Mass Effect EP4: Hookers and Elephant People

By Shamus
on Sep 24, 2012
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Ah, the Elcor. As I’ve mentioned in our Mass Effect 3 series, I’m sad they didn’t get more focus in the later games. In Mass Effect 3, I think you talk to one.

Please note: 25 minute episode, and not one shot was fired. There’s another 15 minutes of non-combat on the end of the previous episode. That’s a long time to go without killing anybody in an action game. And of course, if you hung around to do all the little Citadel side-quests you could end up going even longer. Compare this to the section in Mass Effect 3 where we rescued the Primarch’s son, and it felt like the game was throwing long combat sections at us just to kill time and stall the plot.

Having said that, this change might be a winning design choice. I know a lot of people complained that the Citadel section was “too long and boring”. This is a tough thing to judge. If players are getting restless, does that mean you need more combat, or does it mean the story itself is too slow?

Some people don’t like the talky bits constantly interrupting their shooty funtime. Some people get bored with too much combat unless it’s moving the plot forward. But sometimes “the combat went on too long” really means “the combat is too simple and one-dimensional”. And sometimes “there’s too many long cutscenes” means “the plot was stupid and I didn’t care”. I’d hold up Homefront as an example of the former, and Resident Evil 5 or Final Fantasy XII as an example of the later.

Obviously your mileage may vary, which is probably why these complaints come up so often. It’s impossible to get the story vs. gameplay balance right, because everyone has different tolerances. And even if you do get it right it might seem wrong because one or the other isn’t polished enough.

In conclusion: I’m glad I’m a critic and not a developer.

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From the Archives:

  1. Spammy says:

    Aaaaand the video is private. *sniff* It’s just like the good ol’ days.

  2. Samopsa says:

    The big problem of the citadel in ME1 is not that it’s boring because there are no fights (there are actually a couple), it’s that you have to walk for friggin’ ages to get anywhere, and the load times are horrible. So you end up doing a disguised (barely) fetch-quest for 15 minutes, and 14 of those are walking around. Even when you discovered all fast-travel locations you have to jog around a lot.

    • Viktor says:

      Yeah, the problem wasn’t the citadel lacking combat, it was that you had to run from the embassy all the way to the elevator down to C-Sec and back a couple dozen times.

      But if things are made more compact, the area feels smaller and more artificial. I don’t think there’s a good solution, although a layout where quests are mostly confined to one floor each would help.

      • Irridium says:

        I think it just needed a sprint button. While it wouldn’t fix the elevator problem, it’d make running around not take as long. In ME1 all the sprint button does is move the camera, it doesn’t actually make you go faster. Except in fights, though.

        I never had a problem with the elevators, personally. Then again my PC is fast so they only take as long as the news announcements and the conversations your party members have with each other.

        I wish they kept party-member conversation when they took out the elevators.

        • Lalaland says:

          This,I really enjoyed the crew conversations, there were some in ME2 but in ME3 only the DLC crew member and Liara have any substantial conversations. I agree a sprint button would have fixed a lot of the complaints about the ME1 Citadel. There’s similar issues in KOTOR and KOTOR2 but they fixed it by virtue of letting you learn a force speed power that lets you shoot about the place like a rocket

          • Ofermod (Formerly Keredis) says:

            Lack of walking speed was a problem all the way as far back as the Baldur’s Gate games. I remember cheating Boots of Speed onto all my party members/using ctrl J on later playthroughs, just to get around town in a reasonable amount of time.

            Although that was also another game where they had excellent party-member conversations.

  3. Jokerman says:

    I got this with Spec ops, could not stand the combat, such a slog – might of been just because i wanted to get to more story bits.

  4. baseless research says:

    “are you really, really sure about this shamus?”

    Just think what would have happened if they’d backed down from this. No incinerator, no bunny-hopping, no chaotic stupid. We dodged an important bullet here…

  5. Khizan says:

    I haven’t beaten ME1. In fact, I stopped playing in the Citadel shortly after Shepard got made a Spectre, largely because I found going backt o replay ME3 because I found “combat with some cutscenes” more interesting than “Elevator Simulator 2152” and “Jogging Pro LII”.

