Final Thoughts: Andromeda

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This weekend I managed to finish Mass Effect Andromeda.  While I did not come close to hundred-percenting the game, I still feel like I touched all of the important bits.  Andromeda divides up its quests in a number of logical chunks:  Priority Ops, Allies and Relationships, Heleus Assignments, and Additional Tasks.  Priority Ops is functionally everything you need to do to finish the game.  Allies and Relationships are tasks you are doing for your crew or other significant individuals and organizations within the Andromeda Galaxy.  Heleus Assignments are for lack of a better term the equivalent of planetary missions from SWTOR, and anything you pick up for a specific planet ends up getting filed here.  Lastly there are a number a busywork items that get filed into the Additional Tasks bin… and I largely think of these as Daily Quests from the MMO genre.  According to the game I am sitting at 92% completion, and that is from doing all of the first three categories of quests and largely ignoring the last category…  unless I happened to complete it while doing something else at the same time.  All told according to Origin I have played 90 hours of gameplay, some of that being with the headstart and then continuing on into the release client.  I am going to do my best to avoid any major spoilers about the game, but functionally…  you cannot really talk about your experience without at least giving some minor details.

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Mass Effect Andromeda had the deck stacked against it before we even set foot in the game.  What I mean by this is the fact that the original Mass Effect trilogy is among the most loved gaming properties in history.  The number of N7 hoodies and car stickers that I see out in the wild is pretty staggering that I live in a section of fly over country that is not exactly known for its geek friendliness.  In truth I personally think that if they ever made the original Mass Effect trilogy into a science fiction television show that over the course of its run chronicles the events of the entire series…  you would have a hit on your hands that would eclipse Game of Thrones by a large margin.   So that said… trying to come in on the heels of that game and creating something that is going to ultimately keep up… and hopefully replace it…  is just largely a suicidal proposal.  The game had issues out of the gate and while the most recent patched fixed  most of the ones that were bothering me…  it is still the younger sibling of a child star, the Kieran to Macaulay Culkin.  This is not exactly a fatal flaw mind you, because as time has gone I’ve come to realize that Kieran Cuklin is the much better actor…  drawing out this analogy that horrifically dates me.

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Regardless of how good the end product is…  there is still an awful lot of awkward that you are going to have to wade through until you reach the tipping point of caring about the game more than you care about the ephemera.  For me that point was about eight to ten hours into the game, which in itself is a hefty commitment for a game that has not fully grabbed you at that point.  The larger problem is that Bioware in general is extremely hit and miss about indoctrinating you into their worlds.  There is often times this odd chrysalis phase of the game, where it is trying to introduce you to new elements and characters and figure out ways to make you care about them.  It seems to be the case each time we enter a few franchise, so Mass Effect 1 suffered from it… but 2 and 3 were able to draw on the fact that you probably played the first and they did not need to give you a fully fleshed origin story as introduction.  The Dragon Age franchise unfortunately has had awkward beginnings each time because they have yet to give us a true sequel, jumping us into new characters and new perspectives for each game.  Mass Effect Andromeda similarly is plagued with a whole lot of awkward front loaded into the game…  as it attempts to induct us into a new universe filled with hundreds of new characters for us to start caring about.  This is not made any easier by the fact that the Pathfinder is very much NOT Shepard in any fashion, so it takes those first dozen hours to really let that fact sink in.

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Prior to Andromeda my top Mass Effect games list would have gone a little something like this: 2, 3, 1.  One gets downgraded so heavily because it had an extremely awkward control scheme…  and Kaidan Alenko.  When it comes time in a play through I gleefully sacrifice Kaidan to the pages of History knowing that for the sake of my crew I am going to have to pretend that I cared.  After playing Andromeda the new list looks much the same…  just with Andromeda prepended on the beginning.  If you place any weight in the Bartle types… I am of split brain with heavy focuses on both Killer and Explorer and as a result respond extremely favorably to open world situations where I get to run amok.  Much of the reason why I liked Mass Effect 2 so much, is that there is a large sequence where you go on small character building missions and it allows you to delay the inevitable “rush to the end” that always happens in this sort of game.  Part of what makes exploring these large planets such a joy however is the introduction to the Nomad…  the vehicle we needed since the first Mass Effect.  I never really got into the Mako because it had the handling of a small city…  and the Hammerhead was a cool idea that was frustratingly constrained to a bunch of mini-game levels.  The Nomad on the other hand is your constant companion as you wander the planets providing protection from the worst the atmospheres have to offer and through the jump jets and rocket boosts gives you the ability to scale absolutely crazy obstacles.  As you can see from the above image, you can totally tear donuts or slide out on the ice if you so choose.  I absolutely sacrificed weapon and armor upgrades just to be able to craft more nifty addons for my Nomad.

