Mass Effect:
First Impressions

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jan 8, 2009

Filed under: Game Reviews 97 comments

Mass Effect is the worst game BioWare has put out in over a decade.

…but it’s still a great game.

I guess that says a lot about BioWare, that they can slide this far and still have a quality product. The elements that I love in BioWare games are still there, just watered down a bit.

Aderson: What about Shepherd? He’s a mildly retarded boy who spends all day staring out the window.</p>
<p>Udina: Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?</p>
<p>Anderson: That’s the only kind of person who <em>can</em> protect the galaxy.</p>
<p>
Aderson: What about Shepherd? He’s a mildly retarded boy who spends all day staring out the window.

Udina: Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?

Anderson: That’s the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy.

BioWare games are first and foremost character-driven games, story games second, and roleplaying games third. KOTOR set the bar unbelievably high in this regard, giving us a collection of characters so memorable that they’re still beloved today, even after their quotes and gags have been run into the ground by their well-meaning fans.

The premise is that humanity is the new race on the block. We’ve just recently dragged our sapient butts into space and found it was already populated by a half-dozen other races. So much for the final frontier.

One of the crucial locations in the game is the Citadel – a huge space station built by a long-dead alien race. Nobody really knows how the Citadel works, but it’s huge and powerful and the perfect place for the galactic oligarchy council to make their home. The council employs the Specters – a small group of covert specialists who are beholden to nobody but the council. Think of them like CIA spies with diplomatic immunity, working for a small group of aliens who live in an unassailable fortress and who aren’t accountable to anyone. Given this power structure, it’s actually really impressive that the galaxy is only usually torn apart by warfare.

Humanity seems to have figured out that you can only rule or serve in this galactic order, and so they have begun efforts to get humans into places of power. You play as commander Shepherd, a candidate to be the first human Specter, which one assumes is a stepping stone to humanity being on the council itself.

While all of this is going on, a unknown force rises and threatens the entire galaxy, and someone has to stop them. (That would be you.)

Some people are faulting Mass Effect for being too short. But I think what’s happened here is that the game has nearly as many quests and tasks as earlier games, but a majority of those have been offloaded into optional – and often obscured – sidequests. Once the game cuts you loose with your own ship, you only have five stops to make to reach the end of the game. (Get Liara on Therum, the cipher on Feros, the location of the Mu Relay on Noveria, the second beacon on Virmire, and then kick the galaxy’s ass via Ilos.) This isn’t like KOTOR, where every other person you pass is waving you down and stuffing a laundry list of tasks into your hand. Mass Effect makes it very easy to jump on the central rail and ride it all the way to the closing credits, and if you want more to do you have to go looking for it.

The Citadel is a fantastic location, its grandeur hampered somewhat by its incessant loading screens.
The Citadel is a fantastic location, its grandeur hampered somewhat by its incessant loading screens.
This is actually a really good idea. In the past I’ve seen complaints from players who became mired in the maze of sidequests and lost track of what they were supposed to be doing or what their overall goals were. The approach used in Mass Effect lets those folks stay on task, while leaving players like me free to take the scenic route. I would have enjoyed my first play-through more if I’d realized this. It wasn’t until near the end of the game that I began to realize just how much content I was missing.

The plot is interesting enough. The premise – that Bad Aliens Are Invading and Must Be Stopped – isn’t going to win any awards for originality, and it’s lacking the devious sucker-punch plot twist that earlier BioWare games gave us. But it’s engaging, consistent, and based in a new setting instead of pulling from the dregs of some played-out IP.

But the game is not without its faults, and I am going to enumerate them in excruciating detail in a later post. Partly because I think this needs to be done, but mostly because I build up my self-esteem by pointing out the faults of others.

And let us not forget that I would have played this game ten months ago if it were not for those fumbling, ignorant dolts at EA spiking the PC version with a bunch of self-defeating DRM. Nice going losers. I would have bought it new, for the PC, ages ago. And instead I got it used, for the 360. That cost you my sale, plus the modest smattering of others that likely would have arisen from my review series. But hey, at least you… uh.

Wait. What did you guys get out of it again?

 


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97 thoughts on “Mass Effect:
First Impressions

  1. Pederson says:

    If my own experience is any indication, it was an unstable bug-ridden mess on the PC, so I don’t think you missed anything significant by playing it on the X-Box anyway.

  2. Legal Tender says:

    I’m really looking forward to your next post(s) on this one. I was very excited about getting this game but luckily you (and others) raised the alarm about DRM.

    I know it probably doesn’t change anything but I do like to make my (minuscule) point by not buying DRM-infested products no matter how very, very, very badly I want them.

    Maybe you’ll cover it lately but how was it on the 360? Controls, menu and so.

    One small request: I know you are usually very good at it but could you please make extensive use of the anti-spoiler wall of red text, if you must? You know, for us peasants who haven’t managed to play the game yet?

  3. SomeGuyInABikini says:

    I just started playing Mass Effect for a third run through, the first with my OWN copy (I’d previously ‘sampled’ the game from a mate with full intention of buying it until I saw the installation limits. Since it has come to Steam (sans EA DRM) I’m less inclined to ignore it and with the recent “Christmas Sale” thingo Valve had going on it was even more difficult to pass up). Also (FYI) I have only just today started Jade Empire, and previously completed KOTOR and Neverwinter Nights (FAR too often).

