Funny To A Point – So, About Mass Effect: Andromeda…

This week's column goes where no moron has gone before.

If you're a regular reader of Funny To A Point,
you've probably noticed that many
of these dumb
columns are devoted to recently released games. There's a simple reason for that:
I write about certain games because that's what I've been playing recently, and
as such, that's also what I've been thinking (read: obsessing) about. Sometimes a game enchants
me with its
creativity or addictive
gameplay. Others literally keep me up at night with their infuriating
flaws or satanic
game design.

Regardless of the emotion, most of my thoughts come with a
thick coating of humor, because that's the way my beautiful brain works. While
this is super unhelpful when your
wife is already upset over some dumb comment you've made, it comes in handy
when you have a bi-weekly humor column to write.* Like a lever-flipping lab
monkey, FTAP has trained me to jot down every dumb observation I have if it might
be mistaken for humor. If I manage to collect enough goofy anecdotes on a given
game before my next deadline, then voila – I've got a column! (If not, there's
always Plan

As you might have guessed, my recent misadventures in Mass
Effect: Andromeda didn't take long to fill up my notebook with juicy source
material. Maybe you've read some criticisms
or seen a groan-worthy compilation
video or two from the game already. Well, I hadn't – at least not before I
started the game. Like usual, I was secluded in my spoiler
bunker before release, avoiding any and all media. A few concerns seeped
into the bubble, but by and large I went into Andromeda relatively "pure" and
was looking forward to a new, post-Shepard adventure.

That's not to say I could just forget my experiences with
Mass Effect, however, which set a high bar of Olympic proportions. I still feel
the original trilogy features some of the best stories and characters of last
generation. Granted, there were some stinkers thrown in there (choosing whether
to save Ashley or Kaidan was like deciding which bag of space trash you wanted
to lug across the galaxy with you). But even underappreciated characters like
Grunt (who still paled in comparison to my BFF, Wrex)
and Jack (whose damaged-goods routine was the definition of trying too hard)
ended up growing on me.

You just can't beat that dialogue…

Part of what made Mass Effect's characters so great were
your interactions with them, and BioWare served up amazing choices in the
original trilogy. I remember being shocked by some of the decisions my fellow
coworkers made. Like Hanson playing virtually the entire trilogy without Wrex
because he shot him in the first game (I always knew he was an anti-Kroganite).
Or Cork heartlessly wiping out all synthetic life in the galaxy – including
Legion and EDI (she was Seth Green's only chance for love!**). Or Tim romancing Miranda
– for the love of God, Tim, WHY?!?!

Mass Effect's choices were so sweeping and surprising that
sometimes they shaped my own character in ways I didn't anticipate. I spent the
first Mass Effect wooing Liara (because DUH), only for her to give me the cold
shoulder in the sequel. The sense of betrayal was palpable; we saved the freaking
world together, and she can't even chat for five minutes after I literally rose
from the dead and made a beeline across the galaxy to see her? I mean, I know
hunting the Shadow Broker is important and all, but she still has to eat
dinner, doesn't she?

With that door promptly slammed in my face***, I shacked up
with Tali – only to have Liara show up again in ME 3. Reconciling this
unexpected love triangle (well, more of a "V" I guess) presented a more
difficult choice than the game's color-coded ending. After much deliberation, I
ultimately stuck with Tali. She had been at my side during all three games; her
loyal companionship deserved my loyalty in return. Well, at least until I
jumped into that giant green laser and turned into a computer, anyway.

Fun Fact: Based on Google Image results, every Mass Effect character's name is apparently a synonym for "creepy porn."

Those kinds of surprise decisions made my incarnation of
Shepard more interesting, and gave the entire narrative more weight. Even
thinking back on the trilogy now fills me with fond memories (as well as lingering
questions about how Shepard and Tali got it on through her full-body space suit).

Anyhoo, all this is to say I was looking forward to seeing
where Mass Effect would go next, with the benefit of a completely fresh start. But
as far as first impressions go, Andromeda showed up to my blind date a googly
eyed mess. Actually, nine googly eyed messes – the preset characters look like
an intern spent five minutes putzing with the editor before shrugging and
saying, "Eh, those look face-ish."

I wasn't too discouraged by the presets, however; I always make
my own characters in RPGs when given the chance. Not in my own image, mind you
– in BioWare games especially, the goal is simply to make someone who looks
human enough that I won't hate staring at them for 30 hours. But Andromeda
doesn't make it easy. After five years of development and a multimillion dollar
budget, BioWare couldn't make more than 12 sub-Great Clips hairdos? Or beards that don't look
like a five-year-old drew them on with a sharpie?

My wife and I spent 30 minutes crafting a not-hideous Ryder,
only to be hit with the double whammy of then having to create her brother. Unfortunately,
the auto-generated model hit every branch during his fall out of the ugly tree.
My wife and I debated every potential nip and tuck like the pig surgeons from
that one Twilight Zone episode.**** "Is
it his chin? Can you move it in more? No, that's way worse. What's going on
with those cheekbones? Why can't you make the eyes smaller?" After doing our
best for 30 minutes, my wife just frowned and somberly stated, "I feel sorry for him." Brutal.

