Mass Effect 2 Wrap Up

Posted July 16, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Got to the end of Mass Effect 2 a few days ago. I clocked in about 100 hours…a lot of which were AFK. My tendency to forget what I’m doing and just…wander off… makes it really hard to keep track of how long it actually takes me to play my games. The WoW subscription I paid for and have barely used is expiring in a few weeks so I figured I should do that before hurling myself at Mass Effect 3, but first things first, ramblings about my last and final ME2 session.

This is going to be all spoilers all the time, so even though this is a *checks* 7 year old game, I’ll be kind and hide the post behind a cut. Read the rest of this post »

Mass Effects 1 and 2, Some Reflecting

Posted June 29, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , , ,

Sometime ago, around when I wrote the Dylan/Anthem post, I think, I finished Mass Effect 1 and fired up Mass Effect 2.

I’ve played Mass Effect 1 plenty, made it to the end three (now four) times, yet I’ve only moved onto Mass Effect 2 once (now twice). I’m not sure which game I like better. Mass Effect 2 is way more intense and I fell hard for it the first time around. That was the main reason I was never able to play it again: too many feels. It’s been like 5 years, though, so I think I’m good. I even have thoughts like “I should come back and play this as ManShep, see if it feels different”. (All while those 3 months of WoW I bought trickle by unused.)

As much as I adore the Mako, or perhaps the idea of the Mako, Mass Effect 1 has too much boring “drive around the mountains” for this impatient completionist’s taste. But while others complain about the dated graphics, I find them charming. (My age is showing, I guess. Back in my day, we played our video games uphill through the snow without shoes. Or something like that.) As for the overall story, I don’t grab my monitor with both hands screaming “WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” like I do when playing Mass Effect 2, but I’m completely engaged nonetheless. I’m totally intrigued by the future and Citadel space and can spend hours wandering around, talking to NPCs, moving my camera to trigger “Hit (E) to examine”, searching to discover more, more, more. My gamer soul was forged on the anvil of RPGs, so Mass Effect 1 caters to my intincts and comfort zone, however, Mass Effect 2 is so fun and exciting that it taught me that I could be rewarded by giving action/shooting-style games a chance.

Then one day, someone on Reddit (I don’t post on Reddit or even have an active account – self-preservation strategy – but I lurk) linked Shamus Young’s Mass Effect Retrospective as a reference when discussing Mass Effect 2’s writing faults. I did a double-take. What do you mean Mass Effect 2’s faults? Mass Effect 2 is the Internet’s favorite Mass Effect. It can’t possibly be that faulty!

I went to give it a skim. “A skim” turned into 3 nights of intensive reading and reflecting when this retrospective turned out to be a 50-part dissertation, published over the course of a year, on the storytelling in Mass Effect. The language is intended for a casual audience, but the depth and structure could easily be at an academic level. One of the most interesting things I’ve read in years. Highly recommended to anyone curious about the mechanics of storytelling, even someone who’s never played Mass Effect (or any video game, really). Then I went and bought his books because, seriously, that man has a gift.

Anyway, his analysis made sense of my feelings toward the series, in particular about how my love of Mass Effect 1 is different from my love of the two later games, as well as the intensity of my feelz while playing 2 and 3. I can’t recap pages and pages worth of discussion nor compare to his expertise, but I would like to highlight some major points relevant to my personal story-enjoying experience (with my own conclusions and interpretations mixed in, just in case someone happens to read my blog and thinks “that’s not what Young said!”):

1- The Shepard team in Mass Efect 2 consists of characters who, for the most part, are multidimensional, sympathetic and entertaining. They’re introduced with a backstory that you can usually partake in, and you directly observe their development (and the development of your relationship with them) through an engaging loyalty quest. It’s never made clear why you actually need some of them (why do we expect an assassin to be useful beyond the relay? a justicar? a thief?) but it doesn’t matter because you’re just grateful to have met their awesomeness.

2- The main storyline is only loosely connected to Mass Effect 1 (Collectors vs Reapers). It kind of comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. Why are the Collectors/Harbinger after Shepard personally? How did Harbinger even find out about Shepard? Why is the Alliance doing a half assed job with its human colonies? Why do the Collectors want to make a human (as opposed to an asari or other) baby reaper? What does Shepard actually do in the Collectors ship since EDI doesn’t seem to need Shepard at all? Why is there only one Collectors ship? How did they find the dead reaper? Why wasn’t it found before? What do/can we learn from the Collectors base? The questions go on. Shame because I believe it would have been possible to properly intergrate the Collectors and the resulting story experience would have been mind-blowing.

3- The game is inconsistant about Shepard’s fit in the world. Some people heard “rumours” about Shepard being alive and working for Cerberus, other people know for sure and other people have no idea. Which makes sense until you realize “who knows what” is kind of random. Dumb kid on Omega sends you an email after you bump into him, while people with high intel access and motivation (such as ex-boyfriend and Important Alliance Guy Kaiden) are clueless. Some people are midly surprised you’re alive again, others aren’t fazed at all.