    In all I have to agree that KOTOR had an amazing premise and story to boot and Mass Effect didn’t quite reach that same level, but I did find the cinematic quality and voice acting (disregarding the lack of ‘alien’ languages spoken in game (since when was English universal?)) to be better polished. The silent protagonist has always been a pet peeve of mine, and the voice acting of the female lead in Mass Effect made playing a female character an obvious choice.

    Without hijacking your blog with my own rant/post I’ll finish up here-ish.

    Finally, nice slip in of the anti-DRM post; I’m sure nobody noticed ;)

    Wayno, HATED the inventory system

  4. Ouchies says:

    I concur. The inventory was a hellish mess. The weapons mods and such also became somewhat obfuscated as it was hard to see what really was effective and what wasn’t.

    Though one thing was clear, assault rifles were a little munchkin-ish. No other player weapon seems to come close to the raw damage of the the assault rifle.

  5. Studoku says:

    I agree with Ouchies about the assault rifle. The only reason not to use one was if the character wasn’t trained in them, if occasionally when sniping.

    However, Mass Effect more than makes up for any flaws with the Virmire storyline. I’m not going to be more specific, because everyone who’s played the game knows what I’m talking about and it a big spoiler to everyone who hasn’t.

  6. Stuart says:

    I’ve sometimes found that some games fail to direct you into the side quests in a nice way. It goes something like this:

    NPC: You need to get the sword of xaldernaan to Nenlwyn as soon as possible to ensure the safety of our people.
    ME: Yep, sure… just gonna go check out that forest first… maybe swing this baby a few times, hmm?
    NPC: The longer you delay the worse the situation gets.
    ME: Right, well – I guess I can check out that forest afterwards, cheerio.
    **Congratulations, you have won the game… retry?**
    ME: Oh.

    I’d like a game that says “Take your time. Explore a bit. We’ll call you when you are ready for this task.” – Morrowind did this to an extent by giving you periods off the main quest to pursue guild duties and explorative shenanigans :-)

  7. MuonDecay says:

    I -was- somewhat enjoying the game on the PC, when I still played it.

    However, my patience for guns overheating and then getting bugged to stay overheated permanently unless you reloaded a save… and for the game doing nothing short of a shell game with the audio channels, wantonly fading and swapping and mixing around the audio direction as if at the whim of a madman… eventually wore through.

    It is, however, a testament to how fun the game was otherwise that I was willing to put up with those amateurish QA failures for so long.

    The DRM now seems a lot less horrid now that I’ve installed GTA IV. Apparently, those idiots don’t even offer the incentive of letting me play the game without a CD after requiring an online activation that froze up the first time I tried it. I wince every time I hear that infernal disk causing my DVD drive to spin up to max rpm and stay there when the computer doesn’t even need to be reading data from the disk. This software is going to seriously shorten the life of that drive.

  8. Henebry says:

    Your screenshot of the citadel makes it look like a ringworld, a la Larry Niven’s great sci-fi book. But maybe it’s just a big ring-shaped satellite? In either case, nice to see a space-themed game thinking about how to produce the sensation of gravity in deep space. Ever since Star Wars, movies and games have been dismissing the issue with a handwave: “Yeah, a gravity field generator. High-tech but it can’t be used to do anything interesting to manipulate the world.”

  9. Mass Effect is a far cry from Bioware’s finest (Baldurs Gate!) games but is still a fun romp through the galaxy. Shame about the space battles though (there are none you can participate in).

  10. Kalle says:

    To qualify your “worst in a decade” comment, are you claiming NWN(1) had memorable characters? *Any* memorable characters?

  11. Shamus says:

    Kalle: No. I realize that game was cut from a very different cloth than the later titles, and is celebrated for other reasons.

  12. Russ says:

    You’re pretty much right on. But one thing I’ve noticed is that Mass Effect, in nearly every conversation and review is compared to previous Bioware games. As such, I think the new things it brings to the table are done well.

    I’m not sure of another RPG that was also a third-person shooter (and actually pulled it off). Granted it wasn’t as great a shooter as, say, Gears of War. But, it was competent enough and player skill and increased skill points worked together fairly well.

    The conversation system was fun and interesting. I didn’t have to read through lines and lines of dialog to figure out what to say. I liked that.

    It was sci-fi were humans we not the dominate species or bastion of all that was good and wonderful. It was nice to be the underdog and be able to be a paragon of all that is good, a dastardly jerk, or something in between.

    I’m also glad that they finally made it so the renegade path wasn’t outright evil. The Way of the Closed Fist in Jade Empire should have been like this.

    So, is Mass Effect perfect? No. But it is a good game and I will gladly buy the sequel.

  13. Factoid says:

    I have played quite a few Bioware titles. Mass Effect is tied with KOTOR for my favorite.

    It replaced the banal combat from KOTOR that took me 15 levels to really understand and replaced it with slightly less banal combat that only took me 6 levels to figure out.

    Really, my only complaint with the game is the monotony of the uncharted planets. They almost certainly used some sort of procedural terrain generator which makes ever planet some variety of “rocky and mountainous”. They probably generated planets randomly, and then went in to manually smooth out a few valleys and make things a bit more passable for the Mako.

    They needed to do two things to make the uncharted planets a real selling point:

    Flesh them out with more than just different colored rocks. Add stuff like lava flows, rockslides, flora and fauna (on the semi-inhabitable planets), etc… You can still do all this procedurally, but it would add a great deal life to the simulation. Is there a single tree anywhere in this game? I can’t remember.

