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darkskywatcher

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Mass Effect [May. 1st, 2011|11:43 pm]
darkskywatcher
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Mass Effect was a game I passed by when it first came out, mostly due to not owning any platform it was available for generally being kind of skeptical of most games with "serious" sci-fi settings. However, the addition of genghis' XBox to our shared domicile, and the attendent opportunity to watch him replay the game on it gave me the incentive to give it a whirl. I'm glad I did.

Even though it's not a new game, be warned that there are some spoilers later on.

Before I talk about the game in any more detail, I will point out that I am now playing through Mass Effect 2. I could spend a whole post comparing the two games, but I will try to leave that for when I complete Mass Effect 2.
I found the gameplay frustrating at first, because I am generally not very skilled at FPS games in general, especially on consoles. That changed as I had time to adjust to the flow of the game's combat, and also after I let my squad member's use their powers to their own devices.

For those that are curious, I played a Vanguard, ie Combat/Biotics. I had a lot of fun with the combination, because having barrier made it easier for me to survive, and once I had access to high quality weapons, specifically shotguns, I usually had an easy time either assaulting enemy positions or holding off waves of swarming husks. Also, being able to use throw if I got into a tight spot or met an entrenched enemy was nice. Also, throw was just one of my favorite powers to watch.

I was quite pleased when I realized that the "moral choice" system in the game wasn't mutually exclusive over time: accumulating "good" points didn't diminish your "evil" points, though it was generally difficult to get both from the same conversation, and there were some definite decision points where you had to break one way or the other. Still, I was generally pleased that those options were there, and as per usual, just about always took the Paragon option when one was presented.

I also didn't find driving the Mako to be as bad as people make it out to be. Yes, it has a slightly wonky suspension, and navigating the mountains ranges that 95% of the landing zones seem to be in can be frustrating from time to time. But it wasn't that bad. If you've ever tried to wander up a mountain in, say, Oblivion, you know it can be much worse. I also appreciated having the Mako in some situations where I was confronting some mercs or something. Sure, it was a little silly for them to try to fight a tank with their peashooters, but it was extremely gratifying to fire the main cannon at a sniper tower and ruin someone's world.

An interesting theme in the game is the presentation of corporations. While they aren't the main villains of the game, two of the story missions, Feros and Noveria, are essentially stories of corporations deliberately throwing ethical concerns out the window in pursuit of dangerous but potentially lucrative research opportunities. They are furthermore shown to be perfectly willing to abandon, and even liquidate, their own personnel once things go to hell. I'm generally not the biggest fan of corporations, especially biomedical research corporations, so I found the message fairly easy to swallow, but I still thought the emphasis of it was curious.

Now, to talk about some concerns, or at least concepts I found difficult. First and foremost, Shepard. Shepard started the game already a Big Damn Hero. While it was true that the point of the game was to elevate things to an even more epic scale, it was strange for me to realize that Shepard had already completed the hero's journey at least once. It also was strange that he had completed it within the framework of a modern military organization. I'm not military and find emulation or adoration of that lifestyle somewhat perverse, at least most of the time.

Second, romance. I came to the conclusion fairly early on that I wanted nothing to do with either of the romance options available to me(male Shepard, though I have no idea what Kaidan Alenko's appeal would be, either). None-the-less, the game basically forced a relationship with Ashley down my throat through a number of innocuous conversations. Once I realized that it had pulled a fast one on me I tried to back-pedal as best I could, but there really didn't seem to be any way out. This is exceptionally frustrating because I'm still dealing with the repercussions of it in the second game, and I feel like the game is now expecting me to abide by a choice I never made (the picture of Ashley in Shepard's cabin REALLY pissed me off the first time I saw it).

Third, the squad. I assume that three is somehow the idea squad size for game balance, because I find it really odd that I have 6 people available, but I'm only allowed to take two of them at a time, ever. Military squads sure as hell don't operate that way.

Fourth, inventory and resources. I found the constant switching of weapons, armor, and upgrades to be just as tedious as they've been reported to be. Also, because of the way the inventory system works, by mid-game I had reached the monetary limit selling all of the loot I had accumulated. Especially with ammo upgrades, the game positively rains them down upon you, doubly so after any encounter with the geth (ironic since the few geth weapons you acquire are not upgradeable).

Fifth, the Asari. Thousand year lifespans, and the ability to mate with any sentient species and somehow acquire "good traits" from the other "parent" without actually exchanging DNA? Was this really a necessary setting element? The designers seem to have been at least partially conscious that this sounded like sci-fi porn material.

Sixth, racial empires. This is a bit of a tangental rant. While mono-racial empires are a stock trope in Science fiction, I highly doubt that they have a basis in good political science. Think about it. With the exception of races like the volus, who require a different atmosphere in order to breathe comfortably, or racial home worlds that are always likely to feature a population overwhelmingly belonging to a single species, what incentive is there to have settlement consisting of a single species? Immigration brings in cultural and economic synergy, and I don't think that will change just because we learn to fly starships and find out that there are sentient creatures that have a few fundamental biological differences from us. Imagine being the leader of a small, struggling colony. Some aliens want to live there, and willing to abide by the colony's laws and help the colony grow economically. Sure, maybe there are some political landmines there (just as there are with immigration between human nations today), but I would assume that at least some of the time, pragmatism is going to win out.

Seventh, the Citadel {this is where the spoilers come in}. While I understand the existence of the Citadel council, I don't understand how the location is compelling enough to always wind up as the center of galactic civilization. Sure, having servants is nice, but consider the Protheans. Why wouldn't they run their galactic empire from, say, their homeworld rather than some ancient, strangely active station they found in an otherwise abandoned nebula? Also, how did just about nobody figure out that it was an inactive mass relay? I mean, shouldn't it have been a bit obvious?

That's about all I have time for, as I should have gone to bed two hours ago. Glad I played it, good game, but not quite good enough to be one of my favorites.
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