By S.A. Renegade / Originally published on Scathing Accuracy on August 24, 2008
Welp, I beat Mass Effect. Let's do this thang. You with me? First off, some perspective. I came into this game expecting the worst. Sure, the game is popular, was hyped (apparently; I wasn't exposed to much of this hype myself), got good scores in the mainstream media, the works. That's why I got it. See what all the fuss was about, know what I'm sayin'?
Of course, being the only person on the planet who plays games one at a time, never opening the next game until I'm done with the current one (ok, maybe there have been one or two exceptions at some point, though I forget), there can be a gap of months between buying a game and actually opening it. Because of this, Shepton ended up playing Mass Effect much earlier, and he took it upon himself to indoctrinate me on the supposedly extreme levels of suckage present in Ass Gayfect. He hated the game with such fervor and passion that it bordered on the irrational. Eventually the neverending stream of complaints made me see the game in a negative light. I'll only mention some of his complaints here today. Otherwise we'd be here all night.
So yes. That's the premise. The scene. That's why I popped the game in fully expecting to hate it. Ok, not fully. I might've had some lingering hope in the back of my mind. In any case, I started playing the game and, as expected, it was bad. The first offender: the claustrophobia-inducing too-close camera, reminiscent of Gears of War. Maybe it's been too long since I played Gears, but it seems I had been too used to being able to see behind my character. After that, the negative things just seemed to pile up. The game was disorienting. Having to go through the main menu to open up the map was a chore. The combat felt slow, awkward, even frustrating. The camera shaking and film grain effects present in the default settings obviously didn't help. Yep, looks like I'd have a field day blasting this game to pieces in my review.
But the thing is, it didn't stay like that. Despite it being a bad game, I soldiered on. I couldn't simply dismiss the game so early, I've got a reputation to uphold. Uh yeah, apparently my reputation is that of a dumbass who keeps playing something he doesn't like. But I like to call it critical integrity.
Anyways, I'm not completely sure why; maybe it's my fault because I had just come fresh from playing the comparatively simple Apollo Justice, but it seems to me that Mass Effect isn't very welcoming. It's hard to become comfortable with it from the get-go. But it happens. Yeah, it took me 5-10 hours (which I admit is fucking long to warm up to a game) but I eventually got used to it, and that's when things started to change.
All of the bad things I talked about? You get used to them. The camera shaking and film grain? You can turn them off.
Once I got used to the combat I realized it's actually not that bad. Yeah, it's not Gears of War quality, but that's why that is a 5 hour long shooter and this is a 40 hour RPG. If you expected this game to have combat on the same level as Gears you're a fucking dumbass and should go play in traffic. Once you get used to it, the combat works, and is no longer frustrating. Hell, some firefights even feel legitimately cool. Though, the fights in side quests are decidedly not as polished as the ones in the main missions.
Seriously Shepton, what the fuck were you expecting? You came into Mass Effect fresh off of Call of Duty 4 and even said you wished you were playing it while playing ME. Were you expecting the combat to be up to CoD4 standards? Common fucking sense wants to have a word with you. Maybe you wanted a shooter and not an RPG. After all, you complained about how it's hard to aim with the sniper rifle. Sorry to break it to you, but that's how RPGs work. You get exp, you level up, you get better. Once you put enough points into sniper rifle you can aim easily. But of course, you wanted to cap motherfuckers between the eyes from level 1, right? Oh, or how about the complaint that you had to be close for the shotgun to be effective? Whoop, this just in: shotgun market devastated after Dr. Shepton's groundbreaking revelation that you, in fact, cannot cap motherfuckers between the eyes with a shotgun from long range.
My theory is further validated by the fact that he enjoyed the game more near the end, when he could use all the weapons like a master, and one-shot things left and right. Strangely, the opposite occurred for me. I enjoyed the game the most during the middle part when I had warmed up to it but still had plenty of room to level up, learn skills, find shit, and whatnot.
