Posts Tagged‘frostbite’

Mass Effect Andromeda: Pathfinder Ryder, Reporting In.

Almost 10 years ago the original Mass Effect debuted on the Xbox 360. The hype around it had been building for some time and I, not wanting to miss out, had purchased the console based on the rumours it was to be forever a platform exclusive. I don’t regret my decision at all and I completed the whole trilogy on the Xbox 360, even upgrading to a newer revision so that I didn’t have to deal with the jet engine that was the original’s disc drive. With Shepard’s journey over however I decided that I’d come back to PC for Andromeda, the next instalment in the Mass Effect universe. With such a high bar set for the previous trilogy (bar some inexcusable missteps) it was always going to be tough for Andromeda, but the mistakes that BioWare have made with this latest instalment go beyond reality not lining up to the hype.

Andromeda takes place between the events of 2 and 3 of the original trilogy where the races of the Milky Way have formed the Andromeda initiative. The Citadel’s council has decided to arks to the nearby Andromeda galaxy, each of them populated with 20,000 citizens and a leader known as the Pathfinder. You play as Scott/Sarah Ryder, a twin and child of humanity’s Pathfinder Alec Ryder. Your job is to find humanity a new home and begin the formation of a new galactic government in the Andromeda galaxy. Upon arrival however you quickly discover that everything isn’t as the initiative had first hoped, the Andromeda galaxy significantly changed in the years since it was first scouted. It is up to you then to make Andromeda viable, paving the way for a sustainable colony for generations to come.

Mass Effect Andromeda drops the Unreal 3 engine that powered the last trilogy in favour of the Frostbite engine. This, coupled with the significant leap in computing power afforded to us, means that Andromeda’s graphics are a massive step up over its predecessor. However this also meant that BioWare had to spend significant resources in redeveloping tools, workflows and assets which led to some significant teething issues. This most obviously manifested in “my face is tired” lady and other quirks which made it feel like the series was a generation or two behind where it should be. The patches that have come out since then have made a significant difference but it just goes to show that even the big name players can suffer when it comes to an engine change. Still, at a pure visual level, Mass Effect Andromeda is quite a looker.

In a departure from the series’ action-RPG roots Andromeda tends heavily towards an open-world game, giving you an absolutely massive galaxy to explore. Whilst the core of the series remains largely the same there’s a bevy of additional things thrown in to keep you playing. There are numerous planets which you can put outposts on but only after you’ve raised their “viability” to a certain level. In order to do that there’s dozens of tasks available like completing quests, eliminating hostile forces or unearthing an ancient technology with the power to terraform worlds. Completing these tasks also raises Andromeda’s overall viability, allowing you to bring more people out of cryopreservation which unlocks certain benefits for you. You’ve also got strike teams which you can send on missions to get you resources, items and credits. There’s also a research and crafting system which allows you to build your own customised versions of weapons and armour you find in the game. This is all on top of the run of the mill action-RPG trappings we’ve come to expect from the Mass Effect series, meaning that the scale of Andromeda is much greater than any of its predecessors.

Andromeda’s combat system has been reworked, most notably scaling down the number of abilities you have on tap at any one time (3, maximum) whilst allowing you to fully max out any of the 3 talent trees if you so wish. Additionally your control over your team mates is significantly diminished, the ability to target their powers gone and the only command you can give them is “go here”. Combat scales to your current level which means that, at the start, it’s probably a bit more challenging than it should be. Later on, when you’ve got a good set of gear and maxed out talents, things become a lot easier. Whilst I’m usually a fan of streamlined combat systems the changes made in Andromeda feel like a step back overall as it removes some of the depth that its predecessors had. No longer can I set up a devastating combo with my team mates, instead I’m left to watch over them and time my abilities that way. In the end I opted for a pure tech build with multiple constructs to do most of the work for me. There’s also a distinct lack of variety in the combat encounters as after about 6 hours you’ve probably seen every enemy, bar a few boss fights. Overall the combat feels competent but lacking the components which made it so much fun in the previous Mass Effect titles.

