Mass Effect: Review and Thoughts Part 2
(the first part is here)
Side missions are of two sorts: those set on unpopulated planets, and those set on the populated worlds where the main quests take place. The former are generally not interesting, full of repeated levels, enemies and textures. Shoot everyone in the room, proceed on to the same two rooms filled with randomly generated loot. Meh. There are a couple that fill out the story a little, but that was maybe one in ten. Interestingly, the story in that one was told through text, and rather a lot of it – an alien artifact triggers a vision that tells you a bit more about the Proteans. At least three pages of full-screen text. Sounds like a cutscene got cut!
The side missions set on main quest planets are a different sort. They tend to be dialog-based, free of repetition and generally a lot more enjoyable, though I suppose that depends on how much you like the dialog part of the game.
The whole item system leaves something to be desired. Amping up your character with new items is a big part of RPGs and when you get a unique item, you feel pretty awesome. There aren’t really unique items in this game (I think there’s one set, the special SPECTRE gear, maxed-out versions of all the weapon types). Mostly, you find different sorts of Armour by manufacturer name and add-ons by description with a level added designating how powerful they are, so “Polonium Rounds IV”. That is hard to get excited about. It doesn’t help that you pick up a LOT of items but there is a 150 item limit AND the design of the menu you use to ‘drop’ items (aka convert to omni-gel) is extremely unwieldy. So this crucial aspect of RPGs feels like it was botched somewhat. As far as I’m concerned, if you make an RPG shooter, it should have some serious love and detail with the gun types, and this game don’t.
My whole playthrough took 23 hours. I did a bunch of side missions, but they got so dull I stopped way short of all the ones in my list.
It’s not really fair to mention this since you can’t really judge a game on what it doesn’t choose to do, but… If you’re making a space opera, aren’t spaceships a big part of that? So shouldn’t there be some space combat aspects? Since it’s an RPG, shouldn’t flying different ship types, or at least upgrading your ship, be a part of the game? And tell me space trading space goods wouldn’t kick space ass. Yup, I wish this game was more like Escape Velocity. As irrelevant as that desire may be, it speaks to one’s implicit expectations of an all-encompassing scifi epic.
The main-quest missions are good though. No complaints about that, and I’d generally recommend you stick to the main storyline for an optimal experience.
The overriding impression I get of this game: it’s good, it could have been great, it should have taken more development time but it was rushed to ship by Q4 2007. Really, Jade Empire was a much better game.
Two thoughts. First, are the dialogue-and-story-based parts of this game evolving in a different direction from the twitch-shooting parts? They feel increasingly unrelated in this sort of game, and you wonder if someone shouldn’t make a Mass Effect with no shooting whatsoever. I suppose you might call that an adventure game, so here’s a followup question: how could you make a dialogue-based game that retained RPG elements of character classes, levels and skill development?
Secondly. I think that you may get the impression from what I have written that I hated Mass Effect. That’s not true; if I hated it, I wouldn’t have played it for 23 hours. And I guess I can’t help but think of my writings in the context of all the other reviews of the game – there wasn’t much point in waxing poetic about the game’s strong points, since so many other people have already done that. It’s got a 9 average on metacritic, which illustrates the “game critics give a pass to major releases” theory, at least from where I’m standing. It’s the overwhelmingly positive reviews, but also the hype. We were all talking like 8-year-olds passing a nitrous balloon around for months leading up to it, the expectations were raised, and they could not be met. So you’re left feeling disappointed when the game is, to quote Hardcore Gamer Magazine, “merely very good”. These destructive expectations are only partly Bioware’s fault, in that they made some great games before this. But the real blame lies with the gaming media and the incessant previews.