I’m really not into Mass Effect Andromeda

The Mass Effect series has provided some of my favorite moments of my entire ‘video game life’ (even Mass Effect 3!). Up until last night I was incredibly excited for Mass Effect Andromeda, and thought for sure I would be buying the game. The only decision I had yet to make was whether I’d get it for the Xbox One or PC. However, the two hours I spent with the 10 hour EA Access trial last night has almost entirely dissuaded me from buying the game.

Right off the bat I found myself annoyed with the writing. Not only was the set up a bore, but the dialogue between characters, both during cut scenes and during background conversations was cringe worthy. At one point one of my squad mates uttered something to the effect of “Did that hurt? YEAH BECAUSE I SHOT YOU IN THE FACE!”. I almost shut the Xbox off right then and there, but I decided to keep trudging through to see if anything exciting would happen. It never did.

My time on the first planet felt like nothing but busy work. Run here, then here, then here, Scan some things. Shoot some things. On and on. I know this isn’t wildly different from the other games, but at least on those games there’s a real sense of purpose. The whole Pathfinder concept just comes across as cheesy, right from the start. The opening dialogue trying to make the journey to Andromeda seem like some “grand adventure” just made me cringe, and as I spent more time as Ryder I wished there was a button Nier Automata style to just shoot myself in the head and get a game over screen.

To make matters worse, the combat just feels sloppy. I found it difficult to line up shots (kind of slow, but all over the place at the same time) which sucked because I had been playing Mass Effect 3 all week and loving how solid the combat feels in that game. The guns and abilities feel like they have very little bite, and there’s no satisfying “pop” as you drop enemies like there is in Mass Effect 2 and 3.

Even worse than the combat are the textures, animations and voice acting. The first planet isn’t very pretty to look at (a darn shame after spending time with Horizon Zero Dawn or even Breath of the Wild), but beyond the art style there are some incredibly flat, muddy and ugly textures (the dark matter particularly). The animations have probably been ragged on enough by everyone else on the internet, and I could probably ignore them if it weren’t for the god awful voice acting. Some of it has been so bad that I nearly burst out laughing. Specifically, the first lines out of the female Turian’s mouth on the Nexus are horrendous. Shortly after speaking to her I had to turn the game off and boot up Mass Effect 3 instead, I couldn’t take it anymore. She’s not alone, however, as most of the characters sound like they were voiced by the developers themselves, blandly reading lines into a microphone with no enthusiasm or emotion.

Lastly, there are some really bad pop in issues, most noticeable while on the Nexus. As I found myself running into rooms, entire groups of NPC’s would pop in two or three seconds after I entered a room. Maybe this is a bug that gets fixed with a patch, maybe it’s a limitation of the Xbox One, but regardless, it really screws with any sense of immersion you might have.

Ultimately, I’m not even sure it’s worth my time to play another couple hours of the free trial. I feel like I’ve seen all I need to see. I don’t think I could take another minute of easily the second worst game I’ve played in 2017 (second only to Ghost Recon Wildlands, another game that suffers from some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in a video game).

I don’t mean to hate on Mass Effect, I really wanted to love the game as much as I’ve loved the rest of the series, but I don’t think it’s possible at this point. At least I can take some relief in knowing that Andromeda was developed by an entirely different team than the original trilogy, and I think in the long run many will come to look at Andromeda as a sort of B-level spin off, rather than a continuation of such a great series.

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What other Zelda games should I play?

Breath of the Wild has ignited an interest in Zelda games that no other game has been able to do. As I’ve said before, my first experience with Zelda came from renting Ocarina of Time as a pre-teen and being completely confused about what I was supposed to be doing. Even then, part of me was mesmerized by the art and music, and I enjoyed running around the world so much that I rented it twice and just poked around in other people’s saves, not really getting anywhere in the game.

I tried to go back to Ocarina of Time once or twice in recent years, and but I ultimately got put off by the clunky feeling controls and my inability to competently fight off most enemies. I also didn’t have the patience to try to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing as the game didn’t make it very clear (yet unlike Breath of the Wild there are many roadblocks preventing you from doing anything you want at any time).

Now, however, I’m interested in checking out a few of the other Zelda games. I don’t really want to try out Majora’s Mask as it seems too much like Ocarina, which, unlike a majority of gamers, I’m just not into. Instead, I’m somewhat curious about Windwaker and Twilight Princess. I figure these games could allow me to get some more use out of my Wii U after I finish Breath of the Wild, and I’ll be able to see how the series has matured into its more modern state.

Windwaker HD sure looks pretty

Which game do you think I should start with after Breath of the Wild? Which is the most accessible? I understand the recent games are often looked down upon, but part of me wonders if the negative perception is more from fans of the series and could easily be looked past from an outsider like me.

Should I dive into Zelda’s past, or will playing anything after Breath of the Wild only disappoint?

Playing Breath of the Wild on the Wii U

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I’ve never been a huge Zelda fan, but with the release of the Switch and the huge amount of hype leading up to the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I figured I needed to see what all the excitement was about. I never did get into Ocarina of Time on the N64. I rented it a few times, but as an impatient eleven year old I never could figure out what I was supposed to be doing. Even in recent years I’ve tried to give it another shot, but often found myself running in circles trying to figure out what to do, or if I did find myself headed in the right direction I would repeatedly die at the hands of the enemies I’d encounter.

