Reviews: Mass Effect 1
Would've been fine, had it not been for a few things
Good things about Mass Effect; On the surface, it's a story about underdog humanity trying to make a place for itself in a space dominated by alien species. Humanity is new, and is seen as an outsider moving up the ladder far too fast. *SPOILER WARNING* This of course later on becomes a plot point when you get arrested and wind up having to save the very galaxy whose governing body essentially did to you what they did to the Krogan - uplift, then knock down. Bad: Start digging a little deeper, and the game world begins to warp. Some of this is due to the gameplay changes between ME 1 and 2, such as the addition of thermal clips. When you consider the reason for moving to thermal chips was because research showed that the one who could put the most rounds downrange faster, won, was something they got from the Geth, you have wonder exactly what kind of thought process they're using here. Consider this - the Geth, being machines, can perform repetitious tasks with far greater precision and speed than an "organic", and as such, can swap out thermal clips from their weapons much faster than any organic. The other issue is that the whole reason for the Reapers seem to be born from another debate regarding how artificial intelligence and bio-organisms exist, co-exist or don't. It gets even more convoluted when you consider the original reason for the Reapers' existence was because a species of gigantic organisms (Leviathan) tried to find a way to stop the civilizations that paid them tribute from destroying themselves all the time by creating an AI to figure out the answer. The AI's answer is to eliminate all live past a certain point of technology every fifty thousand years. And, the reason these faces kept killing themselves was because they kept developing "synthetics". See the irony? The game revolves around a superior race trying to stop lesser races from annihilating themselves through the creation of artificial intelligence and life forms, by creating an artificial intelligence to figure out the answer. If you're looking for gameplay and character development, great. If you're looking for anything deeper than that, the game fails the mark. Badly.
Lots of potential, but unrefined.
Finally got around to picking up the Mass Effect trilogy and am playing through all three games. Just finished the first one and thought I'd leave my thoughts. Basically, what it comes down to is that there are a lot of brilliant concepts at work here, and the world building and characterization are both extremely strong, but the technical implementation of those ideas is... I guess you could call it clunky. It's not bad, but it feels like the game makers put all the effort into the story and setting, but only made the gameplay adequate. Here's a breakdown of the merits and flaws: The Good:
- The characters are all very interesting and well rounded. In a lot of games the talky segments are boring filler between explosions, but here the conversations with the characters are just as interesting as the action sections. It lets the player feel like they're interacting with the characters rather than just watching things happen.
- The worldbuilding is great; Bioware put a lot of effort into creating a cohesive universe and it really shows. There are lots of interesting little things happening in the background that make the world feel alive. It feels like there's an actual world here.
- The general gameplay is thoroughly middle-of-the-road. It's not bad, but it's nothing to write home about either. It serves its purpose; no more, no less.
- The inventory and equipment systems are a pain; you have to scroll through everything to get anywhere, and it gets clogged with unneeded items really easily if you aren't constantly getting rid of stuff.
- The sidequests get really repetitive. The planets you land on are all very same-y; they don't have any real distinguishing features and they almost feel randomly generated. Almost all the sidequest buildings are one of three designs, which gets a bit old after a while.
Mass Effect, Replayed
This review is coming from a replay of Mass Effect, after having finished Mass Effect 2 and 3; I haven't played Mass Effect in almost two years now. Mass Effect is easily my favorite of the three, considering all elements. It isn't perfect, by far, but it's an extremely well-crafted game. Bad: The driving sections are tedious and sometimes bland, which detracts from the wonderment of exploring previously uncharted planets. They're all fairly similar, too: a scattering of rare elements, some crashed wreckage, the occasional pirate base and Thresher Maw. The inventory system is too convoluted for its own good, and comparing/upgrading items quickly gets to be an annoyance. After a certain point fairly early in the game, 95% of loot is relegated to Vendor Trash. The Spectre weapons, which once unlocked are available to every subsequent playthrough, are game-breakingly powerful (YMMV on this, though; it is quite fun to use them and they are invaluable on higher difficulties). Achievement-hunters will require no less than three COMPLETE playthroughs to unlock everything, which is 75-100 hours of gameplay. Most notably, the side quest locations are all cut-and-paste, with next to no distinguishing features. Good: The atmosphere is brilliant. The settings are beautifully designed, and the lore is mapped out in excruciating detail via the Codex. The game really gives a sense of wonder and majesty to the galaxy, yet effectively plays with the dark hints of past mysteries. The story is brilliantly executed, giving just enough details to draw the player in before dropping some serious plot twist bombs near the climax. The combat is very enjoyable, despite not being as refined as the later titles. Compared to later titles, the class variance, strengths/weaknesses, and tactics are a lot more obvious due to the number of skill trees available. Enemies use a wider range of powers and weapons, which allows the unique talents to really shine. The Paragon/Renegade system is a nice spin on the morality engine, which allows role players to infuse personal emotions and preferences into the game without being shoehorned into a good/evil dichotomy. Mass Effect is a great reboot for the Space Opera genre, and a very fun and engrossing game.
