27 January 2013

'Mass Effect 1', Part I

The first game is finally on the Playstation 3! Thank the superior being(s). Now I can whine about it. And lose most of my viewers...

No, seriously, I'm happy that I finally have the chance to play the entire Mass Effect trilogy instead of 66% of it. Relying on idiots on Youtube who don't understand how to edit out blunders was getting really old. Now I can finally play with the gameplay mechanics however I want without the rest of the world seeing how badly I play video games. (Sticking to the writing medium is more of my cup of tea anyway. I'm not tech-savvy enough for video.)

So now, on with the longest series of reviews ever! Starting with the first, the original Mass Effect.

This will be a long, whiny, nitpick ride... you sure you want to go on reading this?




My Experience

Because there are various "choices" to make that can affect the people and environment in the entire trilogy, I will sum up my general play style. Hopefully this gives some perspective. Besides, I know there are a handful of nosy people who will be dying to ask me. Mass Effect fans can be like that.

Most of the time, I play a female Shepard as a Paragon. (Though there are times I can't resist the Renegade option.) Appearance means next to nothing. Shepard's background history and psychological profile does not concern as I like to spice things up each time I play. I am comfortable with a class that does more than point and shoot. I like the disarming techniques of the Infiltrator and Engineers, the crowd-control of Adepts, and the thrill-seeking tricks of a Vanguard. The "support your team" style of Sentinels never do much for me, and Soldiers are powerful but far too limited for my tastes.

I like talking to everyone in the crew and taking on as many assignments as possible; however, I don't strive to be a completionist. More likely than not, I complete side missions that will make some kind of effect in later games. Sometimes I spend a full play session doing nothing but side missions or conversing with characters. Simply put, I invest far more in dialogue choices than combat and weapons.

As for the first game itself...

When it came out in December 2012, fans addressed many issues they had with Mass Effect for the PS3. There were mostly technical issues and audio/visual glitches. Some parts of the game would freeze and crash so badly that the files were corrupted and had to be reinstalled. The hacking mini games were declared "impossible" to complete. From what I found, there was no specific commonality other than those who downloaded the game off PSN filed more complaints to Electronic Arts and BioWare.

Having played it from a disc, I only saw a few audio glitches in my first playthrough. Ever since, they came up once in a blue moon in a random fashion. Some cutscenes were affected one time and not any time after. It's pretty odd. The hacking mini game works perfectly fine for me and I gathered far too much loot for me to deal with. All other problems I had will be addressed later. Because, oh, superior being(s), this game has problems.


Gameplay

Part role-playing game, part third-person shooter. Tons of action. I originally hated the idea, since I almost always refuse to touch a shooter with a twenty billion mile pole. Yet so many people adore this franchise and it was hard to run away for long. Curiosity winning once again, I sucked it up and played.



Battle Essentials (Or Fangirl explaining the game in too much detail)

Guns are your primary weapon, but there are some offensive abilities and talents you can unlock and invest in. It all depends on the class you chose for Shepard. There are six to chose from and the abilities you may use relate to one or two of these fields: combat, tech, and biotics. (Biotics is this universe's equivalent of magic.) Later games expand on the limits to abilities and add new techniques for each class, but this is the basic run-down:
  • Soldiers are strictly combat-based and use a variety of guns to help you fight a variety of enemies. Damage protection and heath are recommended investments to last longer in a fight. 
  • Infiltrators use some of the same weapons as a soldier, but use tech skills to hack machines and take down shields. Their signature weapon is a sniper rifle. 
  • Engineers use a pistol, but are strictly tech-based (hacking, disabling, etc.) 
  • Sentinels have tech and biotic skills to take down a variety of defenses. Sadly, they are inefficient in using guns, making them a support class for the team. 
  • Adepts use biotic abilities to attack enemies and have some crowd control. Like Engineers, they only have a pistol as backup. 
  • Vanguards use their biotics more for offensive, in-your-face combat. They might not have every weapon a soldier does, but they can still deal a lot of damage with a shotgun.
When looking at several guides online, I found many people place the Soldier class on a pedestal. Oftentimes these individuals would call the other classes "weak" because they can only use a fraction of the firepower a Soldier has. Worst of all, they'd declare all biotic and tech-based skills as worthless in a game with guns, bullets, and grenades. And Fangirl disagrees wholeheartedly.

Sure, once you adapt to the gameplay mechanics, you could breeze through without needing a tech-reliant squadmate to hack every container to sight to obtain loot. Do you need to constantly obtain gear and weapons to beat the game? No. Does that mean Mass Effect must be a combat-only shooting fest with bullets flying everywhere? Since this series is at least part RPG, no way.

