22 November, 2009

Review: Mass Effect

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, November 22, 2009


Developer: BioWare
US Release: November 2007
Genre: Third Person Action
Price Paid: $10
My Score: 4 of 5


Mass Effect is a confused game. It straddles the line between action and role-playing uncomfortably. It wastes the player's time a lot. And the only reason it got a 4 out of 5 is because it saves the best for last, leaving me feeling better about the game overall than maybe I should.


I classified Mass Effect as a third person action game, since that's how I approached it. Others might say it's more of an RPG because it lets you pause the action at any time to give orders and has a lot of leveling and inventory and other fiddly bits.

But why pause and give orders when your squad doesn't follow their orders very well? They move with no regard for who's shooting them and from where. They get stuck. You can't switch their weapons sometimes for no apparent reason. And they frequently shoot at targets behind walls. At first I wondered why only the bad guys got rocket launchers, then I realized how many friendly fire incidents they would cause and was almost grateful they weren't allowed. As it is, your squad will frequently shoot you in the back, to the point that if their shots actually did damage to you, they would be more dangerous than the enemy.

Tactically, there's not much there. You can only send your squad where you can see, which makes flanking problematic. The AIs mostly just charge or hide. I never felt like they had a plan of any kind. I mainly used the squad commands to keep my idiotic squad mates from standing in the open under enemy fire, which they did frequently.

Leveling isn't very interesting. There are few choices to make and most levels you'll be doing small incremental improvements that mean nothing to how you play.

The inventory system is just a mess. It discourages pack ratting with inventory limits. But then it doesn't give you the same add-ons at every level so sometimes you need to keep older stuff around.

Managing the inventory is tedious at best, and I often felt I didn't have enough information to make good decisions quickly. Is this new assault rifle good for Garrus? I don't know since I can only check his inventory when he's in the squad.

What mods do I have equipped? I have to memorize mod icons to know, and even after I memorize them, I might be using an older, less effective version, so I still have to click on it to check. Are mouseovers really so hard to code?

Plus why does everyone have to carry one of each weapon type when most classes can't use more than two types proficiently? If my engineer had been able to carry multiple pistols, I could have used mods to make them useful for different situations. Maybe I'd have an accurate sniping pistol with an ice mod to reduce enemy accuracy, a powerful but inaccurate pistol with an anti-organic attachment for charging Krogans, anything that actually gave me some choices would have been good.

BioWare is known as an RPG developer, but the RPG aspects of Mass Effect mostly suck.

Time Wasting

I took 22.4 hours (according to Steam) to finish Mass Effect. Steam records the time when I have the game open but am not actively playing, so let's round that down to 20. That probably makes the game too long by half. And that's with me skipping large quantities of side quests and vehicle exploration. I don't even want to think about how long the game would be if you tried to be a completist. *shudder*

This is especially true since the time consuming activities in Mass Effect suck. The most time consuming activities in the game are busy work. Trotting around Citadel station, driving the Mako buggy around on various planets, waiting through load times in elevators, and managing your inventory all suck. Well, driving the Mako isn't terrible. But it's never really exciting and driving over rough terrain makes the going arduously slow.

Of course none of them is as bad as flat out losing hours of game time because Mass Effect's autosave system is garbage. It only saves between transitions on the galactic map and a few points in the main storyline. You can explore an entire planet in the Mako, get one shotted by a giant worm, and have to do the whole thing over again.

"Back to film school ***hole!" - Maeby F√ľnke

So Why Did You Like It?

I liked it because once I got to the endgame and the plot actually moved, it was pretty great. My squad was rocking the bad guys with a wide assortment of super powers and guns. We were learning the secrets of the ancients. The world was coming apart. My investment in the paragon path gave a major enemy a tiny bit of redemption. And the music, which had been halfheartedly languishing in the background, finally kicked in. By the time I hit the end credits, I was really excited.

And supposedly my choices will have an impact on how the sequel plays out, so I'm looking forward to that.

I just hope they streamline the heck out of it because way too many of the time consuming activities in this game are just filler.

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