13 February 2013

'Mass Effect 1", Part II

So... Mass Effect. Looks like we didn't start off too good, did we?

The first game has the most infuriating gameplay I have experienced in this trilogy. Many other fans who had access to this years before me would strongly disagree. They cherish the five-year-old game like a Pokemon fan reminiscing on Blue or Red for the Gameboy Color. Part of me really wishes I could think of it as fondly, but my perspective and experience are too different from those Xbox 360 and PC players.

On the bright side, I do appreciate and understand the undying love. I've played these games to death. When I sit in class as my professor presents a series of notes that my life depends upon to uphold my grades and keep my scholarships, I daydream about being lost in the fiction for hours. I give evil glares of hatred to all the guys who sit on their asses playing video games all day as I study. My PS3 sits at home and waits for me to return once every six weeks. Once I'm home and ready to relax, any one of the Mass Effect discs begs me to pay attention to it... Like a druggie failing rehab, I give in every time. Of course I love this series. Why else have I rambled about this franchise aimlessly to my friends and on my blog since last summer?

Still, as an amateur, nitpicky reviewer I have to attempt to be somewhat objective. Being a contrarian is not my intention at all. I sure am opinionated, but pissing people off over statements I make is not something I strive for when I wake up every morning.

If you have not read Part I... go back three spaces and come back when you did your homework. Now I will dive into characters and plot.

As common sense will tell you, there will be SPOILERS.


I'll only deal with the ones you'll be stuck with for the majority of the game: your squadmates and the villains.

Many fans believe that the aliens are a billion times more interesting than the humans. No one gave a crap about Kaidan Alenko the Bland and Ashley "Space Racist" Williams. Everyone loves Urdnot Wrex, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T'soni, and Tali'Zorah nar Rayya since they have far more interesting things to say. And they're ALIENS! *_* (Gag me.) I never found Ashley or Kaidan to be so boring that they suck. At the very least, they fulfill a certain role in the plot and that is perfectly acceptable. Believe me, I don't love them, but I see their [limited] use in the first game.

The Humans with Wasted Potential

The "space racist" description for Ashley is extreme and uncalled for. Yes, her most memorable moment was her expressing concern about Garrus and Wrex hanging around a human ship. It's only the comparison she used that was stupid. Generation Life is better at articulating why society is brainwashing the youth to fornicate and to abuse drugs. Furthermore, how come Navigator Pressley gets a free pass when he has the same exact concern not even ten minutes earlier? Saying he's a character so minor that he means jack and squat is not an excuse, guys.

Ashley's reasons for being nervous about - not hateful and excluding towards - the aliens are understandable. Having them on a human vessel wandering around and checking things out without restrictions is indeed concerning. Do I agree that Wrex, Garrus, and Liara should be treated any less because they are not human? No. They are fully capable of intelligence, reason, morality, and emotions, just like a human. Of course Ashley's explanation about the dog and the bear was a stupidly embarrassing way to get her point across, but I understand her point.

Otherwise, there's nothing to her character. Actually, no. Her family's name has been disgraced ever since her grandfather was the only one to surrender to the turians during the First Contact War. Ever since, any Williams related to him could not surpass a certain rank within the Alliance military. That was interesting enough that if she lives to Mass Effect 3, she breaks that curse and is promoted to a rank that her entire family is proud of. Other than that, she has little to offer than a sometimes funny, blunt mouth. That and she's more open about her family and personal beliefs than the other human.

Even Dr. Chakwas looks bored.
Kaidan is okay, only because I came to like him in Mass Effect 3. (I had a save file where Shepard was in a relationship with him, only to cheat in 2. I unexpectedly felt pretty awful about it...) Without the final installment, I probably wouldn't give a crap about him. He's laid-back and calm, but he sits on the end of the spectrum where you wonder if there is anything else to him. And not in the good way.

Sure, he had a pretty lousy life as a biotic with really crappy migraines, and either he or Ash could die in one plot-relevant mission. But that's all the game really offers. His presence gives little to no insight on some of the technological or social aspects of Mass Effect's rich fiction. Being a human biotic, which is not entirely common, could have worked since most non-asari biotics are greatly disliked for questionable reasons. Too bad the second game introduces someone far more interesting who seizes that opportunity and runs with it, spewing a few charming f-bombs along the way.

For the human squadmates here is my conclusion: Kaidan does not have a moment where you could really care and Ashley has a moment when you could potentially hate her for shallow reasons. Both have potential premises, but are not very well implemented into the trilogy as a whole. As a result, they are some of the most forgettable characters, and it's not because they are human.

Wait, there's more! Do you know what is the best part? They are heterosexual romantic interests for Shepard! Liara is the other choice, though not technically a lesbian option for femShep. (Long story short, asari look like human women, but the species is monogendered.) Talking to them can be a pain though. If you do not want to be in a relationship with anyone, avoid talking to them at all costs. It does not matter if you take nice Paragon, indifferent neutral, or rude Renegade when talking to them willingly: they will fall for you. Playing a male? Avoid Ashley and Liara. Playing a female? Avoid Kaidan and Liara. However, the game will force you to talk to them at some point and time for plot reasons. Just take the neutral option to avoid giving them ideas.

