my thoughts on whatever I may be thinking about and choosing to share

I finished Mass Effect last night. Rather than posting a conventional review, I decided to list my likes and dislikes. First, though, a bit of background is in order for the uninitiated (i.e., people who've never heard of ME).

Mass Effect is the latest role-playing game (released for the XBOX360 and later the PC) from Bioware, creators of the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series, among others, although it has much more in common, from a gameplay perspective, with Bioware's more recent effort, Jade Empire. The story is set in the far future when humanity has uncovered technological relics of a long-vanished race known as the Protheans in our solar system. These artifacts allow faster-than-light travel to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, where Man discovers that there are many other races already making use of this technology to colonize star systems, engage in petty disputes, and fight galactic wars. As the new kid on the block, humanity is viewed with a combination of skepticism and outright suspicion by the more well-established races as it makes its efforts to find a niche in this new interstellar community. You play the role of Commander Shepard (male or female, depending upon your preference), a human Alliance military officer who is chosen to become the first human Spectre, a group of "James Bond in space"-type figures with a license to kill and wreak mayhem in the name of the greater good and who report only to a three-member governing body known as the Council. It seems that a former Spectre has gone rogue and has uncovered a means of destroying all organic life in the galaxy, which he intends to use. There are reasons and a bit more background than this, but I won't put too many spoilers in this paragraph.

Things I liked about Mass Effect:

1) It's pretty and it sounds great. The visuals are stunning and the incidental sounds, as well as the voice acting (which is present for every major character in the story), are well-done.

2) The story. It's fairly typical space-opera stuff, with a lot of that "you are the only one who can save the galaxy" material, but it's well-written and there are a couple of intriguing twists. The story definitely makes you want to play through to the end to see what happens.

3) The characters. The major characters, including your companions, are well-realized with objectives and ambitions of their own. Occasionally, they will question your actions, and in one part of the story, one of your crew may abandon or attack you, depending on how you handle a particular situation.

Things I didn't like about Mass Effect:

1) The story. What exactly is the purpose of the Reapers' cyclical sweep through the galaxy? I want to know. I have a niggling suspicion we may find out more in later games in this series, as EA has indicated that there will be at least one sequel and the resolution of the story leaves little doubt that there are a lot more stories to be told.

2) The UI. A trend that Bioware has succumbed to over its last several releases is one that I wish it hadn't: the console-ization of the RPG. I haven't played Oblivion very much but it feels more like an FPS than an RPG and it may fall into this category, but that game, Fable, Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect all have one thing in common: their console roots show. All of these games tend to play, at least in terms of combat, like a first-person shooter or an action game--something that relies on reflexes rather than tactics and stats to determine the outcome of combat situations. In Mass Effect, you play from a first-person perspective and in combat you use a cross-hair onscreen to target enemies with force powers (I mean, biotics), missile weapons, or tech abilities. There is a "pause mode," which involves HOLDING DOWN the spacebar and selecting actions for yourself and your two companions. I emphasized that point in the sentence above because I don't see a point to having such a mode unless you can at least control the pausing with a toggle of some kind. Having to hold the spacebar with my left hand and scroll around the screen with my right hand picking orders is just ridiculous. If you don't use this mode at all, it plays essentially like a shooter; yes, there are numbers that the computer crunches behind the scenes (damage, hit points, chance to hit) but you are rarely privy to this information.

The inventory system suffers from the same sort of vagaries of origin: you can select different weapons, upgrades, and armors from the pool of items that your party automatically collects from fallen foes, but the only way to find out whether an item you collected is better than what you have equipped is to select it from a long list and cross-reference the stats visually. Moreover, it's difficult to see how many items you're actually carrying at one time unless you tediously scroll through lists for every category. A traditional inventory system would have worked much better. One innovation that actually works pretty well is the idea of omni-gel, a sort of all-purpose goo that can be used to bypass electronic locks or repair your planetary landing vehicle. You get omni-gel by breaking down inventory items you don't want or need. The downside to the economy in the game is that, while you may at some point have more omni-gel than you can possibly use, by the time you're three-quarters of the way through the story, you'll definitely have more money than you can possibly use because no merchants are selling items better than what you can find by killing enemies and looking in containers.

I'm not very good with FPS-type games and I found myself getting killed a lot early on. I switched from normal to easy combat difficulty and I didn't have any problems after that.