My time with Breath of the Wild so far has been pretty positive. First off it looks great, with a beautifully unique art style and it runs relatively smoothly even on the Wii U. I absolutely love the way they handle the map in the game, where you do all of the icon placement yourself. This keeps the map from becoming overwhelming early on, as you can climb a tower, mark a few things on your map and then set out to see what you’ll find there. That doesn’t mean you won’t get sidetracked along the way, however. I’ve found myself headed toward a tower or shrine, only to veer off in a different direction when a camp of enemies catches my eye.

The game has a reputation for being a little difficult, and that may prove to push me away from the game eventually. I’ve died a handful of times in my first hour or so with the game, but the quick reloads into a recent autosave make it more bearable. Oftentimes I’ve found that I died because I’m rushing into combat with multiple enemies and missing a way to use the environment to my advantage.

One other minor gripe, is that the Wii U version completely ignores the gamepad. I assume it’s because Nintendo has basically abandoned the Wii U at this point, which is a shame, because there are many ways they could have effectively used the gamepad, and therefore justified its existence one last time. Of course you can play the game on the gamepad (though I’ve found this seriously detracts from the game’s beauty), but otherwise you’ll just get a black screen with a message telling you that you can play on the gamepad.

Breath of the Wild Wii U gamepad

I’m looking forward to spending more time with Breath of the Wild, but at the same time Horizon Zero Dawn is also calling my name (and Mass Effect Andromeda is quickly approaching). If you have a Wii U and want to dust it off one last time, I can definitely recommend picking up Breath of the Wild for it.

Been a busy November

I’ve been neglecting my blog again, but November was a busy month and December hasn’t been much slower so far. I got married last month, which was a pretty awesome time!

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Also around the same time I started a new position at work and then sewed on my new rank, so that’s all been exciting and terrifying at the same time. I’ve been working longer than usual hours and have spent less time playing video games and even less time writing about them.

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I’m trying to catch up on a back log of video games, and hopefully I’ll finally start getting some stuff done. I’ve played a few hours of Final Fantasy XV and still haven’t decided if it’s something I’m going to be into or not. It just feels weird, and somewhat thrown together in a way that’s just not doing much for me right now. Also I want to check out Dead Rising 4, but I still need to finish Titanfall 2’s campaign. So much to do, so little time, so for now I’m going to head off to the gym and then hopefully have something worth writing about later tonight.

Can’t get a NES Classic?

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The $59.99 30 in one NES system that Nintendo released this week is already incredibly difficult to find. Most retail locations have reported getting fewer than ten units, and most sold all ten within hours of its release. One local game store here has reported that they ordered 12, received 6 and will not be receiving any more units for the rest of this year.

The scarcity of the NES Classic Edition, and the fact that there’s sure to be ever increasing demand as the holiday season nears, has driven scalpers to jack up the prices on the systems on Craigslist and eBay (selling for $100+). Instead of paying extra for this system, however, I have another idea. How about you head down to your local video game store (mom and pop store, not GameStop) and check out their stock of used and refurbished NES systems. Sure it won’t have 30 games pre-installed, but maybe the real thing might just be more of a nostalgia rush than the simulated product. You’ll also be helping out a local business, which is always great during the holidays.

You might end up spending a bit more for a real NES and a couple of cartridges, but I honestly think you’re better off that way. First of all, you’ll avoid being stuck with a two foot long controller cord that the Classic Edition comes with. Furthermore, you’ll be able to play many more games. The Classic Edition has no way to expand its library (except for a presumed future release for another $60 with another 30 games installed), while with the real thing you’ll be able to scope out pawn shops, flea markets and local game stores for good deals on old cartridges.

Most of the cartridges I’ve gotten recently have been between $10 and $30, but it’s much more fun actually clicking a cartridge down into the thing and firing it up for the first time (rather than simply hitting a button on a menu in the Classic Edition).

Don’t get me wrong, the Classic Edition is certainly a nifty item, and sometime down the road I might actually pick one up, but I enjoy the community of interacting with my local mom and pop game store whenever I’m looking for a new NES cartridge to add to my collection. Give it a try, you might too!

In a great year for shooters, Infinite Warfare disappoints.

It’s been one of the most exciting years for fans of first person shooters in the history of video games. So many great AAA shooters have released this year, and for the most part they’ve all been hits. We’ve had Overwatch, DOOM, Gears of War 4, Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and now Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. The last 30 days alone have seen the rapid fire releases of Gears (Oct 11), Battlefield (Oct 21), Titanfall (Oct 28) and Call of Duty (Nov 4).

It’s been an unbelievably good year for those who enjoy first person shooters. There’s an incredible amount of variety in the games released this year, and there’s something for everyone.

I’ve been trying to check out all of the shooters that have released recently, however I think the ones that I’ll continue to play over the next year will certainly be Overwatch, Battlefield and Titanfall. That said, last night I rented Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare from Redbox and played for a few hours and wanted to share my experience so far.

