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Why Mass Effect is Wrong

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With Mass Effect 2 boldly showing its cheerful newborn face and being praised unconditionally like all newborns are, I finally got my ass around to playing the original game.

I think it’s easy to see that Bioware is not my favorite developer. In fact I think they are quite terrible. On top of the generic leprous problems absolutely every Bioware game is afflicted with, Mass Effect suffers from it’s own particular evils, mostly involving core game elements.

I’ll get to those later though, for now I need to get all of the aesthetic and technical failures out of the way.

First of all, I’ll say that I played the PC version, which, according to every review ever, improved upon the original in such a fantastic way that it was undoubtedly the best version, and arguably the best port of any game to date.

I don’t know what kind of diamond-laced supergame the reviewers got, but I wish I got it too.

The game I played looked terrible, despite apparently sporting higher resolutions and better textures. No amount of finagling with the limited visual options fixed this. The shadows were blocky and horrible, character models looked like something a college undergrad cooked up, and the maps looked terrible. There were also visual glitches while adventuring planetside. With the system requirements as high as they are, I was hoping for something that looked nice. Half Life 2 looks better than this, and that was released 3 years prior to Mass Effect, and 4 years prior to the port.

The sound was also glitchy as all hell, often cutting out dialogue and playing broken sound clips or destroying my ears with noise way above reasonable levels. This was a constant problem whenever I was near water or driving in the retarded land-rover thing.

In terms of straight performance, I would think I was playing a beta for an MMO or something. Over the course of my game, I fell through the map 3 times, got stuck to walls twice, and constantly had to deal with the unresponsive in-battle pause menu.

As if anybody in the world doesn’t know already, Mass Effect is some 3rd person rpg shooter bastard child. The idea is neat, I suppose, if you can stomach the fact that the two ideas really don’t belong together. The ability t o pause the game at any time to issue orders, switch weapons, or use skills for any character in the party ruins the facade, and in some cases breaks it entirely.

I don’t want to get into details about the battle system because you can get those anywhere, but I think it’s important to bring up how imbalanced the game is. It can’t hold a candle to Rogue Galaxy, but more than once I had to stop and ponder what the devs could have possibly been thinking.

The biggest problem is that leveling is way too easy. I got to level 47 or so (of 50) just by playing the game. Sure I did a majority of the side quests, but simply indulging the game and doing all of the retarded jobs I was asked shouldn’t net me that much experience. This leaves you beefed up in both stats and equipment, as you’ll run across a lot of it on your trip.

I couldn’t be assed to play through again to check, but I’ll take a stab in the dark and say that if you don’t pick a class that can learn the decryption skill, you are retarded. With a maxed out decryption skill (can be achieved in as little as 5 hours to be honest) you can unlock any upgrade kit, medical container, weapons locker, or crate in the entire game, and the accompanying minigame fails to be challenging enough to make it worthwhile spending Omnigel to unlock them instead. This nets you all of the most awesome weapons way earlier than you should, and pads out your inventory to the point where you are constantly going through and melting down your weapons into Omnigel because you simply don’t have enough room to hold all of it. Or if you’ve maxed out your Omnigel like I did, you can sell all of the weapons to the fellow in your ship for massive money. I ended the game with over 5 million credits and all of the best weapons, purchased from stores for exorbitant prices.

Combat itself is just as bad. I played an “infiltrator” class, or a sniper for the laymen among us. Despite the weapon descriptions telling me otherwise, I found that the pistol was almost always preferable to any other weapon. By the end of the game I was taking down enemies that I suspect were supposed to be intimidating with three shots from my pistol from across the map. So much for “limited range and power”. Tech attacks are overpowering for weaker enemies, often destroying their shields and bringing them down to a sliver of health if not killing them outright. I also wonder how a skill called “sabotage”, which overheats enemies weapons and damages them, works on slimy space ghouls, who only attack with claws.

By the end of the game you’re all but invincible, mowing down swarms of aliens with nothing but a sidearm and not even bothering to use the cover system, which sucks. The only time you’re ever really in danger is when the enemies with bullshit attacks come out. Some flying drone things have a raybeam attack that depletes your entire shield regardless of strength, and another hit will straight up kill you, no matter how much of your health remains.

Medkits and grenades drop more frequently than anybody who has ever played an action rpg will need, so you’re constantly throwing them away, and toward the endgame, weaker enemies drop upwards of 9000 or 10000 credits apiece, along with way more ammunition and weapon mods than is necessary.

Outside the main story there’s not much to do besides murder people and drive your shitty rover across planets. Maps are extremely repetitive, as are the quests, with about 6 maps to accommodate every scene outside of the main story. There’s the planetside bunker, the planetside base, the mining shaft, the spaceship, and a few other infinitely repeated maps with nothing but rearranged furniture to tell them apart. To get to these maps you often have to drive on the surface with the Mako, your car. The Mako sections are incredibly frusterating and poorly designed. It controls terribly and the camera is questionable on anything steeper than a soft incline. Fighting in it is ridiculous and not fun at all. I also had a problem where about 30% of the time when I got into the Mako, a horrific engine noise or a piercing screech would start, and refuse to stop unless I got out. Sometimes I spent up to 3 minutes hopping in and out of the car until I got in and it didn’t make any noise.

