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Video Game Tune Up: Mass Effect

I could have added yet another Mass Effect review to the heaping pile, like so many pimply-faced prepubescents slapping pepperoni onto Meat Lover's pizzas at Domino's. However, having noted that there are more or less two kinds of Mass Effect blog entries:

Mr. Happy
"I'm loving this game, it's everything I imagined, here are my thoughts in the form of between 15 and 10,000 words"

Mr. Not So Happy
"Me no likey, this sucks and this sucks and this sucks"

...I see that I, like some others, fall somewhere in the middle. Don't get me wrong, I ravaged this game and tore my way through it with the tenacity of a rabid cougar (as shown below), but I see some areas for improvement. The difference between this and the many other times people have pointed out Mass Effect flaws is that I, your brave host, will attempt to provide actual ways to improve the game for the inevitable and already-anticipated sequel. Don't worry, I'll warn you if I get into spoiler territory. Oh, and you might notice the glaring omission of one problem with the game: graphics (pop-in, texture issues, etc.). I am not a technical wizard and don't know what else to suggest accept to say "hey, fix that....and don't make shit pop in all over the place". Not very captivating. So I'll stick to other, maybe less obvious things.

See? A rabid cougar

Mass Effect for Xbox 360

Tighten up an already-solid game, fix some nagging peripheral aspects, and make sure the sequel satisfies even more than the first one has.


ISSUE 1- Money and inventory systems useless and/or drenched in lame sauce

Like many, many games of this type, you start the game pinching pennies and doing whatever you can to make a little extra money. Maybe you even glance through the achievements and raise your eyebrows at the fact that you can amass 1 million credits. Then, after awhile in the game, you realize that a)you rarely, if ever, need to buy items because you find them, oh, everywhere and b)even if you do buy items, you will make more than enough money selling your useless ones to still end up with more money than a government employee should ever have.

The first part of the fix is easy. Put less stuff in the game world! Every time you open something, you find three, count 'em three items. Why is that? Why not two, or four, or *gasp* one? Only BioWare knows for sure. Before you know it, you end up with way more items than your crew could ever use, and usually you find better items than what can be bought anyway, rendering the merchants and money itself useless. So just stop putting so much crap everywhere to be found. Make people *buy* items more. Other than that, the economic system needs to be balanced much better. This is an aspect of RPG's and other types of games as well that often gets overlooked. Mass Effect is much like a Tiger Woods game, where after a very short amount of time, the money you make is pointless and you cease to care about making more. That has to change.

The other problem that the excess crap you accumulate brings about is the really poor inventory interface. For instance, let's say you've been lazy and haven't gotten rid of useless crap in awhile. If you want to get rid of weapon upgrades, you have to go in to a character's weapon, then go to the upgrade slot, and find the item you want to vaporize into Omni-Gel (since you don't need money). The problem is that there's no way to highlight multiple items. Why not let people select multiple items at once to sell or dispose of? Seems easy enough.

Finally, one thing that irked me is that when you're, say, on your ship and want to buy some crap for your crew, you can see what *you've* got equipped and how it stacks up (or what your two compadres with you are carrying, if you're on a mission), but not what characters that aren't presently with you have. So if you've got Liara on the bench, you have no immediate way of knowing whether the Biotic Amp you're checking out beats the one she has. You also can't look at character abilities unless they are right by your side. So early in the game, you may not remember what type of guns someone can use, and you can't simply check unless they are with you (and even that requires you to leave the "store" menu and go into the pause menu). These are small gripes, but would make inventory much more efficient, allowing the player to spend more time, you know, doing something fun.

"OK, how much for me and my brother? Errr...not at the same time. Unless that's cool."

ISSUE 2- New worlds, same monotony

I'm giving Mass Effect a pass on this, but if they plan on at least making two sequels, they are going to have to make the worlds more distinctive. Every time, literally every time you land on a new world, you find yourself surrounded by mountains and rough terrain that looks pretty much the same, only the sky/ground/etc. might have different colors to them. The reason I give a pass to the first game in the series is that the sheer size of the game universe makes this flaw understandable and tolerable, but if people boot up Mass Effect 2 and see the same old shit, they're not going to be happy. I know many of these planets are not very hospitable to life and blah blah blah, but can we get some distinctive plant life? How about wild creatures? I mean other than geth and those huge worm things that pop up and wake you up from your repetitive terrain-induced coma. I'm okay with the fact that oh, 80-90% of the planets on the map can't be interacted with in any meaningful way, and I'm fine with the idea of those planets being placeholders for later content or sequels. But don't add more planets if you can't make the ones you do have distinctive from one another. I mean, none of the side quest planets have lakes or oceans? Come oooooooonnnn.

The buildings you encounter in the game (particularly side quests) are also largely the same. After awhile you know them by heart and don't even need to consult your map. One of my favorites was the old "small room, then huge room filled with enemies, leading to hallway with two small rooms that may or may not contain anything worthwhile". Again, understandable for the first game considering all the things that the game did so well, but for Mass Effect 2, that's gotta go.