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It is impossible to talk about a Mass Effect game without at least hitting on the story.  For better or worse the original Mass Effect trilogy was largely the tale of the entire world slowly going to shit.  You and your crew from the moment you set foot in the universe are fighting a losing battle.  While you might win battles, you are ultimately losing the war…  and each game gets a little darker than the previous one.  There is of course some nobility and honor in being constantly the underdog, and it provides some excellent character building opportunities…  but it is a fixed path and you sort of know it while going through the game.  Mass Effect Andromeda however has a vastly different tone.  The world is complete shit at the beginning of the game, and everything that could have gone wrong seemingly has.  However over the course of your missions you are setting forth to build this better world for future generations.  There is a hopefulness in this game that is largely absent in the previous offerings, and given how generally shit our world is right now…  it is needed.  The wish fulfillment of setting forth into a new Galaxy to make a better future is extremely tangible… and the fact that the game then allows you to start making things better from the first planet you touch down on is extremely important.  So while I am not Shepard…  over time I came to grow into Ryder and figure out how exactly I would approach the game.  There has been a lot of frustration around the lack of the Paragon/Renegade system…  but in truth I largely found it too limiting.  There were times I just wanted to be a smartass, without actually going full asshole…  and this game allows me to do that.  What is lacking however is from what I can tell the ability to play a horrible human being…  and I am largely fine with that.

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The main story arc covers everything that I want from a Mass Effect game.  You have evil races hell bent on your destruction, ancient technologies that you have to master…  and the promise of lots of interesting story vignettes along the way as you introduce yourself to an entirely new galaxy.  It is a glorious space opera and the final “rush to the end” sequence is one of the coolest I have seen in literally any video game.  It is reminiscent of the earth landing sequence in Mass Effect 3, and once you have started things up…  you functionally have to strap in and enjoy the ride because there is no stopping the final act of the game.  That is really all I can say without deeply spoiling the game, and I have danced around the edges of saying more throughout writing this post.  The one thing that I really want to talk about that this game does amazing well is the post ending.  Most games like this offer you some way of completing everything you missed after you have actually gone off to fight whatever malevolent force is set against you.  The problem is that in almost all cases they do some sort of hand wavy bullshit of returning you to a moment BEFORE the final fight… and allowing you to finish things up pretending like the fact moments of the game never happened.  Mass Effect Andromeda however lets you continue on with the entire world knowing that you defeated the big bad, and things are subtly altered in the world as a result.  This gives me an awful lot of hope that maybe just maybe the DLC for this game is going to literally extend the game much like an MMO, and it would be amazing if they helped to lay the ground work between this game and whatever the inevitable sequel happens to be.  At this point I desperately want more game to explore, and while I could roam around doing tasks…  I am figuring it is time for me to move on for now.  It was a great experience and once I got past some of the awkward windowe dressing…  I feel like this is probably the best crafted Bioware RPG to date.

Donuts and Calculations

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I decided last night that the primary reason for me trying to complete all of the side quest content… is that it enables me to spend more time screwing around in the Nomad.  At this point I am nearing 80 hours into the game, and thanks to Dusty Monk I know how to determine my completion score which is sitting at 63%.  I’m level 52 as of last night and have completed the primary colonization arc of I believe all of the inhabitable worlds.  There is a huge part of me that is somehow extremely bummed that we could not somehow turn habitat 7 around and at least put some form of a mining outpost.  Similarly I am bummed that the game would not allow me to take over and inhabit the asteroid mining base out there with something other than some flavor text stating that the Nexus would begin mining there.  However in all of this…  doing stupid things in the Nomad has probably been the highlight.  Why go around a mountain when you can use your rocket boost to climb it.

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The biggest problem with Mass Effect Andromeda is the fact that it has latched on hard enough to make me go through the “just one more objective” problem.  I am having hell each night pulling myself away to get some much needed sleep, and that means as a result most every night this week I have been finally hitting bed around 11:30 to midnight-ish which isn’t horrible until you account that I get up for work at 5:30.  Thankfully today is my official unofficial Friday since we are off tomorrow, and that means I can in theory catch up on sleep over the three day weekend.  I also hope that I can wrap this game up so I can move to one of the other games waiting on me to play it.  More than likely I will be returning to Horizon Zero Dawn, because functionally I am on a timer with needing to play whatever it is that I want to play before the launch of Stormblood.  So far on that list are Horizon Zero Dawn, Zelda Breath of the Wild, Wrapping up Final Fantasy XV, and Nier Automata.  There are of course other games that should probably be on that list, but I am trying to stay at least a little focused right now.

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Last night I experienced the best possible line in the game, hands down.  Sure the game is full of some zingers, but one of the key problems I have had while playing it is reconciling Tann.  I love Kumail Nanjiani as an actor…. but I have come to loath Director Tann with all of my being.  I mean no one could have lived up to my love of Mordin Solus, and I am kinda happy that they did not even try.  While Kallo Jath is cool enough, the character just doesn’t interact enough with him to make a really meaningful impression.  As far as Salarian’s go the one that has left the biggest mark on me this game is Jarun Tann.  He is exactly the wrong sort of person that I would want in charge of the Initiative, and I feel fairly frustrated that really there is nothing I can do about it.  Granted I am still quite a ways from finishing the game, and largely paused any main quest development until I completed all of the side missions that I wanted.  As a result I still have yet to find the Salarian Ark, and maybe that sequence allows me to do some wish fulfillment and expose Tann to be the pompous ass he is.  However in the mean time… the game does at least allow me to say one liners like this one.  Mass Effect Andromeda… is the Mass Effect the internet needed.