I know I won't change everyone's mind, but biotic and tech abilities can save your life in the worst situations. A heavily invested Electronics skill unlocks Master Overload, causing synthetic enemies to explode. An army of biotics knocking you down and preventing you from shooting? Damping can inhibit their abilities enough for you to get yourself back up to deal some damage. Sabotage does the same thing to guns, especially to enemies that can kill in one shot. Lift suspends multiple enemies in the air; Singularity picks up enemies and pieces of the environment to cause extra damage. Etc, etc.

Sometimes guns are the most effective tools, sometimes it's biotics: it all depends on the mission and the squadmates you bring along.

But, Fangirl, which class should Shepard be in? This is a playground, you decide and play around with the tools you get. However, there is one suggestion I heard about several times and I agree with it. Start your first career as a Soldier. This allows you to used to the shooting gameplay and you get to play with your squadmates' abilities to see if you want to try something different in the next playthrough.


The First Ragtag Bunch of Misfits

When beginning a mission, you must chose two people to be in your party. No squadmate is necessarily superior to another, but it is strongly recommended that you have a balanced makeup. Have a little bit of tech, combat, and biotics to take care of any situation. Thankfully, the squad makeup is relatively easy and straightforward in the first Mass Effect. There are six people each representing one of the classes Shepard could take. Ashley is the Soldier, Kaidan the Sentinel, Wrex the Vanguard, Garrus the infiltrator, Tali the Engineer, and Liara the Adept.

Color-coded and everything. Very simplistic, no?
So let's assume Shepard is a Sentinel. You would need a squad with combat specialists to have a chance at dealing damage. Ashley fits the role perfectly. The other member might be tricky. It would be pointless to bring Tali since she has no biotic or combat skills to help you. Kaidan might not be the best choice since his skills are exactly like Shepard's... and he has no combat skills. Liara is a biotic, but Wrex has some of her abilities with high, regenerating health, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. Easily, he's the better option. Despite having Kaidan's problem with tech, Garrus could work for his combat skills and accessibility to assault and sniper rifles... if his defense didn't suck. OVERALL: Ashley and Wrex are good; Garrus and Kaidan are okay; Tali and Liara are not recommended.

Once you get used to planning like this (or through trial and error), the game becomes a breeze and you might end up bringing certain squad mates along since they seem most effective. The majority of enemies in the game are all synthetic machines, and techies tend to fight them more effectively.

The game does not function like many shooters this generation is used to. The emphasis on action typically found in the genre is relatively weak: cover barely works, jumping from cover to cover is minimal, and unlimited ammo prevails. "Just run and gun." With high health and shields, this tactic is the only one that really works. Let's say that after playing Mass Effect 2 and 3, this game was a pain in the butt. I had to completely change the way I play to abide by the new rules and system. After fifteen hours and adjusting the difficulty level a few times, I got used to everything and the game was easier to deal with.

Point and shoot. Cover is not your best friend here.

The Other Half of the Game

As video games try more and more to be like movies, plot and characters become more and more important features to be critiqued. Some people do not always acknowledge that standards of reviewing games are changing. (Not that some raging blogger is the pinnacle of practicing that act.) There are still many gamers throw their arms in the air and scream "Who gives a shit?" since it's the gameplay is all that matters. On the other hand we have games like DmC or Final Fantasy 13 that get slammed by fans because their stories and characters are either stupid or nonsensical.

Granted, some games are not meant to be taken under as much scrutiny as movies. Are the Mario or Little Big Planet franchises known for legendary epics, spanning for hours-upon-hours? Of course not. However, if a game is trying to have a cohesive story juggling numerous characters, story arcs, and plot threads, these things must be analyzed. Since Mass Effect was meant to be a trilogy, it needs to be taken seriously. At the very least, the mechanics used to advance the plot can be discussed here. The writing itself will be tackled later.

The story might need to move forward as you gun down geth, mercenaries, and psychotic biotics, but you will spend far more time talking. The basic set up for conversations is fairly straightforward. You get a dialogue circle, with six spaces for the various potential ways to respond to characters. Whatever each option says tends to be just as you think it will be, though not word-for-word. Sometimes you can pick an option, thinking it will say one thing, but Shepard ends up saying something completely different. It is uncommon, though.

Choices on the left side tend to be "investigative", leading to a variety of topics which you can ask various questions. On the right side we have the options that tend to have a "let's get on with it" feel. However, there are certain ways you can say it. That's where morality comes in: Paragon or Renegade. You can play Shepard as one who likes compromise, hates corruption, and shows compassion (Paragon), or you can play as a xenophobic, ruthless, ends-justify-the-means kind of guy (Renegade.) Both descriptions are somewhat generic, but simply it's a be nice or be an asshole system. Paragon responses tend to be at the top, Renegade at the bottom.  There are "neutral" choices as well.

