on Feb 11, 2009
I know I promised to wrap up my series on Mass Effect, and then left you hanging for a month. The truth is that every time I sat down to write this post I felt like I was just repeating myself. To wit: It’s a fun game. It has too much filler. Combat feels homogeneous. Setting is fantastic, marred only slightly by the “hawt chicks in space” thing the Asari bring to the table. Voice acting is flawless except for the male lead, who makes Stephen Hawking sound like Sir Ian McKellen.
One observation I will make:
Remember the part of the game where you encounter a group of people that seem a little off? They act strangely, but you can’t really tell what’s wrong at first. Then they eventually turn on you. You go underground beneath their home and find that they’ve fallen under the sway of a huge creature, who has been dominating them and transforming them for its own purposes. You kick its ass and break the spell, while fighting through waves of its formerly-human thralls.
Am I talking about the fight with the Thorian from Mass Effect, or the fight with the Mother in Jade Empire?
I think it’s interesting to see the same writer hitting the same themes in all of these different games. I think the Rakghouls (KOTOR) the cannibals (Jade Empire) and Thorian Creepers (Mass Effect) are all very clearly the result of the same writer re-mixing a few ideas that appeal to them.
Oh, and one more observation:
I think the morality system is a vast improvement over previous titles. Most games have a single good / evil slider, which moves up and down based on your actions in the game. This introduces oddities like murdering a guy for a dollar is morally neutral when balanced against being polite to ten people. Trying to calibrate the thing in a way that makes sense gets to be an impossible task.
But Mass Effect doesn’t do good vs. evil, but paragon vs. renegade. In both, the game more or less assumes you’ve humanities’s best interests at heart, and the alignment system is much more about how you pursue those ends. This isn’t a story about a ruthless jerk who happens to save the galaxy on her way to riches, it’s the story of someone who saves the galaxy but who might be ruthless about how she goes about it.
The game has counters for both paragon and renegade actions, and these counters only go up. These means that instead of a slider we get a matrix:
People with low values for both are probably players who are just hammering the “skip” button in dialog. But people with high values for both are people who have been ruthless at some points and have gone out of their way to show mercy in others. This probably means they’re pursuing some agenda. (“Humans first” is a popular attitude.)
This is a very welcome step forward in a genre which has been rife with “save kitten / eat kitten” decisions for years.
Okay, I guess I did have some things to say about Mass Effect after all. In the end, I’m a lot more curious about Dragon Age than Mass Effect 2. I know in the past I’ve said I’m sick to death of medieval fantasy and crave more sci-fi RPGs. Perhaps I am a charlatan and a fraud.
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.