Progression comes in numerous forms and so often that it can be hard to figure out where you should be focusing your effort. There’s the standard levelling up and talent points which allows you to craft your ideal character. Unlike previous games where your original character class limited your talent choices Andromeda instead uses that as a kind of boost to give you access to some talents earlier than you’d otherwise be able to. From there you can either build on it or mix and match as you desire. How you spend your points also unlocks additional “profiles”, essentially another choice which allows you to bolster certain aspects of your character, which can be changed at any time. In addition to this there’s the usual loot drops which, like the combat, scale to your character’s current level. You can also research and craft your own weapons and armour, even augmenting them with different mods to give them a considerable edge over their dropped versions. However the research and crafting system requires such a heavy investment, in both time and resources, that it’s honestly not worth it when the difference is maybe a few percentage points. If you’re really, truly into making the most broken character possible then it’ll be right up your alley but otherwise it’s better to spend your time elsewhere.

Once you’ve got a handle on just where you want to go with your character it becomes easier to tune out the noise but that’s also the point where progression starts to slow considerably. Higher tiers of talents will require 2 levels worth of points to acquire, new armour upgrades (through drops or crafting) only come every 5 levels or so and quality of life upgrades (from cryo pods) require a significant time investment on making planets viable. Again this comes back to the game’s more open world ethos, giving the player numerous means of progression in the hopes of keeping you around longer. In any other open world game this would just be par for the course but for the Mass Effect series it feels like a big step away from what made it great.

Indeed the open-world-ness of Andromeda is, I feel, the game’s Achilles heel. Open world games tend to try to cram as much as they can in and often end up relying on repeatable missions that can be adapted easily. Andromeda is no different with many missions coming down to simple fetch quests or a small variant there of. Any of the worlds you go to are either inhabited by Kett (the enemy alien race), colonists or the Angara (the new alien race). Whilst all the worlds have their own distinct feel the all play out the same, especially when it comes to reactivating the monoliths. Whilst the planet exploration is done far better than it has ever been in the series (the Nomad being a much better version of the Mako) you’ll still be doing the exact same thing on each planet: driving around, sometimes stopping for mining nodes or a combat encounter as you trundle your way to your objective. Sometimes it can be fun when you stumble across something but it starts to wear thin pretty early on.

What this means is that the core focus of the game is somewhat blurred. With so many things to do it can be hard to discern what the main thrust of the game really is as they’re always pulling you in multiple different directions. Sure you can look to the main missions for direction but unlike previous ones it wasn’t so obvious how the side missions built up into it. Indeed one of (what I had assumed was) the core aspects of the game, finding all the other race’s arks, is actually nothing more than a side quest and completing them appears to net you no significant advantages at all. Previous Mass Effect games heavily leaned on the fact that your choices, even those outside of the main story line, had a meaningful impact. In Andromeda that really doesn’t feel like the case. It’s possible that some of my decisions might mean something in future instalments but even the original Mass Effect managed to have meaningful choices within its own play time. Suffice to say I think that Andromeda could have done with a significant reduction in scope in order to better focus on what made the series popular in the first place.

As many others have pointed out the initial release of Andromeda was plagued with various issues that made the game less than ideal. The varying quality of animation across different characters was improved significantly in the most recent update but some other fundamental issues remain. During dialogue the camera has a mind of its own, sometimes getting stuck on geometry that means it won’t have Ryder, or anyone else, in frame. There were also numerous quality of life issues like being unable to skip certain things which really should have been skipable from the start. The multiplayer experience was also something of a crap shoot, taking forever to find a game and then being a buggy mess when it finally did. The only game I managed to get into had me with unlimited abilities, ammunition and health, something which (whilst fun) I don’t think was completely intended. This may be one of those games that gets considerably better as patches and DLC are released however, so if you’re reading this in the far future take note.

The premise of the game’s story is a good one, allowing the series to continue without having to lean on the previous games’ canon to succeed. However it takes forever to become even the slightest bit interesting, requiring at least 6 hours of investment to understand just what is going on and another 14 hours to actually start piquing your interest. This is most certainly due to the disjointed, fractured nature of how the greater narrative is told, split up amongst so many different side missions that it’s hard to make sense of how it’s all supposed to fit together. The game’s overall narrative, which feels dangerously close to the previous trilogy’s in some respects, tries its best to set up the universe in which this new trilogy takes place. However this time around you’re not struggling against some unseen foe which is pulling the strings, instead you’re the glorious, benevolent colonists who’ve come to save the Andromeda galaxy from itself. In that respect a lot of the struggle feels hollow, failing to kindle a sense of purpose or drive in you.