    Secondly they needed more than just 3 different generic “bad guy hideouts” They’ve got the above-ground sand-crawler-without-wheels one, the mine shaft and the below-ground bunker. In outer space you also occasionally find the same cargo ship over and over with its interior arranged differently.

    Spend a little more money on variety and the procedural generation code and they’d have made the sidequests far more interesting.

  14. Russ says:

    RE: Memorable Characters

    I thought Rex was pretty cool. Actually, the entire Krogan race had an interesting story. I think part of the problem was his story was hidden in his side quest. Something I completely missed on my first play through. Garris was interesting too because of the influence you had over his actions.

    Of course, they we’re quite up to the level of Henpeck Hou or the master of them all Jan Jansen. Which makes me realize, there wasn’t a humor character in Mass Effect. I wonder if that would have wrecked the tone of the game.

    Factoid: You’re right on.

  15. Robyrt says:

    I turned off KOTOR after about ten minutes when I realized that instead of hitting “Attack”, I would have to constantly queue up my “Good Attack” skill, but I would still suffer the indignity of turn-based combat. Mass Effect does not have this problem, because the combat is always fun even if you are following the exact same “buff spell, shoot them in the face, cast another spell, repeat” pattern.

  16. Gamercow says:

    I played through Mass Effect 4 1/2 times, and I loved it each time. The worst part for me was the mindless rambling around some godforsaken sidequest rock in the Mako, but overall, I thought the characters were good, and the story well written.

    Re: weapons- I went through with all the weapons, and I found the highest power shotgun to be my favorite.

  17. Eric says:

    Shamus, is this a must have, or just a rental? Drm antics aside.

  18. lebkin says:

    Of all Bioware’s efforts, Mass Effect is my favorite. Strange but true. I beat the game six times, with four different characters (one character went through three difficulties). I have sunk 150+ hours into the game, and would gladly go back for more if I didn’t have other things to play. The combination of presentation, story, and gameplay really grabbed me. And after about hour thirty or so, the flaws just become background noise. You learn to adjust around them, and they cease to to be problems. Then you can enjoy all the good parts that much more.

  19. JKjoker says:

    “I would have enjoyed my first play-through more if I'd realized this. It wasn't until near the end of the game that I began to realize just how much content I was missing.”

    Shamus: no, you are so wrong, of all the sidequests maybe 2 are worth your time, the rest BLOW, i wish someone told me to completely avoid them, i might have liked the game that way, but because i did everything (except for one quest that i couldnt finish because an earlier quest broke it, weeee) i was completely tired and annoyed by the end and just wanted to see the “endings”, you know those “several” endings that play out and suck the same ?

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @Kalle

    What,you dont find making a devil serve as a maid in your inn memorable?Vanila NWN wasnt spectacular,but at least its expansion(s) make up for it.Also,while the original story in NWN was boring,and even made me stop playing,it was the NPCs(actually,your henchmen and aribeth)that made me come back to it and play it till the end just so I could learn the full backstories of my sidekick(s).

    Also,how many people are still making and playing modules for NWN1?It is an excelent game.NWN2 was the bad one.

    EDIT:Cool,Ive rolled a 20!

  21. Krellen says:

    @Henebry, #8
    In either case, nice to see a space-themed game thinking about how to produce the sensation of gravity in deep space. Ever since Star Wars, movies and games have been dismissing the issue with a handwave: “Yeah, a gravity field generator. High-tech but it can't be used to do anything interesting to manipulate the world.”
    My favourite part of Mass Effect was its genuine Science Fiction nature. Everyone keeps looking back at Star Wars to explain Sci-Fi, which is the major problem; Star Wars isn’t Sci-Fi! But Mass Effect takes the time (provided you look for and read the Codex entries) to explain the weird technology in ways that actually make logical and scientific sense.

    And this time, gravity fields aren’t just a useful cinematic tool, but the entire basis of space-faring technology. I loved that.

    Changing subjects, on KOTOR:

    I don’t really understand the huge praise lumped on KOTOR, personally. It was good, yes, probably even the best RPG of its year, but certainly not one of the best all-time RPGs (most of those go to games much older).

    The only character I really find particularly memorable from KOTOR is AK-47 – who, of course, is genius hard to replicate. But the plot was fairly standard (perhaps ruined on me because I had the “twist” figured out even before the Jedi Council decided to retrain my character) and a lot of the character interactions a bit bland. Bastila especially struck me hollow; she was a Deus Ex Machina carrier with flat characterisation inevitably proven wrong.

    Of course, part of the problem for me is LucasArts completely ruining the good ending and storyline (it doesn’t even appear in the game, but involves a female lead and Carth dying together) and making the poor choice to pick a male lead as the canon role. KOTOR’s protagonist is far more interesting if female.

  22. Kel'Thuzad says:

    @Krellen

    You find HK-47 memorable, but you don’t remember his name?

    Hmm… do I like Mass Effect? I played through all classes on all alignments, which is 12 playthroughs, not counting replaying with the same characters. Yes, I enjoyed that game. Garrus was my favorite character.

  23. mark says:

    If you’re considering the DLC (DownLoadable Content) for Mass Effect, heres my opinion, since I bought it blindly, expecting another main-plot-sized planet.

    Its not that.