4- Cerberus is all over the place too. It makes sense that Cerberus would have different cells with varying ethics and ideals (I think this is very cool), but you don’t see much beyond Lazarus and ME1’s Kahoku’s questline (and maybe Overlord? Haven’t reached it on this playthrough yet.) Clearly, they’re able to attract lawful good personel like Jacob and Kelly, but you never learn anything about their lawful good endevours. Sometimes they go above and beyond for their employees (on the Normandy there’s a talk in the crew quarters about someone’s family being evacuated by Cerberus from an at-risk colony), other times their scientists are abandonned to a fate of insanity on a dead reaper. I think it would have added a lot to the story to be able to learn more Cerberus’ structure and key players beyond TIM. (It may be addressed in the books/comics, but I believe it would have added a lot to the game if details were included there, maybe as side-quest rewards for those who want to go above and beyond.)

5- The Illusive Man feels like a great tool that no one knows what to do with. I think he’s supposed to be a superhero story style evil business mastermind villain. This has tons of potential but interactions with him seem to have no purpose but to confuse and irritate me the player. I used to think it was just me because I’m easily confused (you know when you’re at the movies and there’s this kid who’s constantly asking “who’s that? why is he saying that? where are they going? why are they there? I’m the quieter, more polite grown up version of that kid.). Turns that being sent aboard a Collectors’ ship that was powered down by Turians, only not powered down by Turians but by the Collectors themselves as a trap, by TIM who knows it’s a trap and doesn’t have much reason to send you there and who doesn’t have to lie to you since you’re curious about Collectors and follow his orders anyway to keep your ship but still lies to you is actually confusing to everyone. You never get to properly tell him off and he never gets to shut you down by being right although unethical. All your interactions just end with you rolling your eyes and moving onto the next mission.

These brought me to the realizations that:

1- The characters are so much fun that you don’t care if the main storyline is just an excuse to go on adventures with your fictional friends. Before my replay, I had actually forgotten about the story in Mass Effect 2. I remembered Shepard dying and being reconstructed, I remembered recruitment and most of the loyatly missions, I remembered a suicide mission where you have to asign your squadmates to appropriate tasks, I remembered Kaidan being an ass after you save his life, I remember being creeped out by TIM. I didn’t remember about Collectors, what they were, what they did and where they came from. I didn’t remember any of the actual conversations with TIM. I couldn’t even remember what I was doing with Cerberus. None of that stuff really mattered because I was too busy enjoying my time with Shepard and her crew.

2- The unexplained parts of the story are hinted to be “explained later” (for example, when you ask EDI about Cerberus’ funding, she says the information is classified so you think “oh, something will happen to unlock this”), then you’re then distracted by shiny events and by the time “later” rolls around, you’ve forgotten all about wondering where Cerberus gets their ressources (or why Wilson wants to kill you). I think this is a big difference between books and movies versus video games. When you’re reading a book or watching a movie, you’ve got nothing better to do than sit there and process the story. In a game, you have to choose your gun, scan the room for treasure, kill the trash mobs, read your quest journal. It’s pretty easy to distract players from lacking story elements and if players do notice, most won’t care unless the distractions aren’t enjoyable enough.

3- I was so heartbroken by the ending because the elements fueling my love for the series were 1)pride in my work in making the galaxy a better place, 2)my dear companions and 3)a Shepard that I pretty much worshipped. The ending 1)undoes my hard work, 2)takes me away from my companions (and never properly tells me what happens to them, though the extended cut is an improvement) and 3)destroys Shepard (even the scene where people say “Shepard survives” is useless to me because you don’t see her in the epilogue). I have been offended when told “you just wanted a happy ending”, but after proper reflection, my offense comes from “happy ending” being a simplication. I think I wanted an ending that doens’t consist everything I like about the series being stripped away and thrown into a fire. Or beam of light or whatever.

So after a week of reading and reflection, I’m ready to get back into the game. Have a couple of loyalty missions to redo (I screwed up my romance with Garrus by choosing the wrong options and my best option is a save from two missions ago…I vaguely remember doing that on my first playthrough too. Apparently the right options are obvious, but I always miss them. I suppose I’m as dense as he is.), then some side quests, then off to collect Reaper IFF.

Finally, Project “Dylan” is a Little Bit Revealed

Posted June 13, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Beyond WoW

Tags: , , , ,

I think I read somewhere that Bioware’s new game was originally codenamed Dylan because it aims to be the Bob Dylan of video games. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but no matter how you look at it, it’s quite ambitious.

Bioware is more of a trend follower (or adapter?) than a trendsetter these past years. I suppose that’s the downside of getting big: you can only react to current popularity, pro-activity is too risky. But maybe Bob Dylan wasn’t a trendsetter either. I don’t know, his peak was before my time. Maybe it just means the game will be poetic, have cryptic lines and produce a lot of content. Or more likely they hope it’ll still be making waves 50 years from now.

