A few months ago Mass Effect 2 was released, and swept up  by the wave of hype, I picked up the first game in the series to see what all of the fuss was about.  Prior to my purchase I had been made aware of the fact that the second game fixed a lot of problems that fans had with the first installment, however I still wanted to play Mass Effect 1, especially since one of the largest features of the series is the ability to import your save from earlier games into the sequel(s).

Not my Shepard

First, the good:  Mass Effect tells a gripping story that will find a home in the heart of any science fiction fan who appreciates a good space opera.  The build up and pacing of the plot are very well done (assuming that you neglect the majority of the side missions), and the story feels neither cliche or overwrought.  The characters are all fairly interesting, especially Tali and Wrex who I ended up spending 90% of the game with.

And that’s it.  I have nothing else good to say about Mass Effect – or, as I came to think of it – Glitch Effect.

Mass Effect tells a wonderful story, true, but it wraps that gem of a tale into a game that feels unfocused, cumbersome, and extremely poorly implemented.  Fun is exceptionally hard to find in the actual game play, and the many faults nearly drove me to quit the game early on.  Only an unexpected plot twist hooked me in, and allowed me to overlook all of the missteps and complete the game.

Helmet fail

Instead of writing paragraphs about Mass Effect’s faults, here is a summary of the worst of them in point form:

  • Everyone in the game has a massive facial tick when talking.  You can see exactly where the developers glued the different talking animations together.
  • Elevators.  Endless boring elevators that take too long and, worse yet, deny you the freedom to move around.
  • Terrible ally pathing.  My NPCs got stuck countless times, and then randomly teleported back to me.
  • Teleporting in elevators!  It drove me nuts how NPCs would teleport to my side when I stepped in an elevator.
  • Poor dialog system (compared to Dragon Age).  The decision to lay out dialog options in spots that denoted whether they were “renegade” or “paragon” annihilates any sort of decision-making immersion.
  • Voiced main character.  The decision to voice Shepard makes it impossible to identify with him.  (Even more so because male Shepard is a dick.)
  • Dialog selections are often misleading.  Shepard says/does unexpected things – like punch people in the face – without the dialog option telling you as much.
  • The inventory system is extremely cumbersome to the point of being a chore.
  • Everything about the Mako sucks.  The vehicle physics are terrible, the controls feel wrong, the levels are slow, climbing up hills is infuriating, etc.
  • The Mako levels break the contract that the developer has with the players:  while playing Shepard it is impossible to fall to your death; the Mako, on the other hand, can kill you if you slip while driving along a cliff.
  • Combat – especially against bosses – feels random.  On multiple occasions I got killed almost immediately only to reload and pretty much auto-win while following the exact same strategy.
  • Having to hold the space bar to pause makes me want to hit things.
  • Shepard dying ends the game, even if your allies are still fighting.  This just feels silly.
  • The side missions are boring, tedious, and ultimately worthless.  I did two before deciding that they detracted from the game instead of enhancing it.

Whew…. so there you have it.  Despite absolutely loathing the game play in Mass Effect, I can’t emphasize enough much I loved the story.  If Bioware managed to fix even half of the glitches I listed above then the sequel will be a success in my mind…. well, unless the story flops.

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21 Responses to “Post mortem: Mass Effect”

  1. I have not played Mass Effect 2 yet. A lot of people loved it, even preferred it over Dragon Age. I am somehow not in the mood for it. Waiting for Bioware to fix DA:O Awakening. Apparently quite a great expansion, but the number of rather SERIOUS bugs that really would annoy me is outstanding.

    Then I might try Mass Effect 2 after that. But I will probably play Mount & Blade Warband before.

    But I really wonder how much you will like Mass Effect 2. Maybe you manage a review before I buy/play it. :)

    • Yikes – I have DA:O-A, but have yet to try it out. Maybe I’ll hold off a little longer.

      Regarding ME2, I’m waiting for it to go on sale for $20 somewhere before buying it; I’m not sure how realistic that is in the short term. The $30 sales were tempting, but ultimately not where I wanted them.

  2. Yup, fair summary of ME1. And most of the things you talk about are indeed fixed in ME2, particularly the hideous awful Mako and inventory system. I think ME2′s near-invisible inventory system may be the standard for RPGs of the future.

