Monday, February 24, 2014

Mass Effect (Spoilers)

Mass Effect is an action role-playing, third-person shooter by BioWare that was released in 2007. Since then it has become more openly available on the PC and PlayStation 3, spawned two sequels and is one of the most popular franchises to come out in the past decade. Today we'll be taking a look at where it all began with the original game for the Xbox 360.

The game opens up like the last two Knights of the Old Republic games, with the Character Creation screen, but it's a little different this time around and has a lot more options for customization than Star Wars. First you have your choice of male and female and then you can select your personal history, work history, and which class you want to be. Your classes are soldier, engineer, adept, infiltrator, vanguard, and sentinel. Each class comes with its own set of skills and and set backs and ultimately comes down to the personal preference of the player.

The rest of the customization is mostly just focused on the character's face. You have your basics such as hair, eyes, iris, nose, mouth and skin. Then your more advanced options which consist of increasing and decreasing the sizes of certain parts of the face. It's a vast improvement from what we got in Knights of the Old Republic, but when it comes to stuff like face, hair, eyes, mouth, lips, etc. it's still rather limited in the options provided. Especially if you wanted a character with long hair.

The gameplay is where its third-person shooter side truly shines. You have your choice of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles for when you engage enemies. Take behind cover to avoid being shot at, and wait for the opportune moment before taking your shot. You can also toss grenades at people and watch them go BOOM! In fact, if it weren't for the stats, experience points, and drawn out conversations with NPCs, you wouldn't even know this was a RPG.

In addition to your armor you have shields to further protect you against enemy fire and so does the enemy. The shields have a health bar of their own to indicate its strength and once it goes down your regular health bar can be chipped away at. Instead of having to worry about reloading (for now) the weapons overheat from prolonged use. While firing pay attention to the bar underneath your weapon, because once it fills up your gun will overheat and you'll need to give it a cooling off period before you can resume fire.

There are several powers throughout the game that you and your teammates will be able to utilize during combat to give you that edge. For example, biotics like Kaidan and Liara can attack from a distance, hurling a person in the air, and leaving them vulnerable to fire. Engineers like Tali, and to a lesser extent, Garrus, can overload an enemy's shield also leaving them vulnerable. Wrex, being the krogan mofo he is, can just charge at an enemy and make them shit their pants. Which special abilities your character can use will depend on the class you pick.

Being able to order your teammates during missions allows for some more tactics to be used in order to give you an advantage in combat. Position them accordingly, set a target for them to go after to take some heat off you, and make sure they stay behind cover so they aren't getting shot at all the time. This also comes in handy when selecting one of their abilities to use.

Light and Dark Side points from Star Wars have been replaced with Paragon and Renegade points. They basically work the same way as in Star Wars. Paragon is your standard good guy answer and Renegade is a crueler approach, but it gets the job done, and you aren't just killing people for shits and giggles. In every conversation you're in you have the ability to rack up points for either (or go neutral) depending on your dialog options. You can also score a bonus based on your personal and service history. These points can still be used to either charm or intimidate in order to prompt a desired outcome from various situations you'll find your character in. If you want to get the most out of it, then I recommend selecting the options that'd make the most sense for your character to choose. It gives them depth.

The beginning of this game is slow as hell. If you're the kind of person who enjoys your stories taking the time to breathe then you may enjoy it. If you're going into it looking for action right away you may find the beginning of the game on Eden Prime and the Citadel pretty boring. These are the parts of the game where it really does feel like a JRPG. The game opens up as soon as you take command of the Normandy and you have your choice of order to do the main quests in, and which side-quests you choose to take. As well as getting to know your crew and pursuing one of two romance plots.

Male Shepard gets to romance Ashley and Liara. Ashley is swapped for Kaidan if you make a female Shepard. Female Shepard and Liara are the closest thing the game comes to an actual same-sex relationship, however since Liara's species, the Asari, have no concept of gender, despite looking like women, it doesn't technically count. Originally, the game was going to allow you to romance whoever you wanted among the three regardless of which gender you chose, however they changed these plans at the last minute. It's a shame since it would have been nice to see such diversity given that this is supposed to be set in the future, but to be fair they do rectify this somewhat in the third game, and if you really want to romance Ashley or Kaidan as Female/Male Sheppard the PC version of the game has some mods you can use to accomplish that.

You know what's coming...

Dun! Dun! Dunnnnn! 