It’s a shame because I feel like the character development is actually done pretty well for most of your crew. Jaal, the Angaran resistance fighter, is an incredibly interesting character and one that helps give you a deep insight into his people’s culture. Some of the others could use work, like Cora’s weird interactions with Asari, but overall if you want to really get to know your crew there’s every opportunity to. I, as always, seemingly feel for the one I couldn’t have her romance options locked away from me because of my gender. That was slightly disappointing and so the romance I did pursue afterwards felt a little hollow. Still I can’t blame the game for not allowing me my heart’s want.

Mass Effect Andromeda is an uncharacteristic misstep by BioWare, seemingly forgetting what made the original trilogy great in favour of expanding its horizons. The elements are there, but they’re buried underneath a trove of open-world garbage that does nothing to enhance the experience. In order to get any enjoyment out of the game you’re looking at a least 20 hours, something which makes it hard to recommend to all but the most dedicated of Mass Effect fans. There’s also a lot of teething issues resulting from the transition to the Frostbite engine, but these are things that can be fixed in patches over time. The more pressing issues, like the lack of focus and repetition that comes with open world games, is a harder challenge to solve. However BioWare is nothing if not adaptable so there’s every chance that future DLCs and patches will transform this game from its current, lacklustre state into something that is more worthy of your time.

Rating: 7.0/10

Mass Effect Andromeda is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $69.99, $79 and $79 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 32 hours of total playtime and 42% of the achievements unlocked.

Battlefield 1: Through Mud and Blood.

The last decade was saturated with FPS games that revisited the two World Wars, so much so that I was soured on the Battlefield and Call of Duty series for quite some time. This decade saw a turn towards modern day warfare, with the Call of Duty series then pushing even further forward into the world of fictional, future based combat. It was something of a surprise then to see DICE return to their old haunts, pulling themselves back from modern day to explore World War I. If I’m honest I was sceptical, the World Wars have been visited so many times that a fresh take on them seemed all but impossible. Surprisingly though DICE has managed to bring a fresh perspective to this well trodden field whilst retaining much of what made some of their previous Battlefield titles great.

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Battlefield 1 visits many of the large scale battles of the first World War, picking out 6 different stories that you can play through. These include such events as the Battle of Cambrai during the Hundred Days Offensive, a fantastical air battle between zeppelins and the first fighter craft and even a show from the ANZACs as part of the Gallipoli campaign. There’s no story tying all of these different stories together, instead they each serve as little vignettes that give us a glimpse into the horrors of war from different perspectives. If there’s one thing that Battlefield 1 does well is impress upon us the true costs of war rather than glorifying the combat and sacrifice that the millions of troops made in this war.

The Frostbite 3 engine returns once again to the Battlefield series and brings with it the exceptionally high level of graphics that we’ve come to expect from this series of games. As all of these in-game screenshots will attest to Battlefield 1 is an absolutely stunning game, making good use of any amount of graphical firepower it has at its disposal. The environments are gigantic, brimming with detail and surprisingly destructible (if you have the right weaponry, of course). This will mean that you’ll probably need to spend a little bit of time tweaking settings here or there as the defaults seem to be geared more towards beautiful, 30fps gaming rather than slightly less stunning but buttery smooth game play. Of course such prettiness is really only appreciated in the single player campaign, rarely do you have a moment to think when you’re in the middle of a multiplayer match.

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Battlefield 1 sticks to its roots in terms of game play with the equipment layout being instantly familiar to fans of the series. You’ll have 2 guns at your disposal (with numerous ones littering the map so you’re never wanting for something new to try out), a couple gadgets that line up with the traditional Battlefield classes and your trusty melee weapon. The war stories follow the typical FPS mission style with Battlefield’s trade mark open environments, allowing you multiple avenues to approach your intended goal. The multiplayer modes will be familiar, however there’s one new mode called Operations which are probably the best aspect of Battlefield 1. Other than that Battlefield 1 is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from DICE with the exception that everything is set almost 100 years in the past.

