Bargain Gaming – Mass Effect

Posted on Jan 05 2012

Hey fans! Did you guys miss me? I hope you all had a fun holiday full of family, friends, and, most importantly, video games! And while it’s been nice to relax these last few weeks, I’m itching to get back into reviewing games for you again. These last three months have been full of new releases and excellent games have become almost a dime a dozen as we emerged from Broketober into the full swing of the holiday season. To celebrate this deluge of new gaming content I’m going to be doing a new release review month to celebrate my one year anniversary with 91.8 The Fan next month, but in the meantime I’d like to look at a gaming series that will obtain the vaunted trilogy status as of March this year. That’s right; I’m referring to Bioware’s sci-fi epic, Mass Effect. Regarded by many as one of the best sci-fi games of all time, if not one of the best games overall, it has accumulated a large following and has spawned two sequels, with Mass Effect 3 coming out in early March, more than three years after the original’s release. So now seems like the perfect time to go back and look at the game that started it all and see how it holds up after all this time. Is it truly the pinnacle of science fiction gaming as some reviewers claim? Or is it just another overhyped RPG?

Well, if there’s one thing Bioware knows how to do well it’s weave a narrative, and Mass Effect is no exception. The game’s story serves as a driving force throughout, as the player works to uncover the mystery of Saren and his army of Geth and what they are trying to accomplish behind the Council’s back. This mystery quickly becomes a matter of galactic import, as you realize the threat that Saren could unleash upon the galaxy and how helpless the rest of the galaxy would be if you fail. You must travel across the galaxy to a variety of different worlds in pursuit of Saren, gathering information from these worlds in the desperate hope that you and your allies will somehow be able to stop him in time. And, without spoiling anything, the final confrontation brings it all down to the wire, as your actions determine whether or not the various races survive or if they become just another victim of the cycle. It’s really a gripping story that kept me playing even when other aspects had long since grown stale for me.

But honestly, what good is a story without a solid cast of characters to support it? Mass Effect recognizes this dilemma and quickly introduces a fascinating cast of characters, including fan favorites such as Garrus and Wrex, to your party and provides you with an interesting supporting cast as well. Characters such as Ambassador Udina, Saren, the Council, and the Rachni Queen all serve to add an extra element of depth to the game’s world, instilling an urge to explore in the player, lest they miss anything/anyone interesting. And the player’s companion characters provide additional motivation for your exploration, as you may find that you want to learn more about them just as much as you want to learn more about the game’s world and Saren. Add in a few interesting planets to explore and plenty of backstory for the player to engage themselves with and you have a world that engages the player in a way that many other RPGs can only hope to.

The final aspect that must be touched upon if we are discussing the story/world of Mass Effect is the game’s morality system, where depending upon how the player reacts to different situations and conversation prompts the player gains points towards either your Paragon (good) or Renegade (evil) score. This score affects how other characters react to you and how many points you can invest into your charm and intimidate stats respectively, opening up even more moral options to play with. As such a player who goes through the game helping everyone may have a vastly different experience than a player that shoots people because it amuses them. This adds a huge amount of replayability to the game, as curious players will have to play through the game multiple times in order to explore all of the different morality options. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your viewpoint), these decisions do little to change the actual outcome of the game, as you are forced to deal with Saren and attempt to save the galaxy regardless of what sort of morality you choose, meaning only one play through is really necessary. Your decisions do have an impact upon events in the sequels (assuming you import your save data, of course), but as a singular entry the fate of the world really doesn’t hinge upon your character’s viewpoint.

So, now that we’ve looked at the game’s strongest aspects, the story and the world based around it, let’s take a look at the game play. The mechanics are straight forward enough; it’s a third person shooter with RPG elements that allow you to customize your character’s strengths as you see fit. Depending upon the class you choose you can specialize in a variety of different weapons and techniques, though personally I found myself biased towards the simple pistol. This customization provides even more replayability to the avid gamer, but realistically over the course of a single play through you will be locked into two or three specializations. The game’s main levels are a relatively straight forward set up as well, with each main world having a starting area with an emphasis on third person shooting, a driving section where you take out enemies between points A and B, and a final area where you once again switch to the standard third person shooter style.