    Its a side-quest planet that takes about an hour, maybe two at the most, if you take your time.

    At 400 or whatever points, its up to you if thats worth it. Its a fun side quest, and the location is graphically better than any in the main game, but at the price I paid, i felt a little cheesed off that it was over so soon.

    At the end of the subplot, you get the choice of a piece of equipment/weaponry that is scaled to be pretty awesome at whatever level you recieve it at, so don’t download it and take a new character there straight away if you still intend to finish the game with that character. Save it for later if you can!

    Also, mass effect is shit-hard if you skip all the side-quests, and shit-easy if you do them all ASAP, then continue the mission. The boss fight on noveria? Shit hard at level 6. Piss at 12.

  24. Evangel says:

    Irenicus: “You dare to challenge me? Do you even know who you face?”
    Mageling: “This is an unsanctioned use, of magical energy, all involved will be held.”
    I: “Must I be interrupted at every turn!?”
    M1: “This mages power is immense, we must overcome him quickly!”
    M2: “Even if we fall, our numbers are many, you will be overwhelmed.”
    I: “Enough, I haven’t the time for this. You may take me in, but you WILL take the girl aswell.”
    Imoen: “What? NO! I’ve done nothing wrong!”
    M1: “You have been involved in illegal use of magic. You will come with us.”
    Im: “Help me! Please…”
    (Recited from memory, I’ve played that game too many times)

    There is NOTHING like coming out of Irenicus’ dungeon for the first time in Mass Effect.

    The court scene in V:TM:B with Lacroix and Lacroix’s gorilla.

    Sailing away from the oil rig as the nuclear explosion rips it to shreds.

    No recent RPGs have really matched the well executed and acted scenes from the old games. Games are supposed to be getting better, damnit. All we’re getting is rehashed, badly written, badly directed tripe with a new (shinier) skin.

  25. krellen says:

    You find HK-47 memorable, but you don't remember his name?
    I thought it felt odd his name was exactly the same as a gun. I’m old and forget names and misremember puns. Sue me. :D

  26. UtopiaV1 says:

    Can’t wait for your scathing review Shamus, even though I like the game, it’s hilarious when you go off on tangents about the little flaws! I’ve got it on the PC (gift from my girlfriend who doesn’t know the first thing about DRM, so I let it slide… plus she holds the keys to her pants), and I’m only a quarter of the way thought but I am enjoying it immensely, it reminds me of the golden age of science-fiction writing, when I was 12 and reading books like the Stainless Steel Rat, Sea Horse in the Sky, and The Tenth Planet.

    Plus, I love that you can actually shoot stuff in this Bioware game, where in KOTOR you just point and click. Made me feel more of a spectator than a player…

  27. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    Mass Effect is the most godsbedamned awesome game BioWare has put out, ever

    Fixed that for ya!

    I found Urdnot Wrex to be possibly the most interesting Bioware henchman in a long, long time. In direct opposition to the usual “dumb brute” that appears in every RPG ever made, Wrex is a pondering, nihilistic, insightful character with a penchant for speaking in a fashion almost like Shakespearean verse. I give them massive kudos for making the “bture” character far more interesting than they did with the similar roles in their previous games.

    Plus, I greatly applaud the decision to finally go with their own core RPG mechanics and ditch those terrible hacked D20 mechanics. A more fluid, setting-specific system like the one in Mass Effect worked quite well for their purposes.

    Only real gripes: Sniper rifles are useless without a stealth mechanic to back them up, and man, I got so damn tired of the rover vehicle sequences.

  28. Sydney says:

    “One of the crucial locations in the game is the Citadel – a huge space station built by a”

    When I saw that, my eyes flicked back up to the title. Just to make sure.

    A bignormous space station named Citadel, eh? Was this an homage, or are people just that unoriginal now?

  29. Slippery Jim says:

    @Shamus

    I can’t believe you beat my gamer score on Mass Effect already!

    *dusts of his game and fires up the Xbox*

    Well – maybe after I finish battering Fable 2 to death…

  30. Dave R says:

    Of course, part of the problem for me is LucasArts completely ruining the good ending and storyline (it doesn't even appear in the game, but involves a female lead and Carth dying together) and making the poor choice to pick a male lead as the canon role. KOTOR's protagonist is far more interesting if female.

    And KotoR 2 (though incomplete) works better with a male protagonist (because the Handmaiden is interesting and the Disciple is not). LucasArts, of course, canonized exactly the wrong versions (well, at least they didn’t make the dark side endings canon).

  31. nilus says:

    Dammit, I have not played Mass Effect since the DLC came out last year for it. But now that you are playing I am gonna have to go through it again(I still have a few Achievements to get anyways :) ). Overall its not as good as KOTOR for sure, but I liked it better then Jade Empire. Which I thought was a heck of a lot shorter. My majore complaints were the stupid Mako driving(which was fun for a while but got really old really fast) and the fact that the NPCs didn’t seem to have as much interesting Dialog as other Bioware games. They all had there own mini story arcs but once you go through those they kinda just stood there and told you the same thing over and over.

    Some Pros of the game. I liked the pseudo real time combat. I liked how random encounters in Citadel kept happening throughout the game. I thought the Geth looked cool. And I liked that after you beat the game you could play through it again with your really high level guy.

    Oh and I thought the twist and the end was interesting. It wasn’t mind shattering but it was better then anything M. Night Shamlayan has written in years.