    I think two things you didn’t like are real strengths of both games. I love that the main character is voiced. I can’t defend it, but it makes me more immersed, not less. And I like the simplified dialog tree system, mostly because it removes the ambiguity of misreading the writer’s intent. I think with ME2 vs. Dragon’s Age we’re seeing a really interesting split in RPG design philosophies. Both are strong games, just different choices.

    My guess is you’ll like ME2 better, but still find fault with it. When you’re in the mood for some space opera storytelling give it a go.

    • I’m torn on inventory systems…. they can add a tonne to a game if done right, but are rarely implemented well. Basically what I look for is a game that has meaningful upgrades that force you to consider trade offs, but don’t swap you with choice. WoW actually did inventory fairly well IMO.

      I saw your posts on how you felt the fully voiced main character was preferable, and that you were able to identify your Shepard as “your own”. I never got that feel in my play though, sadly.

      And I like the simplified dialog tree system, mostly because it removes the ambiguity of misreading the writer’s intent.

      There would be no ambiguity if the person who wrote the dialog options actually read the script – I can’t count the number of times Shepard said/did something I didn’t expect in response to a selection I made!

  3. In Mass Effect; I prefer the main character voiced. That’s not always the case: In Dragon Age, for example, it would have been terrible. But Dragon Age – the more traditional RPG – is about building *your* story, while Mass Effect is more interactive-movie. You still “choose your own adventure”, but the story is Shepard’s story. And it’s a great story :)

    The elevators suck; they were an interesting way to handle loading screens (that’s what they are, btw) and the dialog options if you swapped characters around a lot where really entertaining. The news reports – often detailing your exploits, though not always accurately – where a neat addition too…. but neither of those helped to cut the tedium out of elevator rides.

    The Mako…. I understand completely people’s frustration with the Mako. I loved it (though I hated everything that everyone else hated about it) for a very odd reason. You see, Mass Effect *IS* Star Control 2. It’s exactly the same game. The plot is different, of course, and Mass Effect presents each gameplay element in a more modern way… but they are the same game. And Star Control 2 is my favourite game :) You had the story, the planetary lander exploring for minerals, sidequests and special stuff, the galaxy map (though there where thousands of planets in SC2)… and ship battles in lieu of FPS battles. The Mako hit a huge nostalgia bone for me. Nevertheless, I wont miss it in ME2.

    The inventory sucked, too. It was a “traditional” rpg element thrown in for no real use. I personally feel inventory (and even the currency and buy/sell) thing is out of place in that scope of a story. Surely you’d have access to government supplies and credit? You wouldn’t need to scrounge for a couple extra credits to buy an extra pistol, or some ammo?

    I never noticed any visual glitching at all; the lipsynching and voiceacting was very smooth for me, and I had no graphical anomalies of any kind. I’ve heard other people report problems, though, so it may just not work as smoothly with some specific hardware setups.

    I didn’t have to hold the space bar to pause, either? Curious.

    Which ME version did you use?

  4. I’m having many of the same issues you are on the 360, but it’s pretty gripping as far as the story goes. I’m only 10ish hours in, but I absolutely abhor the inventory system. Hate is too weak a word to describe it. And I made a mistake of being an Adept when I started a long time ago, so combat is a little less than awesome for me and my pistols. Overall, it’s keeping me interested. I look forward to getting into ME2, though; I hear it’s a much more solid game.

    • I had heard through the grapevine (pronounced: from the Idle Thumbs podcast) that if I wanted a reasonable play through then soldier was a good class selection. Some classes are apparently quite punishing for newer players to the game. :/

  5. I should probably go back and read your FF-13 review (beat the game the third day it was out and the title suggested it was a walkthrough not a review) before posting this but I am lazy, you have a problem with shepard dieing when you are forced to play him ending the game but not in FF where you get to pick your character?

    Personally ME-1 was one of my favorite games of all times next to KOTOR and Dragon Age (guess I am a fanboy) so when you said there were glitches I was like WTF I never noticed any glitches. Then again I played it on a 27inc CRT tv screen on x-box not the PC version (namely the first one you listed, facial quality on my TV was terrible).