    Maybe it would have been more gripping if I didn’t already know the gist of the plot, but I’d have honestly been happier if they’d made all of that one long cutscene with choice menus, so I could just kick back and watch for the hour or so it takes without all the tedious running.

    • lurkey says:

      I’m playing “Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl” right now. That is, I sort of put it on hiatus, although I’m close to the finish zone, I think. I love environments. I adore the atmosphere. I masochistically worship the feeling of pervasive dread that overwhelms you when daring underground dungeons; I’d even say it’s almost on par with that feeling “Amnesia” inflicts upon you. It’s…brilliant, really.

      What I fucking hate — and why’s the hiatus, actually — is the fucking shooter bits. Right now, I have to cross into a zone through at least three mobs of bandits, mercs and dogs and thank god for the slowness of zombies, I could at least ignore those. I think I already pew-pewed them something like 7 or 17 times each. If only I could somehow, you know, sneak past them. Or bribe them. Or just run past them. Or negotiate with them…well, not with dogs or rats, but you get my drift, right?

      …ahem. Where I wanted to go with all that, dude, is this: the overwhelming majority of the industry caters to customers with tastes like yours and from my point of view it sounds kind of unfair when you complain about those very few games that do not.

      • JPH says:

        Perhaps you like the environments and hate the shooting in STALKER because the environments are well done and the shooting is not.

        Also: I think the idea that “you shouldn’t complain about it ’cause it doesn’t fit YOUR TASTES” is a silly thing to say. The concept behind the game is very interesting to me; it’s obviously targeted toward my demographic; it occupies genres I like; so on and so forth. So if I find something that’s really hampering my enjoyment of it, why shouldn’t I criticize it for that?

        • lurkey says:

          I’m afraid I’m not much of a judge of shooting mechanics, since for me it’s always just “Point a gun at a dude, left-click repeatedly until he dies” in any game with shooty bits. I think I even prefer Stalker’s shooting because a)it’s harder and fits with “Everything’s out to kill you” theme, b)I didn’t do much shooting in ME series anyway, choosing to, say, set dudes on fire or biotic-obliterating them instead, so, no. I’m just not a fan of a genre itself, it seems.

          I’m also not saying that someone should not voice their opinion in, well, whatever situation, gaming or not. It’s just that if they’re in a segment that the industry supplies the best and they complain about being not catered to enough, a niche dweller like me might not have much empathy for them. 8-)

          • JPH says:

            And I won’t have much empathy for a niche dweller who expects AAA developers with multi-million dollar budgets to cater to him.

            • zob says:

              It wasn’t incessant whinings of shooter crowd that changed franchise. It was stupidity of marketing people, who were selling hope that if you became next MW2 you’ll sell gajillions. Considering the end result I wouldn’t be proud of ending up on the winning side.

              • JPH says:

                I don’t see any reason for either “side” to be “proud” of anything, but seeing as how I preferred Mass Effect 2 over 1, I don’t mind.

                • zob says:

                  End result is ME3.

                  If you are in their obviously targeted demographic ME3 is your game.

                  If that’s not your game that means you’re not in their obviously targeted demographic Because they are a AAA dev team, they know what they are doing and you can’t expect them to cater to you.

                  Though you can always ignore the logic and go Zaphod on the issue. Claim you are the center of the universe, decree every game dev should cater to your wishes and everybody should play the games you like.

                  • JPH says:

                    I didn’t say every game dev should cater to my whims. Where are you getting this shit from? When did criticism and discource turn into “EVERY GAME DEVELOPER MUST DO WHAT I SAY ALL THE TIME!”?

                    Also, the reason I said ME2 instead of 3 is because I haven’t played 3.

                    • zob says:

                      I didn’t say you were. I gave two logical approach to the issue and add a joke.

                      You took offense to a joke where punchline is being a 2 headed alien from Betelgeuse who is president of the Galaxy. Which in itself is both sad and hilarious.

