The Greatest Stories Ever Played – Video Game Review of Mass Effect

After playing through the awesomely awesome Dragon Age and all the expansions, my inner gamer/junkie was still craving another dose of RPG (Role Playing Game) gaming. Saveau tipped me off about a game by Electronic Arts / Bioware, the same group that produced Dragon Age. A sci-fi game called Mass Effect. A RPG that told a grand story on an epic scale. New and different races species! Magic Biotic powers! Magic High-tech weapons! Perilous quests!   Political intrigue! Companions! Interpersonal drama! Romantic encounters! The world universe in crisis!

Could it be? Dragon Age… in Space? Explore strange, new worlds? Seek out new life and new civilizations?

Let’s boldly go!

So I coughed up $20 for both Mass Effect 1 and 2 on Amazon. Not $20 each, I mean $20 for Both. Free Shipping too. Best twenty bucks I ever spent. After well over a hundred hours into the combined games, and you’ll get no argument from me that Mass Effect 1 and 2 are some of the best video games made to date.

Why is Mass Effect so Awesome?

Rich World

The races, places and characters you meet in Mass Effect are so well thought out it kind of makes you wonder why Star Trek: Voyager wasn’t a better show.   Bioware should consider writing screenplays.

Compelling Story

‘Compelling’ is a word rarely used when speaking of video game stories, but it applies to the overarching story of Mass Effect. For example, the opening sequence has my vote for best game intro I’ve ever seen. There are movies that aren’t this good.

And the bad guys aren’t just some drug-running space pirates. This is the most uber-uber enemy I’ve ever heard of! These creatures wipe out entire species! They abduct whole planets of creatures for their nefarious plans! You and your pitiful crew have NO CHANCE. HA! Just try it, Punk.

Safe to say that even the amazing story in Dragon Age pales in comparison to the storyline that runs through the Mass Effect series. Saveau was right when he told me it really is the best episode of Battlestar Gallactica never made.

I let Xtna make my Mass Effect Character for me. An ugly bad-ass... just like me.

Interactive Storyline

The story in Mass Effect changes in response to your decisions. Your choices have huge repercussions on the storyline, not just the ending.   Some decisions that came up in the game, I literally had to walk away from the computer and think about how I should really handle them:

  • Do you save the council members or do you save the citadel?
  • Do you kill the last of a rogue alien species?
  • Do you shoot a teammate you don’t trust?
  • Do you fall for one of your beautiful but emotionally unstable crew members?
  • Do you hold out for your true love, whose picture sits on your desk?

These are not small decisions, they are not easy decisions, and they affect the future course of the game, continuing into future games that you import your character into. We’re all still waiting for an open world with truly multiple high level plots, but till that happens, Mass Effect is raising the bar for an intriguing story with world-changing replayability.

Intuitive Combat and Gameplay

I have a saying for video games and pieces of audio gear that have too many buttons on them. The saying is “Too many buttons” and I usually say it in a faux English accent. I’m happy to report that Mass Effect does not suffer from this problem. Bioware has streamlined the gameplay and combat. If you’re used to First-person shooters, then you’ll have no problem controlling Commander Shepard and letting your companions fend for themselves. If RTS (Real-Time Strategy) games is your thing, then you’ll have no problem micro-managing your space-buddies.

Hacking circuits to get into locked items is one of the fun micro-games in Mass Effect 2

Micro-games

Hacking firewall code? Bypassing circuits to open locks? The little micro-games that you encounter in Mass Effect are fun. Just often enough that you’ll get good at them, and just quick enough that you won’t get bored of them, with one major exception. See Resource Gathering, below.

The romantic encounters with crewmates are a micro-game in themselves, a little spice to shake things up on a ship where tongues will wag. The most fun is choosing whom to knock boots with. Check youtube.com for all the Mass Effect 2 romance soft-porn. And remember to save your game so you can ‘unscrew’ your crewmates!

Complaints Opportunities for Improvement

Just to prove that I’m not being paid by Bioware for product placement here on conradzero.com, I’ll take this opportunity to provide some constructive criticism EA/Bioware can implement in Mass Effect 3.

Resource Gathering

You’re Commander Shepard, the rogue/paragon, elite, spectre, uber-agent of the Future Future Future! Appointed by the High Council to save the metaverse from ultimate destruction!

So why the fuck do YOU have to manually scan planets for resources? Isn’t there a gorram Wesley Crusher on this fricking frigate who can take care of this job that’s more tedious than mixing a thousand Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters one at a time?

In Mass Effect 1, you enter orbit on the planet, click the aptly-named Scan button and whammo! Resources claimed. Even this simple act was tedious with the hundreds of planets to scour. But Mass Effect 2 converts that quarter-second scan into a multi-minute marathon of button-mashing-mouse-dragging nonsense. You need to do it, you will get good at it, and you will get sick of it.

And if I hear “Probe Away” one more time, I will break into maniacal laughter. Actually, I did break into maniacal laughter the first time the computer said, “Probe Away.” Seriously.

Object Selection and Focus

The object selection and highlighting reminds me of System Shock 2… in a bad way. It was wonky enough to be distracting. Objects in other rooms get highlighted that aren’t even visible, but the wall safe that I’m standing right in front of wont…f**ing highlight! Turning oh-so-slightly until the focus switches to what’s right in front of me is like trying to tune the rabbit ears on an old VHF TV antenna.

Movement hazards and hangups

I haven’t played a game before with so many areas that you could get ‘stuck’ on. A couple times I had to fall back to my most recent save game because I found myself levitating on an invisible platform several feet in the air and I couldn’t get back down to the ground.   Come on, Quality Assurance.

Travel

It's 2011 and we don't have flying cars yet... why don't we at least have something like this? (Mako from Mass Effect)

Make no mistake, traveling around the universe is mega-fun at first, whether you are leaping lunar craters in the 6-wheeled Mako, or jetting around the solar system in a hijacked, experimental alliance frigate. But after logging hours (literally hours) at the controls of the Mako, traveling barren planets… that fun will wear off.

These things are annoyances at worst, none of these issues ruined the fun I had playing the game. In fact, I’m looking forward to…

Mass Effect 3 – The FUTURE… Future… future…

Mass Effect 3 should be out around the end of 2011, and I can’t wait.   I’ve had so much fun playing through these adventures it makes it less interesting to watch movies and TV where other people get to have all the fun.

And it’s rumored that if you import your character, many of the decisions you made in Mass Effect 1 and 2 will come over as well. Bring on the repercussions!

Conrad Zero LogoYours Darkly,

Conrad Zero

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Conrad Zero

Yours Darkly, Conrad Zero