Mass Effect: Andromeda First Impressions

The wait for the next installment of the Mass Effect franchise is finally over, and with all major game releases we have been asked the ever returning question: is it worth my money, though? Ash, Joe, & Cole have all given their different perspectives of their time spent with the early portion of the game and wanted to give you some insight on what to expect as you weigh the option of making the purchase or not. With all of the early impressions beginning to surface on Mass Effect: Andromeda, the HUD Crew wanted to be sure to give you our initial impressions with our first hours of the game to help you understand if some of the complaints actually hold any merit- as well as our initial thoughts on this massive game.

Ashton’s Take:

Andromeda was my most highly anticipated release of the year. Prior to the launch of the Switch, I was, as I said in one of our podcasts, even more excited for Mass Effect than I was for Breath of the Wild (of course, I hadn’t yet anticipated just how amazing BOTW would be). Because of my sheer levels of hype before its release, I’m naturally feeling a little underwhelmed by Andromeda, but it’s definitely too early to make any final judgment. I like most of what I’ve played a lot, but it hasn’t yet captured the magic of the original trilogy–some of my favorite games of all time–just yet. Here are some random thoughts I jotted down as I played- both good & bad:

  • Character creator is no good…

  • I miss the codex narrator for primary entries. He was one of my favorite little details about the first three games.

  • Facial animations are every bit as bad as I was worried they’d be after seeing that first gameplay trailer. It’s weird for a series that set the bar for expressive characters to have fallen so far behind the pack.

  • Graphics out “in the field,” however, are gorgeous. The Frostbite engine sings with explosions and sprawling landscapes.

  • Checkpoints are annoying as hell. Why can’t I quicksave anywhere I please mid-mission?

  • Where’s my power wheel?

  • Issuing commands to companions has been reduced to a single keystroke, and it sucks. I want to call out for specific powers

  • Why go through the effort of animating raindrops on character faces if it’s going to bypass their helmets? It looks silly.

  • Unskippable cutscenes? Really?

  • Music’s & mobility are great!

  • Combat’s fun and fluid, and the biotic powers I’ve used so far feel amazing

Unfortunately, what marred my experience the most was the constant crashing I experienced during cutscenes. Seems like it’s a relatively widely reported occurrence, and it might have something to do with my specific video card (Nvidia GTX 970), but I literally wasn’t able to progress beyond the prologue mission due to one of the series of cutscenes inevitably freezing on me. If only I could just skip it…

Joe’s Take:

I’ve been doing my best to avoid any spoilers leading up to the release of Bioware’s latest iteration of Mass Effect. The ME series has always been one of my favorite franchises, and I wanted to experience Andromeda with a fresh mind; free from prejudice. But sure enough, I couldn’t help but see the avalanche of criticism regarding ME:A’s animations. While I admit this tempered my expectations, I still jumped into the game as soon as I could.

After clocking in about 10 hours into the story, the flawed animations are noticeable, and while this can be world breaking sometimes, the series has never been known for its great animations, considering Commander Shepard’s dancing has been meme-worthy long before Andromeda’s release. Outside of cutscenes, gone are the days of the camera cutting away to conversations, with ME:A using a slight camera zoom to frame NPC’s during interactions. And while these decisions give the game a less cinematic feel, the soul of Mass Effect is alive and well in Andromeda’s universe. The story is enthralling, filled with intrigue and moments where the game can even play with your preconceived knowledge of the series. The combat is exhilarating, and I’ve been most impressed with ME:A’s cover mechanics, although cover seems to be a lost concept to your A.I. squadmates, leading to some frustrating encounters.

But Andromeda’s action truly comes alive in multiplayer, the mix of different classes and combo powers showcases the level of intensity the firefights can truly amount to when a team knows what they are doing. Gamers familiar with the series’ previous multiplayer offerings will feel right at home; playing matches earns points that you can use to buy packs of randomized loot, which can contain new classes to play as, or maybe the next exceptional weapon to utilize.

Overall, Mass Effect: Andromeda is not perfect, but the game does offer something unique to the series, while still being familiar. The criticism is deserved, but don’t let it deter you from having a fun experience.