An excellent Action RPG
Mass Effect manages to combine the action of a shooter with the depth and customization of an RPG while largely avoiding most of the shortcomings of both genres. Combat is fast-paced, yet also incorporates tactical elements, as different classes will have different weapons and skills, and it is possible to pause the game to use powers or issue orders to your squadmates. Upgrading your gear and abilities accommodates many different builds and play styles. The world is a standard science fiction society in which humanity is a new arrival to galactic politics, but it is executed quite well. The party members have diverse personalities and values, which are nicely reflected in their conversations. Even the minor characters have compelling stories, such as the conflict between a man who wants to bury his wife's body and a scientist who wants to study it. The morality system is an interesting twist in that it is not necessarily a choice between good or evil, but often a matter of approaches to problems, such as between gentle persuasion and harsh intimidation. Not only are the decisions less black-and-white than in many games, but in many cases, Paragon and Renegade options can be used to achieve the same goal through different means. Unfortunately, the dialogue system is considerably more simplistic than many other RP Gs with a Dialogue Tree. In most conversations, only three options move it forward, past choices rarely steer the conversation in a different direction if they do not end it prematurely, and “investigate” rarely yields any concrete benefits. Unlike other CRP Gs, while there are many moral decisions, there are relatively few choices that impact how you will go about doing the quest (such as fighting your way through or sneaking around enemies), which limits replay value and the impact your class and build have on gameplay. Some of the side quests can be fairly tedious, such as searching the galaxy for resources. Thankfully, they are not required to advance the story, although it is not admirable for a game to have many parts players would prefer to skip, even if they can choose to do so. The vehicle segments are also often boring in the parts that involve searching planets, although vehicle combat is decent as a mini-game. Despite these flaws, Mass Effect is an enjoyable game and a good start to the series.
Decent, but at times overwhelming
>Has completed one playthrough Mass Effect is, in a word, enormous. You are Commander Shepard, a space marine with a customizable gender, appearance, class, backstory(?), and personality. There are six classes, three backstories, and three personalities. And that's not even getting into the huge amount of power and equipment management. The story is as described by the page, and it's fairly decent. I only have two problems with it: For most of the game, we don't see any evidence of Saren's wrongdoings, and there's also no choice to look for the genophage cure on Virmire. Other than that, the game is about its characters, and of the six teammates you get (each representing a class), I only found two to be dull, and even then, the sequel changed my opinion of one of them. The game also has plenty of interesting irrelevant information for pure World Building, though it can help you understand the motivations of some characters or races. Gameplay doesn't fare so well, though it is still alright. There are three ways to fight: using biotics (magic), technical abilities, or straight up weaponry, and which class you choose affects how you'll fight. Biotics and tech are accessed through a "power wheel", which pauses the game and allows you to target, though after using an ability, you must wait for it to recharge. Your guns have unlimited ammo, though they can overheat if you don't pay attention. This part of the game is fine. The game goes wrong when you try to select something. The amount of gun and armor types there are is enormous, and you'll be picking up plenty. This is exacerbated when you factor in upgrades for your guns and armor, along with tech and biotic amplifiers. You have a 150 item limit with little means of sorting, which is especially bad in the sell screen. Sidequests are also generally bad. They almost always involve using a poorly controlled vehicle over an enormous and mostly barren landscape, going into a building you've seen a dozen times over, shooting everything there, and finding something inside. The ones that don't are fun. The graphics are great when they aren't the boring landscapes, but the music is atmospheric (read: dull). Mass Effect is ultimately a great game in the main story if you can get around all the micromanagement. Just remember that all the sidequests are optional.
Great game, but tedious.
Mass Effect 1 created a very detailed and intricate world, although you only get to explore a small part of it. It tries to lean on the harder side of science fiction, using only one Phlebotinum (the titular Mass Effect) to explain FTL space travel, telekinetic powers, AND a major plot twist/reveal. The character options, dialogue options, and decisions you get to make in the game point to a lot of work in the story, even though a few of the characters are pretty flat. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone did any long-term playtesting. This game is great for the first few hours, and you'll be amazed with the exploration and combat for those hours. But it probably takes at least 15 hours if you're going to really explore and do all the sidequests, and that's where it gets tedious. The inventory system is fine if you only have a few weapons, but towards the end of the game you start picking up a lot of stuff- and turning them to omni-gel is tedious. Then comes the "exploration" of planets- and the Mako is a very annoying vehicle to pilot, and the terrain usually doesn't help. Lastly, the side-quests are usually about the same- run in, gun things down and/or talk a bit. There's plenty of these but none of them are memorable- really just nothing more but places to grind a little extra EXP and money. Oh, and the elevators. Ugh. The elevators. That said, the core storyline is pretty compelling. It avoids the Planet Of Hats for most races, and the universe has a lot of detail and backstory for those who enjoy that kind of thing. Combat is interesting- it's quite different from most action games, because although it's technically a shooter, you can pick classes that barely use guns at all. The "overheat" system prevents the frantic spray-bullets-till-the-room-is-clear without making you scrounge for ammo, and makes you use your tech/biotic skills more often. Overall, a very enjoyable game.
That Rarest of All Creatures...
