My Take on Mass Effect

(I’m taking the “Early Review” out and bringing the “My Take on” on it’s place. I mean, most games I’m commenting these days I already beat or something and “My take” would fit in any position.)

I completed Mass Effect (the first) last weekend and I’m going again for a second, more complete, route. And I must say: It’s a below-average (to be nice) game with a really interesting story.

What’s Mass Effect all about? You start with this guy/gal that works for the human alliance in a far future when suddenly you get inside a plot to destroy all living beings. And I’m using the word “work” here very loosely. First, ’cause you’re, effectively, a soldier for the human federation. At the same time, if you go with full customization, you can pick different “professions”: You can be a soldier, able to use all four types of weapons and heavy armor or an engineer, which only access to one weapon and light armor, but a lot more tricks under your sleeve to take electronic devices.

Whatever profession you chose, you don’t need to worry about “Oh, but if I take the soldier, does that mean that I can’t use electronics anymore?” ’cause the game provides a list of companions that you can pick two every mission to supplement your skills. The flimsy engineer doesn’t need to worry about combat too much ’cause there is a companion who is a soldier.

While in combat, you can order your team to either switch weapons, stay, attack or use their special abilities, although they are smart enough to, say, use their shield boost ability when under heavy attack or switch to a sniper weapon (if they have the skill to use it) when the enemies are too far.

The story advances through missions, which is perfectly fine. But there are also some side missions, called “Assignments” that you can complete to get better gear or some cash to acquire said better gear. The problem I found with them is that they feel… out of place.

The story is compelling enough to make you go after this guy — after you pass the initial, slow start, which may make you give up completely in the first two hours of gameplay — but… would you stop around every planet in every system to survey for minerals? Doesn’t that feel out of place, like “well, the bad guy may find the thing to bring the bad guys back at any minute, but that doesn’t matter, at least I found a new cache of rare metals”? One could argue that “Hey, it’s your character, you can do whatever you want” but it still feels out of place.

Also, most of the missions fall deeply into the “corridor shooter” category. The map is so straight-forward sometimes it’s not even funny. Also, there are sections where I simply can’t understand why the “best damn helmsman in the Alliance fleet” would drop me in a long section, far away from the whatever signal we are following, make me go through a zig-zag section and then simply wait for me when I’m out. If he could get there, as he shows in the end, why the freaking hell he had to drop me in the freaking other side of the planet? To give me a long corridor to shot enemies on the way, that’s why.

Your profession have a talent tree. And with that talent tree, there is a morality system but, as the rice options scatered around, it doesn’t really change much.

Basically, when you pick/do something bad, you get renegate points; by doing nice things, you get paragon points. What those things do, deep down is this: Increasing your paragon points by being nice, you increases your charm skill which allow you to be even more nicer; increasing your renegate points by doing bad things, you increase your intimidade skill which allow you to be even more doucher. Basically, it’s a self-feeding system that, at some point, doesn’t give any flexibiliy: You want to be nice to the universe and a dick with the bad guy in the last battle? Well, though luck buy; you’ll end with a bunch of charm and no intimidade to do so.

And then we have the bugs. Seriously, I’m impressed how a game that’s 5 years old still have some very silly bugs. For example, you can’t quick save the game while standing in an elevator. And with my Femshep, elevators became a huge problem, as the game would simply get “stuck”, without being able to do anything — a problem I never found with my male Shepperd, to be honest. Couple both problems and you can imagine how scared I was when taking an elevator. Also, in one mission, where you need to go to three bases, finding a body in the third, I actually managed to find the same body twice in two different bases, simply by saving the game while in the second and then returning to the game later. And then you have some vehicle sections that are simply attrocious. The all-terrain vehicle you get seems to have been build with bouncing balls, including the tires and they drop you in planets with half of the Earth gravity. So any single obstacle in the terrain, when hit at full speed, will make your car almost fly around, bouncing everywhere.

I know that now you may probably asking yourself “So, is this game that bad?” Well, no. The game isn’t bad: If you follow the story, it’s a freaking good game if you focus on that, as the pace will make things smooth out. Now, if you ask me if paying U$ 19.90 for a game that lasts around 15 hours is well spent… Well, that’s where I have no idea. For a lower price, I’d strongly recommend it, due it’s well tied story, but will the issues and the incoherence of everything around it, even U$ 20 seems slightly higher than it should.

Your Rice Option

When the Mass Effect 3 rage about the ending surfaced, I didn’t worried too much, as I didn’t play the game and didn’t see the ending.

When people came with the argument of “Mass Effect is about choices and the end has nothing to do with choices”, I started backing up those guys, ’cause at least they provided a good argument to their complains.

But this weekend, after completing the first Mass Effect, I’m wondering if that argument is true, in the first place. Sure, things may have changed heaps since the first interaction, but still gives the impression that people think picking a type of rice is related to choices.

Yeah, you’re now confused on what the hell I’m talking about rice. Well, that’s one thing I realized when playing Mass Effect (I had the same feeling when playing Skyrim, but I think the idea just crystallized on this game): You enter a restaurant; you can pick one of three choices: Hydroponic rice, Australian rice or European rice. What option do you pick? Either is fine, ’cause you are still eating fucking rice!

Really, if a game is truly based on your choices, the story would flow like this:

But what we have currently is a lot like this:

Let me repick Mass Effect on this (and I’ll spoil part of the story, but since the game was released 5 years ago, I’ll do it shamelessly): There is the part where you have to pick one teammate to die. Ohh, big choice here, this will surely change everything from now on. Actually, it doesn’t. It’s a nice dressing for a rice option: One guy/gal dies, everybody says his/her name, how sad it’s that he/she is not there anymore, but story flows without change! Oh, big choice there, mate.

And, in case you’re wondering, I killed that xenophobic, religious nut called Ashley. And I’d kill her any time again. Not regrets — which is another point: You can’t show no remorse to your team. You can’t trash-talk her now that she’s not there anymore. You can’t bring the phrase “good riddance” to any conversation where her name appears. Why? Because it’s a damn rice option!

Again, things may have changed in the next two installments of the series but I now have to back up my “people claiming the game ignored their choices” defense and say that, although the game really offers options, none of them really matter.

The word you’re probably looking right now (well, that’s the word that popped in my head just seconds before I clicked the “Publish” button) is “consequences”. Your choices have to have consequences, otherwise they are rice options. I can understand why they turned everything in “rice options”: How do you make your players happy if they are not sure if they picked the right option? Was killing Ashley or Kaidan the right option? How much harm I’ll do with my gameplay if I kill one of those? Since they don’t want to make players wonder how much they are harming themselves instead of actually picking options, they turn everything into rice options.

My experience with the first Mass Effect is that it’s rice, all the way down.

Shelf Updates, 2012-03-27

Added to shelf: Mass Effect.

Another delayed shelf update (two days this time).

I’m a little burned (again) with Guild Wars, so I picked up another game to keep bouncing between to not give up completely getting my last 3 points in the HoM (all I need is get the Kurzick title — only 110k faction to go). And I went with it by a friend recommendation, so I picked the first of the titles to past the time — plan is to get everything up to Mass Effect 3, by stages.