 

Doom Therapy

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Yesterday was a bit of a frustrating day.  For some reason lately there has been this common theme for me at work.  That is getting pulled into projects that I have never touched before, and don’t even know the history of…  as a sort of troubleshooter in chief.  I apparently have this ability to break through the layers of urban legends and get at the heart of problems.  Largely this all centers on my ability to ask “why are you doing it that way?”… regardless of who happens to be in the room.  I am not mean spirited about it, but in truth what I am trying to do is separate out what is needed and adds value to the process and what is just extra steps that were put in for no apparent reason.  I mean I have worked in environments where I did not have access to the appropriate permissions, and in those environments you sort of make things work however you can.  A prime example is a process that I a digging into right now that involves going for seven hops between what is essentially an FTP drop directory and the actual directory the software loads data from.  I’m trying to peel back the layers of tradition and determine does each of these steps actually do something other than just adding more steps where a file can possibly get corrupted.  Also in this case the file crosses the operating system boundary at least four times which in itself is sort of problematic.

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There are days when I have had my fill of madness and simply need to watch the world burn.  Instead of ACTUALLY watching the world burn… I have a more healthy outlet in the form of video games.  The genre of choice during these days is some form of a shooter, and last night on a whim I decided to boot up the modern incarnation of Doom.  Now I have not spent nearly as much time in this game as it deserves, largely because it ran less than amazing on my previous system.  I mean it was workable but for a game that demands such fast paced action…  my old AMD FX-6300 process wasn’t really doing the job.  Now that I have this spiffy x99 i7 system it runs extremely smooth in both normal and vulcan modes.  In theory I should probably put this game on the SSD because it has quite possibly one of the slowest boot sequences that I have seen from any game.  Whatever the case it absolutely filled my need especially when it comes to “glory kills”, which allows you to rip the heads/arms/various other body parts off of demons when they are low health.  When you are deeply frustrated…  it helps a little bit to inflict massive amounts of digital carnage.

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After about an hour of “Doom Therapy” I was more than ready to strap back into the environmental suit and go exploring in Mass Effect Andromeda.  Last night I arrived at “Not-Tatooine” the obligatory desert world in the Andromeda galaxy.  I think  there is some unwritten rule that if you have an ice wasteland planet… you must then have a desert wasteland planet to balance things out.  The positive is that “Not-Tatooine” is way easier to traverse than “Not-Hoth” due to the lack of giant ice crevices that go on forever.  There are however giant sinkholes that seem to go on forever, but these seem easier to see than the crevices were.  One of the things that you have to know about me is… that essentially roads and paths in videos games don’t exist and I will try my damnedest to figure out how to wall hack my way into a place rather than trying to sort out which direction the game is intending me to approach.  This absolutely wrecks a lot of scripting that intends on players to arrive from a specific vector… and sometimes causes some hilarious moments of me unintentionally “sneaking” up behind guards.  As a result when you apply this instinct to Andromeda it means that I spend a not insignificant amount of time forcing my nomad to climb sheer rock faces by abusing boosts.

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The sad moment of last night unfortunately was when I decided that I should probably abandon my N7 tier 5 gear for something tier 6…  and as a result I wound up putting on a full set of initiative spearhead armor.  It has some perfectly reasonable if generic stats… but the key problem is that it just doesn’t look as cool.  I have yet to find a set of “new” gear that really looks cool… and have been relying on the Quarian themed armor that I got with the collectors edition and the various N7 armor sets that I have been able to scrounge up.  Apparently the Initiative only got to take the ugly armors with them to Andromeda… because all of the cool armor was needed to fight the Collectors and or the Reapers.  I have a massive influx of research points because quite honestly… none of the Helius cluster gear looks very cool.  I’ve never touched any of the Kett weaponry largely because they are ugly as sin, and while the Angaran weapons look a little better…. they are nowhere near as cool as the good old standbys from the Milky Way.  The look and feel of a weapon to me are as important as the function.  In theory what I should do is hang out next to one of the forward supply points and keep swapping weapons until I have tried out everything in my inventory before returning to my practice of mass deconstructing everything.  The inventory upgrades have given me some breathing room to be able to hold onto some extra items.

Nomad Valet Service

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This weekend was a fun one, and not because I did anything special…  but more for the absence of anything planned.  Saturday we got up fairly early, and ran errands.  I had been putting off going to the eye glasses place since getting my prescription, and I guess I was doing so for good reason.  Bifocals are extremely expensive.  I priced out a set of daily wear and a set of sunglasses and it was going to be almost $800.  That is just straight up ludicrous for eyewear…  but it is a carnival of errors that adds up in a final price.  I have an insanely strong prescription which generally means I need some of those double super bonus lenses with all of the bells and whistles to keep the thickness down.  Then when you combine that with the fact that this time around they were going to be adding bifocals and a prism…  shit got crazy really fast.  Instead I opted to wait… since my Optometrist said I was really on the borderline as to whether or not they would actually benefit me.  So I opted to think about it… and wound up just ordering more single vision glasses for the moment from Zenni optical.  I have a feeling that I am going to have enough trouble getting adjusted to the prism…  that I am not sure if I want to further complicate things with bifocal lenses this time.  However I guess when it comes time to renew I will be going for the vision insurance since that at least will hopefully dent that blow.