The game is flexible enough so you can fill both Paragon and Renegade meters in one playthrough if you wish. In that case, Shepard would be a bipolar maniac, but it's up to you. Overall, it helps to be consistent, thankfully the game does not punish you for not having a very full Paragon or Renegade meter. Like your other abilities, you can invest in charm and intimidate talents to unlock "third options". Sometimes a big event might happen and a special option may pop up on the left side of the dialogue circle. The response may be highlighted in blue (for Paragon) or red (for Renegade). They are not mandatory, but sometimes these are good rewards for playing a consistent Paragon or Renegade.

In these times you can talk to people and obtain side missions, or be forced to decide the fate of characters. Sometimes you might find yourself stuck for a few minutes, wondering which choice will lead to the best, or least-awful results.

Of course, you don't have to be a nice guy or a jerk for every occasion. However, you might feel the need to be consistent because sometimes no matter what option you pick, it feels that Shepard will say the exact same thing. The options might say "If you insist", "Okay", or "What a waste!", but no matter what you pick Shepard will always say "C'mon, let's keep moving." When and where you are rewarded Paragon or Renegade points is inconsistent and unpredictable too. You can have six dialogue wheels appear in one conversation, but only one will grant points based on your response.


Despite these concerns, it's the flexibility that makes the overall conversation and morality system easier in this game than in Mass Effect 2. It works well for what it does.


Any Woes?

Let me say this right off the bat: the first Mass Effect is my least favorite game in the trilogy. Things just did not start off too well in terms of gameplay, presentation, dialogue, and characters. For better or for worse - I'm not sure which - the best aspect of this title is the plot. I'll get to this later, but to put it simply, it was the most consistent in the trilogy. Now, I need to touch on various parts of the gameplay that I have not touched.

The Mako. Holy crap, the Mako.

I do not hate this as much as everyone else, but man, this thing is broken. In fact driving anything in any video game never turns out very well. You thought the Sonic games hate basic laws of physics? The Mako says "%^$# you!" as it drives up steep mountains without gravity or inertia to slow you down or to stop you. A tiny pebble on the ground will let the tank fly in the air and spin around like a dolphin before landing awkwardly. Bonus points if it lands upside down, Sonic 06 buggy style. That's not including the times when the game decides to glitch out on you!


"Critical Mission Failure." No, really, I ever noticed that, did you?

Thankfully the above video has not happened to me. However, I once left the Mako to shoot a few enemies, and once I returned, the thing wouldn't drive at all. Next thing I knew... CRITICAL MISSION FAILURE. No reason, no explanation, just GAME OVER. I have not been able to reproduce it, intentionally or not, but I am forever paranoid that the Mako would try to screw me over someday.

Is there any problem with the game that does not involve glitches? Yep. Absolutely. It's called the inventory.


The Perfectionist's Hell: Micromanagement on Steroids

If you thought keeping track of how balanced your squad made your head hurt, then you have seen nothing. This game gets really terrible at this point. Brace yourselves.

You have to keep track of the following things in the game:

  • Investments in Shepard's abilities
  • Investments in your squadmates abilities
  • What abilities for each squadmate to invest in based on Shepard's class and preferred squadmates to bring on missions
    • i.e. Should Wrex invests in guns more than biotics if Shepard is a biotic? Should Tali and Kaidan specialize in the same tech skills if you bring both often? Etc.
  • Shepard's armor
  • Your teammates' armor
  • Armor modifications
  • Shepard's weapons
  • Your teammates' weapons
  • Weapon modifications
  • Ammunition modifications
  • How many grenades Shepard has
  • Effective medi-gel upgrades
  • Grenade modifications
  • Omni-tools for tech squadmates to use
  • Biotic amplifiers for biotic teammates to use
  • How much omni-gel you have
  • Have you reached the 150 item limit?

Other woes include:
  • The names of the manufacturers of weapons, armor, upgrades, and modifications you obtain
  • Do you have the licenses of these manufacturers?
  • The tier number of each weapon, piece of armor, upgrade, and modification you obtain
  • Organizing the loot you obtain
  • Do you have a squadmate in your party with a high enough Electronics or Decryption skill to open storage containers for loot instead of you going to stores to buy equipment?

