Building on Shepard's Legacy
Last week, I was privileged to get to go to EA’s Redwood City office for a special Mass Effect Andromeda session with the devs that came complete with over an hour’s worth of game time in the highly anticipated title.
Now it is time to write. Let’s see…
All About Romance - nope, no can do. How I Became a Pathfinder by Sarah (or Scott) Ryder - nope again Dad Ryder - nuh uh Jaal The Space Kitten - NEIN! Conflict with...er… - yeah… Our Friend the Codex - *sighs* STORY SPOILERS - *gets electroshock from 700 miles away*
OK, let’s try this again. Mass Effect Andromeda Hands On
I played it. It was fun.
Well, OK, that’s a bit simplistic so let me flesh it out a bit.
Bioware’s Mike Gamble and Ian Frazier were on hand to provide a brief run through of the basic storyline and some of the core features of the game prior to letting us get our hands on a demo version of the game. This gave a framework, a setting for what we would experience.
“We’ve all grown to love the characters that the original trilogy has provided. We’ve fallen in love with them through the years. Mass Effect Andromeda brings a new cast of characters that we hope you’ll fall in love with all over again.” Gamble explained.
Mass Effect became what it is based on a combination of decent game play wrapped in a great story. Combat without the story would simply turn it into a shadow of Halo, and a pale shadow at that. Mass Effect was, and always will be, a story-based action RPG.
That in mind, Mass Effect Andromeda is a game that builds on the foundations of the original trilogy. For instance, pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and sniper rifles that are of the same type Shepard used are all present. The look and feel of the Nexus is familiar. It should be since it was constructed in the timeline of the trilogy and left the galaxy after the events of Mass Effect 2.
Character creation is similar, though much more nuanced, than the original yet not as complex and painstaking as that found in Dragon Age Origins. There are several preset head types that represent a multitude of ethnic looks for each gender. Players will only be able to customize one of the Ryder twins while the other (and Dad Ryder) will take on a look that generally reflects the player’s choices. This is similar to Dragon Age 2 where family traits carried through the Hawkes in terms of skin tone, hair color, etc.
Once done, the opening cinematic began and we got our first look at the beginning of the journey that will send us off on what is hoped to be an epic space opera worthy of being called a Mass Effect Game. *looks up at the list of no-nos above*
Finally unleashed on the game stations set up, I sat down to take Sarah through her paces, to try out this new old way of playing and to see if this game can fill the void left in my gamer’s heart since the end of Mass Effect 3 nearly five years ago.
Combat - New & Improved
Our character and the squad jumped into a shuttle to examine the surface of what had been determined to be a “golden world”, one that would be a fitting home for the 20,000 humans aboard the Nexus. Without revealing any story elements, let’s just say we all got there, but found ourselves in different situations and locations. The goal of the mission was to get everyone back together and then some.
Combat in Andromeda is familiar yet totally new. Players will proceed through the game with a pair of companions, each with their own agenda and abilities and who offer advice (and snarky commentary) to Ryder throughout. As before, they can be issued commands to take up certain spots on the terrain, perform certain abilities, etc. For longtime players of the series, this will feel instantly familiar.
What will feel totally new is the way that combat plays out. No more will your character be seemingly stuck forever behind cover or unable to move around objects as it was in the first games. Cover is organic and nearly anything can be used to get out of harm’s way. Characters move in and out of cover easily -- I consider that a major plus after the trilogy and more than a few deaths attributed to being stuck.
Getting out of the way of enemy attacks is going to be key to success in MEA. Enemies are much smarter, much more mobile, much more willing to get in your face with attacks that can be pretty darn painful. Sitting in one spot isn’t going to be a good idea either. To that end, ENTER THE JET PACK! If I had to cite one single thing about the entire combat experience, that changes everything, this would be it.
The ability to literally jet around the battlefield is a game changer for the Mass Effect series. More useful than, say, the biotic Charge ability, and more “spammable”, players will be able to change the way that they view the fight and take part in literal airstrikes.
Combat is fluid and responsive and just plain fun. With a basic ability “kit” using a background roughly similar to those found in the original trilogy and with a ton of skills that will be immediately familiar to fans, there is a new layer of customization added with more open “classes”. Players will be able to mix and match skills from any one of the ability trees. For instance, in my play through, I used the Adept’s Biotic Push, the Soldier’s Concussive Shot and the Engineer’s Overload, some of my most favorite abilities from the original and how nice it was to be able to use the simultaneously.
Skills, too, can be “leveled” and made more powerful over time and when a great combination of abilities and weapons is found, can then be saved into a Template. These templates allow players to save load outs and can be swapped at will. This changes the entire way combat plays out. Coming up against a strong biotic boss or mob? Great -- switch in a template to counter. Finding yourself surrounded by mechs? BOOM! Switch in a counter template. Rinse and repeat. Of course, you can also play as always by pouring all level up points into, for instance, into the Soldier’s abilities or focus only on Engineer.
The challenge for players considering the huge variety of skills is to find the right combination without becoming too spread since every skill also has several improvements that can be applied. As it is, the system should provide tons of replayability and min-max opportunities for those who like that, but is also simple enough, familiar enough for those who just want to play and feel impactful throughout the game.
So, yes, combat is good. It is very good and will please those who are more interested in the “action” part of “action RPG”.
In the End...
There will be more articles today spread around the Internet that will delve into the nuances of combat, the intricacies of how the skill system plays out and much more. I urge you to go and check those out. When all is said and done for me, and for many, what this experience comes down to is whether or not Mass Effect Andromeda can fill the void left behind by the end of Shepard’s story. Will it be able to draw me in and make me fall in love with the story, the characters, and the setting all over again. In essence, will it hit us in the FEELS, you know?
As I played, I closed my eyes and listened and opened that part of my heart that shuttered itself at the end of Mass Effect 3. Tremulously, I reached out with my fragile hope that this, too, will become something special, something memorable, a new game that will allow me to become Ryder, the Pathfinder.
As my character interacted with her companions and other NPCs during her mission, as she worked to solve puzzles, chatted with her shipmates, fought enemies in this literally alien world, that part of me that in some small way had refused to give into hope (and hype) gave in. The music, the weapons, the familiar skills, even Dad Ryder’s N7 armor -- all of them worked in glorious harmony to draw me in. Bioware has done a masterful job blending the past with the future, the old with the new to create Mass Effect Andromeda, a worthy successor to Shepard’s Legacy.
I am beyond hopefully optimistic and I am looking forward to March 21st. Are you?