Anyway, Dylan was revealed to be called Anthem and somewhat confirmed speculations that the game would be similar to Destiny.

I’ve never really watched a video game trailer ever (except for ones at gaming conventions where I’m confused, have no idea what I’m looking at and totally embarrass myself if eager devs ask what I think), but I watched both of Anthem’s trailers. Then I watched about 2 hours of trailers for other games. Then I watched Destiny trailers a few times to see what all the comparisons are about.

Post-apocalyptic

I was expecting this. After all, post-apocalyptic is what all the cool kids are doing these days. That or zombies. But I feel like zombies are going out of style. (Much to my happiness. I hate zombies.)

The trailer doesn’t actually say the story takes place after a massive destruction, but you have a walled middle eastern/south asian-style medieval city with random sci-fi elements and overgrown ruins outside so post-apocalypse would be a pretty safe assumption.

I haven’t played Destiny so it’s hard for me to compare, but I understand that the main premise is about the same: a walled surviving city surrounded by a savage outside world. Destiny looks more space sci-fi, though, with aliens and travel to other planets, while Anthem promises lots about robot suits.

Robot Suits

Never been a fan of robot suits. But I was never a fan of saving the galaxy from ancient alien robots as a military character in a shooter game either. Then I met Mass Effect and fell in love. I think I enjoy a good narrative enough that with the right story, told the right way, I could fall head over heels for just about anything. (Except maybe zombies. Need to be convinced on that one. No, wait! Don’t.)

Am impressed about the flying and swimming. Especially the flying. Love flying.

Co-op and solo play

According to the trailers and interviews/tweets from devs, the game will be playable solo and as co-op with friends. Unclear whether there is the option to make new friends either through the hubs or via matchmaking, though I would expect there to be. I’m an associal asshole who complains whenever there are strangers in my game, but generally people stick around in a game more when they can make friends. Even I, in all my reluctance, got hooked to WoW for a decade that way.

PvP is not confirmed yet. Jonathan Warner (game director) made that very clear in his interview. I would be very surprised if there isn’t PvP, the PvP market is too big to ignore, but I do think they’ll take into consideration that their fanbase tends to be more solo and co-op oriented. I can see fun side-PvP like battlegrounds or arena multiplayer.

I’ve said for years (though not on this blog so if I’ve never ranted to you IRL about this, you’ll just have to take my word for it) that what SWTOR should have been is a primarily solo game where you could invite your friends into your game (I called it Diablo 3 style because Diablo 3 was the only game I knew of at the time that worked that way), and interactions with strangers take place in hub cities, not in the wild where they break your immersion, gank you, taunt you and/or steal your quest objectives. So if this is the direction Anthem ends up taking, I’m excited to see what comes of it.

Since Andromeda was relatively weak story wise, I am craving a game that can recreate the emotional experience I got with the original Mass Effect trilogy. I don’t think Anthem, as co-op and exploration heavy game will be able to do that (the co-op aspect alone would kill it for me, I need privacy to feel), but it’s ok. I’m sure Dragon Age 4 will (one day in the distant, distant future) deliver, and in the meanwhile, Anthem will be something fun Ed and I (along with maybe old gaming friends we’ve lost touch with?) can do together.

Still A Long Wait

It’s actually fun to be anticipating a game. I know it sounds weird, but it hasn’t happened to me very often. In past years, as a WoW blogger, I rarely ventured outside the realm of “things I did with my guild” and “this is how I did this thing with my guild”. I didn’t pay attention to other games unless someone put them in my face. Then I was living out of backpack for two years and technology was reserved for researching guesthouses and bus schedules.

I feel like I’m expanding my horizons, even if my horizons are, for the time being, just reinforcing how much of a Bioware fangirl I am.

But anyway, what’s the estimated wait time? Fall 2018 or something?

*sigh* That’s forever.

Can’t Escape from Mass Effect

Posted May 23, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , ,

I spent two weeks trying to write about playing Wow again. Got about 6 lines in and a screenshot.

Also spent that time trying to play the Witcher 2, in hopes of getting to the Witcher 3. I think I made to the end of the prologue.

My heart just wasn’t there.

My heart, as we know, was shattered after playing the original Mass Effect trilogy and never recovered. /overlydramatic. I’ve played Mass Effect 1 a bit since then but haven’t been able to go any further because I can’t handle the feels. Since playing Andromeda, though, (and missing most of the references because it’s just been too long) an itch has been slowly growing to revisit Shepard.

I…I think I’m ready.

I changed the resolution a few hours after creating my character so now she looks all weird and stretched out. Hence, why you only get a side shot. Wish Mass Effect had a Mirror of Transformation like Dragon Age.

I miss Shepard. My Shepard. So I made her with roughly the same look and roughly the same personality. Doing identical (or somewhat identical) playthroughs was actually such a foreign concept that it didn’t even occur to me until I came across a Mass Effect subreddit where someone mentioned doing several playthroughs with the same Shepard and choices. How someone could submit themselves to that emotional roller coast so many times in such a short period, I can’t fathom, but since it’s been a few years and I only vaguely remember my old game, I thought the idea to be brilliant.