  32. Alex says:

    Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is the worst game BioWare has put out in over a decade.”

    Fixed? Not that they ever really stood a chance. Look at the source material.

  33. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    Alex:
    Agreed. I never once ever, even in my deepest whiskey binges, could have thought “Hey, Sonic would make an interesting RPG franchise!”

    That was one huge facepalm.

  34. SimeSublime says:

    Wait, the side quests were optional? That’s a weird way to play a game.

  35. Magnus says:

    I thought it was a decent effort, and it held my attention well enough throughout, but I doubt I would go back to it.

    My major gripes were:

    The inventory + weapons – who in their right mind carries all their possible weapons on their back even if (for certain types) you aren’t trained in them?

    Bugs and the Buggy – Most of my bug experiences were during Mako sequences, which were annoying at the best of times, but made worse when I got a few random crashes – including three on the Moon mission.

    Oh and I reckon NWN had better NPCs than ME, Aribeth and Tomi Undergallows were better than most in ME, although I did appreciate Garrus.

  36. Sam says:

    My friend made Obama Shepherd while I was over at his place a few days ago. It was awesome. That’s all I really have to contribute to this discussion.

  37. dlowe says:

    @Sydney

    Wikipedia has a hysterical list of “Citadels” in gaming:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citadel_(disambiguation)

  38. skizelo says:

    I’ve not played it (auspicious beginning), but I always think that bioware games should let you explore after you’ve finished the main quest. I can see the reason for not allowing you back in after you’ve saved the universe, but I think this sort of side-quest heavy game could benefit from turning sandbox, especially when you think that to play downloadable content, you actually have to regress.
    I guess it’s an issue of narrative structure vs continued escapism, but it’s a good workaround for people like me who always feel silly playing card-games/breeding chickens/saving cats from trees instead of killing the universe-destroying monster.

  39. krellen says:

    Perhaps the thing I loved the most about Mass Effect is that, when playing the “evil” path, I didn’t feel like a heartless jerk, nor did I feel dirty for playing it. I was a rampantly pro-human character, and making such choices naturally led to more Renegade than Paragon points (though not by a lot).

    The “evil” ending, as well, did not feel particularly forced, unnatural, or unsatisfying. It felt like a natural lead into a sequel, and left me looking even more forward to Mass Effect 2 than did the “good” ending. (Although there was no whoop of joy when I made the crucial choice, like there was when I made the “good” one.)

  40. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    Krellen:
    Mass Effect is the first game I’ve seen from Bioware where the “dark” or “bad” development path does not equate with “Psychotically evil.” Historically, in Bioware games, you can follow one of three “alignment” paths:

    1. A generally nice fella: “Sure I’ll help ya, you’re cool!”
    2. Meh, kinda neutral: “I’ll help ya if you pay me enough”
    3. A psychotic raving lunatic axe-murderer who rapes kittens and pees in the mouths of babies right before dipping their heads in vats of acid: “I’LL CUT YOUR EAR OFF AND RAPE YOUR FACE YOU SON OF A PIG WHORE”

    This truly limiting “path of badness” is why I pretty much never play “dark” characters in Bioware games. The Bad Choices are always so over the top as to be moustache-twirly in nature. I liked that in Mass Effect, you were instead:

    1. A real nice go-getter
    2. Meh, Kinda neutral
    3. Something of a douchebag, but not a kitten-raper by any means

    This was great. I hope they keep the same balance in the sequel.

  41. Rustybadger says:

    Spoiler alert: Highlight the red blocked out text to read it…I assume that was done on purpose.

  42. Pederson says:

    @krellen: HK-47 is a double pun, actually.

    The AK-47 is a well-known assault rifle with numerous variants, copies, clones and derivatives with a reputation for being cheap, easy to manufacture, and reliable–but perhaps lacking in accuracy. The AK-47 seems to be the choice of communists and third-world militias the world over.

    H&K, or Heckler and Koch, is a well-known German weapons manufacturer, whose products include the G36 assault rifle and MP5 submachinegun.

    I don’t think HK-47 is, itself, the name of any actual gun, however.

    On the general topic, I’d have played more of Mass Effect, were it not so terribly unstable on my PC. Strangely, it got worse and worse as time went on, so that, by the time I finally wrapped up the first play-through, playing the game was a chore, because of relatively frequent locks and crashes to the desktop. When it got itself hung while I was starting up the second pass, I decided I’d had enough. If I play it again, it’ll be on the X-Box.

  43. Feb says:

    I’m not sure I can talk about why I love Mass Effect so much without being all spoiler-ey, but I’ll try:

    * Character customization. I’m a sucker for this, because with every cutscene I get a moment of “hey! I know that guy! I spent 30 minutes crafting that guy! And he looks awesome!” (The converse nit-pick is that every one of the female characters I’ve made has a “botoxy duck-mouth” quality, and it’s distracting. But Pepper Shepard is pretty cool, so she can stay for a whole play-through.)

    * The storyline and world-building stuff others have already mentioned. I actually read all those Codex entries explaining the technology. My inner 13-year-old devours that kind of straight-up science fiction.

    * The conversation system. Playing other RPGs is a lot less fun and immersive when I can’t hear my own character’s voice. Plus sice I can’t choose the exact phrasing of a response anyway, I don’t want to read all the text if I don’t want to. It makes sense (to me) if I have just the gist of it.