    I love the gameplay, cover-based, squad-based, shooters are so much more enjoyable for me. Although once you get warp and singularity maxed out you never have to fire another shot ever again and you can still beat the game which is kind of depressing.

    I liked the elevators ON THE CITADEL only because they gave you some nice back-story and also some unique dialog depending on who you had in your party. As for the teleporting, I actually thought it was kinda cool.

    Your party is worthless, spam all there abilities at once and then tell them to hide in a corner. On insanity (I think is the hardest right?) I ended up soloing at least 1/2 the game because they would run in and die instantly almost every time.

    The dialog set-up only had one real use, multiple playthroughs. Once you beat the game once you never have to listen to the dialog again once you decide renegade or paragon. The first time through I agree, although sometimes there are things you want to do that are against your alignment. As for the actions not matching the options, this was another huge complaint I had as well. “I have no time for this” = “I have no time for this. (SHOOTS HIM)” me: “Uhhhh….. what?”

    My biggest problem with Dragon Age was the lack of a voiced main character.

    They completely removed the inventory from ME2. With boss ME1 and DA:O it felt like I spent more time in the dam inventory screen than actually playing the game. Huge gripe for me as well.

    The mako on plot-needed worlds sucks for exactly the reason you stated. But the side-mission planets the mako is actually a lot of fun because there are a lot of mountains and you can do a lot of crazy stunts with it while driving. If you read the backstory and actually listen to the dialog that set-ups the side missions, as an RPG fan I felt they were well implemented. From a gameplay perspective I felt they were unnecessarily long because of the way the landing zones and the mountains on the uncharted worlds were laid out making you do way way around to get to almost every objective.

    In insanity, any enemy that charges is absolutely dumb. They are usually the hardest mobs in the game (krogan or geth primes and juggernauts) so they are impossible to kill and one melee swing and they kill you because melee ignores shields. Terrible gameplay decision, so many restarts on insanity because of the random nature of charging mobs.

    • I actually haven’t finished FF XIII nor posted a review. However, I also hate the “main character death = game over” mechanic in that game….. it makes even LESS sense there than in ME. At least in Mass Effect you can justify the Game Over screen because Shepard is the only one who can raise dead, and the game is his personal story…. FF XIII doesn’t have either of those excuses to use.

      As I mentioned above, I played a soldier so didn’t have much in the way of biotics going for me….. I also purposefully had Tali max out all of her noncombat abilities first to promote my own internal roleplay. So maybe I was gimped combat-wise. I never felt that carrying around Leliana in DA:O hurt me though, and she was WEAK.

      My biggest problem with Dragon Age was the lack of a voiced main character.

      I get the feeling that this is a personal preference thing, and most people are on one side or the other with very few fence sitters. I plan on investigating the issue in a future article.

      Regarding side missions, I did read all the dialog and all of the extra info that was available in the codex. I still found the two side missions I did to be extremely tedious but that was mostly due to the Mako and my general ambivalence towards the combat. (I am pleased to hear that combat in ME2 is much better – give me a good story AND good combat and I can forgive most sins.)

      • Can’t wait. One good thing about a non-voiced main character is that whatever you select (99% of the time) is what you do. None of the “O let me say O WAIT YOU DEAD!”

        If anything, your allies are worse in ME2 and soldiers are by far the strongest again because of the massive survivability differences.

        I actually find myself replaying ME1 more than ME2, insanity in ME2 is absolutely ridiculous. ME2 has a really annoying respawn mechanic where locked doors continually spawn enemies until you get to them, which makes staying back and sniping impossible, but for any class other than a solider trying to get up there are all is suicide.

      • “I get the feeling that this is a personal preference thing, and most people are on one side or the other with very few fence sitters. I plan on investigating the issue in a future article.”

        Yup. If Sheperd is voiced, he is Sheperd, not “me”. If he is not talking, it is “me” or “my” char. The talking Sheperd is not mine, he is more an actor to me.

        I actually preferred the main hero not talking in DA:O. There was already enough text, and both games have the danger to become TOO much interactive video. I surely spent hours in the DA:O camp just talking and listening to my group mates, which can at times be just too much.