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As far as the rest of the weekend… we cleaned the house like mad when we got home from errands and this largely freed me up to be able to just chill the hell out upstairs with a cat on either side playing some Andromeda.  I have to say I love that I ultimately have two cats on my desk most of the time…  I have blankets on either side of the keyboard and it isn’t super long before I have attract both Allie our eldest cat, and Kenzie our middle cat.  Hell right now as I am writing this post at 6 in the morning… I already have Allie crashed out on the blanket to the right of my keyboard.  She will probably sit there in that state for a bit longer until she decides it is time for food and starts prancing back and forth in front of my keyboard.  As far as gaming went…  I am so deep into Andromeda at this point.  All told I am nearly 70 hours into the game and I have been stalling moving the main story forward until I can complete all of the side stuff.  As I learn more about the universe…  I am starting to feel like maybe this is a better game than the original trilogy.  I know that is going to be a controversial statement.  I will however add the qualifier of “for me” to the statement, because personally the original trilogy hit a high point with the second game and Andromeda is really structured in a similar fashion.  It involves going off on small missions with your team to effect the world in subtle ways.  The game play itself feels like this amalgam of Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, namely the way that KOTOR used to let you roam around planets in what felt like at the time a free manner.

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This free roaming nature is for good and bad…  like the fact that I never seem to park my Nomad in a reasonable way as I hurriedly hit the E button as I roll up on the next combat vignette.  In this case I literally had to jump and try and hit E to re-enter in order to get back in after finishing the remnant site.  Side note the N7 armor is still probably the coolest design in Mass Effect, and  the Andromeda logo especially will never be quite as cool as it.  At this point I am I believe level 43, and I think in truth the game probably expected me to be done with it ages ago.  There is a lot of sadness about to happen however, because with the deluxe edition I got a set of really awesome Pathfinder weapons.  I’ve become very close with my Pathfinder Auto Rifle, and every time I leveled into a new bracket the next pattern was magically available for development.  This has been the biggest resource sink for me as I made one of these each time it was possible.  However it seems like you stop getting patterns at Tier 5…  and I am not really looking forward to the prospect of trying to find a new auto rifle crush.  I am hoping that one of these patches fixes this and lets me keep making my little Pathfinder auto rifle friends.  For the moment I am going to be getting my hands on other types of rifles and trying out which seems to fit best for that archetype.  In a way it reminded me of the way that Red Death feels in Destiny… and while this game calls it an auto rifle…  by Destiny terms it would be a pulse rifle.  Whatever the case I am slowing wrapping up some of the loyalty missions because before I start moving the priority ops again I want to make sure I have access to all of the toys.

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The weirdest part about this play through is that I am playing in a fashion that I never really thought I would.  For the most part I have maxed out a number of the weapon abilities and all of the passive benefit traits.  From there I am largely playing a “pet class” for lack of a better term.  I am using the turret which I find insanely handy, and my common MO is to open the door to a base… chunk a turret in and then back out to safety as I let it soften the defenses before ducking back in and mopping up.  In addition to the turret I am regularly using the hacked observer that PeeBee gives you access to, and letting it loose to run amok.  These two things often times distract the enemy and I can pick them off with headshots from either the auto rifle if medium range, or sniper rifle if extreme ranges.  For up close and personal action… I have shockwave with the knock back that can clear out a bunch of things rushing at me.  In truth it is more of a jack of all trades build than any deep synergy between abilities… but it is also tailored to some of the things that I like from other games.  In the Borderlands series I have almost exclusively played whatever character could use auto rifles and turrets.  While I like getting up close and personal in most games…  in shooters I tend to relish hanging out in that medium range with the ability to duck behind cover.  Lately however I have gotten into using my Asari sword to slice and dice Kett in close quarters… so maybe that medium range thing is shifting.  Whatever the case…  I spent so much time with Andromeda this weekend and the game just keeps getting better as I get further into it.  While the game might have started out awkwardly… it really feels like it is going to finish in style.

Boosts and Buffs

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I’ve officially reached the point in the Diablo 3 season where I can straight up wreck at least early torment content, which means…  I can boost my friends.  Last night I snagged Byx, Ammo and Sol and drug them through a few Nephilim rifts until they came out level 70s on the other side.  In truth I am rather horrible at boosting people…  I tend to overclear because my tank instincts kick in and I desperately want to protect my fledgling charges.  So that means that the individual Rifts probably take way longer than they should.  However it also means if you are being boosted by me…  you are not only walking away with levels but also with a sizable amount of cash and gems.  Sadly the loot is functionally meaningless until you hit 70.  However since Byx was way ahead of the rest of the crew I am pretty certain she walked with some decent loot as well.  The funny thing with writing about how much I was not feeling this season…  is that it actually made me really want to play.  The moment I posted the blog post I logged in and did a solo greater rift before heading into work that day, and each night since I have at least spent a little bit of time playing.  After the boostery, I connected with Grace and we did a couple of rounds of bounties since we were both in desperate need of the crafting materials.  I technically have everything that I need gear wise apart from one legendary gem, and a single ring….  but everything could be improved by getting some ancients which have been in short supply thus far.

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After playing some Diablo 3 on the laptop, I decided to go upstairs and check out the latest patch for Mass Effect Andromeda.  All in all there have been a lot of subtle improvements to the way that the character models look.  In truth I think there are a bunch of improvements to the game in general because the worlds just feel better looking.  This might of course be the placebo effect, and because they said they patched…. it is making my brain desperately want to see the improvements.  However at the very least my Ryder and all of the characters I am interacting with seem more normal looking.  The Botox face is largely gone… and the fully open surprise eyes seems to be gone as well.  I am pretty pleased with the results because this little bit of window dressing has fixed a lot of my gripes about the game.  On the other side of the equation on non-cosmetic changes… the general inventory increases are also amazing.  I feel like I am no longer needing to deconstruct items in the middle of a planet rather than waiting for me to be back on my ship.  Similarly the ability to tab out of the flight animations while in a solar system makes that just work better, and I am wondering if there is some option I can check in the settings to default to disabled so I don’t need to hit tab.