I’m still undecided about what to do at the end. It is much better with the extended cut (it’s been years and I still can’t get over how anyone thought the original ending, with no acknowledgement of your personal efforts, no explanation, no epilogue, was a good idea), but it still doesn’t sit right with me. I’m told there is a mod that sets Citadel to be played as an epilogue (which is pretty much how I head cannoned my original game since Citadel came out long after I’d finished), but I think I might just play up until Shore Leave and leave it at that. *****SPOILERS***** I previously went with Synthesis since I didn’t want to destroy the Geth with whom a lot of work went into forging an alliance, and being a space god for the rest of eternity is just UGGG. Plus EDI and Joker get to be together! (Priorities!) But Synthesis doesn’t make any sense – like how does it work? How does Space Magic turn people into part computers and computers into part people with just a beam of light? (The other options don’t really make any sense either, but they’re a bit more plausible, as Destroy could cause some short of galactic malfunction and Control would be Shepard accessing the main panel.) I also hate changing the galaxy to that extent. And why must Shepard be disintegrated in a well? Kill her if you must, but…not like that. ****SPOILERS OVER **** I never decided how I wanted to head cannon retire my Shepard. I mean, her career is clearly over. You can’t go back to normal hunting bad guys and rescue missions after what she’s been through. Settling down with Garrus doesn’t suit her either, she’s an adventurer and spacer through and through. Being put in a pod and shipped to Andromeda for a total change of scenery might fit her personality, but would she want to leave the Milky Way behind after everything she did to save it? I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m only with her for this ride, what happens after, whether she accepts her Bioware fate or lives on to do whatever, is in her own hands, not mine.

So yeah, Mass Effect 1 vs Andromeda

I was interested in how the two compared side by side since they are both Part-Ones-That-May-Be-Stand-Alones.

ME1 definitely feels better fleshed out in all the story elements, the species and their cultures are given way more depth (despite introducing a lot of species – it’s amazing what they did, actually), the characters feel like real people (while in MEA, with the exception of Peebee and Drack, they kind of just felt like their tagline) and you can tell you’re just touching the tip of the lore iceberg. The dialogue options, however, are extremely unpredictable. I know we complain about that in every Bioware game, but ME1 is especially bad. A lot of options are along the lines of 1)Yes 2)Sure 3)Of course. You figure out quickly that the top option is usually gentle, the middle one is neutral/professional and the bottom one is more aggressive, but still. I’m hardly a newcomer and I’m still shocked by some of the things to come out of my character’s mouth. The voice acting, as well, triggers flashbacks of voice actor con panels where the actors always complain about they’re often not given context for their lines and have to guess. It’s not obvious in new games, but in ME1, you frequently get odd lines where the tone is all wrong.

On the other hand, while I’m driving around, I really miss the Nomad banter from MEA. That’s something the newer game did brilliantly.

While critics denounce MEA’s open world, I’m finding ME1 to be way more grindy and drive around random-y. The Nomad is much easier to handle than the Mako (and I’m super glad they made the Nomad in MEA, I love the Mako but always thought it needed some maneuverability improvement. I did miss the Mako’s canon.) and while ME1’s discoveries are fun and exciting (in MEA, you rarely discover anything cooler than respawning enemy camps – and in space, this drove me crazy, even the most “remote and mysterious” solar systems end up being polluted by remains of the Angara, the Kett, the Outlaws and a Nexus science shuttle), it takes a lot of boring driving to get there. I also found that MEA’s sidequests were more connected to the main plot than in ME1 (which, I suppose, is more natural for a “settle these planets” plot). I feel like in ME1, Admiral Hackett takes way too much advantage of the fact that you happen to be near somewhere (“I know you need to find Saren and stop him from bringing on our inevitable destruction, but while you’re in the area…can you rescue this guy?”).

Combat is more fun (love jet packs and combos!) and intuitive in MEA, though I do like having a ton of abilities at my fingertips in ME1. I prefer the talent system in ME1 with new abilities being unlocked at certain points, though I did like MEA’s as well. I love how in ME1 you can access your weapon loadout screen at any time. After how tedious MEA was about gear switching, every time I update my gear in ME1, I get a feeling of “YESSSSS!!! OH YES!!!”. I do, however, find it super annoying that a squadmate has to be in your party in order for you to access their talents. Especially early in the game, while I’m on the Normandy, trying to upgrade weapons. How am I supposed to know what to give if I can’t check what their weapons skills are?

I’m on the fence about what I prefer between equipping my squadmates myself and letting them take care of their own gear. I’m an RPGer at heart and loooove dedicating entire evenings to pimping everyone’s gear, but I didn’t miss it at all in MEA, maybe because they give you lots of other opportunities to micromanage stuff.

If you don’t have your Classic Bioware Games on Origin, you can download the DLC here.

