on Jan 12, 2009
As promised, I have compiled my gripes with this game into a single, easy-to-access (and also easy to ignore) list of problems, complaints, issues, and little grievances.
I do this ostensibly as a sort of armchair game design and analysis, but in the case of Mass Effect I’m doing it also as a form of catharsis. Some of these flaws truly grate, and served to yank me out of my entertainment for a helping of petty annoyances at regular intervals. I will not feel like justice has been served until I have unpacked the full list. This will take two posts.
I have tried to arrange my complaints in order from the trivial to the traumatic, but this is an imprecise process at best.
This is spoiler-free, aside from the sections blocked in red.
|Whoops. I thought ‘I have to go’ would mean that I want to leave.|
In the past, dialog-driven games have offered you a bunch of possible answers and left you to read each and every one of them, looking for what you want to say. This is a lot of pointless skimming if you’re just looking for the one that boils down to, “How much will you pay me for killing ten rats?” This breaks the flow of conversation, and all that prose eats up a ton of screen real estate. Mass Effect has a much better system, where you’re offered a very short summary of your answers, and the option to select it appears while the other person is still speaking, letting you get your answer ready before it’s your turn to talk. When it works right it provides a smooth conversation with lots of options that doesn’t require a lot of reading and doesn’t obscure the visuals. You choose your intent and tone, and the dialog flows naturally. Wonderful.
But there are places where the summary doesn’t match what you actually say, and others where the tone isn’t at all clear. When I see the option to say, “What do you want?”, I can’t be sure if my character is going to say, “Can I help you, sir?”, or, “What do YOU want, anus-face?” They’re usually arranged in order from “nice” to “jerk”, but there are still times where you still can’t figure out what’s going to come out of your mouth when you hit the button. And there are plenty of rail-roadish moments where all of your possible responses are variants on the same stupid question or offensive remark.
On the dialog controls: The A button selects dialog options from the list. The X button skips the currently spoken line of dialog. This much is good. But then some savage idiot made it so that the X button also selects dialog, so that as you skip past spoken dialog, the menu can appear and grab that button-press, causing you to blurt out whatever was highlighted. There is no reason in the world for it to do this. We already have a key for select. Why make the skip button also perform a select? Madness.
Most importantly, when I choose the “kill this guy” dialog option, it means I want to blast him in the face, captain Malcom-style. It does not mean I want to verbosely announce to my enemy my intent to kill them, then wait for them to get in the last word, and then wait patiently for them to get ready. (And they always get in the last word, thank you so much writers.)
Everyone must carry one of every possible weapon, even if they have no training in that weapon. It’s impossible, for example, to not carry a sniper rifle. This brings about eye-crossing weirdness, like the fact that if I want two party members to trade shotguns, I need a third shotgun to act as a placeholder.
The game gave me a good bit more inventory busywork than I was able to enjoy.
|Time to press a button!|
But problem here isn’t that it’s too easy or too hard (which will vary depending on who you ask) but that it’s just not very interesting. It was only a challenge in the sense that signing my full name is a “challenge”. It’s something you are required to do, but it is not stimulating. If I had to sign my full name every time I wanted to (say) access my stapler, then on a busy day I’d probably just conclude I didn’t want those papers stapled together in the first place. This is exactly how things played in in the game. After a while, I was passing up locked containers because I didn’t want to have to break the flow with momentary tedium.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.