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I put a few hours in last night and in truth probably played about thirty minutes longer than I should have… for my sanity… and my sleep patterns.  I really like this game and It definitely is up in the game of the year territory for me.  The problem there is…  so is Zelda Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn…  and all of those were released in the first quarter of the year.  I guess in a way I am extremely thankful for all of these games, because with the way the real world is turning out…  this seems to be the golden age of escapism.  It is comforting to be able to lose yourself in a deep and rich game, and completely forget that the world is apparently on fire and someone replaced the fire extinguisher with a can of easy cheese.  There are just so damned many quests that I have picked up and that are littering my inventory that I need to spend one entire night trying to burn those down before I move forward.  I will probably always be grossly over-leveled for the content as a result… but whatever I have my trust Rank V Pioneer Gun.  I just gotta say that once I stumbled onto the weapons provided by the DLC…  or more so I stumbled onto how to GET the DLC items…  I fell in love with the Auto Rifle.  Yes I keep giving mine bizarre names because I’ve had to craft each after the first one…. but whatever it is a freaking awesome gun.  More importantly… Ashgar can be happy that I have finally moved on past the Avenger.

Dangerous Water

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I am pretty sure I am coming down with something because I have felt fairly lousy since the weekend.  It is the sort of indiscriminate miserable that just makes doing anything a complete trudge.  It also feels like I have spent more time searching for something to play than actually playing anything.  Then things happen like the fact that for some reason I booted up Bioshock Remastered?  I got the game free for owning all of the other Bioshock content, and I installed it some time ago thinking it might be nice to play back through this game.  Then the election happened…  and the character of Andrew Ryan felt a little too on the nose for me personally.  So as a result it has sat unloved as a desktop icon…  waiting on someone to give it the time of day and click on it.  For whatever reason last night I did just that…  and apparently the game defaults to running at 4k.  Did you know that 4k PNG screenshots are almost 15 mb a piece?  I didn’t but now do…  I have lots of them that I will ultimately need to drop down if I ever hope to use them.  Something else that I did not know is that if you have a USB Controller connected to your system…  the game doesn’t seem to be willing to give you a mouse and keyboard option.  So as a result I played through on the Xbox 360 controller I leave hooked up to my gaming machine.  I didn’t get super far before the whim changed, but enough to remember how much I really love this game.  I do find it extremely odd that you can’t really sight any of the weapons though….  that is not something I remembered but I guess it makes sense given that your alternate fire is whatever plasmid you happen to have equipped.  Personally I still think the game looks gorgeous, and artistically it has some of the most memorable visual sequences and staging.

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When I bounced I ultimately did so in the direction of Mass Effect Andromeda, and opted to finish up Hvarl.  The weird part about this is that I thought I had not actually really scratched the surface of this planet.  However it seems like in the grand scheme of things is is maybe half the length of Voeld.  The weird part about this is it seems like the last thing that I waited to do was actually go vault hunting.  I am not exactly sure if you can do this early however since  the actual access to the vault and the second half of the map only work if you happen to be on specific quests.  So far this seems like the most “on rails” planet given that things need to happen in a specific sequence to end up leading to the end of it.  The planet itself reminds me an awful lot of Dromund Kaas from SWTOR, with a much more wild jungle area.  In the grand scheme I did not like this planet nearly as much as I did Voeld…  and also it doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying to move on past it either.  I think the biggest part of this for me is the complete and total lack of Nomad action, which makes sense given how dense the foliage is.  That said I did not really realize how much of my enjoyment planet side is related to driving my Nomad around until I hit this planet.  We talked about it on twitter yesterday… but want to buy a Nomad racing DLC for this game.

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Towards the end of the night I moved forward in the story and started the world of Kadara, which happens to be populated by a bunch of the Exiles off the Nexus.  Functionally you can think of it as Omega by any other name…  except instead of a slew of interesting Aliens…  you have a bunch of asshole humans instead.  After Desert World, Ice World and Night World…  I was happy to move on to something that looked relatively normal.  You know other than the whole acid water thing going on…  and toxic regions that damage your suit similar to the last few worlds we have been on.  Something tells me that I am ultimately going to work on terraforming the shit out of this world first thing so that I can enjoy the ride more freely.  I’ve barely just scratched the surface but I gotta say… fighting Nexus outlaws is way more enjoyable than any of the enemy types I have encountered to date in this game.  I mean I love the Remnant and it is always fun to kill Kett, but the outlaws here feel much more varied.  Especially when you factor in that apparently there is a turf war going on, and the two factions are gunning for each other as well as you.  I am sort of longing for a “kill everyone and settle the planet” option but I am not likely going to see that.

 

C is for Captain

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I thought I would start things off with a humorous glitch this morning that started happening last night.  Any time I would go into the bar and get a drink, the glass was missing and would instead get this goofy empty hand sequence.  Secondly I got chastised the other day for not saying that there would be potential spoilers in my blog post… so lets get that one out of the way.  I am not intentionally going into full on story mode, but I also am too sleepy to probably comb my post adequately for spoilers.  So there might be some, especially since I am realizing that my definition of a spoiler is vastly different than the definition of some folks.  For me a spoiler is generally a big plot point, or what happens when you make this or that decision.  Whereas I never would have thought the fact that you end up on an ice planet, or the fact that you wind up getting a new race that has been featured in pretty much every trailer for the last bit would be classified as spoilers.  So be forewarned, your mileage may vary.  To be truthful this is probably a blanket statement about every post that I make.  While I generally try not to spoiler larger plot points, the fact that I am writing a blog every morning and need constant fodder means that ultimately details about games will come out.  Hell the simple fact that I am posting a constant flood of screenshots is probably spoilery in itself.

