Mass Effect

Almost three years ago, with Mass Effect mostly complete, I ended my seven-year stay at BioWare. Despite playing Mass Effect many times, I had not played it since my last day with the team. And I saw that as a problem since I wanted to see the “final” version. Well, I’ve recently corrected that problem. I spent the past week or two playing through the game and beat it yesterday. And while I could easily write a book about the experience of working on the game, for my post on playing the game I’m going to keep it relatively short.

Likes

  • I really enjoyed the game’s combat. I’m not a great fan of first-person shooter “twitch” games. I prefer my shooting to be a bit more strategic. Mass Effect hits it perfectly. Hide behind cover, pop out and get a few shots off, and when your gun starts to overheat jump back behind cover and wait for the enemy’s gun to overheat and your gun to cool off. In between, feel free to move your squad to another piece of cover or, if things are dire, use some biotic abilities.
  • I like the reapers. When I was working on the game there was a lot of concern about selling a spaceship as a bad guy, but I’ll give credit to Drew (writer) and say it worked. The fear and tension built through Saren about the reapers in deep space is kind of like the Silver Surfer heralding Galactus or the news broadcasting a looming hurricane. In other words, terrorism is scary but you need a face like Osama bin Laden on it to let it tell its story; that’s how I see Saren and the reapers working.
  • The story was good. I always forget the finer details of the Ilos reveal. Playing through the game this time, that was one of the few conversations where I let every last bit of VO play out because I wanted to absorb all of the available information. I love the idea of the last of the Protheans waking up hundreds of years after the massacre, knowing that all is lost but doing their best with their remaining lives to help the next generation of the galaxy’s life.
  • After the game shipped, I read a few reviews and noted people were largely bored or annoyed by the Uncharted World missions. Personally, I disagree. I enjoyed them. I did every last one and had fun. I remember Casey (producer) telling us that the idea behind them was to mimic Grand Theft: Auto. Sometimes, in GTA, you only want to play for 20 minutes. You don’t want to get caught up in a mission so you drive around and start some mayhem and have a little fun. That’s how the Uncharted Worlds were envisioned. I don’t think they work in that sense, but they do work in that they let you gain some experience and have some straight-shooting, low-story fun.

Dislikes

  • I’m not sure how the economy could have been worse. Very few RPGs get economy close to balanced, but ME was especially poor. I maxed out my credits toward the end of the game: 9,999,999. And that was after buying everything I could find.
  • This piggy-backs on economy, but there was seriously way too much loot. I hit the 150-item limit frequently — and it always led to me digging through my stash to see if there was anything worth keeping. Sadly, it was rare that I found something better. The names differed and the numbers got bigger, but whatever I was currently using was significantly more powerful. I’ve read ME2 does away with the inventory system and that they auto-equip better mods. Maybe this is presumptive, but… thank you!
  • I’m used to having never-ending, on-going conversations with my henchmen in BioWare titles. There’s none of that in Mass Effect. A few of them have a few things to say, but that’s it. Not that I completely hate that because it meant more time to go on missions without listening to Carth Kaidan go on about his feelings, but it was a bit different. Although I guess the amount of dialogue was also reduced when I sacrificed Kaidan and aborted our budding romance. Don’t look at me like that. I was an Engineer and Ashley was so much more useful.
  • I also found I had no real “favorite” henchmen to team with. As an Engineer, I could do everything so it didn’t matter who came along. Sometimes it was Liara so I could watch her lift someone. Sometimes it was Wrex because he had the shotgun or Garus because he had the sniper rifle or Ashley because she had the armor with a rating over 400 for shields. I think I swapped guys out for every mission because they were so interchangeable.
  • I mentioned that I enjoyed the Uncharted Worlds but I’ll admit I didn’t much like the buggy. That thing is hard to keep going in a straight line, and it is way too bouncy and flips too easily. Plus, some of the worlds featured locations that sat behind quite-vertical mountain ranges — meaning you had to patiently figure a way to tediously navigate your buggy up a very steep incline.
  • I loved combat and thought it was fun, but the difficulty for the game was low. Yes, I’ve played the game hundreds of times and am probably a little more comfortable with the system than the average new-comer. That said, I played my first game on veteran (the highest unlocked difficulty for a new game) and only came across a few challenges — despite rarely using biotics or grenades or medigel. Many enemy attacks are so slow that you see them coming and — stand there to get off a few more shots before stepping to the side to dodge the attack. After beating the game, I tried the hardcore difficulty and see that it’s the same thing — but enemies dish out and take much more damage. I think that’s a cheap-out. Difficulty should come via enhanced strategy, not cheating.
  • Navigating the Galaxy Map was a mess for me. If there was a way to mark off which locations you have and have not yet been to, it escaped me. I took to the old tried-and-true method of pencil-and-paper. And while that doesn’t bother me, in today’s day-and-age that’s unexpected.
  • I was surprised to stumble across a few bugs where characters got stuck on the terrain or an opponent’s AI seemed to shut down. I guess I have no one to blame but myself on that one. 🙁

Bottom Line

I love this game and have no reservations about recommending it. It was a lot of fun, probably one of the more “pure fun” BioWare games out there, and I really enjoyed the trip down memory lane. It’s a game I’m very proud to have worked on and, now that I’ve finally finished it, I’m excited to see how far the sequel has taken the franchise. In fact, if it weren’t for the sequel, I’d probably hop right back into ME and take her for another spin.