Cole’s Take:

Mass Effect: Andromeda has some big shoes to fill, so it was only natural to see the realm of hyperbole take its effect on the new entry when early impressions started to surface on less-than-stellar animations. While I don’t want to add fuel to the fire, with every passing glitchy cutscene, framerate drop during action moments, or jarring facial expressions has me wonder why not hold the game a bit longer to cover more polish? Believe me, the last thing that I wanted to do was wait any longer to get my hands on the next entry in one of the most impactful franchises I have ever played, however, internal reviews or QA must have raised the flag on this to some length before it ever reached out fingertips. Nevertheless, Mass Effect: Andromeda is finally here and with it, my emotions begin a roller coaster ride.

I want to make this very apparent- I am only about 4-5 hours into the main campaign at the time of writing this, so there is still MUCH that I have yet to experience in this massive RPG. My initial impressions started out pretty rough- not being able to get over characters flashing in and out of the scene, wrapping my head around new jump physics, and a younger band of characters with more playful dialogue that took me by surprise following Commander Shepard’s more stoic and noble approach. However it was at the final moments of the first main mission that I began to realize that I was doing this game a disservice by putting it in a constant comparison of earlier titles- after all, I had spent more than a hundred hours with my old companion Shepard. The more I play, the more it becomes very apparent that the concept of a group exploring new uncharted areas in the galaxy is very appropriate for Bioware because everything has seemed very foreign thus far. But in small doses I see the greatness of its predecessors shine through, and it is these moments that make my heart skip a beat that this new band of characters might actually be able to make their way into our hearts the way the last bunch did. It’s going to take time and commitment, an open mind on our parts, and the ability to remember that while the Shepard Trilogy was incredible, it took time for him to establish himself in our psyche. At this point, I’m cautiously optimistic and open to a new set of adventurers.

Enough of what we think so far, we want to hear your thoughts. How has your time been so far with the game and do you think the visual complaints that are plaguing the release valid? Let us know in the comments below as we put together the HUD’s final review in the coming week.

First Impressions: Destiny: Rise of Iron Expansion

     Upon learning of Bungie’s final push of Destiny vanilla before focusing on the impending sequel, to be completely honest with you, I really didn’t give it much thought. Not that I have anything against Destiny, on the contrary actually. After more than 600+ hours logged across the original all the way through to last fall’s Taken King expansion I was ready to take a break. Many key components of the original had grown tired; the beloved Gjallahorn was no longer a rare commodity, and it seemed as though each “new” update was another reason to fight the same enemy type since the Dark Below in an all too familiar environment. Basically, I was ready for a change. It wasn’t until after the chatter of the gameplay reveal for Rise of Iron that I began to pay attention, and upon learning that Bungie was taking a different approach to enemies, armor and weapon look, and most importantly storyline, that I found myself ready to visit the Tower one last time. 

     To preface, if you weren’t a fan of the original Destiny “formula”, there is nothing in Rise of Iron that is going to change your mind. However, if you found yourself in a similar boat of exhaustion like myself, you have a lot to look forward too. New strike missions, raid, armor and weapons, and of course a new story line give you plenty to keep you busy for weeks to come. 

      Now to clarify, I have spent about 10 hours into the expansion thus far, and will later give a full review and write-up some time next week after I get to experience the raid, as well as the rest of the end game content. Thus far, I have finished the storyline, multiple strikes, messed around with some of the new crucible match types, and even accomplished the quest line for the shiny new Gjallahorn (now in black). I can safely say that this is far and away my favorite expansion to date, and if it is any indicator of the direction that Destiny 2 will take then we all have a lot to be excited about. One fact that is abundantly clear from this update, is that Bungie is listening to the community and delivering in spades. From little easter eggs like hidden areas in the new Iron Temple, to the return (arguably) of the Gjallahorn, I have found myself smiling with every new discovery- which is often. 

    While we are still a few days out from the new Raid becoming available, modifications to Strikes with a new treasure system will keep you busy and help prepare you to meet the required light level. If you are a PvP kind of player, crucible play has been given map and match type updates offering the all new Supremacy mode. If you are a solo player, all new cut scenes, deep lore about Iron Lords, and exotic quest lines give you plenty to keep you busy. Basically, my time so far with Rise of Iron has been great, but I will need many more hours of play time to see how it pans out over time. If you are on the fence or waiting for a final verdict, be sure to check back in the days to come for the final review. 