It turns out her sympathy was unnecessary; Ryder's mutant brother fits right in with the majority of Andromeda's fugly NPCs. But that's the least of their
problems – after waking up and actually chatting with some of my fellow Ark members for
10 minutes, I was ready to be put back on ice. Your first two squad members are
total duds. First there's Cora, whose most striking personality trait is her
haircut (which isn't even an option in the character creator, not that I'd opt for the Edgy Millennial anyway). Then there's Liam, whose accent is more
mysterious than even the weirdest talking frog man. Is that Australian
mixed with village idiot? I play Mass Effect for the thrill of grand sci-fi adventures
– I don't want to hang out with a bunch of lameos you'd run into at Trader

That ain't my Ryder, but her expression is dead-on…

Naturally I tried to remedy the situation by ditching those sapien
squares and find some aliens, but Andromeda's introductory ETs don't fare
much better. You've got Lexi
T'Perro, an Asari doctor with a drooling problem; Nakmor Kesh, who sounds less
like a Krogan and more like a drunk Alison Janey; and Suvi Anwar, whose species
is…resurrected Chucky doll? I guess Suvi is technically human based on her
Scottish accent, which I assume was chosen to fulfill the obligatory Scotty
quota. On the bright side, Kumail Nanjiani does a fine job as a nerd Salarian wrestling
for political control of the Nexus space station…though that thread isn't particularly convincing given the fact that everyone just stands eternally in their designated spot waiting to
squawk dialogue at you. I'm starting to think my popsicle bro is the lucky one.

My first disillusioning night with Andromeda got a little
hazy at this point because I was starting to doze off. This happens frequently
when I play games, so I'm not blaming Andromeda outright, but the intro
certainly wasn't doing anything to wake me up. One thing I do remember through
the Memento-esque, microsleep haze was a crew
member desperately pleading (while dead-faced, mind you) for my help – some piece of
machinery is on the fritz and needs to be fixed ASAP! I nodded off for another
10 minutes or so, then woke up, scanned a thing with my wrist doodad, and
flipped a switch. "PHEW!" the crew member said (still dead-faced), "That
could've blown up the whole ship!" Riiiiiiiiight.

I called it quits for the evening shortly after the reveal
of my new ship, the Tempest. The next day, I replayed a good 20 minutes leading up that because
that's how much I want to get into this game – I'm not reviewing it or under
any other such obligation to remain objective. I want to enjoy Andromeda. But that doesn't blind me to its glaring

Say, for instance, a bug I ran into on Planet Prologue,
where one of the characters I was there to rescue hovered around the
battlefield in a "T" position. I'm definitely not equipped to deal with
whatever space disease she's got – better cross her off the potential romance

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At points during my playthrough it feels like I'm the alien, sent to observe my weird human
crew like an intergalactic Jane Goodall. "Subject likes to casually walk up
onto furniture and then be confused as to how it got up there. Subject also frequently
goes out of its way to jump over waist-high objects instead of walking around
them. On the bright side, I believe I have observed some sort of primitive
courtship ritual."

Stilted animation transitions and chuggy framerates also surprisingly frequent occurrences. These are honestly
problems I never anticipated. It's hard to overstate how far the bar has moved
for triple-A games over the past half-decade; adding a boost jump to your combat
isn't enough to keep up with the status quo.

After my second disappointing night with Andromeda, I began
questioning my own feelings. I just got done playing one stellar
open-world game – maybe I'm just not in the mood to start another one. This
is essentially the it's-not-you-it's-me argument of video games, but in this
case it's not entirely true – a LOT of it is you. Andromeda's most
intriguing systems – character progression, crafting, and even just your damned
objectives – are buried in dozens of nested folders, and the UI for navigating
them is worse than Windows' File Explorer. Wait a second…I think I just figured out why you're called the Pathfinder!

But the biggest letdown so far has been the story. The setup
is all well and good: An unproven crew ventures out into the unknown to colonize
new worlds and push the boundaries of interspecies humping. So far though I've
just been driving around a big desert planet, running errands and playing an
extraterrestrial version of Sudoku (seriously, the worst encryption method EVER). The Kett, Andromeda's deadly new threat,
are just a bunch of boring boneheads who blindly lumber towards you in battle
even as your squadmates shoot them at point-blank range. It doesn't help that
characters look like they've been run through a random-expression generator
during cutscenes. Is that a pain-induced grimace, or did you just smell a fart?
Either way, I blame Liam.

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I'm also going to go ahead and blame Liam for whatever this mess is.