 

All the DLC for ME1, 2, Dragon Age Origins and 2 (and a random Need For Speed Game) can be downloaded off the EA site, even if you purchased them on Steam. I originally thought that they’re free now due to the age of the games, but it seems that Mass Effect 2 DLC (and possibly the others) won’t work unless you bought them. Mass Effect 1 DLC is free however so grab Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station if you don’t have them already.

I hope I don’t regret this

Posted May 4, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: General WoW

Tags: , , ,

Downloading as we speak. I suspect I just paid 49.99USD to forsake my freedom.

But I miss Rykga.

/nerves

Finally sealed up that Dragon Age: Inquisition Solomancer run and can now move onto other things

Posted May 3, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Dragon Age

Tags: , , , , ,

After months of searching, I found my screenshot folder!

I started my second playthrough of Inquisition while waiting for Andromeda to come out. I think. I may have started it before I knew it was going to come out. If I was bad at following news before I went overseas, I’ve only become worse. Ed marks release dates on my calendar and says “buy this on this day” and I say ok. But anyway, I started the playthrough because I wanted to see why there was so much fuss about playing an elf and romancing Solas. Then Andromeda came out the day after I rushed to finish the base game and I didn’t get to Trespasser until Sunday.

I spend a lot of time reading the Dragon Age subreddit and one thing that comes up pretty frequently is that the game is meant to be played as Miss Lavellan who romances Solas.

My initial playthrough was mage Trevelyan – for no other than reason that I always play human mages first. My Warden was a human mage, I loved her, so Hawke and Evelyn inherited her legacy. I play my mages as friendly and very curious people, partly because that’s my personality and greatly because that’s how you get the most of out Dragon Age. So I actually thought Solas would be a good match for her, they got along well and she didn’t pick up on his snobbishness since she wasn’t elven. You don’t even get the flirt option as a human, though, so I went straight to Cullen. Good choice too. Unbearably sweet at times, but it’s nice to see the poor guy get a break for once.

As far as a second playthrough goes, I have to admit that I liked it better than my first. There wasn’t the anxiety of “if I say x, will it ruin everything?” or “will my game outcome suck if I don’t pick this flower?” Plus a second playthrough allows you to appreciate the hints and foreshadowing hidden throughout Orlais and Ferelden. There’s a lot of criticism of Inquisition, but when it comes to layers upon layers within a story, the game is a masterpiece.

Is the elf player treated as “the default”?

I didn’t feel that. Human noble Trevelyan, even as the sheltered circle mage that she is, understood and played politics with the ease of someone who was born and bred for it. And there are a lot of oppertunities for politically inclined human to shine. Lavellan, on the other hand, was confused by the large scale games, but had personal interest in the copious amounts of elven lore that are handed to you on a silver platter throughout the game. So I didn’t feel like the game favored one over the other. Perhaps the dwarf or qunari inquisitors are given the shorter end of the stick since there is a lot less lore concerning their cultures, but I think there is beauty in that too: an inquisitor coming out of nowhere with way less fucks to give about (or a totally different perspective on) human political games and elven history.

As an added note, I found that Lavellan seemed actually somewhat underutilized in the very elf-heavy quests. She doesn’t have much to say about the Temples of Mythal or Dirthamen and doesn’t react much to Morrigan schooling her about things she should know. Had she been given more opportunity to express herself, then yes, I would have said the game was skewed toward her, but her thoughts and reactions are left to the player’s imagination enough that it doesn’t feel like she is the favorite Inquisitor.

As for romancing Solas

The romance with Solas, I have to admit, is very well written, acted and animated. In how it grips you in and makes you desperately need want more, I think it’s the most intense romance I’ve played so far in any game. There is, however, very little content. Save a few kissing scenes and some “my heart”s in elven, you don’t get much that you wouldn’t get with a Solas friendship. Still, it’s the only time I’ve pulled up youtube videos of all the conversations options, read all the analysis of “see his face here? he must thinking this.” and maybe even gave into the urge to read a couple of fanfics.

So I totally get where Solasmancers are coming from, I was hooked pretty bad. But the lack of content and the (SPOILER – LOOK AWAY) total absence of any reference to the romance in the last scene of the base game (I know Solas is gone, but he could have left a letter, did some weird dream thing, or the Inquisitor could have reminisced, but no, nothing. Yes, he speaks through Cole, but that’s well after the game ends and you have to seek him out at the tavern. And I think he does it whether you romanced him or not.)(OK SPOILER OVER) really doesn’t give me the feeling that the romance was meant to be default.

Perhaps it feels that way if you romance him on your first playthrough. Personally, if I had romanced him first, I would have been inconsolable. I like my happy endings and felt like I dodged a bullet with Cullen. Yet, since all the romance scenes except for one are small extensions of the friendship ones, romancing Solas did not feel particularly special or exclusive. Only…really, really…addictive. For the first time, I’m not sure if I want to bring my original (human mage) game state into DA4 (if DA4 ever happens) or my Solasmancer Inquisitor.