      Now back to Plaguelands to find more loot… 

Tina’s First: Resident Evil 4

Before we begin this discussion about the newly remastered ‘Resident Evil 4′, I’d like to state a disclaimer.  As the title suggests, I have never once in my life played any Resident Evil games and in all honesty, have never had the true desire to.  Despite being a huge fan of horror as a film genre, I turn into the world’s biggest baby when it comes to horror as a video game genre.   It’s physically crippling for me to even so much as pick up any game that could potentially be classified as anything horror related.  Is it because I care too much about these little computer generated characters to even fathom putting them through the things that are occurring in the game?  Or is it because as a child, my older brother thought it would be funny to expose me to ‘Silent Hill’ at the age of 7?

Despite these ingrained fears, I ran a recent poll on Twitter to have my followers give me their feedback on what they wanted me to check out.  I have no idea what compelled me to type in the fateful words “Resident Evil 4” and include it in the poll, but after a landslide victory, it was crystal clear that this was the game you wanted me to share my thoughts on.  I am a woman of my word, and despite having a small panic attack Tuesday evening after the poll closed, I managed to purchase the game and play it in order to share my thoughts with you guys.  For everyone who participated in the poll I just want to say one thing:  Thank you.  Thank you for being the pressure I needed to break out of my comfort zone and give this game an honest chance.  With this being said, though, please keep in mind that I will be reviewing this game from a noob standpoint and not from the side of a long time Resident Evil fan.

For being a game that has been around for more than a decade now, the developers of the remastered edition did a really good job cleaning this up and making it look great. With that being said, however, if this is a game that you’ve never played before I strongly urge you to not try and compare the graphics to something like Fallout 4.  This is a remaster, not a remake, so the visuals will not always compare to a game that has come out within the last year or two.  If you do want to have a base of comparison graphics wise, I’d say that a close comparable would be the ‘Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune’ remake included in the ‘Uncharted:  Nathan Drake Collection’ that was released just last year.  A fantastic example of how great a job they did remastering this game occurs within the first 5 minutes of taking control over Leon.  As soon as you enter the initial house, you’ll notice that off to the left there is a window with some light pouring through it.  You can actually see the dust dancing in the sunlight, which I thought was a nice touch before you meet your initial Ganado.    The hidden little details such as this don’t stop throughout the game, and at any moment you begin to question the visual quality, I strongly suggest you stop and look around at your background and remember just how old this game is. 

Despite its awesomely remastered visuals, the controllers felt very outdated.  The inability to move around and shoot at the same time was horribly debilitating.  It actually made for an even more difficult gameplay simply because I had to learn that I couldn’t just move away from the mobs moving towards me.  I get that this game was released for nostalgia purposes with the longtime existing fan base, but for newcomers to the series who have heard tales of this cornerstone of the Resident Evil franchise, it is just not fun.  It feels very archaic and clunky.  Even outside of battle, it was extremely difficult to try and move diagonally using the joystick, and at times It almost felt like the game was designed to be played on the D-pad of my controller.  For a remastered version of a game, I would have hoped to have a bit of an upgrade on the control functionality because it was definitely a joy hindrance during my play through.

Now I have a secret I’d like to reveal to everyone:  I do not live my life in ‘Hard’ mode. I’m a very story driven player and in fact, when it comes to most RPG’s I prefer to do an initial playthrough of the game on easy mode just to experience the story.  If the game has a decently written story, I’ll go ahead and replay it on the normal mode.  It takes a really beloved game to warrant me attempting it on hard mode and those are few and far between.  Maybe it’s because this is the remastered version of Resident Evil 4, but this game did not allow for me to change my initial gameplay mode.  Now I know what you all may be thinking, “Tina, this is Resident Evil 4 remastered!  Playing any gameplay mode besides normal or hardcore is just blasphemous!”.  Truly this game was built for the existing fanboys and girls out there who have been long time lovers of this game.  But for someone who is new to not just the game and series but also the genre for that matter, this is a huge drawback.   If you are the type of player who is not the biggest fan of the horror genre, yet still wants to give this iconic game a shot, you may want to steer clear because it is definitely not easy. 