Not only are the romance mechanics frustrating, fans were not happy about the very tiny pool. As an apology gift, BioWare threw in more fish into the mix in Mass Effect 2. And there was much rejoicing.

The fact that I had to explain any of this pretty much shows how ridiculous the romance subplots are handled here. Sure, they feel more "natural" as they take time to develop and grow, but it's easy to get permanently trapped in a romance if you did not want one in the first place. You can only fix this ala dumping the lover in later games (mainly 3). I prefer Mass Effect 2's constantly asking "are you sure you want to continue this?" in every dialogue circle, thank you very much.

Okay, let's get back on track.

The AWESOME Aliens... That Vomit Exposition

You can skip all the dialogue with everyone if you want to rush through the game. That is the worst way to play the game. However, no one really has much of a character arc here. It's just... some exposition about their races to help update the Codex and gain experience points. You can get a side mission from Garrus, Tali, and Wrex, but that's the extent of their presence. Such a shame.

Liara is not at her best in this title. Young, naive, awkward. However, as a scientist studying the most mysterious alien race in the galaxy that suddenly vanished gives her a few points. She easily wins for being the major source of exposition and plot relevance. You must recruit her in order for her to try to understand the strange, violent vision Shepard received early on in the game.

Oh, and her mother is working for the villain! That throws in some emotional stakes. Despite the questionable dialogue during that moment with Benezia on Noveria, I could say that I didn't mind Liara. She had her purpose and she's somewhat likable. Her voice is annoying, although Ali Hillis could have been far worse. And she talks a great deal about her people... like Wrex and Tali.

Speaking of which, Tali and Wrex were the two characters I enjoyed immensely from day one. Unlike the human characters, Wrex says little, but is full of personality and is hilariously snarky. )Seriously, just throw him in an elevator and let the awkward, funny background dialogue commence!) Then the game throws in a subplot about his people and their genetic sterilization. This eventually snowballs into a major conflict by Mass Effect 3, and this was a great, but small way to start it off. Wrex is greatly tied to this story arc and whatever his fate is once you hit Virmire, the consequences will make this topic more complicated.

Like Liara, Tali has a connection with the antagonists. The main enemies faced in this game, the geth, were created by Tali's people. With her knowledge on the geth, she ends up finding valuable data stored in one unit to help Shepard prove to the galactic council that Saren is a rogue criminal. And, like Wrex bringing up the genophage, she brings up the history of the geth, ultimately building up to the massive arc present in ME2 and 3. Tali might not do much else in this game, but if you complete her side mission, it adds a nice dialogue bonus later on. She might not have as much personality as Wrex, but she - and her people - get a nice introduction that will help with plot progression later on.

And what does she really look like? ... ... Don't answer. We'll get there later.

Finally, the one I end up liking the least. The one who just happens to be one of my favorite characters in the trilogy.

Oh, Garrus, the fan favorite, the best friend 'til death in so many playthroughs, why are you so bland here?

The poor guy has NO baring on the plot at all. At least Tali and Wrex help introduce plot threads that expand and develop throughout the entire trilogy. At least Liara, the closest thing to a creator's pet, has some valuable exposition or a connection to the enemy. At least either Ashley or Kaidan say much about themselves and can die. Garrus does NOTHING. He doesn't even say much about himself! And yet, fans adored him sooo damn much that he came back in the later games with character development and "combat upgrades" to make him a worthwhile filler character and more "reliable" glass cannon. (Spoilers: his defensive skills, even by ME3, still SUCK.)

Yep. I just bashed 'em. Come at me, bro!
Once you run into him, you can recruit him or tell him to buzz off because he's an alien. ("Space racist Shepard for the win! #hypocrite") If you do bring him along, all he does is be extremely friendly and polite while looking up to Shepard as a mentor. Either you can reinforce his reckless "ends justify the means" ideals, or disagree outright. Regardless, he still respects Shepard highly and does not take any slight disagreements personally. But it's his constant niceness and minimal involvement or connection to the villains (other than being a turian like Saren) that makes him feel flat as tissue paper with no direction or purpose in life. It's so embarrassingly adorable at how undyingly loyal and friendly this guy is. Sheesh, he's like a little lost puppy that Shepard can adopt because he/she would feel bad leaving him behind.

Before the die-hard Garrus fans scream, wail, and fling tomatoes at me, I have a love/hate relationship with this guy. On the one hand, I find it very easy to tear this guy to shreds at times. Otherwise, I can squee over him for hours. Especially in ME2 and 3... and since most times I play -

Crap! I'm getting off topic... Garrus is destroying my ability to think critically... um... Villains! O-onto the v-villains! @_@

Unfortunately, they barely get much screen time. Benezia has just one moment of characterization that only works if Liara is in your squad when you confront her. With little to no personality and no time for character development her sole purpose is to provide a device to keep the plot going. The moment between her and Liara would have worked if the game provided some background history between them. And [even if BioWare did try] it really seems like there isn't.