3) Waiting. Even on a fast rig with a recent-gen video card, you'll do a lot of walking around and standing in elevators in this game, which are the sort of things that I'm pretty sure no one enjoys. If you're running an older machine with something equivalent to a 7000-series nVidia card, as I was when I first got this game, you'll experience a positively-ludicrous quantity of loading breaks. In walking around the Citadel, one of the major locations in the first part of the game, I could go maybe 30 seconds without experiencing another load break; the timing of my upgrade probably was fortuitous for my chances of finishing the game as I had gotten to the point where I brought a book when I sat down to play.

4) The aliens. While it's nice and sometimes very important to have a familiar frame of reference when exploring a new world, it's unfortunate that so much science fiction in all media has a tendency to imagine aliens in ways that are, well, unimaginative. Most of the races you encounter in Mass Effect will look suspiciously like either humans or animals that are found on Earth. All of them, except for one really big creature, are bilaterally symmetrical. I guess I would just like to see more creative thought put into how life might evolve on other worlds with different climates, resources, atmospheres, gravitational forces, et cetera.

Ultimately, although some of the problems listed above can be very aggravating, especially if you have hardware that just can't handle this game, it's still well worth playing. The story is terrific and engaging and it sounds and looks fantastic.

 

 


Comments
on Dec 19, 2008

I re-played this through last weekend, and was reminded what a great game it is. It looks and sounds great (after the patch), and i'm one of the lucky ones when it comes to bugs: only one General Protection Fault during the playthrough. Main quest was interesting enough, and thankfully didn't end in a cliffhanger. The ending strongly hints for sequels, but doesn't scream for them. Also, the good/evil part is very well done, you don't end up as a saint or devil, unlike in Fallout 3

The inventory system does suck though, and don't get me started on item limit , atleast you can "omni-gel" equipment anywhere.  The combat gets a bit repetitive after a while, and the mako behaves "like a fat man on a unicycle" (from Zero Punctuation review). The UI was redone for the PC version though, so you can't completely blame its clumsiness on "consolitis".

Also non plot related planets, and sidequest dungeons could use more variety. The Bring Down the Sky DLC was a nice addition to the game, especially since it's free for PC users, but it's a  shame BioWare hasn't created any more of them. There is believable speculation, that additional DLC might be a part of ME2 ad campaign Mass Effect was planned to be a trilogy, but so far no news form the sequels have been heard.

If ME2PC will be made, i will be buying it. Unless if the DRM requires me to sell my soul AND my first-born child

on Dec 19, 2008

My pitch-in:

I've played both the console and the PC versions. If you have a good machine for this game (Ex: Core 2 Duo 3.0 GHz + 4GB RAM + nVid 8800 GT), get it for the PC.

The UI and controls are much improved over the console version, and the graphics get a nice boost as well. Loading times are much shorter on the PC, and the elevator rides were shortened. (Worth mentioning.)

The only bug I encountered was one that gave you unlimited Paragon (Good) points.

A note on weapons: There's little to compare. The Master Spectre (They begin with HMW) weapons are the best in the game. You can only get them by having over a 1,000,000 credits and visiting the req officers at C-Sec or on the Normandy. The second, and final, level of those requires that and level fifty. So you'll probably only get those on a second play through (Using the same class, too).

 

Oh yeah, the DRM sucks.

 

on Dec 19, 2008

I didn't have any issues with the DRM. I did have to fight to get it to work on 64-bit Vista, but I've found that most of those kinds of problems can be solved by running in XP-compat mode as administrator. I still find it a weird quirk of Vista that you actually have to tell it to run specific programs as an admin even when you're logged in as one.

Also non plot related planets, and sidequest dungeons could use more variety. The Bring Down the Sky DLC was a nice addition to the game, especially since it's free for PC users, but it's a shame BioWare hasn't created any more of them. There is believable speculation, that additional DLC might be a part of ME2 ad campaign

I hope more DLC is forthcoming, but I suspect we won't see any more for this iteration. I concur with the point (made in many reviews) that there weren't many models made for places that you visit on planetfall.

A note on weapons: There's little to compare. The Master Spectre (They begin with HMW) weapons are the best in the game. You can only get them by having over a 1,000,000 credits and visiting the req officers at C-Sec on the Normandy. The second, and final, level of those requires that and level fifty. So you'll probably only get those on a second play through (Using the same class, too).

Interesting. Well, I only got to about level 46 when I finished, and I pretty much never visited the req officer on the Normandy so I didn't really know about these.

on Dec 19, 2008

I have a 2.6 Ghz Core 2 duo, 2GB ram, and a GF 9600GT 512MB,  and the game ran without a hitch with everything maxed @ 1366x768 resolution (runnng Vista, even).