And here is where my first main issue with the game comes to light: the driving segments where you pilot the Mako around. Not that it’s bad in its intent, as a bit of variety within the game play can be applauded as a worthy goal. The problem comes down to execution in this case, as the Mako’s controls are clunky at best and irritatingly frustrating at worst. There were several cases where I’d just park behind an outcropping and pop out to fire a shot at my enemies before going right back to hiding rather than try any sort of actual direct combat. But this is forgivable in and of itself. The problem is that the game takes a vehicle that is awkward to control and forces you to use it every single time you want to do a side mission or explore a planet.

And that’s where my second issue comes into play, as while I greatly enjoyed Mass Effect’s main story and the mechanics that went into it, I quickly grew weary of the side content, to the point where I actually gave up with only two side missions left as I just couldn’t bear the tedium anymore. Almost every side mission after you leave the Citadel can be broken down into the following sequence: land on a planet in the Mako, rove around like an idiot looking for random ore and items before finally going to the objective on the map, kill any security forces outside, before finally entering one of two different types of buildings where you proceed to kill everyone and maybe inspect an item. Bam. Rinse and repeat. This would’ve been slightly more acceptable if A) some of the maps weren’t designed to ruin the Mako’s day and B) there were more than two building types to explore. I think I ran into a different building layout twice in all of the side missions I did, one of which was just a big open room with some pillars in it. As such the side content gets a pass from me, only being made slightly worthwhile in that it gives you some loyalty with Wrex in one case and potentially more money and equipment than you could ever possibly need.

This leads nicely into my third major gripe with this game, the inventory system. Now, I played the PC version of Mass Effect, which supposedly had the improved inventory system, and I still hated it. I’d end up having a few of each weapon type, a couple sets of armor, and over a hundred different ammo mods in no time at all. But what’s even more infuriating than this is that in order to get rid of items you have to manually dispose of them in shops of convert them into Omni-Gel one at a time. On several occasions I ended up wasted upwards of five minutes just scrolling through my inventory deleting junk items that I had accumulated lest I fill up my arbitrary 150 item limit. Add this to the fact that the inventory system was a bit clunky to begin with, and it became an additional source of frustration later in the game.

Don’t get me wrong though, as despite these gripes I still enjoyed Mass Effect a great deal and will probably go back and replay it once March rolls around in anticipation of the third game in the series. The story is excellent, the characters are fun to interact with, and I had a blast just interacting with the world at large. Add in some standard third person shooter action with a decent RPG leveling system and you have a game that definitely has earned its accolades. Just steer clear of the side content as much as possible and you’ll have a blast. As such I highly recommend it to all RPG fans and science fiction fans, as the effort put into creating this game’s world is worthy of your admiration. Now get out there and save the galaxy!

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  • Kanashimi January 5, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    It’s been a long time since I’ve played the first Mass Effect, but the second is fresh in my mind. The most glaring thing I can recall is the horrible romantic dialogue (perhaps only if you’re female Shepard), and how cringe worthy it is.

    The game as a game is fun, and the actual story is nice for both games, but I really wish that aspect didn’t feel so slapped onto two. I don’t recall having a problem with it in one ironically.

    • Bargain Gamer January 5, 2012 at 8:09 PM

      I must admit to finding the romance options in both games to be rather simple. All you have to do is interact with the person in question regularly and bam, true love. I had more fun interacting with my teammates than I did my love interests, but maybe that’s just me.

  • JinnRemona January 6, 2012 at 1:03 AM

    I wanna see you do a review on the second game now. Hear about what you think about the different changes between the two games perhaps, or the idea of the Suicide Mission at the end, and all the different outcomes involved with it.

    • Bargain Gamer January 7, 2012 at 7:34 PM

      Heh. All I can say is stay tuned. ^ ^

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