            • lurkey says:

              Sigh. I don’t expect any business, be that AAA or ZZZ, cater to me. (Where are you getting this shit from?) However, when someone goes “Too much talking, not enough shooting” about already existing AAA title, which, by the way, is marketed as ARPG and not yet a shooter…oh, too much words already, so lets wrap it up: Boo. Fucking. Hoo. Suck it up, Twitchy Fingers.

              • JPH says:

                Bioware wants to know what their fans think about their game, so I’m going to share exactly what I think. Yes, there are some people who won’t agree with my criticisms, but that’s always the case, for everything, ever.

                The only way designers will know that people think the shooting segments are important to the game is if we say so.

                There are plenty of games that don’t involve shooting. You won’t think so if you’re exclusively looking at the AAA market, but if that’s the case, then you’re doing it wrong.

              • Khizan says:

                I don’t think there was too much talking. I think there was too much running. I think that I got a couple of bits and pieces of gameplay and then I got to go play Jogging Pro 2152 around a Citadel that’s entirely too big so that they could infodump me rather than having me uncover things via gameplay.

                The story is good. It’s their implementation of it that’s shit. The talking is good. Hell, give me more talking. But don’t make me run laps in between talking sessions, and don’t throw it all into a giant hour-plus long block.

                • JPH says:

                  Agree completely with the thing here that is said.

                • lurkey says:

                  Oh. My bad for misinterpreting you then. I were never bothered by running in ME, only mildly peeved by elevators, and rarely notice the tedium of getting from A to B anyway (unless you have to cover awful distances at snail’s pace like in Morrowind or cross the same area for 20 times while being stopped at every step like in Stalker), so were looking in all the wrong places.

      • Khizan says:

        Sorry if it’s unfair of me to say it, but I don’t see any particularly large difference between “Watch one long extended cutscene with dialog menus” and “run between several shorter cutscenes with dialog menus”, except for the part where I can do the former kicked up in my chair with a wireless mouse being used as a psuedo trackball onehanded, and the other makes me fucking run everyplace.

    • Phantom Hoover says:

      Hey have any of you people arguing in the other replies to this comment noticed that the guy wasn’t complaining about too much talky, not enough shooty, he was complaining about the incredibly tedious walky you have to do for the former? Or should I stop trying to force my dislike of simulated jogging onto the persecuted minority who enjoy it?

  6. kikito says:

    > I’m glad I’m a critic and not a developer.

    Yeah. Writers have it a lot easier >:P

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      Eh, I’m not so sure.

      I know this discrepancy is why I disliked the Wheel of Time books (More specifically, the second is where I stopped) – too much time with nothing but distance, history, and description bored me to death, not enough sensible character interaction and explanation.

      Something similar with LOTR:TTT’s “Let me describe Boromir’s brother’s hideout and it’s entire history…excluding the appendices.”

      • Aldowyn says:

        You stopped at the second? That’s WAY earlier than I usually do :D I tend to lose my enthusiasm somewhere in book 4 or 5, and the farthest I’ve gotten is… 8 or 9. Need to try those again at some point.

        But yes, pacing is not one of his strong suits, and it’s a common beef with the LOTR books as well.

        • meyerkev says:

          Pick up at 11. It’s the moment where he realized “Oh wait, I need to advance the plot”

          /And then he died and it took 3 books to finish his remaining story

          • 4th Dimension says:

            And the story was finished by Brandon “writing machine” Sanderson so:
            A) Sequels came in year intervals (compared to multiyear wait for no plot).
            B) Anything not moving the plot forward or expresly written told by Jordan was chuged out of the window, and set on fire.

            Of course this caused an outrage among WOT fanatics among which some actualy LIKED the pacing of the Book 10, Book of No Happening.

            Also while he might skip 10. there are some events sprinkled through other boooks which are necesary for understanding.

            • Joshua says:

              I read his books with a bit of bittersweetness. It felt like reading all plot development, all the time. Every character started running around with a poker up their butt trying to accomplish things with their every action.

