So as some of you may know, I’ve spent the last few weeks dedicating my game time to the completion of Mass Effect. I knew I’d want it out of the way before GTAIV released or else it’d be left in the dust. Luckily, I just finished it this afternoon and am ready to share my thoughts on it.
I’m going to look at all the portions of the game that stood out to me, of which there were many. Some good, some bad, all interesting. Please read on and see what I thought about this past Christmas’ massive sci-fi RPG.
I can’t even hold in how much I loved Mass Effect’s story. Ever since I was a little boy the thrill of the unknown and what lies beyond our knowledge of our galaxy and the universe at large has fascinated me. I recall the first time my uncle gave me copies of the original Star Wars trilogy. I was in third grade and for three nights in a row I laid in front of the TV with wide eyes and my jaw on the floor. These were the most breathtaking films my young self had ever seen. Thus began my love of science fiction.
My love of Star Wars followed me through much of junior high and high school (the approximate time all the remakes and prequels were coming out), but since then my love of Star Wars specifically has dwindled. My love of science fiction has not, though. Playing through Mass Effect was sort of like watching the Star Wars films for the first time, only now I had a direct effect on the outcome of the entire story. That couldn’t have made me happier.
Without revealing any spoilers, I can earnestly say that Mass Effect has the most breathtaking and interesting storyline of any RPG I have ever played. The amount of information that was cram packed into the game to give the world(s) life is still astounding to think about. Above and beyond a quality story or believable characters, the premise of HOW everything happened (as it pertains to the time between now and the future, where the game takes place) is that it makes sense. In my mind, it’s completely plausible that the chain of events that occurred in the game’s past could potentially occur in our future.
**Side Note: Am I the only LOST fan that named their male character Jack Shepard? Anyone else? Anyone?**
Everything, and I mean everything, was thought through. Not only that, most of it was also explicitly collected and strewn about for you to find on your own accord. Not much is spoon fed to you, unless it comes from a core storyline conversation. Whether by immersing yourself in conversations with NPCs or wandering planets collecting loot and data, there is a wealth of knowledge to be had here and all of it is keenly presented and wonderfully thought out, but only if YOU want to find it. Genius.
**Side Note: My personal favorite explanation was the guns used, which never reload because blocks of metal are shorn off and accelerated using Mass Effect fields to create pseudo-bullets. Fascinating way of fitting the story around the gameplay, in my opinion.**
Story Score: 10/10 – If it weren’t for the release of GTAIV tomorrow I would literally have restarted the game again immediately after finishing it. As it stands, I’ll likely revisit it this summer during the inevitable game drought. It’s that fascinating to me.
Overall, I had a ton of fun playing through this game. I can’t really say that about many RPGs with the exception of Jade Empire, and even that game got superbly tedious for me over the course of the game. Even Oblivion became too easy as I amassed a ton of powerful armor and simply destroyed everyone in a few hits. I liked the variety in weapons and powers in Mass Effect and although I came up with my core strategy fairly early on, each battle was always enjoyable if only for the fact I loved watching enemies melt away as I blasted them into oblivion.
There are a few gripes I have with the game play, though. The primary problem I had being the Mako sections, which were FAR too prevalent for my liking. The driving mechanics were simply not good enough to warrant so much driving. The little ATV/tank beast jumped and bounced like a damn frog the moment I hit any sort of bump. Also, the fact it could literally NEVER be flipped upside down due to the limited physics engine while driving meant that I was often drawn out of the realm of believability as I bound off a mountain side tumbling and hitting rocks only to have the Mako magically correct itself or simply never do anything but stay upright. Lame.
The fact the steering was a poor mix between Halo’s vehicle controls and a regular racing game mixed into a muddled mess. I don’t think actual accelerate and steering buttons would have been a bad idea. That or they should have the controls completely mirror Halo’s. Trying to steer the Mako was one of the most frustrating experiences in the entire game. The fact it never became any easier over the course of the game was even more frustrating. If you came to a stop or slowed too much it became almost impossible to make precise turns, and venturing across mountains meant that happened very often.
The other big issue I had was the complete lack of any tutorials whatsoever. It took me literally ¾ of the game to figure out that the Mako had a cannon on its turret. Being taught how to drive a vehicle your character HAS NEVER SEEN before right away would likely have fit perfectly within the context of the story. Why it was left out is beyond me. If it was meant to make me feel like I was “exploring” the world on my own, then BioWare can go fuck themselves, ‘cause all it did was piss me off.
**Side Note: Fuck collection quests. I don’t wanna investigate the galaxy for a god damn pile of rocks or a data disc or some shit, especially when there is no notation marking which planets I’ve been to, which ones I have scanned, or where I found the artifacts and shit I did collect. Give me some feedback so I can remember this shit, BioWare. Thanks.**
Color me retarded but it also took me roughly ¾ of the game to realize I could use all the weapons. I often bitched to my roommate (who would often sit and watch me play) that, as a Vanguard, I didn’t like that all the weapons appeared on my character’s model. I thought it’d be better if character types only had their specialized weapons on them so you could tactically discern which enemies were which types of warriors in combat.
Jim Sterling... in SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE! Seriously, I never found a space monocle. Fuckers.
At the very beginning I picked Vanguard because of his offensive biotic capabilities and the fact he specialized in highly accurate pistols and shotguns (my favorite type of weapon in ANY game I play). The Vanguard’s description lead me to believe I could only use those weapons. When I opened the weapon wheel and rolled over an assault rifle (or sniper rifle) it claimed I was “untrained” in the use of that gun, so I never bothered equipping it. That was, until I saw Talia holding an assault rifle in the middle of a fight one time. How the fuck could my engineer be holding a gun they aren’t trained to use? So I tried and, sure enough, I could use an assault rifle, too. I could even use a sniper rifle, although I couldn’t zoom with it due to lack of training so it was pretty much worthless. Again, this lack of explanation/tutorial REALLY pissed me off. The whole game I had been giving all my best assault rifles to Garrus and Wrex because they could use them and I “couldn’t.” But I could, I just didn’t know it. Fuckin’ BioWare.
I also rarely used the “Squad Commands” because I could never remember which buttons did what. I just rushed into battles and let my two allies fend for themselves, rarely forcing them to use certain powers or take up shelter behind any specific structures. Since Shepard becomes a commanding officer for the first time in the beginning of the game, I think a squad command tutorial should have clearly been included.
In general, the game should have had more tutorials. I had read before I played it back when it came out about people getting pissed due to the learning curve, so I was somewhat prepared going into it. The fact I still came across game mechanics I had no idea existed ¾ of the way through the game really angered me, though. Again, I feel the tutorials easily could have been fit within the story’s context and wouldn’t have detracted from the experience whatsoever, in fact, I think the game would have greatly been improved because of it.
Game Play Score: 8/10 – This likely would have been a perfect ten if it weren’t for sorely lacking tutorials to explain the game mechanics to the player. A little explanation would have gone a long way.
Due to size limitations, please visit the second half here: Pt. 2!