LOOKS like it might be pretty well integrated and even necessary.
As far as the story goes. . .
You are either the son or daughter of a famous explorer on a 600 year journey to another galaxy, along with 20,000 other humans on a giant colony ship. There are also ships representing the other familiar Mass Effect races (Turian, Asari, etc. . .) on the same journey. Unfortunately, when you arrive at your destination, you discover that the planets that looked inhabitable 600 years ago are hellholes. Your father gets killed pretty early on (during exploration of said hellhole) and you take his place as leader of the planetary exploration team (or Pathfinders).
After discovering that everything has gone sideways, you attempt to rendevous with the other colony ships at a huge base that was being constructed prior to your arrival, only to find out the other ships never showed up and the construction crew assumed you were all dead, so they stopped construction, leaving the base half-finished. . .leaving them pretty surprised when you show up. Now you have to find a planet to live on.
It's pretty good stuff. Just like Star Trek's "Five Year Mission", it's a very simple setup that can lead to a lot of stories of many various styles. I have just begun receiving missions beyond the critical path/game mechanic introductions, and they run from finding out if you can discover what happened to the other colony ships, to unravelling a murder mystery, to scanning rocks for useful information and materials.
Overall, my first impression of Mass Effect Andromeda is that it is a game I'm going to enjoy spending a LOT of time with. Time will tell if the critical path storyline is a winner or not. Once I got past the strange gender/racial bias of the character creation system there's a lot to like about this game.
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