              But then you realize that this is the only way that the plot would be resolved in less than ten more books.

              On a side note, I started reading the Song of Ice and Fire books due to the television show. Kind of eerie how those books are following a similar progression. Not to worry though, at least GRRM is quite a bit young…shit.

  7. Even says:

    The Mako. I didn’t hate it at first. I actually enjoyed the story missions with it to some degree, but after the umpteenth explorable planet where everything but the colors are the same, trying to desperately finish the last couple collection quests, I was feeling kinda resentful towards the whole concept.

    Edit: Not to forget the ridiculous terrain design of those planets. Navigating the Mako was just a pain in the ass most of the time.

    • Lalaland says:

      Yeah I hated the implementation but loved the idea. I feel that the Firewalker vessel from ME2 would have worked by simply letting you fly over the annoying terrain but at least you would still have that feel of actually exploring space. The scanner really failed at that compared to the Mako for all it’s irritating faults

      • IFS says:

        The hammerhead had its own problems, such as being made of wet newspaper and cardboard. I feel like they should have stuck with the mako for me2 and simply worked on making it handle better, and on giving their driving sections more diverse scenery.

        • newdarkcloud says:

          I don’t know about on the PC, but on the PS3 the hammerhead was unbearable when it came to targeting enemies with its gun and doing evasive maneuvers while aiming. Made playing it more of a chore.

          • IFS says:

            Yeah I played on the PS3 and that one mission where you fight the geth while trying to recover data was horrible. Also the turrets in overlord that shoot you while you try to recover the data packets are terrible just because of how quickly they can kill you but how long it takes you to kill them.

          • Even says:

            It was kinda stupidly easy on PC. The homing missiles made the combat kind of a joke with the only challenge being locking on the right target which you did mostly by facing the right direction. As long as you were locked on the target it was just holding down the fire button and strafe-dodging incoming fire.

        • Mike S. says:

          If it were wet newspaper, it wouldn’t have caught fire so easily.

    • Wedge says:

      >>> trying to desperately finish the last couple collection quests
      I finished all of those fetch quests. You know what you get for finishing those quests?
      Absolutely.
      Jack.
      Fucking.
      Squat.
      The game doesn’t even acknowledge that you completed them, except to turn them grey in your journal. I have literally never felt so ripped off by a game before that point.

    • Viktor says:

      I liked the Mako. The terrain was terrible, and worlds needed variety, but the vehicle itself was a great mobile tank that could take hits but wasn’t god-moded.

    • SleepingDragon says:

      I developed a deep dislike for mako, it felt slow and unresponsive and the planet geometry added to the annoyance since, because I often felt like “damn am I not going to drive all around the place and look for a path, I want to be done with this driving, I’ll climb this sheer cliff” which usually lasted even longer…

      And then, by the very, very end of the game, came that timed section right before the conduit. I tried it once, I tried it twice, and a few more times and it just didn’t seem humanly possible to make it in time. I went to the internet… and then I learned that due to my graphic card or whatever I was experiencing the driving segments at something like half the supposed speed, cutting resolution helped but I won’t really know how I feel about the vehicle until I decide to replay the game.

      • Viktor says:

        I was all set to reply to this with “That timed section was easy, seriously, just hold forward” before I got to the end. Half-speed? OUCH. That would be more than enough to make me hate the Mako, too.

  8. Ofermod (Formerly Keredis) says:

    Josh: “I wasn’t expecting to run around punching everybody!”

    Truly, the change from OldJosh to NewJosh is as drastic as if Rutskarn had joined bearing a hatred of puns, or if Shamus had once loved bling-mapping and plot doors.

  9. el_b says:

    imagine how awesome it would be if the shadow broker was actually an elcor all along. He wouldn’t need to use a computer modified voice or anything, you just need to stop giving people context for everything he said and it would sound pretty much the same as shadow bowser did. They could even still do the boss fight if they really wanted because we never actually see what Elcor can actually do off of heavy gravity worlds. Their bones must be made like steel and they must have a ton of muscle. If they actually sped up their movements by training or using mass effect technology they would be like sloth from full metal alchemist and that would be amazing.

    it doesn’t help that they are built like elephants or rhinos as well of course. It would probably take a bazooka or an anti-matériel rifle to stop one of those things on a charge.