If you read Mass Effect: Revelation, you get a more detailed version of the story you hear about Saren's reputation. It's not a mandatory read, but it does help flesh out his character more. Even without it, Saren is still a better executed villain. Depending on how the two interactions go between him and Shepard, you can influence him enough to think twice about his actions. One actual combat fight is mandatory, the other is not; it's so satisfying when you finally used your charm/intimidate skills for something helpful. Saren's ultimate advantage is that there is enough exposition to add some meat to a potentially pointless, one-note villain. By the time you meet him at the end of the game, all his pawns are either useless or dead and you finally understand that he is not the big bad. It's Sovereign.

Is Saren the best villain in the trilogy? Nope, but for a title that might not have had sequels if sales were poor, he's easily the best here.

I'll get to Sovereign later. Simply put, though, he's more of a plot device than a character. Moving on.


As much as I ripped and shredded into every other aspect of the game, when it comes to the trilogy as a whole, Mass Effect's greatest strength is its story. It has the advantage of laying the basic groundwork for the rest of the trilogy to build upon. Fans generally agree that every other game might be good on their own, but pale in comparison to this title. For once, I agree. Sure, if you skip past every single side mission in the game, this experience can be over in around 10 hours. Being generous by completing some missions that might affect the game later, it'll take somewhere between 15 to 25 hours.

The galaxy is your oyster.
Even with two lackluster villains out of three, the plot is cohesive and fairly self-contained. At the end, we feel victorious, though we feel a bug crawling down our necks: a sign that bad things are ahead. The major threat is hinted at, and Mass Effect gives us a sense that things will get much worse from here. Too bad the second installment is full of character studies with only two that add to some of the first game's subplots. Then ME3 dumps reality on everyone and rushes to get the overarching story to finish quickly in 30+ hours. Overall, ME1 took its time to establish a world and introduce a few characters who might help Shepard somewhere down the line. It ended with a sense of hope, letting one wander what will come next.

Standing on its own, this game has episodic-based major plot missions that add up well. There are a few choices to make that might leave you sitting and wondering for a few minutes. The mini-villains on Feros and Noveria reveal more and more about the potential power and influence of the Sovereign. On Virmire, shit hits the fan when you finally speak with Sovereign. You can play the missions in any order you wish; however, Ilos is the last place you want to go as the game wraps up from then on out. The game then ends back in the Citadel, the heart of the space-faring galaxy.

The plot is the simple "stop the rogue idiot dealing with stuff beyond his understanding", but the content add so much more. As awkward as the dialogue is and painful the acting can be, the world is begging you to ask questions and really care about this great new project BioWare is excited about. There's heart, and it's admirable. On the other hand, this might not mean squat to those not interested in epic sci-fi space operas with tons of tropes and literary devices spun in every direction.

"I am the vanguard of your destruction!"
...So why do I feel the need to sleep?
For example, I never bought the characterization of the Reapers, especially Sovereign. Their stubborn refusal to answer questions that the inevitably dead organic slabs of meat rise only enforced how flat and dull they are. All life is going to die anyway, so why not answer some stupid question instead of spewing the same bullshit lines. (i.e. "Your minds are too inferior, too insignificant for you to comprehend us." "You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it." etc.) That's nice, Sovereign, but you and your kind come off as massive assholes plotting our death over tea at Buckingham Palace. You are lame plot devices, predictable forces of arrogance; I am not threatened in the slightest.

Any other character that blatantly dodges questions to stroke his/her own ego would have been obliterated out of the piece of fiction by a pissed off audience. How come these giant machine-bugs with f-you lasers of death get a free pass? Lovecraftian horror influence, my ass! No wonder Mass Effect 3 got so much flack for filling in the needed blanks for the Reapers' existence to have any weight at all. It was all at the last-minute, even when there were several opportunities for the series to drop massive hints.


I don't want to say much more about what happens. Too much has been hinted at or outright revealed, so I'll shut up. Overall, the plot is simple, the villains and characters are simple, but there is much potential. It's this optimistic outlook that probably keeps fans devoted to this title.


Last minute points and the final verdict will be out soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy Renegade Shepard being a boss! (With Mark Meer's worst acting in the series!)

1 comment:

Voltech said...

Aw man, I was SO hoping that Aerosmith's "Love in an Elevator" would be playing during that Wrex video...

Okay, confession time. I never finished ME1, and it's all because of Kaidan. In retrospect, he's probably a lot blander than I'd prefer, but I brought him with me on every combat mission. In a sense, we were brothers in arms -- dual space-faring gunmen out to save the universe and junk.

But when the time came to decide who'd stay behind on Virmire, I chose Kaidan. I didn't want to say goodbye to him OR Ashley (who was also a part of my team more often than not), but in the end I chose my space-bro.

And after that...I just couldn't bring myself to play the game again. I guess somehow, somewhere deep down I bonded with the blandest man in the universe -- so much so that I literally couldn't go on without him.

I guess that's a testament to the power of the ME universe -- even its weaker characters still stick with you.

...I'd better go on to Part 3 before I get too sentimental.

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