Not every single thing here needs to be checked all the time, not everything here is a huge issue. Sadly, several of these things are when enough of them pile up to make you spend five or ten minutes dealing with a full inventory, a bunch of talents to invest in, and seven individuals.

Nothing against Tali... but ARGH! Not the screen!
Equipment is a pain for several reasons. First, not every squadmate can hold the same weapon, so it is pointless to assign a shotgun to Liara if she cannot specialize in it. Tali cannot use an assault rifle and Wrex a sniper rifle. It's bad enough when people claim guns are the only good offensive tools in this franchise, so what's the point in giving a kid a military-grade weapon he has no training in?

Second, thanks to the biologically diverse cast, not everyone can wear the same armor! Some people can only wear light or medium armor, each kind having their own attributes. Only Liara can wear armor tailored to humans: Tali needs armor for quarians, Wrex for krogan, and Garrus for turians. Guess which armor is more commonly found in stores and storage containers?

Third, only certain manufacturers produce certain equipment for specific purposes. (One might make every gun and only krogan armor. Another might only make biotic amps and human armor. Another just omni-tools, a pistol, and turian armor only, etc.) There will be some people you will never bring along because you cannot properly equip them to withstand a firefight like everyone else. If you want to try, find the right stores, the right manufacturer, or the right planet to get what you need. Even then, you might not have enough money, or Shepard is at a low level. In my experience, Tali was the hardest character to invest in. Ashley was the easiest. Everyone else ranged from moderate (Wrex) to annoying (Kaidan).

Fourth, the biotic amps, omni-tools, and grenades add more troubles. The amps and omni-tools are not very common finds although at least five people need one or the other. Kaidan needs both while Ashley needs neither. Like every item mentioned, they have certain attributes to improve offense, resistance, or cooldowns for abilities. Not too horrible, but this is yet another small thing to keep track of as you gather a ton of garbage to sort through.

Fifth, the modifications. Most guns have two slots, one for the weapon and the other ammo. The higher classed merchandise gets three slots: two for the weapon, one for ammo. Armor is similar: the lower quality stuff gets one slot, and the better stuff two. Just... WHY? Nearly half of the mods make little difference, even when you equip them on your teammates because their AI make them unstoppable shooters with little to no consequence on weapon overheating!


Overall, this is what you probably need to do at least once an hour. In your squad you keep track of each teammate's talents and abilities (about eight per person), their armor and modifications (three on average PLUS the one mod for each), weapons (depending on the class of each person, four to ten guns PLUS the two mods for each), omni-tools and biotic amps (one to four or five total), and grenades (only Shepard, thankfully). Not counting extra loot, guns, and armor to sell later or convert to omni-gel, you could keep track of 56 different things. Just for a squad of only three, including Shepard. I have not added the other four people into the equation.

I bet you are in pain from reading this, right? Well, this whole ordeal wouldn't be so bad or hard if organizing everything wasn't so damn impossible. You know how in most games with an inventory if you have more than one unit of an item, it will be obvious and visible? For example, if you have five, identical copies of the same weapon (i.e. "lightweight bow E") the inventory will say "lightweight bow (5)". Or sometimes the inventory will have things listed alphabetically and will list things as so:

lightweight ax B
lightweight bow A
lightweight bow E
lightweight bow E
lightweight bow E
lightweight bow E
lightweight bow E

Apparently, Mass Effect wants to be different and make a once inventory-tolerant individual's life a scrambled, micromanaged nightmare. There is no way to keep track of how things are stored. You can't change how you want things to be listed. I swear it must be random and does what it pleases. You might not know if you have a Cryo Ammo VII because it's buried underneath three copies of Armor-piercing Ammo II, five of Incendiary Ammo IV, and ten of Cryo Ammo III!! And because the text does not move for you to read what the item really is, you have to manually pick the item to read what tier level the damn thing is. And you have thirty more things to go! If you gather loot and think you have a Combat Scanner V already, too bad! you have to take the item into the inventory and search the whole list to see if there was a duplicate!

*hyperventalates*

I feel like I spent half of the game doing nothing but organizing this mess. It is immersive-breaking to the core. Anyway, I need to rant about something good soon. This will be the death of me otherwise... @_@

Was BioWare right to drop this system? Abso-freaking-lutely YES! Did they need to completely drop the idea of having AN inventory system for good? No. All they had to do was try a new, practical one that takes little time to go through. Sure, it still breaks the pace, but organizing, keeping track of duplicates, and equipping upgrades need to be efficient so it does not piss off players. Believe me, I have dealt with inventory systems in games, none have been this detailed, impractical, nonsensical, and infuriating.

*sigh* Moving on.