This thing is all over the place with the controls. It takes forever just to turn, especially when you REALLY need to turn! If you want to move to avoid being shot at while firing back it's nearly impossible to aim unless you stand still, but then you get hit, unless you jump a lot. Not to mention that after a while having to run around on planet after planet in this thing gets old very quick. Not a highlight, and I'm glad the sequels did away with the Mako completely. Don't even get me started on its comeback in Mass Effect 4.

Another thing that gets tedious after a while is the elevator rides. They made them long enough to fit in an exchange between your teammates, and an announcement being made through the speakers (or whatever it is) that some times lead to a side-quest. I'd honestly prefer to just take stairs or have an immediate transport to another room. Again, I'm glad this is rectified in the sequels.

You know how Dragon Age II is always criticized for recycling maps? Mass Effect does this to a lesser extent. You only really notice it if you choose to go on a bunch of side-quests. Many of the bases are just recycled every other side-quest you go on, and instead of always using conversations to tell the story (though some times they do) you get little notes that appear on screen that just tells you what happens. Not a lot of incentive to even bother with these, guys. Unless you want experience. It comes off as lazy and the rewards at times aren't worth the trouble of going through some of them.

The dialog options don't always have a whole lot of variety to them. Some times it's just the same piece of dialog with the options, only difference being the amount of Paragon and Renegade points you earn. It just would have been nice to have some more variety which could have added to the game replayablity.

Nihlus and Jenkins, two characters that get some screen time at the beginning and are swiftly killed off as soon as possible, and you just knew it was coming. With Jenkins itching for some real action, and Nihlus wanting you to be the first human to join the Spectres. These characters have no purpose besides that. You may as well just have Ashley in Jenkins' place and Saren in Nihlus'. At least then you'd get the twist of it all being a setup from the start. Better yet, Nihlus should have been the villain revealed in the story. Starting out the way he did with some distrust, but not showing any signs of being a bad guy, only to find out later that he set this up to blame humanity and keep suspicion off himself. That'd cover why he wanted to go out ahead too. If not that then I would have liked to see Nihlus live and join your crew later.

That's another thing that bothers me, they build up these Spectres roles making them out to be super soldiers unlike any other, and the one Spectre we get to see at the beginning gets shot in the back. I know he was taken off guard by a friend, but if he can be taken off guard like any other soldier would then what's so great about the Spectres? There's a lot of telling over showing going on here, and they make the same mistake with Saren. He's built up as a living legend by Captain Anderson, but when you actually run into him I don't get that vibe from him. All I see when I look at Saren is a straightforward villain that wants to destroy the world. Nothing special.

It's nice to see that in the future with space travel humanity has united together to be unlikeable bigots to the rest of the galaxy. Don't forget the hypocrisy. You'll notice that they're dicks to the other alien races then turn around and bitch and moan about how the other races mistreat them. Jeez, I wonder why the aliens aren't fond of you? This isn't a criticism, by the way, this is probably the most realistic depiction of what we'd be like in space in the future, as much as I'd hate to admit it. My issue is that you don't get nearly as much opportunity to call them out on their bigotry, but the few times you get to are pretty satisfying. I love the way Ashley squirms when you Renegade her ass.

Another scene that bugs me is the hearing scene, which is a good example of dialog options not meaning much besides what points you get. You lack the evidence to convict Saren of any crime, so naturally the Citadel Council lets him go. I understand the cast being angry by this, but what gets me is why they act so shock about it. As if their reasoning behind letting Saren go was so unheard of. This is trial 1 on 1, people. If you don't have enough evidence to convict someone you're not getting your guilty verdict, it's as simple as that. What's worse is your character acts like a dick towards them no matter what for just doing their jobs. I get the feeling we're supposed to side against the Council since we know Saren is guilty, but it just doesn't work. Sorry, no. The Council aren't bad people because they use common sense when holding trials.

The Alliance never should have left the investigation to C-Sec if it was so important that Saren's Spectre status be revoked, and by the way, revoking his Spectre status doesn't seem to hinder him at all so that whole runaround at the Citadel? Pointless when it comes to slowing Saren down, acceptable when it comes to recruiting Garrus, Wrex, and Tali.

Despite my grievances, Mass Effect is still an enjoyable game and something I'd recommend if you enjoy science fiction, RPG, and third-person shooters. The game still allows you plenty of choices that progresses the story accordingly and has an excellent library of characters backed up by an excellent voice cast. It's not perfect, but some times you don't have to be.

Try it

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