Despite not thinking that “female elf romancing Solas” was meant to be cannon in the game, if something awful happens and DA4 can’t be release as a game and the story is wrapped up as a novel instead, implying that Solas has feelings for the Inquisitor would make for a more interesting tale.

And now what?

Now that I don’t have WoW as baseline in my life, whenever I finish a game, I get this big empty feeling. What should I throw myself at next?

Ed’s been wanting to do something multiplayer for months. I suppose that’s the problem you face when one of you works an officy job and the other works a fast-paced people job. At the end of the day, one of you wants to do cooperative stuff and the other just wants to embark on a personal journey through their imagination.

I’ve been curious about ME:A’s multiplayer. I really enjoyed ME3s, although it was pretty repetitive and I didn’t play it longer than I had to. Been considering giving WoW a shot too, but I’m a little intimidated by it. I’ve been gone so long, would I be able to rekindle the magic? Or worse, am I going to get so immersed that I have plan my life around my gaming schedule again? That, I don’t miss.

Then there’s a few games sitting in my library. I’ve been wanting to give the Witcher 2 and 3 a try. After being spoiled with DA and ME, I don’t like being forced to play a specific character (especially one who seems like a dirty, creepy ass dude) but people who have similar taste to me seem to like the games. I have the 2013 Tomb Raider game which I’ve been hearing good things about. Then a couple of “on the house” games from Origins (Nox and Siberia II). Plus, like everyone, my Steam library is full of surprises from sales day impulsive purchases.

Oh what to do!

Played the latest Mass Effect (Keeping Spoilers to a minimum)

Posted April 24, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , , ,

Took me a few tries to remember my password.

Once upon a time, I was a student who needed to write a lot of papers. My finished products weren’t bad, but what seemed to take everyone else 3-4 hours always took me at least 10. Sometimes 20. So I started a blog about World of Warcraft, wrote in it twice a week and after awhile words came out of me faster. As an added bonus, I made friends, found myself at conventions all over North America and really got a deeper, more intense experience out of my games. Then I quit it all to live out of a backpack for two years. I tried to keep up the writing but I was always too tired, too busy, too impatient. It didn’t take long for the words to dry up. Now I’m a grown up who has to write letters, memos and reports. While my letters, memos and reports are never short of excellent (IMHO), what takes my colleagues 5 minutes to write during shifts takes me over an hour, off the clock. Plus, I miss my favorite people but am scared that if I email anyone, the only response I’ll get is “I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you. You must have the wrong email.” If my emails don’t go right to spam. It has been that long.

In hopes of finding some good ol’ days glory, I promised myself that I would make a post once I finished Mass Effect: Andromeda.

…Ok, I promised myself I would make a post once I was done with Skyrim. Then after the first time I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition. What can I say? I’m just a big disappointment to myself.

Speaking of disappointments…

Actually, no, I wasn’t really disappointed by the latest Mass Effect. I had a lot of fun playing the game. Yes, the flaws are glaring. (And would you even call them flaws? I feel that sloppynesses is more descriptive.) But since I was so attached to Shepard, I half expected to spend the entire game thinking #notmymasseffect. Which I didn’t do. I easily lost myself in the game and clocked in at 153 hours (estimate 120 if you cut out idling).

I had just finished another Dragon Age: Inquisition run when MEA came out (not that I expect anyone to read this, but just in case someone who doesn’t follow the gaming industry ends up here by accident – Dragon Age and Mass Effect are made by the same company but different teams- and this time around in different studios- and share a lot of features), so it was interesting to me that it seems MEA shines in the places DAI was lacking and the things DAI did well crashed and burned in MEA.

Let’s talk about Ryder

I feel like talking about the story first would be more logical, but Shepard was so important to me that it only makes sense to start with Ryder.

You can’t see it here but, by total accident, I made her scarf match her eyes.

The history between Shepard and I is that I stumbled across Mass Effect at a time where I needed a storybook hero in my life. I’m not a “power through this” kind of person. “I’ll have meltdown now and feel better later” is more like me. The latter serves me well, but every now and then mastering the former is what gets the job done. Shepard was my shining example of powering through everything.

Unlike Shepard, a 30ish year old born leader with an established and successful military career who is applying her exemplary skills, Ryder is 20ish (22 I think) and discovering herself as she takes on the unexpected job of frontlining exploration in a new galaxy. She’s awkward at first and grows in skill and confidence throughout the game. I love it. To younger players, I feel like she would be very relateable, and if at the frontline of further Mass Effect games, could really endear herself to that audience. For me, on the other hand, Ryder made me feel old. So she was more like a little sister that I cheered on and was proud of. She was so deliciously distinct from Shepard that I was able to let go and allow her to grow on me.