        Regarding what someone else said, I am a Star Control 2 fan, too. Maybe I should play ME again. :)

      • Just have to add this, sorry for double posting. I really wonder about the upcoming SW:TOR -> “fully voiced”. Will it be really worth it, will people click it away, will they have to listen to it, will it make the game more intense or will it end in boredom induced through babbling NPC companions?

      • I have a feeling that “fully voiced” and “MMO” will not work as intended. Most MMO players seem to be in a rush, and more concerned with min/maxing than with a good story.

        I’ll withhold final judgment until I see it though.

      • Age of Conan’s voicing on the quests levels 1-20 worked for me. It made me willing to actually read the quest text. And I’m sure they kept it short. The worst problem was that there was no voicing after level 20, a big letdown. I think it’s either all got to be voiced or none at all, no middle ground.

        I think the split about main character being voiced in ME2 is fascinating. Looks like I’m in the minority in finding that more immersive. I do agree it was like a movie experience, but that’s exactly what I liked about ME2. Compare also Grand Theft Auto IV.

  6. Curious. I played through first as a Sentinel, and didn’t have a problem at all. There was only one point in the game I had any really frustrating level of difficulty at all, and that was where I was being charged by krogan mercs at very short range. Any longer range was fine – CC powers could bottle them up easily enough, but at very short range when they could one-shot me it was bad.

    A combat complaint I did have though was that your allies seem largely useless most of the time. Maybe I was just unlucky, but I used all of them at various times and found as a rule they neither did significant damage nor attracted any firepower. Enemies would run right past them while they stood in the open to get to where I ducked behind cover. I’m not sure if it was coded that way, or just that I was a good shot and my allies spent all their time playing stormtrooper. Annoying, but it wasn’t gamebreaking for me.

    • I found that my allies were fairly useful so long as I micromanaged their abilities. Tali could really mess up most enemies by disabling their shields and causing their weapons to go haywire. And AI hacking. Sweet, sweet AI hacking.

      Wrex’s biotics were also pretty nasty once maxed out.

      From a pure “shoot X in the face” perspective I’d agree they were less effective though…. but then that’s what my assault rifle was for.

      • 1 or 2? I will assume 2 (even though andrew is back to talking about 1) because I remember reading somewhere that enemies are coded to attack shepard before allies. This can become easily exploitable sometimes when you just sit in cover and enemies just spam non-stop into cover and your allies pic…. O WAIT your allies do nothing. I said it also in ME2 your allies seem to do next to nothing but die if they ever get out of cover for more than 2 seconds. They almost never seem to fire their guns… UNTIL I finally switched garrus to a sniper instead of a battle rifle. Man, that changed things big time. He is like 90% of the time a guaranteed headshot 1-shot kill on an enemy with full shields or barriers still.

        They removed a lot of abilities andrew. The tech disables like overload and dampening, they took the status effects off so they only do damage, and even then only to shields, or just straight up removed them, 1/2 the biotic stuff is gone/changed, lift is gone which really upsets me. Singularity does not do damage anymore and warp is just a nuke not a CC anymore. SO much is different.

        ^ which is such a big reason allies suck in 2

  7. Re SWTOR: I hope it’s fully voiced. I hope it’s NOT just another MMO reskinning and that iT’s a terrible game for min/max sorts. I want it to be Mass Edfect/Knights of the Old Republic in multiplayer form. I’ve nothing against standard MMO’s, but I want something different. I don’t care if it effectively wends when you run out of story (until more is added).

    It annoys me that devs and players both get so hung up on “what an MMO is” and thus give up on meaningful story. Fortunately, if anyone can make an mmo that’s actually story driven, it’s Bioware.

    Re: PC voicing…. I don’t see how someone can be in one camp or another. To me, they aare just different game styles entirely. One is more cinematic (and will as a result have a more detailed, directed story) the other is more open, more traditional rpg instead of cinematic.

    • In that same vein though I do not want to be paying 15 bucs a month for a single-player game they taced some things onto and called an mmo

      • Hadn’t Bioware strongly hinted at their game being F2P instead of subscription?

        Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see what they come out with for sure.

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