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I spent a fair amount of Sunday playing Mass Effect Andromeda, and lets me honest…  I spent MOST of that time wandering around Not-Hoth.  The way the planets work in this game is a massive trap for someone like me who likes to roam around aimlessly and complete mini objectives.  I generally like ice zones and ice planets… and while there was a huge segment of Hoth in SWTOR that was sheer drudgery…  I still loved it.  So the fact that I am wandering around in a giant all terrain vehicle on gorgeous ice flows exploring nifty things I see off on the horizon…  that is definitely in my wheelhouse.  I did however take time out of my busy schedule of killing remnant and kett camps to move the story forward, and unlock the vault on Voeld.  This allowed me to set down my second colonial base, that was given a name there is no way in the hell I am ever going to remember.  I mean I realize that they couldn’t give me the ability to name these settlements because voiced dialog lines….  but at least make them easy to remember.  I mean they all have nifty lore nuggets when the colonial governor explains why they named the town whatever they named it…  but there is zero point zero chance I am going to remember any of it.  I may or may not have an issue with remembering the names of things…  and if you have ever listened to AggroChat there is a lot of me explaining what I am talking about… and then Tam or Ash coughing up the name of whatever it is.

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The biggest takeaway from the weekend… is just how much in general I like my crew.  I am even starting to like Liam, who I guess at the first I was sort of expecting to be the Corso Riggs of the crew.  There is something I like about each and every one of them, and I guess that is sort of the hallmark of a good Bioware game.  The biggest surprise for me however is how I have ended up playing with Jaal.  At face value he did not exactly seem like I character I would want to run around with, but did anyways because I kept exploring functionally his homeworlds.  However over time I have come to actually like the Cat Squid Whatever quite a lot.  I am however having weird flashbacks to the Selkath and Manaan  when interacting with Aya and the Angara.  In truth there is a lot of this game that feels thematically reminiscent of Knights of the Old Republic.  I mean functionally we are unlocking ancient tech similar to that of the content leading up to the Star Forge, and while not exactly the same it feels strangely similar to me.  I think in part I have spent so much time working on the two spin off Angara worlds because otherwise it would feel really freaking wrong when we started plunking colonies down on these planets.  If I had not done a bunch of things to fix core problems and to build a giant freaking bridge between the Angara and the species of the Milky Way… it would feel super invadery when I started setting up shop on their worlds.

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My growing take away however is that while this game is full of glitches and all sorts of strange shit going on…  that underneath the lack of polish is a really solid experience.  I struggled at length to get into Dragon Age Inquisition… because I just didn’t care about the story that was happening and in truth many of the characters that were part of it.  That has not been the case with Mass Effect Andromeda.  While the narrative feels a little ill fitting at time… and “Ryder” feels more forced at times…  I still very much feel like I am my own character.  I can tweak the dialog just enough to give my own spin on the conversation.  While it doesn’t seem to have some of the same lasting effects as going renegade used to…  there are still some of these moments scattered throughout the game play where a quick time event alters the course of the story.  I think what is missing is the asshole Ryder option, similar to asshole Shepard…  and that was something I never played.  I could never bring myself to go down those dialog options because I just don’t have that level of cruelty in me…  even if being enacted upon non-existent people.  All of that said… I am enjoying the hell out of this game.

Not-Hoth

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I don’t have a whole hell of a lot to talk about this morning, in part because I had a pretty rough night.  It was one of those evenings where I started to inexplicably run out of steam around 9 pm.  Then when I went to bed… instead of falling asleep peacefully as it seemed would be the case I wound up tossing and turning until 12:30.  The other futile thing that I attempted was running Mass Effect Andromeda on my laptop.  Granted my laptop is not that old nor is it that far behind the curve.  It is a 4000 series i7 mobile processor and contains GeForce 960M graphics…  which I thought would largely be sufficient to run the game at a reasonable resolution.  However that is very much not the case and in order to get a decent frame rate I have to functionally run everything on low settings.  A good chunk of the night I was attempting to run around on Havarl, which is a ground clutter dense world… and a relatively dark world…  making the less than optimal set up feel even more so.  Instead of roaming around like I actually wanted to….  I wound up going after the objective with a laser focus and getting the hell out of there.

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Which leads me to Voeld… aka “Not-Hoth” an icy world that legends tell didn’t used to be so.  That has such cold that it taxes my suits life support and forces me to ping pong around the map going between sheltered Daars and Forward Bases.  This also has me fighting way more Kett which is a good thing… because in truth I kinda felt bad killing the evil Angara.  Whatever the case I did not really feel like I made much progress last night.  Sure I landed on the homeworld on a new species and started running errands for them…  but the lo-fi version of the game kept me from enjoying it nearly as much as I would have liked.  For running on what seems to be a souped up version of the Dragon Age Inquisition engine… it certainly requires a lot more in the way of system resources.  That has been the weirdest part about this console generation…  it doesn’t seem like we have hit the plateau yet.  During the PS3/Xbox 360 era of console games there was a clear point where PC power definitely outstripped the games that were being built and ultimately ported from the consoles.  However with the PS4/Xbox One games… it feels like we have yet to hit that pint and these games are still rather taxing on hardware pending you want them to look reasonably decent.  I am sure the PS4 Pro/Scorpio machinations will only serve to increase the ceiling of this process as well.