While we're on the subject, let me give you a warning. You better not waste time doing unnecessary shit in this game, because it's way too easy to hit the level cap, and once you do, everything goes downhill. Yeah, all RPGs go downhill when exp means nothing anymore, but at least in most RPGs it takes a bit of effort to max yourself out. I never actively sought out exp in this game even ONCE and my level was capped before I finished the game. Bad form. And don't think I'm suggesting they use the MMORPG model of making the exp necessary for level up skyrocket to objectionable heights. If playing MMORPGs is like paying to get prison raped, the increasing exp needed is like paying to get prison raped by an increasing amount of criminals each time. And if that MMORPG is FFXI the criminals also have AIDS.
But seriously people, there are ways to make the player feel he is making good progress in his character without having things maxed out ahead of time or making level ups infrequent. Mass Effect fails at this. And speaking of failing, what the hell is up with making money grow on trees, and then not being anything you can fucking spend it on? It's funny because Shepton was obviously playing a different Mass Effect, as he complained about money being hard to find and shit being too expensive. Are you out of your goddamned mind? I had the best shit for all the characters and 9999999 or whatever the fuck the max amount of money is halfway through the game. Now that's just terrible planning on the developer's part. Newsflash, jackasses: You must need money all the damn time. It should be hard to get, and you should always have plenty of stuff to buy. Money, just like exp, is an integral part of the RPG experience. It gives the player reason to kill shit, to do quests, to play your fucking game. I actually liked the fact that doing just about ANYTHING in the game, like talking, opening chests, checking shit out, finding stuff, gave you exp and money. I did not like the fact that soon this exp and money were useless. The fun I was having with the game took a huge hit when I no longer knew what to do with all my money. It sure takes a lot out of the game when you're in a situation where someone is trying to bribe you to keep you from, say, killing them, but you can't even contemplate the decision because you can't fucking carry any more dough.
Seriously, players shouldn't be in a situation where they no longer know what to do with their money halfway through the fucking game. I swear to god, this isn't rocket science, this is common sense! Dear developers, stop being stupid. Thanks. Hugs and kisses.
Moving on, one thing I agree with Shepton is how boring the planets in this game are. While they all tend to be somewhat aesthetically different, they're also just so damn BARREN. You land with your little rover or whatever and there's maybe three points of interest in the big map of the planet. You drive to these points and check them out, but in between that? A big fat load of nothing. Didn't you learn anything from all that god damned sailing in Wind Waker? Driving in a great expanse of nothing to get somewhere is boring! If I wanted to subject myself to that kind of torture I'd go on a real life road trip. Are barren planets realistic? Sure. Are they fun? Fuck you. Your job is to entertain people, not to accurately portray extraterrestrial environments. Get a clue. Along this same line is another thing that pissed me the hell off about traveling in the rover: the terrain in these planets is way too uneven and mountainous. It's a bitch to get around. Few things piss me off like trying to drive up a mountain I have to get through only to roll back down at the last minute because gravity decided to be a bitch, and having to find a specific way to drive up it so.very.slowly. I know what you're thinking. "Nigger, that's how planets are. Whatchoo want, roads? Dat shit ain't gangsta!" Yeah well fuck you. I want my games to be fun, not realistic. I'm not even asking you to put roads or anything. Just make moving around not be a pain in the ass. It's not like the physics are even that realistic, considering it's impossible to be flipped over.
Next up, we move on to another thing that is wrong with this game: the bugs. Oh god, everyone sure hates those sons of bitches. I can't be too critical here, because this type of game is very susceptible to bugs, they can be difficult to eradicate, and it's not like I found a lot of them or even enough to make the game unplayable. Still, it's worth mentioning that if you play this game, chances are you'll come across bugs. Getting stuck through walls, entire buildings that disappear into thin air, enemies appearing out of nowhere, or not appearing when they're supposed to, and of course, who could forget the bug that makes a quest impossible to complete. At least it was only a side quest. Still annoying though.