I'm still waiting on the whole meaningful-choices-thing too.
BioWare decided to get rid of the Paragon/Renegade system, which is fine – the
world is full of shades of gray, and video games should reflect that. But so
far I've only had two "interrupt" choices. The first was to push PeeBee off of
me (quit your damn roughhousing, PeeBee!). The second was to literally jump
in a hole. The option almost feels sarcastic; I'm guessing its creation went
something like this:

Employee #1: Hey, the
boss insists we add more interrupt choices. Any ideas?
Employee #2: Go jump
in a f—ing hole.
Employee #1: That will
Employee #2: …wait,

Like far-off stars in the night sky, I've only seen the occasional
twinkling glimmer of what I love about Mass Effect in Andromeda so far. But my
criticisms come with a huge, silver-lining caveat: I'm only about a dozen hours
into the game, and I'm still hopeful for what's to come. Maybe my dull squad
mates will be more interesting once I delve into their loyalty missions; maybe
Andromeda's other planets will contain more intriguing surprises and
activities. Maybe some freaky new alien species will come swaggering in and rock
my world. Maybe I'll find out what the deal is with this sentient roll of tape. Part of what I love about science fiction is that it makes the outlandish
seem possible, and those possibilities still exist in Andromeda.

I'm also encouraged by BioWare's commitment to improve the
game, as evidenced by yesterday's patch (I haven't gotten to check it out yet,
but here's hoping "dead face" is a thing of the past). BioWare has always taken
fan feedback seriously; they were even willing to change the ending of
their years-long trilogy (a
decision I was against and still am so eat it, haters), so you know they're
willing to tackle larger problems. With that in mind, I figured I'd end today's
column with my own special list of improvements and additions I'd like to see
going forward, which are guaranteed to make the game super popular. You're welcome, BioWare!

#1: Make SAM Wacky
Ryder has an A.I. companion that speaks to her via neural
implant, but its personality is just another monotone HAL-wannabe. SAM is a
great opportunity to liven things up; he's already literally in Ryder's head,
so he should try to get in her head
by constantly messing with her. Just imagine the possibilities: Ryder is in the
middle of a heated debate with her crew over a life-or-death decision, when all
of a sudden SAM starts making farting noises that only she can hear! The comedic possibilities are endless (though 99 percent of them involve more farting noises)! SAM is with Ryder for every step of her journey – he should have the witty quips and one-liners to go along with it.

#2: Better Sound
Andromeda could really use better sound effects, and I'm not
talking about the pew-pew-pews of your laser guns. Just imagine how much
Andromeda's romance scenes would be enhanced with a well-timed slide whistle
(the "boyoyoyiiinggg" of an oversized spring would also work). Also, BioWare
would have a much easier time conveying the dramatic tension of a scene with the classic "Bum-bum-BUUUUMMM!" music cue. Is Yakkity Sax public domain yet? The developers
should look into that ASAP.

As I mentioned, I'm just not feeling a connection to my new
squad mates, but maybe it's because I haven't gotten to know them yet. What
better way to bond with your crew than if you all periodically gathered around
the command center and played the classic fill-in-the-blank word game? "[CREW
SIZE], [COLOR] [BODY PART] when they accidentally [VERB ENDING IN -ED] it into [DIFFERENT CREW MEMBER]'s [BODILY ORIFICE]." Adding Mad
Libs to the game would also accommodate Andromeda's facial animations – it no
longer matters if you can't tell whether an NPC is laughing or horrified, because
both are appropriate responses!

#4: Nomad Customization
Forget weapons and armor plating – I'm talking obnoxious
flame decals, personalized bumper stickers ("Honk
if you're horny, and I don't mean literal bony outgrowths, you weird alien
), and truck nuts. That last one would be even better if you could
customize which species you're talking about…though ground clearance might be
an issue if you go Krogan.

#4: Better Personalities
Practically all your crewmates need personality makeovers,
and I've got some great suggestions.
First, there should be a character who is also trying to bang everyone else on
the ship, because it's a little unseemly for our hero to be the horniest person
in the galaxy. Second, how about an obnoxious guy who is always injecting space
politics into every damn conversation – just make sure to also include the
option to flush him out an airlock. Finally, give one of your squad mates a
cool catchphrase that they say in response to everything, like "A-sari 'bout that!" or "Give Mama
Krogan some sugar!" If you feel the need to explain why they all randomly woke
up with different personalities one day, just say they flew through a Personality
Shifting Vortex. It makes as much sense as those giant Scourge clouds…

#5: More Aliens
Come on, BioWare! Where are the cool new aliens?! Here are a
couple suggestions to patch in. First, I know it's probably a glitch, but you should make that sentient can of space beans Hanson ran into an official squad mate. Other options: machines that transform into other machines,
another machine that's made out of liquid metal, and an alien that has a
smaller mouth inside its mouth and then another even smaller mouth inside that
one. Oh, and throw in Alf, too. That dude's hilarious!

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*I realize this probably isn't applicable to a lot of people. (back to top)
**Yes, I know the character's name is actually Joker, and Seth Green is voice actor. I stand by that statement. (back to top)
***At that point EA had yet to peddle Liara's relationship in paid DLC like a gross pimp. (back to top)
***Look, I know I'm screwing up the episode's metaphor again
because he'd actually be normal-looking in this scenario, but YOU STILL KNOW
WHAT I MEAN. (back to top)

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