As a side note, on the PS4 currently, if you have a PS Plus account the Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD edition is free to play.  I downloaded this version initially by accident, and in doing so, I did notice that the Ultimate HD edition does allow for you to change your difficulty between easy and normal mode.  Newcomers to the genre may want to start off with that version just to see if it’s something that they’d even be interested in purchasing.  Since it was an accidental download, and I promised you guys I’d be playing the Remastered version, I did not play through the easy mode offered on the Ultimate HD edition so I do not have insight into the difference in gameplay between the two modes.

Did this game create a new fan out of me?  Honestly, I appreciated it for what it was but it is probably not something that I will play again.  This game was very clearly geared toward a specific audience, and I think if I was a part of that audience it would have been extremely enjoyable for me.  As a remake, the developers did a solid job of blending modern visuals with old school mechanics that I’m sure longtime fans of the game would be familiar with and appreciate.  Since I’m very much an outsider to the entire Resident Evil franchise, it had a very unwelcoming feel to it from the get go.  If you’re an existing fan of this game, this will be a great nostalgia game to add to your collection.  But if you are like me, this may not be the game for you.  All in all, I’d rank this game as a solid 6.

Let us know what you think!  What were some of the issues you experienced in the game?  What are your favorite Resident Evil 4 moments?  Do you have any advice for other newcomers to the franchise?  Let us know in the comments below!

Hearthstone: One Night in Karazhan

 Source: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone
Source: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone

     For me, Hearthstone’s winning formula is about three parts charisma, one part complexity, a dash of RNG (and therefore plenty of salt), and ample accessibility. It demands little in the way of my time, but it rewards me for logging into the game relatively frequently. I can play it virtually anywhere I have access to my phone, and the experience is rewarding and consistent regardless of which device I’m playing on, from my iPhone to my tablet PC to my gaming desktop at home. It’s challenging and exciting; it has an an active and dedicated community. But more importantly, I think, than any of this: it’s charming.

     Hearthstone is a delight to play, with all the production values you’d expect of a Blizzard title. It’s bright and colorful, it’s humorous, the music’s catchy but non-invasive, and its ties to the greater Warcraft universe reward dedicated fans and lore fiends without punishing more casual fans who may not have played a Warcraft title since the last RTS *cough* *cough*.

      And like it’s parent title, One Night in Karazhan just oozes charm. The promotional artwork for the expansion features a very toothy and comically handsome rendition of the archmage Medivh extending an invitation out to the player to a party at his home, the tower Karazhan. WOW fans will no-doubt recognize the name as a ghost-filled raid from the MMORPG, but the plot of One Night in Karazhan is set decades prior to the events that transpired in Warcraft: Orcs and Humans.

     In other words, this is Karazhan re-imagined in the disco-feverish not-too-distant past of Azeroth, and its host is not yet a demon-possessed madman, but a playboy wizard. Speaking of disco fever, the first thing I noticed when I loaded up the adventure was its theme music, which blends mystical-sounding harps with a disco boogie. It’s catchy and silly, and it perfectly summarized in a melody everything I love about Hearthstone.

      While it strays pretty far from its source material, Karazhan is full of references to the infamous raid, particularly with its primary antagonist, Prince Malchezaar, and a chessboard challenge that occurs in the first wing of the adventure. Like the other Hearthstone adventure expansions, Karazhan is being rolled out over the course of four weeks with each of the four wings comprised of three “boss” fights. Each duel features some new gimmick or game mechanic intended to deviate from the core Hearthstone formula, which means that you typically need to either build new decks or tweak existing ones to tailor them for specific challenges. Defeating a boss nets you two of the expansion’s unique cards (two copies of each, the maximum allowed per player) along with a class-specific challenge that in turn unlocks a third unique card specific to one hero class.

     It’s too early to give Karazhan a full-fledged review, but the first four challenges in the expansion already feel better-crafted and more entertaining than the other Hearthstone adventures that I’ve played. Each boss fight truly felt like a unique experience from the more typical grind of the parent game. The prologue mission, for example, actually has you assume the role of Medivh and equips you with a suitably overpowered deck of mage-flavored cards and a hero power that allows you to draw three cards once per turn. It’s as if the game thrusts you into the shoes of one of the boss characters you’ll be playing against, and it’s simply a fun experience that I drew out for as long as I could.