In the comparison with DAI, MEA stands out. Both Ryder and the Inquisitor are inexperienced people ending up at the forefront of a massive, high stakes organization through unfortunate circumstance. But the Inquisitor’s journey is too smooth to be engaging. Two of the biggest badasses in Thedas (Cassandra and Liliana) are bearing their fears and dreams to her within hours of meeting. She takes on each mission with a smile and emerges non worse for wear. The events in Haven are the closest she gets to a setback, everything else just works outs. Ryder also does abnormally well for herself (after all, the game is long enough, adding setbacks would stretch it out ridiculously) but she is forced to prove herself. She also occasionally and appropriately loses her shit and at times needs to count on her squadmates. The writers could have gone further with Ryder, but that’s just me being greedy.

Like the Inquisitor, Ryder does suffer from somewhat of a narrow personality range. Emotional/Logical and Casual/Professional replies structure seems good in theory, but in practice (possibly due to the weak dialogue writing) they really didn’t feel all that different from each other. Back in the Paragon/Renegade days, I would play Paragon with some “I’ve had enough of your shit” Renegade moments (I’m so bad at being an asshole that when I did my Renegade ME1 playthrough, I had to use a guide.). I don’t mind trying something different, but I liked that Shepard chose to be compassionate (or not). With Ryder (and the Inquisitor), it felt like she responds the same way and does the same thing no matter what, she just words it a little differently.

Ok, now for the story

Yeah, so DAI. The story starts off great and promising, you’re excited to grow your Inquisition, your camp gets attacked, you do badass heroic stuff- then the story comes to a screeching halt and you collect flowers for 100 hours until you decide to take out the bad guy. There are some story bits thrown in and I loved the story bits, but they’re so rare that you tend to forget about them as you do other stuff.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised that MEA starts off strong, continues strong and ends strong. In my 120 hours of playtime, I had a few nights before the final battle where the story stagnated as I drove around to do all the “collect shit that might appear in some places if you’re lucky and the quest isn’t bugged”. The rest of the time I felt engaged and enjoyed how even the most insignificant sidequests felt somehow connected to the story, a very different experience from DAI.

There is a lot of repetitiveness in planet exploration – most planets follow the same pattern, but, to my surprise, I didn’t mind. By the end of the game, everything felt like “drive around the mountains”, but discovering each for the first time was exciting to me. Every political situation, every Remnant vault, every environment was just different enough to feel fresh. I might not feel the same way in future playthroughs, but for now, I’m satisfied.

I’ll note, though, that while the story is highly entertaining and well-paced, it seriously lacks creativity. I mean, it’s fine: entertainment is the most you can ask for from a video game. It just surprised me since Bioware is supposed to be the storytelling leader in the industry, you would think they had hordes of brilliant writers fighting tooth and nail for an opportunity to pitch their awesome ideas. Instead, most of the twists are predictable and kinda cliché (and worsened by the clumsy foreshadowing), as if there was one person responsible for the whole thing who was told to go home, watch some Star Trek and come back the next day with a full story. There are some interesting chunks of story near the end, you know, once it’s too late in the game to actually develop and explore them. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just, well, after the original trilogy missed the mark for legendary status by 20 minutes of “WTF were they thinking”, as a loving fan, I hoped they would redeam themselves. And MEA is good but isn’t inspired enough to go down in history. With all the love in my heart, I hope MEA2 uses the established groundwork to give us something exceptional.

I guess this is where we can segment into the writing

To me, this was the most massive disappointment. Some of the dialogue and the random bits of writing you find in game were great, maybe even most of it. But there was enough unnatural, tedious, confusing or downright cringy material to distract me from all the good. So much made me wonder who on earth they hired to write this stuff, and what happened to their editors?

There’s a lot of telling instead of showing. One of your companions, one who hides her insecurities behind playfulness, wants to be slow to open to you. But instead of in-character dodging of questions and teasing, she seriously tells you (I am paraphrasing but only slightly) “I am slow to open up, please leave me alone until you have earned my trust” Like, who says that? It would work with a bookish, formal character, but it DID NOT FIT her AT ALL. Oh, and in case you do miss what little your companions show you instead of spelling out to you, you can count on your ship’s doctor to explain it to you. I get that the target audience for Mass Effect is young and possibly socially inept, but comon, they can’t be that clueless.

Another telling-not-showing that really got on my nerves was, well, everything about the new galactic species you befriend. “Oh the Angara! They have electromagnetic bodies and are so open about their emotions!” Your Angaran squadmate reinforces this at every opportunity “I think you are a good friend. I say it because I am Angaran and we are open about our feelings, unlike you Milky Way folk who are embarrassed about your feelings.” There is also this late game gem: Angara: “I am excited about this thing we discovered” Ryder: “Oh, how I love how open and vulnerable you are with me! (You open-Angara-you)” Yet I didn’t notice a single occasion of an Angara being unusually emotional. If anything, they’re kinda flat and talk like zenny yoga instructors. I also never noticed any Angara using their electromagnetic abilities (outside, perhaps, of your companion in combat).