But enough with the bad things for now, let's give some praise where it's due. The star of the show in this game is the conversation system. I gotta say that it's very well done, and was consistently engaging from the very beginning to the very end. I have a small nitpick in that a rare few times, the conversation option you chose might not be exactly what you wanted to say, since the choices only tell you the very basic gist of it and not exactly what your character will say. Still, for the most part, the depth and options you have in conversations is impressive and better than any game I can think of.
The choices you make give you either Paragon points (basically good points) or Renegade points (basically evil points). I'm the kinda guy who likes to role-play a little so I tend to make the choices I think I'd really make if I was in a situation like in the game, even if it's not the most efficient thing to do (the most efficient thing being committing yourself to a single alignment). Ultimately this approach netted me more or less equal Paragon and Renegade points, though I did have slightly more on the Renegade side. The immediate consequences of your actions are satisfying and sufficiently different from each other, considering development resources are limited and making hugely different branching paths isn't practical. The long-term consequences of your actions have yet to be seen, as your choices will carry over to the sequels, or so they say. I'm hoping it won't come down to simply good/evil depending on where you have the most points.
In any case, the quests remind me of the quests in Oblivion. Except, while in Oblivion they were boring and a waste of time, in this game they are actually fun due to the conversation system and the sheer amount of choices you can make. I'll lay it out for you. Here's an example of one of my favorite quests in the game:
You're walkin' down the street when suddenly a guy stops you. Apparently he's a gangster or some shit from your old gang back when you were a kid. He asks you a favor since you're now such a hotshot with authority, and gives you a quest to ask some alien dude to set one of the gangsters free since he was arrested unfairly based on some petty charges, according to your friend here the quest-giver.
At this point you can either say sure or fuck you. So I say I'll see what I can do. I walk on down to the strip bar where the alien is and tell him to set the guy free. Here I find out that our little arrested friend wasn't arrested on petty unimportant charges but actually on hate crimes and poisoning of supplies that could've caused the genocide of millions. Here you can decide to just walk away, to persuade the alien to let the guy go in a friendly manner, to threaten him into letting the guy go, or what I chose: I decide that, nigger, xenophobia is not cool. I am not down with that shit. So I'm like "Oh ok. Burn that motherfucker." Suddenly the guy who gave me the quest shows up and is all like "Oh so that's how it is! I'm gonna cause a big stink and tell everyone how you sided with aliens instead of humans". Here, again, you have a number of choices. You can say you don't care what rumors he spreads about you, you can persuade him into not being such a dick and to do what's right in a nice way, you can threaten him into not spreading those rumors, or you can do it my way:
"No. You won't do that." BLAM! Shot that motherfucker right in the face. You do not lie to me, and then have the gall to come threaten me in my face. Fuck you. Hell yeah bitches, shot in the face. That's totally what I'd do if I was powerful and not a coward who's actually never shot a real gun in his life. I mean I have! I MEAN- WHGT! JGTH! YES I'M AWESOME!
But yeah. My point here is to give you a little idea on all the options you have and the different ways things can go depending on what you choose. It just struck with me how I could do exactly what I wanted to do in that situation, right down to shooting the guy in the face. It was a nice feeling, because I actually did not expect the game to let me carry out the scene the way I wanted, but it did.
Anyways, to wrap up, I'm here to tell you that Shepton is a lying bitch and don't listen to him. Mass Effect isn't a bad game and is actually enjoyable. On the other hand, it's definitely not a great game like so many advertise. The mechanics aren't amazing or anything, but they work. It makes a few annoying mistakes that RPGs shouldn't make, the places you visit in side quests (90% of the game) aren't as good as the main game, many are overused to the point where the places seem bland and even randomly generated, and the music or lack thereof isn't anything to write home about either. So should you play Mass Effect? I dunno. Up to you. You're not missing a whole hell of a lot if you skip it, but you can also do worse.
Final Verdict: C+, Final Playtime: 41 hours