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So the end result is that laptop gaming does not feel nearly as viable now as it once did.  Were this a Steam game I could simply stream it from my upstairs machine and life would be golden.  However given that it is marooned in Origin land, that seems less viable.  There are of course tricks that you can do to make this work under steam in home streaming, but I attempted most of these during my many attempts to get into Dragon Age Inquisition and it never really worked as well as I hoped it would.  Either I would get a black screen while streaming, or the game would simply get stranded and stay open forever on my gaming desktop.  I wish there was a viable platform agnostic streaming option, but none of the remote desktop applications are really designed for high frame rate/high resolution streaming.  I want to be able to play the game 1080p and as close to 60 fps as I can get…. over my AC band wireless connection and so far Steam in home streaming is the only thing optimized enough to pull that off.  Splashtop works fairly well for mobile device resolutions, but not for the desktop.  In any case Mass Effect may simply be an upstairs online game for me, and I will be limited to something else while chilling on the sofa.

Turning the Corner

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I think last night I reached the point where I have turned the corner on Mass Effect Andromeda.  By that I mean I think I have finally gotten used to the animations just enough to stop seeing them anymore.  I mean I still see them… but they just don’t really bother me anymore because I am not invested enough in the characters and the story to stop caring.  I’ve talked about why Mass Effect 2 was my favorite in the series, and how it allowed me to go on smaller away missions and largely avoid really moving the story forward when I did’t want to.  Andromeda gives me this in droves, and I spent most of the night last night working on minor story threads.  I tracked down a Saboteur, determined the guilt or innocence of a Turian on trial for the first murder on the station, and helped  determine if an official was “on the take”.  I like roaming around planetside and exploring, and I absolutely love the way the Nomad vehicle feels.  I was never really a huge fan of the hammerhead or the mako, but this time they seemed to flip all of the switches in the right direction and give me a vehicle that I actually want to use.

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When I play Mass Effect I almost exclusively use Assault Rifles and always have.  Traditionally I just stick to the M-8 Avenger until I get something grossly overpowered later in the game.  However I have already found something I like using better.  The M-37 Falcon I is something that I am not really sure how it can be classified as an Assault Rifle.  In truth it is a grenade launcher… and my god does it pack a punch.  So long as my aim is true, I can largely one shot all smaller “trash” enemies and two or three shot the bigger shielded ones.  The only issue however is that it has a very small magazine (which is going to annoy the shit out of Squirrel that they call a clip… its a thing of his) and has a pretty hefty wait time between shots.  All of this is something that I can forgive given just how hard it its and how cool it sounds when you fire it.  I ended up picking this up on the Nexus in pre-colonization state and I am absolutely loving it.  Another thing that I am digging about the game is how you can find deployment pylons scattered around the map that let you change weapons and crew members planet side.  I did not actually use this weapon for a bit, because I was not certain I would like it… and had no clue I could use the pylons if I changed my mind.

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I have a freaking pet Pyjack on the ship.  That in itself is enough to make me love the game, and it roams freely which is awesome…  because I was partially afraid it would end up in a cage in my quarters. Speaking of roaming…  I both love and hate the fact that the crew roams keeps moving around the ship.  One of the hallmarks of Mass Effect is the need to constantly keep checking in on your crew because they tell you story tidbits, or just have commentary about what you just did.  So each time I land back on the ship I have a habit of wanting to go around and check in on everyone to see if there are any new story options.  The fact that the crew roams aimlessly through the ship makes it extremely challenging to mentally make sure you have actually found everyone.  As far as crew members go… I honestly thought I would be annoyed by Peebee but have ended up loving her.  Similarly I was not sure what I would think of Cora but also similarly really like the character… and she has become one of my go to fighters for missions.  Vetra is awesome and I have only recently started taking her planet side (largely because I could not figure out how to drop Liam early on).  I like Drak as a character but have not really done much with him.  So far the only crew member that I have zero interest in is Liam.  He is a poor replacement for Garrus and will never be my best friend…  no matter how much the game really wants him to be.  As far as the other crew members…  they all seem way more hollow than the previous generation.  I actually liked going and talking to Joker or listening to Donnelly and Daniels banter back and forth.  As it stands now I just don’t care at all about Gil, Suvi, or Kallo.  That said however I do go talk to Dr Lexi at every opportunity because she is freaking awesome.  In any case… I feel like I have gotten acclimatized to the game and can now enjoy it properly.