  10. GM says:

    I liked the music in this video at the end and yay we will see the Mako next video.

    I must have bypassed the Mass effect videos for some reason.

  11. Lame Duck says:

    I had that problem my first attempt at playing Dragon Age Origins. I was always tired of the fighting before it was over and I wanted to get back to the fighting after just a little bit of managing equipment and talking to my party members back at camp.

    On later attempts I realised that my problem was actually that I was trying to game the conversations for approval too much instead of role-playing and I wasn’t using the tactics system enough in combat. Once I changed the way I was playing, I enjoyed both aspects of the game a lot more.

    • Ofermod (Formerly Keredis) says:

      That’s always been one of my problems with conversation systems that involve approval/points/whatnot. If you get X points for taking a certain dialogue choice, my instincts are going to be to ignore roleplaying in favour of attempting to “play” the conversation minigame.

  12. SKD says:

    I’m glad to see you putting up all the all old viddler episodes. For myself, I long ago downloaded every episode in the backlog and was hoping for a higher res or at least non-FLV files for my collection. But alas, it is not to be. On that note, how would the Spoiler Warning team feel about me throwing up the complete seasons on bittorrent for all those who haven’t had a chance to see the old episodes and can’t wait to see them? I wouldn’t do it without your permission out of respect for a crew that has given me so much enjoyment.

    • I’d love to have them that way, if (and only if) the Spoiler Warning peeps are okay with it. Heck, I’d like to buy DVDs of them (but that would likely run into copyright issues). Spoiler Warning’s the only web series I watch (and I love it).

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    0:41, two shots fired… just sayin’. The point about the combat-poor nature of the first game is still well taken.
    3:13, channeling some Plinket?
    … and then I started concentrating on work I guess. Nice background commentary though. Thanks for re-posting these.

  14. anaphysik says:

    I liked the Mako. I liked all the time jogging around the Citadel.
    I am apparently evil.

    • IFS says:

      I liked both of those things too, guess I’m evil as well.

    • FalseProphet says:

      I liked both those things, although the Mako got really damn repetitive after a while. Also most planet landings aside from the main missions involved going inside a small building or mine using the same three maps over and over again.

      • Aldowyn says:

        I just knew that the Mako (and the scanning from ME2) were repetitive, so I did them in short, concentrated doses. Every time I go to a system, I explore everything, and it ends up spacing it out enough for me.

    • Ateius says:

      I loved the Mako, and all the non-combat stuff you could do on the Citadel and (to a lesser extent) on the smaller hubs on the other worlds, and having an inventory and the way weapon and armour mods worked.

      In theory.

      In practice these elements left something to be desired (the Mako seemed to weigh about two ounces, there was slightly too much running around for the fetch quests, etc). However, just having them there made the universe feel more … immersive, somehow. It was a place where not everything was solved with guns and the ability to explore strange new (if mostly empty) worlds was in your hands.

      The mechanics needed refinement, certainly, but removing them – as they did in ME2 – was the wrong move. I found their absence both notable and detrimental to the overall experience.

    • lurkey says:

      I hated Mako at first, but when replaying ME after ME2, I liked her on normal terains, and, well, hated less when stuck on a pointy top of a mountain. Maybe because I learned to steer her better. Maybe because everything was better after ME2.

    • Alphadrop says:

      Now if only you could combine the two.

      • IFS says:

        Clearly ME4 should let us run around the interior of the mako! Let us have conversations with the squad we brought, pick up sidequests from stuff written in the dirt on the mako’s windsheild, it would be awesome!

  15. silver Harloe says:

    Hrm. Watching these videos kinda makes me want to try ME1, but watching the ME3 videos makes me want to not play it. Am I confused?

  16. Some_Jackass says:

    Hard to believe there existed a time when Josh was so bad at being bad that he had to tag out for someone else to bring on the chaotic stupid.