 Source: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone
Source: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone

     Another challenge sees you facing off against sentient plates and silverware in an obvious nod to Disney’s interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. A third replaces your deck and class again with chess pieces and game mechanics that feel tactical and, well, chess-like. This particular challenge was my favorite of the bunch, and it really does a good job of highlighting the playful spirit with which the developers seemed to have approached the expansion this time around while simultaneously remaining faithful to the source material. I’m really looking forward to what they have in store for us over the next three weeks.

     I never felt particularly challenged by any of the boss fights this time around, and only had to make some minor adjustments to an existing deck once to progress through the story, but that didn’t necessarily bother me. I was intentionally speeding through the duels as quickly as I could, and I haven’t attempted any of the fights on the far more challenging “Heroic” difficulty just yet.

      From a metagaming perspective, Karazhan is bound to have at least the same level of impact on competitive Hearthstone as its predecessors. Adventure-style expansions differ from the more standard expansions in that they promise every player the same forty-plus cards, and because each adventure carries a fairly hefty cost of admission of $20, Blizzard seems to strive to make the cards unique and powerful enough to justify the price tag. CCGs inherently feel “pay-to-win” by their nature because the more disposable money you have to throw at the game, the more dynamic your collection of cards is bound to be, but this is doubly true for Karazhan and the other adventures. None of the expansions cards can be collected by other means as they’re exempt from the game’s crafting system and do not appear in the card packs players can buy with real or in-game currency.

     It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for players who have already accepted the CCG monetization model because knowing you’re guaranteed a certain set of cards for your money gives you a chance to pre-mediate just how those cards will fit into your competitive play, but it also means that until you’re willing and able to shell out the money for them, you’re inevitably going to be playing against opponents with access to a powerful card set you don’t have.

     The cards that have unlocked in Karazhan so far don’t feel particularly overpowered to me, but they definitely bend the rules of thumb of standard card sets. The Druid, for example, receives a 1-mana, 2/2 beast, effectively providing a 2:1 return on your mana investment. It’s a relatively simple card, but it’s upsetting enough to the current balance of the early game to provide a strong advantage to the player in the first few turns. Plus, it synergizes well with other Druid staples, meaning there’s tremendous potential for uptrading against 2+ mana minions. Because the current state of Hearthstone relies heavily on beating the mana curve with sticky minions, it’s easy to imagine how a card like this could feel cheap for free-to-players.

     Bear in mind, I don’t intend this point as a criticism of Karazhan; this is par for the course for the game model, and it’s already a fact of life for Hearthstone players.

 Source: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone
Source: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone

     Other cards unique to the expansion feel less obviously powerful, and the community’s already having some negative reactions to an as-of-yet unreleased Priest card. The Priest class is arguably the weakest in the current meta, and players who were hoping to see the class get some life support don’t seem to feel like Karazhan will be the turning point for the class that they were expecting.

      It’s probably too early to tell just how deep of an impact the expansion will have on the metagame, but we’re sure to see the ripples it’ll make for weeks to come as new cards trickle into the general pool. I’ve already encountered a large number of Karazhan cards in ranked play, but nothing thus far that has deviated from the more common deck types I was already facing.

      At the end of the day, dedicated competitive Hearthstone players are going to want to pick the expansion up so as not to fall behind the meta curve. Many are already pot-committed at this point anyway, and I doubt that my impressions of the game are going to sway any such players one way or the other. For casual fans, though, I still think the expansion really holds some appeal this time around. I felt less impressed with, say, Blackrock Mountain, whose cards and challenges never really felt worth the price to me.

     With that said, twenty dollars is still a lot of money to invest into a free-to-play title, and the cards you earn in the expansion aren’t going to singlehandedly invert your win-loss ratio if you’re struggling in ranked play. To that point, if you’re new to the game and not sure just how much you’re willing to invest into it, you’re probably better off buying a few card packs to get your collection kickstarted before investing in Karazhan.

     But if you’ve got some disposable income or, like I did, have a Battle.net gift card burning a hole in your pocket, One Night in Karazhan is off to a great start and feels like the best singleplayer expansion to the game to date. Assuming the forthcoming wings feature the same kind of unique challenges as this first wave, I won’t have any reservations whatsoever recommending it to my fellow Hearthstone fans.