A game that demonstrates both what to do and what not to do. Mass Effect is a Role Playing Game, and the role-playing part is excellent. Every conversation gives you the chance to choose a response (even if they're all variations on "Yeah, so?" or "But I Must!"), and shaping Shepard's every social decision gets The Player really invested in their character. The reduction of answer options to sound-bytes instead of full responses was inspired. And the fact that your decisions actually matter, and present you with new dialogue options later that shape the course of the plot, just seals the deal. This isn't just a story you can experience twice, it's one you want to. The problem is, Mass Effect is a Role Playing Game, and the game half of it is pretty bad. Name a feature of gameplay, and it's poorly executed. Shooting is as easy as it always is on the PC (X360 players may have a different experience), but controlling your character's movements is sometimes haphazard, especially when running afoul of the context-sensitive cover system. Driving physics are atrocious, without even the benefit of a Hand Wave—which is egregious considering that the game's Applied Phlebotinum, "element zero," could easily provide an explanation for why your APC can drive up 60-degree walls. And the Class And Level System is a waste of Tech Points. Sure, you get a talent tree, but each branch only gives you one skill, with additional points just making it stronger. Why not just have static growth, as in the old Final Fantasy games, and have spells unlock at level-up? It'd almost be no different. Mass Effect, to me, exemplifies a problem with hybrid games. Its creators set out to make a game that's half action and half RPG... but only had time to make half an action game, resulting in a shoddy Halo or Gears Of War clone with an epic Space Opera plot. The resulting game is not a jack of all trades, it's multi-incompetent. Mass Effect gets along on the strength of its dialogue and worldbuilding—and, to be sure, those features are so good that they elevate the finished product to something approaching true greatness—but take the lesson here. A proper hybrid game has to be two fully-featured games mated together.
A Brilliant Experience With a Few Flaws
Mass Effect enjoys being a space opera. From the well-developed characters to the intriguing story, everything shows how much work went into the game, ultimately creating an incredible RPG. The area that stands out above everything else is the world BioWare has constructed. It's absolutely staggering how much work went into it, especially the Codex.You can learn about how some turians are becoming Confucians. You can learn about krogan biology. You can learn about the Normandy's stealth drive, and why it's not more common. You can learn about why humans are such a big deal on the galactic stage. The world has been suitably polished, and then the polish has been polished. The game also adheres mostly to real-world physics, even in the stuff it makes up, giving it more depth. The characters are all pretty well-written. They feel real, and the aliens in your crew all give unique insights into their culture. For example, Blood Knight Wrex talks mostly about fighting, and decades of seeing his species ignore the genetic disease that's slowly killing them off has turned him very cynical. Even characters that only appear in a single quest are done well; I usually don't cry during movies or games, but in the "I Remember Me" quest, Talitha's lines had me sobbing in minutes. The characters help move the story along, which starts out a bit cliché, but quickly heads in unique directions, as does each planet's sub-plot. That said, the game does have some low points. The Mako is a bit of a mixed bag: it's fun to drive along a route in a story mission and blast all your enemies away, somewhat entertaining to explore a small, not-too-steep area of a planet, and downright tedious and annoying to climb mountains. Unfortunately, mountains take up about sixty percent of non-quest planets. The ability to take cover at any wall also has its ups and downs: you can hide behind an arch that the developers didn't think of, but running straight up to a chest-high wall won't let you go into cover; you have to crouch first. It's not too much of a problem, but it might mess you up in a firefight. Combat is decent, and livened up by biotics, but is not as refined as it could be. With its unique world, entertaining characters, and excellent story, Mass Effect is an experience that should not be missed.
Cliche Storm at its Finest
Mass Effect, for those of you who don't know is a choice-centered RPG, akin to... well, most of Bio Ware's other RP Gs. The game entices you with an '80s-style space epic, and pulls you in and never lets go. This says a lot for Bio Ware's storytelling. The characters in ME 1 are interesting. Though, a few of them fell a bit flat for me. (Tali, most notably. She was basically a walking codex entry. I was pleased when she became fleshed out in ME 2.) However, there are such gems as Wrex, an idealistic krogan merc, who laments the sad fate of his species. Garrus, basically Space!Bat Man, he quits C-Sec because of all the red tape (Sidenote: I've never heard the term "red tape" used more than when playing Mass Effect) and joins Shepard's noble cause. Speaking of Shepard, the character customization of this game is pretty good. Not the best in the business, but passable. You get to choose your background, face (Though, for some reason, a lot of people choose not to.) and class. With the option of bonus talents unlocked from achievements. Now onto the gameplay. ME 1's combat is pretty bare-bones. The power system is much more in-depth than it's successor, the RPG system is more fun to manage, and the overheating system is more fun to use than the thermal clip system (Why doesn't my gun eventually cool off in ME 2, anyway? SENSE. THIS DOES NOT MAKE IT.) but the actual shooter mechanics leave much to be desired. The inventory is horrible, the squadmate "AI" is about as intelligent as a toddler, and most of the sidequest worlds are made up entirely of steep mountains. Despite this, the game has managed to keep my attention four years after I bought it. So it's obviously doing something right.