As for the other companions, I found that they started out strong “I am your new crewmate and this is what’s cool about me”…then didn’t really say anything new to you for the rest of the game. One even regresses and becomes insufferable. To make matters worse, when your companions (and some other NPCs) have something to add in their non-cutscene dialogue, there’s no notification. All their options stay greyed out. If you want to find out whether they have more to say, you have to replay all their dialogue in hopes that some of it might be different. So you miss new content (and sometimes even new quests) until you realize this, then you end up playing old stuff over and over again. It would have been easy to make new dialogue content white, like those dialogue options you haven’t selected yet.

When compared to DAI…well you can’t even compare to DAI. Despite pacing issues with the story, nothing is accidental about character dialogue. If a characters says something that seems off, you find out down the road they were hiding something. You discover character personalities little by little as you play the game, very little is told to you. In fact, with every playthrough, I feel that I get to know and understand the DAI characters better. I don’t expect the same to happen in subsequent MEA playthroughs.

The Gameplay, however, was really fun

I love currencies so I was served. Three types of research data, skill points, credits, APEX teams, gear levels, cryo pods, viability points, profile levels. So fun! I suspect my large number of played hours was due to sitting in my ship micromanaging all my stuff.

The combat is tough for me to comment on because as long as it’s not terrible, I’m happy. I’m no TPS expert, but, um, I enjoyed the combat. There’s a huge variety in weapons and defensive gear (a little overwhelming at first, to be honest) and you can experiment and modify your stuff to you heart’s content. Fighting is smooth and natural, your squadmates take care of themselves, everything works as expected (as far as I could tell) and early in the game, the difficulty scaling seems right. As an average gamer, I played on normal difficulty and the challenge felt…normal. I had to think about what I was doing, but was never frustrated. Later on in the game, the combat does become trivial, but I guess you’re just not expected to be level 70 on your first playthrough. You can also up the difficulty whenever you want.

The profile system, where you can customize and level up different profiles, felt quite brilliant to me as well. I didn’t realize you could switch profiles on the fly until late in the game (the one time the game shows you something instead of telling you and I missed it: in the tutorial mission, you see Daddy Ryder switching profiles. Maybe I am as clueless as the game treats me.)

I have to criticize the crafting a little. You can research blueprints and craft from the same station, but if you want to equip/unequip weapons, you have to run pretty far to a load out station. And heaven forbid you want to try a weapon. You have to equip it, land somewhere, drive around until you find enemies then fight. A target dummy in your ship’s loadout room would have been infinitely more convenient.

Overall, though, given how frustrated I was with DAI’s combat (mostly with the camera, I could never freaking see anything while fighting) and crafting system (I had to make detailed tables to keep track of everybody’s gear, then I’d use up all my resources to craft something cool, only to find an upgrade 30 minutes later), MEA was absolutely glorious to play.

The Details

Animations, lack of facial expression and, well, lack of faces period are probably the most common complaints I see about the game. I mostly play old games with terrible graphics and I’m face-blind anyway, I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me. As for the facial expressions, I didn’t mind too much, however, I felt like it was a missed opportunity, especially when playing right after DAI, where I found myself really speculating what characters are secretly thinking based on their body language. I did feel like main character animation was improved in MEA, though. I hated, hated, hated seeing my graceful, beautiful Inquisitors move like gorillas. Sara, thankfully, did not move like a gorilla.

While I wasn’t overly bothered by the graphics and animations, I do question what they did with their resources. They had 5 years and a good budget. I don’t buy the “new team and Frostbite” excuse. The Dragon Age team didn’t have experience with Frostbite either and other than the gorilla Inquisitor, the animations were fantastic. Plus, Montreal has a huge animation scene (Quebec produces a lot of media, almost all of it coming out of Montreal), there are other big name gaming studios in the city and every credible CEGEP has some kind of game development and/or animation program. There’s no way they couldn’t find proper talent. Besides, even if the game is made by a different studio and team, couldn’t the new studio receive coaching and training from Dragon Age veteran animators?

What did bother me, though, where the bugs. More bugs than a beehive, it felt at times. I haven’t been able to get new gear or mods for the past 8 levels. The APEX menu freezes the game more often than not. I have two completed quests stuck in my quest-log (ok, minor detail, but it bothers me). My AI tells me I have new email all the time when I don’t. Sometimes my character and her subtitles have totally different lines.

If you look at the credits, there’s a long list of game testers. I could see them missing little, specific things, but some bugs are pretty major and some occur for most players. Seriously, what are those game testers doing with their time?

Let’s wrap it up

Almost 3000 words and I didn’t even write everything I had in my head. Feels just like old times!

To me, Mass Effect: Andromeda was fun. Definitely worth that money and time I put into the game. (I just kind of wonder what the development team did with their time and money.) I’m not sure whether I will want to play it again, but I do want to explore multiplayer (and coming from me that’s saying a lot!) and I’ll be first in line to buy DLC. I know MEA2 isn’t a sure thing, but I do hope for it because I want to see my Mass Effect buddies and colonies grow. I want to see what comes of the loose ends still hanging. And I still have hope for a legendary space story.