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27Jan/100

Final Thoughts: Mass Effect

I had Mass Effect 2 all day yesterday, and I did not play it. I deprived myself, though I wanted nothing more than to bathe in its sweet nectar. Instead, I beat the original Mass Effect, something that I hadn't done before, what with my rage and hatred for the game.

I wanted to beat Mass Effect before playing the sequel for two reasons.
Reason the First: To see how it ends, so I know what is going on in the sequel without resorting to cheap summaries.
Reason the Second: To import my Lady Shepard into the second game, something that supposedly leads to an unprecedented level of plot customization.

All the reviews say that importing your character leads all sorts of things to change in the game based on your decisions. Characters whom you chose to keep alive will show up, your prior adventures will be discussed, that sort of thing. The idea appeals to me greatly, so I couldn't bring myself to start the sequel without first beating the original, and overall, I am very glad I did.

So, now that the game, in its entirety, is fresh in my mind, here are some final thoughts, and how they compare to my original rant a few days ago. Note that these will contain massive spoilers, because otherwise I find the writing ends up sounding too vague.

The Story

I need to bring this up first. The story of Mass Effect is absolutely amazing. I hadn't a clue just how wonderfully epic it gets towards the end, and although I usually see plot twists coming from a mile away, there were a few things here that I did not see coming. While I expected to learn that the Citadel and Relays were not built by the Protheans, it was too convenient for them to have done it when we learned that the cycle of extermination had been going on for many millions of years, I did not expect them to be the Reapers' work. In fact, just about everything we find out about the Reapers late in the game was exciting, from chatting with one in Saren's office to learning why they built the Citadel.

The finale alone is worth the entry price of mediocre combat and terrible space-buggy sections. It is incredibly well done, paced perfectly, and suitably epic. Even with my ambivalence towards the combat, I found the last push towards the Sovereign, running along the tower gunning down Geth, to be exhilirating, and the interludes showing massive space fleet combat going on around me helped keep me engaged.

I was also going to give the game bonus points for letting me talk the villain into blowing his own brains out, something I find much more satisfying than a boss fight, and done to perfection in my favorite game of all time... but then they went and made me fight a robot version of him right after, so boo BioWare, no bonus points for you!

And the characters! Oh the characters, they were a joy to get to know. There were also some tough decisions to be made, including a moment where you have to choose whether Ashley or Kaidan must be sacrificed for the cause. Even though I had no great attachment to Kaidan beforehand, I still felt genuine sorrow once he was gone, and I love how BioWare set the mood, changing the music aboard Normandy, and having to deal with Ashley's guilt.

Overall, I have to say that this is one of BioWare's best stories, and I've already gone into how well fleshed out the world is in a previous post, which is another huge strength of the game, and helps make the story as tight and cohesive as it is.

The Combat

I still didn't like the combat much, I'm just not much of a fan of shooters unless they're exceptional, and this is not an exceptional shooter.

However, once you get used to it, there is some tactical depth to the game, and the biotic powers get to be a lot of fun once you level them up sufficiently. The biggest problems with the game here probably lie in the cover system, which is very finnicky, and poor AI both for your companions and the enemies.

I longed for the kind of prolonged shootouts you get in Gears of War, popping out from behind cover and sniping enemies similarly hidden.

Instead, the enemies tend to rush and swarm you, and since you get a game over if your main character dies, you get some frustrating deaths this way, especially since snipers and rockets can one-shot you easily early on. Your allies aren't much better in the brains department, milling around, getting in the way of your gunfire (especially a certain Krogan), and dying for no good reason.

The balance is all over the place too, I did a lot of sidequests early on and they were incredibly hard (on Normal difficulty), but afterwards, going back to the main quest, I was sufficiently leveled up that most of the story missions ended up being very easy. I guess that's better than a constantly punishing difficulty, but it would be nice if the game could keep some consistency in how hard it wanted to be.

The Interface

The interface is terrible. Seriously, they should be ashamed for releasing this sort of garbage UI in this day and age. Even ignoring my personal pet issue: the X button both skipping dialogue and selecting dialogue options, the entire thing is a mess.

The inventory takes up too much space, without telling you enough. Your items get put into enormous lists, which are at least sorted by category in the Inventory screen. Not so when selling though, there you get one giant list of all your items, and good luck finding the one you want to sell.

There's an arbitrary 150 item limit, and once you get close, the game prompts you to disassemble items into "omni-gel," but the interface for this is once again a giant list, where you can only salvage one item at a time, and each time you do, you get sent back to the top of the list.

Want to disassemble three items that happen to be at the bottom of the list? Good luck, you'll be there a while.

I could go on and on about this, but you get the point, suffice to say, I don't believe they had a real UI designer, programmer, or artist working on this. If they did, those people should be ashamed.

The Mako

Ah the Mako, the single worst thing about the game, even considering the barely-usable interface.

Even though I was committed to beating this game last night, even though I knew that I would not give up, and that I would finish the game before starting the sequel, I still wanted to quit the game in disgust and never play it again every time a Mako sequence would start.

I find it hard to articulate just what it is about these sequences that fill me with such intense rage. Maybe it's the fact that trying to maneuver around the terrains in this thing would often make me grit my teeth in rage, as it failed to turn the way I wanted, or would bounce from hill to hill getting turned around.

Maybe it's because unlike everything else in the game, there was no RPG aspect at work, as terrible as the Mako was at the start of the game, it never got any better.

Maybe it was because I got the distinct feeling that this was one of the "pet features" that some clueless person with too much power insisted got tacked onto a game that didn't need it.

Maybe it was because every planet I "explored" using the Mako had the exact same mine shaft or underground complex on it, just with slightly different enemies.

I don't know, I don't want to think about it anymore. All I can say for sure is that this stupid buggy made me quit the game without beating it once, and I missed out on an awesome story as a result. It adds nothing worthwhile to the game, and I'm glad as hell that it's gone in Mass Effect 2.

Overall

Mass Effect is a game with a fantastic story, memorable characters, and passable third-person combat. It's definitely worth playing, and if you like science fiction, RPGs, or even just a great narrative, you owe it to yourself to complete it.

Unfortunately it's also a game that tries it's damnedest to make you stop playing it in disgust, whether via its terrible UI, or rage-inducing space buggy sequences.

Do not let it break your will, gentle reader! Persevere! If you do, you will find plenty to like in BioWare's sci-fi epic.

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