My Shepard had nicer thighs.
I’ve done it! I’ve finally finished a play through of Mass Effect after restarting it a couple times over the last five years or so. First I started playing it on our 360. I stopped, for whatever reason. Then Hubby and I started playing it together but stopped somewhere along the way due to time constraints (and me not having the patience to sit there while he explored every. single. planet.)
This game is new enough to still be fresh in the minds of those who played it upon release, and not old enough to need a thorough reminding of why I think you should or shouldn’t dedicate the time to play it. So I’m just going to highlight the pros and cons that stuck with me after the credits rolled.
The Mass Effect trilogy is a critically-acclaimed science fiction RPG/shooter hybrid. Yes, I liked the first installment. Yes, so far I believe it deserves a lot of the positive buzz it received. And, yes, there are flaws. The inventory management system is a mess. If you don’t routinely flesh out all of the armor upgrades and such you aren’t using, you’ll hit the 150 item max capacity pretty quickly. As punishmentfor your negligence, the next 20 minutes of your life will be dedicated to turning everything into omni-gel. Especially if you’re a loot whore like me and almost always keep a squad member with Decryption in your active party. The reason it takes an unreasonable amount of time to turn worthless items into omni-gel (Which can be used to repair the Mako) is because during the development process, apparently no one had the foresight to find grouping multiples of the same item into one inventory slot a good idea. You know how, in most smart RPGs, your inventory menu looks like “Potion x5” instead of sifting through “Potion, Potion, Potion, Potion, Potion,” separately? In case you’re a sadist who was thinking the latter system might be preferably, it isn’t. It takes forever to individually turn everything into omni-gel (I guess it’d be the equivalent of individually selling 20 of the same item to a vendor instead of all at once). AND you can’t hit Up on the D-pad or stick at the top of the list to quickly get to the bottom where the weaker crap you want to get rid of is. Tedious and annoying.
Mass Effect’s exploration spreads across the entire galaxy, allowing the player to explore uncharted planets on an all-terrain vehicle called the Mako. Seems like lots of people disliked the Mako. I’m kind of on the fence about it. Its controls are pretty crappy, I agree there. And traversing with it did get old after an hour or so at a time. But that’s usually voluntary time spent with side quests and scouring for goodies. I did heave a couple of sighs when I took a break from exploring uncharted planets on the Mako to do a main story quest only to be put back in the damn thing. When I was ready for main mission quests, it was because I wanted to shoot humanoid lifeforms, not drive a crappy car. As soon as I found out you get more experience for killing enemies on foot than in the Mako I got out of it at every opportunity to shoot everything– even the over-sized enemies that clearly wanted to be killed with the Mako’s superior fire power.
The Playstation 3 port I played was also glitchy. Granted, I can blame some of the system crashing (It happened three times, total) on my fat, backwards-compatible 60-gig PS3. But after browsing forums online it looks like I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Even with auto-save on I had to do more backtracking than expected when it happened to me. I actually had to do the final boss fight over because during the predictable cut-scene-between-final-boss-transformations the game froze up. Not cool. I’m legitimately worried my used and abused PS3 won’t survive the entire trilogy.
Shooters aren’t typically my game style of choice, so I tend to shy away from making too many comments about their design or difficulty. (Did I mention I played this game on Casual mode?) But Mass Effect’s style did come across as clunky and annoying. Usually when trying to implement the duck and cover routine. I knew I wanted to snipe, it’s my thing, even when a game’s style makes it less than ideal. In ME, that means your proficiencies are Assaults and Snipers. I like shotties too, but I shrugged it off because I used Wrex. He was a great compliment and the AI was probably better at it than me. Wrex could certainly take more hits than my Soldier Shepard. Most of the game’s combat takes place in narrow corridors so when I couldn’t manage to snipe I went all balls-to-the-walls with my Assault Rifle. I still managed to have a lot of fun during battles, even when Shepard wouldn’t cooperate when I wanted her to use certain barriers as cover.
The RPG leveling system is standard fare. Killing enemies, performing side quests, and exploring the Mass Effect universe award the party with experience. Get enough EXP, you level. When you level you get skill points to assign to abilities. Advancing certain abilities unlocks other ones (Hence having to level Assault Rifles to unlock the Sniper Rifle proficiency). ME is one of those jerk games that makes you spend skill points to unlock dialogue options and to get the best loot. I’m a loot whore, so naturally that was the first thing I did. Thankfully, levels and skill points go to non-active party members as well. I love it when games do that. I find it encourages the player to experiment with different comrades. BUT certain characters don’t have the proper skills to open, um, “treasure chests.” And I refused to take Wrex out of the party. So I was still limiting myself. In the beginning of the game my main party included Wrex and Garrus. Garrus got boring, and when he suggested I trade in Liara for plot purposes I did. I enjoyed her Lift and Warp abilities, but I COULDN’T OPEN STUFF. To keep magicky stuff and get all the loot I didn’t need, I settled with a party of Shepard, Wrex and Tali.
Seriously, you don’t need all the loot the game throws at you. Okay, in Casual mode you don’t. But really… the inventory management system is so tedious I probably should have shrugged off the unnecessary loot and saved myself the time. However… I just can’t. I have a gaming loot complex or something.
Now. Mass Effect’s real shine comes in the universe Bioware created. When it comes to story, worlds and characters, I’ve become jaded. Final Fantasy X set the bar so high that I found myself constantly disappointed with video game writing and worlds to the point where I stopped caring. In fact, games that take themselves too seriously tend to be a turn off for me nowadays. Last/current gen had a few exceptions to the rule (The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, and The Walking Dead are examples at the forefront of my mind). I’m happy to add Mass Effect to the list. If Cultural Anthropology has ever peaked your interest, Mass Effect will completely tickle your anthropological fancies. All of the alien races hail from fascinating cultures if you care to learn about them. In terms of playing a video game it does lead to pretty poor pacing in the beginning. As soon as you get to the Citadel you can completely envelope yourself in hours worth of side questing and educating yourself on the universe’s other races. And though I vowed to bulldoze through this game as quickly as possible, I couldn’t stop myself from talking to the aliens to learn more about them. Free experience and loot notwithstanding.
With two more games in the series to go (and all the drama surrounding the grand finale) I’m really excited to see where the journey takes me. I’ve heard they stripped a lot of the RPG elements from the successors. While the RPG elements weren’t, like, good, it’d be nice if they decided to improve them instead of eliminating them. Unfortunately, because of the piss-poor inventory system, I don’t see this as a game that will age well with late-coming newbies to the trilogy. The incredible world-building and colorful cast of supporting characters were a suitable counter-balance to the negatives for me.
In case anyone is wondering, I created a badass (Renegade, if we’re being politically correct here) female Shepard. I planned on romancing Kaidan, the dark-haired human who I thought was a pretty sweet guy. But stupid Liara had to come onag and make me feel guilty when she asked if there was, y’know, chemistry. I couldn’t say no. I rationalized my decision with escapism. After all, I have a dark-haired human male at home I can romance whenever. But I’ll NEVER be able to romance a blue-skinned alien, will I?