  17. FalseProphet says:

    I don’t mind that Liara is basically walking exposition. I like the character.

    But was there any real point in making her Benezia’s daughter? I remember expecting to grill her about her mother’s motives, activities and just getting “Oh, I don’t really know my mother”. They could have done something interesting with that, but I don’t remember it paying off in any meaningful way. It makes the galaxy seem small, connecting characters for no real good reason.

    • Mike S. says:

      That is something they tried to expand on later, slightly in ME2 (with Liara consciously and intentionally imitating her mother’s mannerisms) and ME3 with some of the conversations on the Citadel. I thought it worked reasonably well, and added back some of the emotional connection that got short shrift in the first game.

  18. Aldowyn says:

    Personally in the FFXII example I just enjoy watching the cutscenes, even if the plot doesn’t make any sense. I still appreciate that they usually look pretty dang cool :D

    But yeah, balance between combat and not-combat is a finicky subject that can be very difficult to get right.

  19. Din Adn says:

    Oh wow, I’d forgotten what the Asari were like in the first game.

    Actually, watching this whole first series again keeps reminding me about the goofier aspects of ME1. It’s got some great moments, but I have this sinking feeling that it’s going to end up being like one of those things I thought was great as a teenager.

    Ah well. Nothing too wrong with those, I suppose.

  20. MikhailBorg says:

    Actually, were I a video game developer, I could probably talk some of my lady friends who act into doing the bar dancer mo-cap for a decent day’s pay, especially since they could do it in comfortable clothes and no one would ever recognize them. There’d probably be a fair amount of giggling during the session, but that wouldn’t show either, so no problem.

    Actors are generally exhibitionists, for kinda obvious reasons :)

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    About talkie bits vs combat bits:
    Youll always get complaints because tastes differ.So what you need to do is decide who to satisfy and who to piss off.Bioware decided to piss off the fans that loved their talky bits in all their previous games because we became a minority of their fans.It sucks,but theres nothing we can do about it.Well,nothing constructive,anyway.We can always complain on the interwebs.

    • Even says:

      I’d think it’s more of an issue of ill spent resources. There’s still a lot of talking, only you’ve got a lot less options than you used to. That would be most likely because they had to cut corners somewhere and with their need for full voice acting they’re likely overstretching themselves. They had some nice-on-paper ideas with the different play modes in ME3, which ideally would give people the best experience they individually desire. It’s just that even in full RPG mode, there’s barely any real roleplaying to be done beyond character customization. All you get is a series of binary decisions, the rest is hamhanded and railroaded attempts at characterizing Shepard.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yes,but they couldve cut other things in favor of more meaningful dialogue as well.They choose to cut dialogue instead.And seeing how more fans liked it than not,I wouldnt call it “ill spent resources” myself.

        • Even says:

          It’s ill spent resources because voice acting costs a lot to do. Which was the whole point. When you need to cut corners, it’s the stuff that is the most expensive that takes the hit. For ME3 this also goes for animations and what not. They could have done a lot more with the same presumed budget if they just cut with voice acting, which isn’t all that needed unless you lack the imagination and absolutely need to have voices for your immersion. It can make the world seem more lively, but games like Planescape: Torment prove that even a bare minimum can work just as well.

  22. Collin says:

    I agree with most of this article but I disagree with you on the comparison to FF12. I loved its plot. It seemed vapid because the delivery was lacking; the action segments were too long between expositions. But i never minded that much because I loved every minute of the action.

    Btw shamus, long time creeper, first time commenter. I love your work here :)

  23. Flak says:

    What? I loved the Mako sections, I just thought the Mako combat needed work, and we needed more diverse planets to drive on. Maybe something with a tree in it. It helped give scale to the series, the massive distances on planets that would probably take hours to traverse if you got out and walked. Compare Mass Effect 3, where whole planets are just cramp tunnels, like in Fable. The Hammerhead stuff was an epic fail, your health bar is invisable so you just tend to randomly blow up towards the end of an mission. Fun.

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