    * Several quotable, action-movie moments. All of Vermire is awesome. Shepard’s first words upon seeing the big bad thing at the end of Feros. Shepard’s response to the elevator up to the Council chamber being stopped, on the way to the big ending battle. So many parts that are up there with moments from really good movies.

    There’s a lot that annoys, or falls flat, but the highs are high enough I’ll pre-order ME2.

  44. Dane says:

    I liked Mass Effect well enough. I certainly thought it was far better than Jade Empire and would put it about on par with Knights of the Old Republic. Graphically it was one of the best looking games I think I’ve played yet. The use of film grain, motion blur and such made it very visually impressive. The voice acting was good and the plot was decent. However, I had some specific issues with it:

    1. Verisimilitude is important in an RPG. Shepard is supposed to be a commissioned military officer and it makes absolutely zero sense for you to be off tearing around the galaxy on sidequests that people are paying you to do. Was I the only one who blinked when someone approached me offering to pay me for a job? Can you picture anyone offering (say) a US Marine Colonel currently on a mission a fistful of cash to go looking for their cousin?

    2. The dialogue. Actually this is two seperate issues. First, while the idea that the choices represent what your character is thinking and not what they’ll say sounds neat in theory, in practice it was annoying for people like me who care about consistent characterization because frequently you would have little or no indication of what Shepard would actually say based on what was shown. Several times I clicked on what I thought sounded like the best option, only to say “wait, what?” when Shepard actually spoke.

    3. The other problem with the dialogue is that the choices were very limited. There were a lot of times when a character would say something to Shepard, and there was nothing even close to the response I wanted to give.

    ——————-

    SPOILER

    The best example I can think of (it’s been a while since my last playthrough) was on Virmire when Wrex says that he wants to bring back Saren’s research and use it to cure his people. The choices given in response were to attempt to Charm him into not doing it, attempt to Intimidate him into not doing it, attempt to convince him not to do it, or fight him. But nowhere was there an option to AGREE THAT IT’S REASONABLE FOR HIM TO TRY AND PREVENT THE EXTINCTION OF HIS SPECIES. Man that bugged me.

    END SPOILER

    ——————-

    4. Inventory management. Urgh, horrible at late game.

    Those are the big issues I remember having with the game (apart from DRM, but I cracked my legit copy to get around that). Oh, and something about the female Shepard face made them all look oddly the same from the side view, no matter how much you changed them, but that’s just a minor quibble.

  45. Gandaug says:

    I didn’t read every post previous to me own. Forty four was a bit too many for that. So I’m not sure if this sentiment has been expressed already. I’m not even sure if I should express this sentiment, but the first two lines of Shamus’ post made me do it. BioWare makes horrible games. I haven’t played Mass Effect and I haven’t played Jade Empire though both of them do seem interesting. I have played KOTOR 1&2 and NWN 1&2 along with their expansions. KOTOR was only good because of the Star Wars license. I did enjoy because of the license and only because of the license. If it were the exact same game without the force and lightsabers it would have failed miserably. Having played the D&D games put out by Black Isle I hold all others since then against them as a comparison. NWN fell far far short in every single way.

    My real sentiment is that I simply don’t understand the pedestal that BioWare seems to have been put on. Is it simply because they are the only ones making RPGs that follow the familiar routine as opposed to Bethesda’s approach?

    Having said all that if you enjoyed the games then I am happy for you. I just don’t understand your enjoyment.

  46. Dane says:

    Gandaug:

    Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2 were not by BioWare. They were made by Obsidian Entertainment, which is most of the people who used to work for Black Isle Studios.

  47. Magnus says:

    Okay, this got me thinking about the differences between the Paragon and Renegade sides, and I was mostly renegade(90%+) with only perhaps 10-20% of the Paragon bar filled.

    However, I seem to have chosen what would be the Paragon ending, despite being a renegade throughout.

    Basically, can anyone tell me what the major differences are, or direct me to somewhere that can?

    Many thanks!

  48. Robyrt says:

    Regardless of your current Paragon or Renegade status, you can choose either the Paragon or Renegade ending. The only real differences between Paragon and Renegade are the dialogue; the associated skills Charm and Intimidate have much the same uses. (And yes, it IS possible to skip some major fights with Charm/Intimidate – I won’t say any more for spoiler reasons.)

  49. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    @Shamus:

    You should add a “spoiler” tag to your available comment XHTML options. This could make it easy for commenters to hide their spoiler-specific text.

  50. Magnus says:

    @Robyrt: Thanks for the info, and I think I know a couple of places where charm/intimidate come in handy, although they tend to be just dialog differences, there is very little in the way of consequence.

    In general, I suppose I’m beginning to think they only used the terms “renegade” and “paragon” because they sounded “cool”, rather than giving you any particular consequences for your actions.

    The actions that have real consequences are seemingly always available, and were done quite well in my opinion. The whole mission on Virmire was a favourite of mine, and was probably responsible for changing my feelings about the game from “ambivalent” to “favourable”.

  51. R4byde says:

    Actually, I think HK-47 stands for Hunter Killer Model 47; which is probably a reference to Agent 47 of the Hitman games.

    And since I don’t have anything to add to the topic I’ll just disappear now.

  52. R4byde says:

    EDIT: Oops, sorry for the double post, I clicked submit early by accident. Could you delete the first one, Shamus?

    @krellen: HK-47 is a double pun, actually.