Going to Space

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I did not in fact stay up last night and play Andromeda, but man was it hard not to.  Over the weekend I got to play some of the early access trial and to be honest this game at least in the early minutes of game play is exactly what I liked about the Mass Effect series.  However first let me talk about the trial a bit before I go into that.  You got the trial through being an Origin Access subscriber.  Being in Origin Access gives you a discount on game purchases… that is roughly about what a month of the subscription is so it was honestly a no brainer to do that given that the discount functionally paid for itself.  Through this it unlocked a 10 hour trial of the game… which seemed weird but I figured there was no way I would actually play all ten hours.  So I pre-loaded the Trial and the game and wandered off on my mini vacation.  Friday night when I got back into town, I sat down on the sofa and booted the game on my laptop, fiddling around with the character creator before my wife suggested it was bed time.  I agreed and exited the game, expecting to have 9.5 hours worth of game play waiting on me.  While the game exited completely and was missing from my hotbar…  it was apparently still resident in memory somehow and Origin sat there ticking away my trial time while I slept.  When I got up the next morning, ate breakfast and finally settled in to do some gaming… I was extremely disappointed to find out that according to Origin I had completed my trial time.

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At the suggestions of Ashgar I tried using Origin customer support, because apparently in the past he had good luck with it.  That was not really the case for me, because firstly the live chat feature did not appear to be working and instead of telling me that on screen while I was waiting for chat to load…  it sent me an email telling me that to resolve my issues I needed to call the support center.  That is a huge strike against any customer service, if I actually have to call and talk to someone….  especially given that I have a hard enough time explaining my problem without having to also attempt to decode a vastly different accent and speech pattern than that of my own.  They had the option to ask for the support to call you, whenever someone was available and I did this…  but knew immediately things were going to not go well when they asked me to get on the machine that had Origin installed.  They started pushing me through steps to verify that Origin was installed…  without actually listening to the issue that I was having.  After about thirty minutes of working through someones flip file of instructions I finally got them to listen to the real issue, which was that Mass Effect did not fully close… and it ate up every last bit of my trial time.  They gave me back 5 hours of trial time, which was frustrating given that I should have had 9.5 hours….  but after the frustrations I was ready to just settle for anything.  Side note… if you ever do an Origin trial… make sure the game exits completely and open task manager to kill anything that looks connected to it.  I even went so far as to kill origin itself and the memory resident helper program.  This isn’t just a me thing because apparently the exact same bug happened to Tam yesterday and cost him whatever remained of his trial.

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The next big bullet point is that the real fun for me with Mass Effect is leading a team and running missions.  As a result my favorite Mass Effect game to date is the second one, because it had the most “Star Trek Away Team” moment, where we landed on a planet to assess what was going on and end up stumbling into adventure.  The story of the series is excellent, but it isn’t necessarily the hook for me.  Similarly the romance elements are interesting enough, but definitely not why I play the game and feel more like a mini game within the game.  I feel all of this is important because lots of different people play Mass Effect for completely different reasons.  So far… the game is scratching all of my itches and giving me a significantly better combat system to improve the feeling of exploring the galaxy.  What I always wanted was a game that offered the same sort of tactical missions that the second game had…. with the ability to literally land on any world that the first game had…  and it seems like maybe Andromeda is at least heading in that direction.  Granted I have only just done the intro mission and am now exploring the first tutorial planet, but so far so good.

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Please note there are absolutely some detractors to this game.  Firstly even though it was the ammunition for some horrific bullshit…  and I do not want to have any part of that…  the animations are bad.  It is no so much that the animations are bad themselves… it just feels like the rigging that attaches animations to the models is somehow faulty.  Sometimes it is perfectly fine, and other times…..  it is inhuman and creepy as your character duck walk runs through an area.  The truth is though that this is nothing new and there have been countless other games with model and animation issues out of the gate… and I am hoping with additional patching this will go away.  If not… I am hoping that someone releases an unofficial patch or mod that fixes it since playing on the PC gives me access to a bunch of these…  I am looking at you play dough hair from Dragon Age Inquisition.  Given that the models and animations are not why I am playing the game,  I can look past them and get on with the fit bits of game play but they are most definitely immersion breaking.

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The other big issue I have is the new dialog system.  No I am not talking the lack of red and blue options but more the way that the game just zooms you into conversation without sending you to a secondary interface.  Situations like this happen where I am talking to someone but doing so in an extremely awkward fashion that occludes most of the character to character interactions.  A lot of the problems I have experienced with animation screw ups have happened while exiting the dialog system, so I am wondering if the two are connected.  In the above image I snapped the shot just after exiting dialog and there is some weird layer separation going on with the colors.  If you look at some of the edges you can really see it… but it is as though the RGB layers are askew.  It fixes itself with time but during the dialog itself it feels like my eyes are out of focus.  I don’t necessarily mourn the loss of Vanguard and Renegade the way most people seem to… considering I rarely if ever took the renegade option.  Like sure… if I was tracking down a bad guy I would sometimes take the renegade option and shoot them in the head, but in moment to moment character interaction I am at my core a hero type.  I find it damned near impossible to play a Sith or true dark sider in SWTOR… and that same thing spills over into Mass Effect.

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All in all I have enjoyed the game quite a bit, in spite of its faults and am looking forward to getting home tonight and roaming the Andromeda galaxy.  Ash, Tam and I are I think going to give the multiplayer a spin and in theory I got enough freebie packs that allow me to create something resembling a character load out that I like.  I did not go with the super extra deluxe version that included some boosters, largely because multiplayer was not near the thing for me as it was my friends.  However I am totally down for giving it a proper whirl.  What I want to see however is more of these worlds and what exactly I can do to fix them.  Mass Effect Andromeda already has me in its grip, and I don’t think it is going to really lose me any time soon.  While I acknowledge there are issues, I am just taking a low sodium approach to it and realizing that there is a lot of good there that happens to cater to my very specific interests.