Also, imagine my disappointment upon realizing that you can't travel to Earth or any of the other 8 planets in our immediate area. It would have been cool to go to Mars or even Earth, as stupid as that sounds. I know you're thinking, "why would you buy an intergalactic RPG to go to the one planet out of hundreds that you've already SEEN?" And to that I say, shut up, your logic has no place here.

ISSUE 3- More boobs, please

Oh, stop. You know you want to see them.

I'd hit it.

ISSUE 4- Open-ended?

One of the problems with planning on making a trilogy right away is making the player's choices meaningful in the sequels while maintaining a cohesive narrative throughout. Here's what I mean.

Let's say that your character makes two decisions that change the game world in some meaningful way (which BioWare certainly wants you to believe you can do). Let's say that in a trilogy, each game has two such decisions. Each game would lead to four different possibilities. So after the first Mass Effect, you would have four four combinations from the two choices you had, which would seemingly change the story for the second game in some way (BioWare has said that saved game files from Mass Effect can be used for Mass Effect 2).

How does BioWare make a sequel that takes into account that players have already changed the game world in a significant way, and how do they continue to do that for the 3rd game? After all, take those four possibilities we talked about, and if the sequel had two big choices you now have sixteen possibilities for the third game.

The one thing that could take the wind out of many player's sails is if the choices they make have only a very small impact on the story as it evolves. If I play through Mass Effect and then Mass Effect 2, and despite all the things I did *my* way, I end up with essentially same story in Mass Effect 3 as someone who played the game completely differently, then what was the point of all the choices I made?

I'm not too concerned about this because I'm sure BioWare has taken these things into account. If you market a trilogy as a series where your decisions echo through the game universe, and then you end up making players feel like passive victims of a fate they can't change, that's obviously not going to go over well. I do wonder how they're going to continue to expand the game world, while taking into account the previous things players have done and giving more and more possibilities through each successive game, but that's why they're getting paid and I'm eating off the dollar menu.


--It would be nice to see even slight changes in dialogue after smaller or side quests and not just the main story quests.

--Hopefully the characters that were in Mass Effect will carry over to the sequel and beyond. SPOILER ALERT Regarding Issue #4 above, the easy thing for BioWare to do would be to put you with a new crew in the next game, rendering your choices regarding Ashley/Kaiden and Wrex inconsequential. It would be nice though, if those choices carry through to the new game and the surviving members join you, or at least some of them (others, like Tali, seem poised to leave anyway). If not, cameo appearances?SPOILER BYE-BYE

--Don't tinker with the combat too much! Many of us actually liked it, warts and all. The occasional slowdown would not be missed, however. And I think more biotic powers will be in order, but that's obvious.

--And finally, a question. If you reprise your role as Shepard in the next game, how will the game handle levelling? Will your already-badass character just get more and more badass, or will there be a story that will take things in a different route. Maybe we will be like Steven Seagal in the film classic "Hard To Kill", and awake from a coma only to find that ohhhh shnap! We have to retrain everything! Let's hope not.

Hmmm...where's the option for "Let's go half on a baby"? (c) R. Kelly?


Despite a few areas for improvement, most of the things that can be done in the sequel are relatively slight changes that reflect a slight progression from a great first game to what should be an even better next installment. With many of the core elements in place, BioWare should be able to devote their time to making the next installments really blow us away, and I doubt they'll disappoint.
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About Jon Hartleyone of us since 12:39 PM on 04.26.2007

Formerly "akathatoneguy".

I've been on D-toid for quite some time, and I got into video games back in the NES days.

My console history pretty much goes like this...NES->Genesis->Playstation->PS2->Xbox 360 (+PS3). I've also briefly owned an N64, Dreamcast, and a bunch of portable systems. Because I missed out on a good three generations of Nintendo, I've also missed out on plenty of classics. Plus, I had years in high school where I didn't play games much at all, or stuck mainly to (gasp!) sports games. Have no fear, fellow gamers...I have since renounced my evil ways and opened myself up to worlds of amazing games that don't involve sticks, or...er, balls. Okay, I worded that awkwardly.

I'm also into sports, movies, and other stuff that is pretty much enjoyed by most everybody. My main hobbies are MMA (mostly watching, although I do jiu-jitsu and have done some kickboxing), the Chicago Bears/Cubs, and video games. I read comics when I have time in an effort to become a more well-rounded nerd, also. I'm finishing up college right now and I haven't worked a "regular" job in about five years now. Instead, I've been a freelance writer and written MMA columns at various sites (currently Fightmania.com).

I would LOVE to write about video games professionally, and I think I'm ready to do so. I've resurrected my c-blog going again partially in an effort to reach that goal, and partially because I just like to be able to connect with other people about the games I experience and topics in the gaming industry.

Inquiries, love letters, marriage proposals, and amazing job offers go to akathatoneguy [at] hotmail [dot] com.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @ItsJonHartley. I'll be happy to follow back fellow Dtoiders!

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