Nearly 10 million?! If real life were that simple...
Finding money and omni-gel are never a problem. The currency system is broken and easy to manipulate. By the time you reach level 30, the game becomes too easy to care about buying things or needing omni-gel to fix the Mako. Your credits will be in the millions and omni-gel well past the 500 mark. Loot will become meaningless to gather unless you really want the experience points. Thankfully that did not become a problem, just a joke. After screaming at the inventory set-up, I needed something easy to take and run with.


Now... About the Technical Issues...?

In relation to gameplay? Oh, yes, I almost forgot.

As mentioned previously, I never ran into problems with the hacking mini games. All you need to do is to press buttons as they appear on the screen quickly and in the correct order. It can be difficult to get right the first few times, but over time you get used to it. In the worst case scenario, just use the omni-gel you'll never run out of.

Thankfully, all the problems I found seem to be found in all releases of the game. On the other hand, it makes one wonder why these things have not been fixed.

Squadmates sometimes decide to stick to Shepard and never let go. If you want to open the door, you have to move the camera in a way so the action button will say "door: open" instead of "[squadmate name]: talk". Sometimes in combat you can sprint across the room to get them off and let them do their own thing, sadly, it only works 2/3 of the time. If it fails, they get in your face, you can't see worth crap, and your teammate gets shot at instead of the enemy. It gets annoying very quickly. It only really happens after entering hideouts and bases on side missions on some planets throughout the galaxy. This has never happened on a main story mission for some reason.

Sometimes Shepard walks sideways for no explained reason and I can't leave a room. It lasts for a few seconds and things return to normal. I still have no idea how that happened. Oh, and the game crashes once every five hours for no comprehensible reason. During load screens. Most times that is my cue to get up, turn off my PS3 and hit to bed. That is a frustration I cannot deal with, especially when it was a while since I saved.

Honorary mention:
The elevator rides weren't that bad either. I kinda liked them.
Speaking of which, this is more of a technical occurrence rather than an "issue" or "glitch". The autosave is complete crap. Remember that Mako glitch I ran into (no pun intended) when it would not move? When the game reloaded to my last save point, I lost twenty five minutes of progress. Autosaving is so infrequent and so random. Add in the frequency of crashes I had, I became too paranoid to go into any new room, engage in a new conversation without manually saving. Of course, this might be my being spoiled with the active, omnipresent autosave features of the later titles. Still, it was a problem before. Thankfully it was fixed in later games. I'm still paranoid, but after playing this several times, I can predict my chances of losing data quite well.


~~~~~~~~~~


Okay, I rambled on enough. Next time, it's the characters (that matter) and the plot!
Maybe the nitpicks won't be as frequent... no promises.


No, really! The elevator rides were not THAT bad! I spent more of my time on the inventory screen or in the Mako!

3 comments:

Rae said...

Congratulations! You have been nominated for the Liebster award !

I just wanna say that I love all your ramblings <3 You did such a great review on this game :O

Voltech said...

"On the other hand we have games like DmC or Final Fantasy 13 that get slammed by fans because their stories and characters are either stupid or nonsensical."

It's as if this post was made JUST for me.

Anyway, Mass Effect. I'll gladly admit that the franchise is one of my favorites to come out of this generation; that's not to say that it's perfect, but in terms of the ratio of "getting it right" to "just plain sucking", ME errs on the side of getting it right.

I will say this, though: while I like that there's a HUGE emphasis on conversations in this game (so much so that it completely trumps the gunplay), I feel like it's a little too easy to go on autopilot during the conversations. If you're playing as a straight Paragon, I suspect that as long as you keep picking the top option you'll always get positive results. There's no incentive to try anything else (though the same is true if you go straight Renegade) -- doubly so if you want to max out your meters. It kind of hampers the decision-making and morality aspect of the game, IMO.

Well, whatever. It's not a game-breaker, but just an observation I can't help but make. In any case, it's good to see you tackling the game -- and the series -- in full, so I'm looking forward to seeing what you say next.

On to Part 2, then! *jumps onto catapult and launches into the sky*

.:Melanie~Light:. said...

Heh, I won't lie. Your rants on DmC and FF13 inspired me to add that point. It's seems very hypocritical in a way.

One minute, some give a game a high score for so-called "BREATHTAKING" graphics despite its story being shit. The next time, those same people will bitch about horrible a game's plot is [whether it truly is or not], even when it has a genuinely good technical presentation. That's why I cannot tolerate any professionally-paid critic who reviews Sonic games anymore.

Anywho.

'Mass Effect' was a very ambitious series to make, and I think, yes, it generally does well. I guess part of me just likes tearing apart something I like. XD

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