    The AK-47 is a well-known assault rifle with numerous variants, copies, clones and derivatives with a reputation for being cheap, easy to manufacture, and reliable”“but perhaps lacking in accuracy. The AK-47 seems to be the choice of communists and third-world militias the world over.

    H&K, or Heckler and Koch, is a well-known German weapons manufacturer, whose products include the G36 assault rifle and MP5 submachinegun.

    I don't think HK-47 is, itself, the name of any actual gun, however.

    On the general topic, I'd have played more of Mass Effect, were it not so terribly unstable on my PC. Strangely, it got worse and worse as time went on, so that, by the time I finally wrapped up the first play-through, playing the game was a chore, because of relatively frequent locks and crashes to the desktop. When it got itself hung while I was starting up the second pass, I decided I'd had enough. If I play it again, it'll be on the X-Box.

    Actually, I think HK-47 stands for Hunter Killer Model 47; which is probably a reference to Agent 47 of the Hitman games.

    And since I don’t have anything to add to the topic I’ll just disappear now.

  53. Dane says:

    From Wikipedia:

    A BioWare developer posted to the company’s forum that HK-47 is named in homage of a dropship in Shattered Steel. However, KotOR lead writer Drew Karpyshyn claimed the name derived from his billiards team’s name.

  54. Matt P says:

    All I can say, Shamus, is that if you don’t viciously savage the travesty that is the paragon vs. renegade cop-out ending (*mild spoilers* or should I say the ‘bunnies and miracles versus logical choice that MUST mean you wanted human supremacy’ ending? I think it’s more accurate that way. *thus endeth the very light spoilers*) I will be disappointed. I might even shed tears. This is an issue very close to my heart; I’ve written my own rant about it.

    I also agree with Dane that the gap between dialogue option to actual dialogue was so wide so often that I found it more frustrating than playing an Infiltrator on my first run-through – in a game that has no infiltration and very much rewards big strong guns over the pistol and sniper rifle I had to work with.

    PS: Am I the only one who finds Joker an insufferable prat?

  55. krellen says:

    WARNING! ENTIRE COMMENT IS SPOILERS!

    @Magnus, #47:
    Basically, can anyone tell me what the major differences are, or direct me to somewhere that can?

    In the end, the Paragon/Renegade choice is when you unleash the Alliance fleet, which determines whether the Council lives or dies. I have not played a third time yet, so I’m not sure what happens if you pick the middle, non-decisive choice, but the difference between the two decisive choices are simple.

    If you go “Paragon” and bring the fleet in early, you save the Council from dying at the hands of Sovereign and the Geth. In recognition of the sacrifice of human lives this caused, Humanity is given a seat on the Council.

    If you go “Renegade” and hold off the fleet until the arms of the Citadel are open, you spare many human lives and ships, but the Council (and much of the Citadel fleet) is destroyed, leaving a power vacuum. Humanity steps forward with a single-race council, chaired by the human representative of your choice (given the two options of Anderson or Udina.)

  56. Magnus says:

    @Krellen:

    Have to say I’m amazingly underwhelmed at the difference. I’ve been considering for a while to replay (as well as trying the DLC) but I think that on a second playthrough I’ll just get frustrated with it. The conversation system and Mako would be enough, even without anything else.

  57. Matt P says:

    A thought occurs to me: what PnP RPG system would you use to run Mass Effect? Anyone? I ask because I’m considering running one (thanks Bioware for those codexes – solid gold fluff) but don’t know many sci-fi RPG systems.

    SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN
    @ Krellen and Magnus
    The middle choice results in roughly the Renegade ending, IIRC, because you still chose to effectively abandon the Council to, I don’t know, guarantee your only attempt to kill Sovereign is actually a good one. This is exactly why I hate the ending: if you decide that killing Sovereign – and thus keeping him from bringing in his Big Bad Fleet of Whoop-Ass Ships – is more important than saving the three council members – who are ultimately replacable – then you must have wanted to replace the Council with one human dictator. Yeah. I remember saying that. Don’t you?
    IMO there should have been some punishment for the good choice being a half-assed weakening of the big strike on Sovereign to save three leaders who weren’t all that good anyway, like, say, Sovereign limping away without the ability to reach his friends in deep space, but still scheming. Bioware, though, figured that the good choice should get all the benefits of the smart – I mean RENEGADE – choice and no repercussions for being so namby pamby – whereas renegades clearly wanted to take over the universe, whether they actually signed up for that or not.

  58. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    MattP:
    Alternity! Although it is sadly out of print. It’s one of the best “hardcore sci-fi” systems I’ve ever seen.

    Also, WEG’s “Space Opera” setting would work very well, as would White Wolf’s “Trinity” system.

    Oh, and Burning Empires could work for an extremely character and belief-driven game.

  59. RussellEldrin says:

    Shamus please, tear this game to shreds, and then take those shreds and burn them. I had been hyped that this game was going to be “infinetly better than KOTOR” by several different friends of mine, only to be heart broken later on.
    P.S. Sorry to be the one to point out problems but I believe that it was spelled Spectre in the games.

  60. nilus says:

    MattP

    Depends on your group. Savage Worlds would work great. Alternity was a good system but hard to find. Personally I dislike both WEGs D6 system and White Wolfs big handful of D10 systems but others like that kinda thing. Saga Edition Starwars might be an okay choice as well to adapt. Especially if your group likes the D20 system or D&D 4.