And Kitkun reminded me about one more thing i like about this game, (most of) the achievements have rewards for achieving them, like the spectre weapons for "Rich!" achievement, instead of just lenghtening ones "e-member" 

on Dec 19, 2008

When you actually converse with the Sovereign in Saren's lab - that still gives me the creeps. I mean, I know the voice type is done and overdone to death in movies and game, but its dialogue and the way it speaks to you actually makes you feel like a little insignificant insect

That's probably my favorite moment in Mass Effect.

on Dec 19, 2008

That is indeed a creepy, unsettling conversation. "Our numbers will darken the sky of every world", it'll be quite a fight in the end of ME3.

on Dec 19, 2008

I have a 2.6 Ghz Core 2 duo, 2GB ram, and a GF 9600GT 512MB, and the game ran without a hitch with everything maxed @ 1366x768 resolution (runnng Vista, even).

My old rig was an AMD 64 2.2 GHz single-core processor with 2Gb of system memory and an nVidia 7300GS.

I think the processor and the card make the big difference here. Dual-cores were just coming onto the market when I got that machine and I couldn't afford one.

 

on Dec 19, 2008

[...]

4) The aliens. While it's nice and sometimes very important to have a familiar frame of reference when exploring a new world, it's unfortunate that so much science fiction in all media has a tendency to imagine aliens in ways that are, well, unimaginative. Most of the races you encounter in Mass Effect will look suspiciously like either humans or animals that are found on Earth. All of them, except for one really big creature, are bilaterally symmetrical. I guess I would just like to see more creative thought put into how life might evolve on other worlds with different climates, resources, atmospheres, gravitational forces, et cetera.

[...]

I just wanted to comment on this. There's a reason that characters, overall, no matter the species, tend to look humanesque. It's to make us, humans, relate to them.

Second, our form is incredibly efficient for what we do.

And third, when it comes to symmetry, the universe and life seem to favour it. Greatly. Youre hard pressed to find any differing species on earth that's not symmetrical. Much of the human perception on beauty is entirely based on symmetry, but more than that, it's incredibly efficient to have a balanced form.

on Dec 19, 2008

Kitkun
My pitch-in:


A note on weapons: There's little to compare. The Master Spectre (They begin with HMW) weapons are the best in the game. You can only get them by having over a 1,000,000 credits and visiting the req officers at C-Sec on the Normandy. The second, and final, level of those requires that and level fifty. So you'll probably only get those on a second play through (Using the same class, too).

 

you mean the req officers at C-sec and on the Normandy.  although, I've only seen those weapons at C-Sec. not saying that they aren't on the Normandy also, but I just haven't seen them there, probably 'cuz I don't use that guy much for weapons etc.

on Dec 19, 2008

i found every planet i explored to be exactly the same!

also i found the game to be way too short!

i liked lots of things about it but in the end i was dissapointed

on Dec 19, 2008

Orodum
you mean the req officers at C-sec and on the Normandy.  although, I've only seen those weapons at C-Sec. not saying that they aren't on the Normandy also, but I just haven't seen them there, probably 'cuz I don't use that guy much for weapons etc.

Yep. It's both C-Sec and the Normandy.
http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Master_Spectre_Gear

on Dec 19, 2008

BTW: It just went on sale on Steam without SuckRom. However if you happen to live outside of NA you cant buy it - for now. I'm told EA/BW are working on getting the geopolitical restriction removed.

on Dec 20, 2008

Luckmann


[...]I just wanted to comment on this. There's a reason that characters, overall, no matter the species, tend to look humanesque. It's to make us, humans, relate to them.
Second, our form is incredibly efficient for what we do.
And third, when it comes to symmetry, the universe and life seem to favour it. Greatly. Youre hard pressed to find any differing species on earth that's not symmetrical. Much of the human perception on beauty is entirely based on symmetry, but more than that, it's incredibly efficient to have a balanced form.

I think I made your initial point here: "While it's nice and sometimes very important to have a familiar frame of reference when exploring a new world,".

 

As to the rest of your comment, yes, many vertebrates on Earth are bilaterally symmetrical. Some invertebrates are radially symmetrical and many more are asymmetrical. You seem to be very anthropocentric in your comments.

My entire point was that people tend to think inside the confines of a very narrow range of parameters on how aliens could evolve. Why would you restrict yourself to considering things that only appear to be successful on an Earth-type planet? What reason do we have to believe that if alien life evolved on another world that it would resemble us in any way?

 

on Dec 20, 2008

you mean the req officers at C-sec and on the Normandy.

Whoops, that's actually a typo on my part.

 

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