The menu system deserves special mention. Supposedly the entire GUI was altered to better suit the PC and everybody thought it was a major improvement. They are liars. The interface is terrible. Bad. Atrocious. Not good. Equipping things is a constant hassle, comparing equipment is a headache, and there is absolutely no sorting methods for any of the equipment tabs. This is rule number one in inventory management, and Bioware, or Demurge, or somebody broke it. The game also neglects to handle full inventories properly either. Newly dropped loot gets shown in a menu when you open the inventory, with options to melt the stuff down, or keep them. If your inventory is maxed and you open this, there is no way to get to your inventory or leave the menu except for melting down all of the items one by one. If you found an awesome rifle, too fucking bad, melt that thing down because you can’t look for something to throw out. Melting down items is a giant hassle too, because there is no way to select multiple items. I hope you’re ready to have fun melting them down one by one. And just to rub in in our faces, after each melt-down, the cursor returns to the top of the window, where the better items are located, requiring you to scroll back down to where you were.

The star map, used for navigation between planets and star systems, isn’t any good as well. The map is unnecessarily large, contains planets and systems with little or nothing to do in them, and is a hassle to navigate. On top of this, there are load times within the menu itself. When you change a star system, the game makes sure you want to go there, and then cuts to a loading screen, after which you are still sitting at the same navigation menu, except nested one level deeper. I can’t excuse this since there are still load times when you finally pick a planet to land on.

Mass Effect boasts a story that is…incredible, I guess? It’s hard to explain. I can’t gall it good, because I never cared for what I was doing or why. I can’t call it high quality either, since the delivery was spotty at best. As is par for the course with anything Bioware touches, there is way too much talking. Quality over quantity must not be a part of their design philosophy.

You’re some space marine that has a tragic past involving some pirate world, and depending on your choice at game start, you’re either nice or mean, basically. Throughout the game you make choices in dialog that affects quests and shit, as well as your two (more than one) karma meters. You’ve got on for good and one for bad, which I guess was supposed to support grey areas and middle ground between the two. It’s too bad this idea falls flat on it’s fucking face because there are only a limited number of karma changing events in the game, so if you do some good and some bad, you’ll just end up with two half-filled meters, which balance out and equate to a neutral karma, which can be achieved with only one meter.

Like in Dragon Age, as well as Jade Empire, and I suspect all of their other games, it’s very easy to tell what decisions represent what karma, even before you read the Codex, which fucking explains the entire thing to you anyway. Nothing like reading a guide on where decisions relating to which karma are located on the dialog wheel. Way to go Bioware.

Another problem with the story is that no matter what you do, no matter how much of a bastard you are, nobody finds anything wrong with it. I killed an entire small colony and all I got was “it was unfortunate”. I killed a scientist in cold blood so that the person wanting to kill him wouldn’t get in trouble for it, and in return the government offered the would-be killer therapy. I singlehandedly caused the extinction of an entire species and nobody gave me any grief over it. In a nutshell, none of your decisions mean anything until one of the very last planets. It’s cute that the game witheld all of the important decisions until the very end so they could try to have you walk away remembering the cool endgame and not the boring first part.

And there is the sex. I hardly need to mention that, it’s what the game is famous for. I felt obligated to experience it in order to get the entire Mass Effect experience, awful as it is. The relationships are crowbarred into the plot so hard that it’s almost funny, if Bioware wasn’t so serious about it. It’s kind of a shame, actually, that the two characters you can do the dance with are the two least interesting and annoying characters in the game. Kaidan was cool to talk to, but I played a guy so I couldn’t fuck him because Bioware hates gays. Tali and Garrus were cool, but they hardly played any part in the story, so I had to make due with them being in my party all the time. Joker was awesome, and voiced by Seth Green, but he wasn’t even a bit character.

Mass Effect (for the PC) has an 89 on Metacritic. It’s almost unfathomable that anybody would give it anything over a 60 if they were generous. It is riddled with problems, both technical and not, and shows a lack of polish that is actually pretty amazing. When I reviewed Rogue Galaxy, a fellow named pxs commented asking how I could throw 60 hours at a game that I loathed so much. I don’t expect similar comments here because I don’t expect any comments at all, but I put somewhere between 50 and 60 hours into Mass Effect. Was playing Mass Effect worth the time and money spent? That’s hard to answer. I bought the fucker on sale off Steam for $5, so monetarily it was totally worth it, if only to distract me from other, better, potential purchases, but the game was not 60 hours of fun. It was about 4 hours of interesting setup and 50 hours of repetitive combat and excessive dialog. They could have cut out the side quests, 90% of the dialog, and the really slow travel between points, and made the game a decent story-driven FPSRPG thing. Instead it’s long and mediocre.

With the impression this game left on me, I’m worried about the sequel. I’ve read that it fixes a lot, but I’ve also read that the first game is “The best story ever told in a videogame. Period”, which would be a dubious claim even if the game didn’t suck.


Written by PIR

February 11, 2010 at 15:18

Posted in Games

Tagged with ,

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