A Tale of Two Games

Playing Horizon: Zero Dawn and Mass Effect: Andromeda has presented me with case of starkly different experiences and level of enjoyment. These are the latest two games that I have played through the main story lines of and they feel worlds apart. Exactly what transpired to make either of these games what they are will never be known to those outside of the respected developers, in fact it may never be known with precision to them either.  What I and many others are left to do is ponder what we see and experienced with both games then try to piece out why they were so divergent to us.

The Set Up

Horizon: Zero Dawn came out to much splendor and wonder when it was released. This new IP from the people that made Killzone was almost completely unknown but it looked to be so far different from the studio’s past works that many were questioning if they could pull it off.  We knew so little of it for so long and even at its release many were unsure what lay inside of the game. Of course the Sony marketing machine was pushing it hard as a console exclusive so that it could give even more reason to buy into the PlayStation platform for those that have not already. For those that have, it was another entry on the console that got a suspicious look since Sony has offered successful exclusives like Bloodborne but also tragic flops like The Order: 1886. Luckily Horizon is showing to be more like the former and not the latter.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced after after fans had reluctantly said goodbye after the conclusion of the title’s original trilogy. The way in which that series ended left many to wonder where Bioware could go with a new entry in the franchise but they slowly revealed how they planned to do so and it sparked fans’ imagination all over again with what they may be doing or where they may be going. There were little doubts that Bioware could deliver a solid title to an existing franchise since it had a hardy fan base and the studio has proven its quality with other franchises as well. This game didn’t need marketing because it already had a loyal fan base just waiting to play more in the game universe they loved. In a sad and unfortunate situation, the game is not what many were expecting but some are still hoping not all is lost.

Technical

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Working in a brand new engine seemed like an added layer of risk that was unnecessary but proved to be worth it. The game looks fantastic in every way, whether you are running through a jungle or across a desert the game rarely falters at rendering the world in all its splendor. The art that was created for this game is displayed in stunning fashion through out the game.  The one knock that works against the game is the lipsync issues in almost every single cutscene.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Working in a different engine may have been a risk that did not pay off. Whether or not the transition from Unreal to Frostbite was the culprit will never be apparent. What we can see is the effects when cutscenes fail to load, NPC’s lock their bodies into a t-formation, game progress stops because the next stage won’t activate, and the list unfortunately goes on. The art work is fine in the game and some of the vista looks gorgeous. In fact, the galaxy map and all of the planets are quite impressive indeed. The technical issues of this game could have been overlooked a bit if there were not so many of them and did not occur with the frequency in which they do.

Mechanics

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Combat is smooth and crisp only getting better as you obtain more abilities and weapons. Switching weapons and tactics to attack various enemies is nearly seamless. You will be doing a fair amount of crafting if you plan to keep you bag full of traps and potions. Also, be prepared to do a lot of collecting to be able to craft all the things you need especially early on. This gets a bit cumbersome in and of itself only to be exacerbated by constantly hitting the limit of items you are able to carry. Once you start gathering quest by talking to people and working through the game, it will be necessary to decide which ones you want to pursue and it can be unclear what quest you should pursue and when.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

In a somewhat odd twist for a Mass Effect game, the combat is one of the best parts. Any encounter can be approached in any style or combination of guns and abilities. Your squadmates are aggressive almost to a fault and the enemies don’t just sit in cover but will try to flank you keeping the gameplay lively. There is also crafting and looting in this game but it seems less important as the game can be completed with doing a minimal amount of each. Inventory restrictions are a concern as well but a patch has somewhat alleviated this . At a certain point you start getting inundated with side missions to the point it is overwhelming. The only way I found to avoid this was to stop talking to NPC’s for a while so you can clear out your mission list a bit.

Narrative

Horizon: Zero Dawn

You start with a handheld intro the game’s world but are quickly set loose upon it. Characters feel dry and void at first but as the story progresses each reveals layer of personality and motivation. The development of the main character is one of my favorite aspects of the game and it was very well done how the writers grew her from an angry child to a thoughtful young woman. The context of the world and the story behind it is laid out piece by piece in such a satisfying fashion and pace that it is easy to lose track of how long your session has been going. Even though I finished the main story I longed to go back and complete some if not all of the side quest. The cauldrons were fantastic and offered rewards for completing them so they felt worthwhile.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

You’re literally pulled out into a world in chaos that just keeps spinning. As you are meeting people along the way they try to offer expositions of their background and why they are there with you but with few exceptions these back stories are dull and lifeless leaving the characters you are going to be dealing with for many hours nearly devoid of interest. Whether you play the male or female character, little circumstance is apparent from the choices you make and the weird, quirky character you start out as is pretty much what you end up as in the end. The mysterious vaults that you are tasked to revive feature diverse but have muddling mechanics that only lead to be further frustrating when you do complete them and don’t feel much sense of reward. You’ve progressed in the story and made a world more livable but the moment falls flat.

Conclusions

Neither game is perfect by any means. Comparing the two though I must give a strong nod to Horizon: Zero Dawn in all categories listed above. It is my feeling that Mass Effect: Andromeda still could turn out but has many issues to overcome in order to do so. The technical issues are are going to be the easiest to correct but I can’t even begin to imagine how they can correct the narrative issues. It is not that the story is bad but a bit jumpy, dry and takes to long to deliver something to connect with. There is potential with Andromeda to move forward and continue the series if they can fix their issues. Whereas Horizon leaves me in a quandary.  They put far more story into this game than I expected and sewed up the story fairly well but left an opening to continue. What they left open, however, makes me wonder if a second game would feel as good.

At this point, I am still playing Mass Effect: Andromeda but wondering why. As I keep playing I keep hitting the beats, seeing what they were trying to do but just not feeling it. The need to somehow bring meaning or redemption to this game is either my enduring love to the original trilogy or just plain stubbornness on my part to not know when to give up. When I can break myself of this, I will return to Horizon: Zero Dawn. There are a few quest I have that I want to see the conclusion of and I know that I have not completed all of the cauldrons yet.

In the end I feel that Horizon: Zero Dawn benefited from what could have been it Achille’s Heal – nobody knowing what it would be and delivering a beautiful, breathtaking story and world. Whereas Mass Effect: Andromeda may have suffered from what people came to expect from the previous games versus what could have been done with this one.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

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