Combat feels much the same as it always has in the Battlefield series. You’re a small cog in a very large machine, both in the single player campaigns as well as the multi. Slow, considered approaches to the battlefield are rewarded whilst rushed, less thought out strategies are likely to get you killed. It’s the line in the sand that Battlefield and Call of Duty have drawn between each other, one favouring small scale, chaotic engagements whilst the other favouring large, more strategic battles. Whilst I tend to prefer the former I can see the appeal in the latter, especially when you’ve got a group of 5 or more mates to play with and can actually get some objectives done. However it can be an exercise in frustration sometimes, especially when you walk out of your spawn location only to be nailed by a sniper who you had no chance of seeing.

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The Operations game mode, the stand out feature of Battlefield 1, takes its inspiration from Star Wars Battlefront’s Supremacy mode. Each map is divided into sections with points that need to be captured. Once each point is captured the enemy then retreats to the next section to start the battle all over again. The attacking team has limited lives however and should they run out the defenders win that round. When the attackers lose a round however they get reinforced by a giant weapon of war, potentially a zepplin or destroyer warship, which helps them turn the tides in their favour. This back and forth can happen a grand total of 3 times before the game is over. What makes this game mode so great is that it can feel like both sides are making progress at one point or another, preventing one side from completely dominating. Of course that’s not always the case but at the very least it feels little more fair than say Conquest when a really good squad can make the other team’s life a living hell.

The class system is the same as it always was with the only real change being the weaponry, all of which are from the World War I era. You have your medics which can heal and res, the support who will ensure you’ve got an endless supply of bullets, the scouts which will make sure that you can’t get anywhere without a couple shots coming your way and the assault class which is capable of dishing out endless amounts of hurt. Battlefield 1 also brings with it the hero class idea from Battlefronts, allowing a single player to become far more powerful than everyone else for a short period of time. You also have classes for the various vehicles including the calvary which can be both fun and a complete waste of time depending on good your enemy’s aim is. Indeed many of the ideas which were so-so in Battlefront have been refined significantly for their inclusion in Battlefield 1 and, hopefully, that means Battlefront 2 has a chance at being a lot better than its predecessor was.

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Battlefield 1, like all games in this series, brings with it a certain level of jank that pervades both the single and multi experiences. I can’t tell you how many times the physics engine has completely bugged out on me with ungodly winds tearing flags and people’s capes in all manner of weird directions or tanks moving in ways that just weren’t possible. It’s certainly a lot better than it was in the beta, if the videos on YouTube are anything to go by, but the trademark weirdness that all Battlefield games built on the Frostbite engine have is ever present in the latest instalment. It’ll likely get better over time, as it always does, but you’d think that DICE would’ve figured out all the kinks by this point in the engine’s life.

The war stories were, for me, not particularly engaging. Whilst I’ll praise DICE for their depiction of the true horrors of war the experience was, for me, not the most enjoyable thing. That might be the point (and indeed I’ll applaud them if that’s the case) however it meant that after playing 3 out of the 6 campaigns available I simply didn’t feel the urge to play the rest of them. It’s a shame really as I’ve always enjoyed the various campaigns in the Battlefield series but this time around I just didn’t feel compelled to go back and play through them. This could also be a testament to how good the Operations mode was in comparison as I definitely drawn back to that, time and time again.

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Battlefield 1 is an excellent return to form after the disaster that was Battlefield Hardline. The graphics return to their trademark industry leading standard, bringing us glorious battlefield filled with detail that few other games are able to deliver. The game play is familiar yet fresh, integrating the best ideas of the Battlefield and Battlefront series into a cohesive experience. The single player campaigns, whilst undoubtedly well crafted, failed to grab my attention like the previous ones have. Battlefield 1 also suffers from the few teething issues that seem to plague all of DICE’s releases of late; things that will no doubt be fixed but definitely sour the launch day experience. For fans of the Battlefield series the latest instalment is very much worth your time to play.

Rating: 9.0/10

Battlefield 1 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours of total play time and 26% of the achievements unlocked.