Infinite Warfare screenshot xbox

One of the first things I noticed once I started the campaign was that Infinite Warfare is certainly unlike any Call of Duty that came before it. The view of Jupiter above was not something I expected to see less than five minutes into a Call of Duty game, but it was certainly refreshing.

I had a good time picking up a variety of guns during the first few missions, and found the variety of enemies to be refreshing as well. Most of the guys are just random soldiers, but it’s interesting to see robots thrown into the mix, and even some larger bots that take a little more effort to bring down. I also enjoyed the hacking mechanic a great deal once it was introduced. Basically you can take control of an enemy robot while you’re tucked away safely in cover, and use it to take out as many bad guys as you can and even initiate a self destruct mechanism (it’s fun to run into a group of enemies and explode D.Va style) before you lose the signal during the hack.

Infinite Warfare space combat

The space combat featured in Infinite Warfare was certainly interesting. The first time you ascend from a planet and transition into space I got an eerie No Man’s Sky vibe, but you certainly have less control over your spaceship. You’re sort of guided along a set path as you ascend, and in all reality you don’t have that much control, which isn’t necessarily a complaint, it just felt weird. The same goes for landing sequences. I could basically land my ship with hardly any input, as the game guides you along a highlighted path onto the carrier. Besides all that, the space combat was a nice diversion, but I felt that it dragged on a little longer than I would’ve liked.

Infinite Warfare hair

Some of the cutscenes look really nice in Infinite Warfare, and one of the things that stood out was the quality of the character’s hair. It looks quite realistic, especially as you can see individual strands, but unfortunately once the cutscene ends it transitions back to being more of a blob than realistic looking hair. Someday video games will give us good looking hair! Again, this isn’t a complaint and it’s something I wouldn’t have even noticed had I not been blown away by just how good it looked during the cutscene above and had it contrasted with the gameplay sequence to follow.

Overall I’ve mostly enjoyed the campaign (I have a handful of missions left), but I did have some difficulty with it at times which made it more frustrating than it should be. After breezing through much of the campaigns of Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2, I’ve died more than I have in both games combined during Infinite Warfare. During some sections I died as many as six times before reaching a checkpoint and getting past a particularly hairy section. I tried turning the difficulty down, but even that didn’t help and it became annoying to replay the same section over and over again just to avoid dying by a grenade or exploding car I didn’t happen to see quick enough.

How does the campaign compare to Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2? I don’t think it’s on the same level. Call of Duty campaigns have gotten more and more stale over the years, while its competitors have really stepped up their game. Titanfall 2 features easily the most enjoyable FPS campaign since Halo: Reach. The writing is excellent (mostly the dialogue of BT), the platforming in-between shooting sections has a Portal level of polish and the shooting feels great, whether on foot or in a titan. Infinite Warfare definitely tries to do things a bit differently, and at times it felt like I was playing more of a sci-fi shooter, but during its most routine moments it feels like everything we’ve done again and again during Call of Duty campaigns. I feel no drive to finish off the last four missions, and if I do it’ll only be for the achievements, not because I’m necessarily enjoying the game.

The multiplayer doesn’t fare much better. I haven’t enjoyed Call of Duty multiplayer since Black Ops II (MW3 is still my favorite) and Infinite Warfare feels like more of the same. It’s eerily similar to Black Ops III, and most of the time it’s just felt like a skin and some new maps over that gameplay. It just hasn’t been enjoyable for me at all. I just want to go back and play some more Battlefield or Titanfall. In fact, if you tend to enjoy the futuristic combat of Black Ops III but haven’t checked out Titanfall, I would highly recommend Titanfall 2 over Infinite Warfare. Even Jeff Gerstmann, a long time Call of Duty enthusiast over at Giant Bomb, has seemed to have drifted away from Call of Duty. Instead, he has been overly enthusiastic about Titanfall 2, which he scored a perfect 5 in his review.

What made the Infinite Warfare experience even worse for me yesterday, was its community. I experienced behavior that I haven’t experienced since the Xbox 360 days during my time with the game yesterday. During one of my first matches I happened to die a lot (I didn’t play a lot of Black Ops III or Advanced Warfare and needed to get used to it), and mid match I got an all caps message instructing me to “STOP DYING!!!!!!111!!”. I took the time to respond that I certainly wasn’t dying on purpose, to which I received a series of insults and a note saying they recorded my gameplay and will be reporting me for dying too much. Good to know.

But it didn’t stop there. It seems like so much of the Call of Duty community is so concerned about their K/D and winning that they’ll get violently angry at anyone who isn’t playing to their standards. I never experience this with Battlefield or Titanfall. Maybe it’s just the day one players who are the most hardcore, but I played Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 a lot on day one and everyone I encountered was all about having fun.

Overall, I don’t think I can recommend Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare to anyone but the most hardcore of Call of Duty fans. To even those fans I would recommend checking out Titanfall 2 if you haven’t. It’ll provide a similar experience with a much better and more refreshing execution, and I think the games industry would benefit from the increased success of the other shooters on the market.