  61. Bramble says:

    I finally dug into Mass Effect while recently snowed in around Christmas. I’m very much a completionist, so my instinct is to try and do everything that can be done in the first playthough. But I just got way too bogged down into in the early sidequests, most of which aren’t that interesting in terms of story content. I abandoned my first try after only doing one story world. I just kept getting overwhelmed by ambushes in the Mako, and getting frustrated trying to climb rocky terrain, and just generally bored. Plus my Vanguard wasn’t very durable, and it seemed like I needed to get some of the achievement bonuses to make her a viable character.

    Second time through I decided to focus on the main story and worry about the side quests later. Definately the right choice as the story pulled me in a lot better without endless digressions to empty worlds. Now that I finished that game and know where everything is headed. I’m started a third game, back with a Vanguard again and am trying to do absolutely everything, because a lot of things make more sense now that I know the complete story.

    Oh, and for some reason I can’t create a female head that doesn’t have some weird funky shading on the side when her head is tilted at certain angles and its driving me crazy. Plus she seems to have a weird swan neck thing going on. I also wish that once you’ve got a head/face customization finished you could save it for use with future characters. Its frustrating to have perfected a look and not be able to get back to it later.

  62. Ravens_cry says:

    Yay!
    It is the return of the long-rambling-posts-on-subjects-I-find-interest-in!
    Thanks Shamus!

  63. Rival Wombat says:

    Spoiler-tastic..

    While the Renegade choice at the end makes sense given what you know, so dose the Paragon choice.

    Ultimately, the Destiny Ascension has the largest mass driver in the local area, an order of magnitude more powerful then anything the Acuturas Prime fleet can bring out. Persevering it, if not the council, makes good tactical sense. Throwing away a bunch of human cruisers and frigates to save it is a cold blooded move, but one that keeps the weapon most likely to be able to kill a reaper in play.

  64. Colonel Slate says:

    Spoiler-ish?

    Either ending makes tactical sense, considering that the full combined arms might of the alliance military would be able to take on the reaper, or the Destiny Ascension would be able to take on the reaper.

    Tactically speaking however, the combined arms might of the Alliance is actually a better choice than the Destiny Ascension.

    And trust me, I know tactics, it’s my job.

    In other news, I never have, and probably never will like KOTOR, just not very fun, characters too bland for my taste actually, its more like they were cardboard than anything else, but it could be because I’ve played games that already have characters like KOTOR, and they were more intersting.

  65. Lukasa says:

    To begin with, @ Matt P: The act of choosing not to save the Destiny Ascension does not need to lead directly to a Human Dictatorship. It is possible to choose to re-form the Council after the death of the three members, which is essentially the in-between way of doing things.

    With that out of the way, I’d like to join the bandwagon of ‘Things I love about Mass Effect’. I am also apparently one of the few who played it on PC and didn’t have it turn into a shuddering wreck, so that’s nice too. But I digress:

    1) Female Shepard Voice Acting. This alone made me, for the first time in my gaming history, voluntarily decide that all my characters will be female in this game. Kudos to Jennifer Hale, who makes a very convincing superhero voice (she was also Bastila from KOTOR, if anyone is interested).

    2) Great Sci-Fi background. It feels like people put some genuine thought into this IP; it’s not just another Star Trek/Battlestar Galactica cutout. The Galaxy feels like it has a history, and it’s easy to miss some of it: I didn’t even find out about Shanxi until my third playthrough, but there is dialogue in there. Also, all the races feel distinct (with the exception of the Batarians, who are done a major disservice with the Bring Down The Sky DLC), and that pleases me.

    3) Wrex.

    4) This is one of the few RPGs (potentially the only?) where your method of personal conveyance (SSV Normandy) actually plays a role, and is *absolutely* awesome. The Ebon Hawk was nice, but was really only a justification for your ability to get from A to B. The Normandy feels like it’s solid, and sensible.

    5) Mostly, though, I think it has polish. It makes some major errors: some of the scriptwriting needs work, and there needs to be some more correlation between the synopsis of Shepard’s dialogue and what is actually said. In general, however, it’s a much more satisfying game to play than the KOTOR series, despite my love for them. And an original IP is always a good thing, too.

  66. Matt P says:

    @ nilus: Thanks for the recommendations but I also made the question as a thought experiment for anything involved; feel free to disregard my group (they’ll play what they’re told and they’ll like it) and just ponder on how you’d prefer to do it. From a good ramble on a system and its qualities from a different person’s perspective I can usually tell whether the system is worth a look.

    *Spoilers*
    @ Lukasa: You can? I swear I tried my bestest to reform the council but that dang diplomat wouldn’t budge. Did I miss something? If so, what? I could have sworn I had one of my social stats maxed and tried to use it but maybe I didn’t.

  67. Rival Wombat says:

    Not to digress this into a personal conversation..

    Needless over analysis spoilers/

    It wasn’t the full Systems Alliance fleet, it was the Acuturas Prime fleet. While we never hear it’s order of battle, we do know that it almost certainly has only one dreadnought. That’s significant because the codex makes it pretty clear that in close combat, the only thing with any businesses taking on a dreadnought is another dreadnought. The kinetic barriers of the Sovereign should shrug off any mass accelerator fire that isn’t from Admiral Hacket’s ship or the Destiny Ascension. You also need to take into account that Commander Shepard is on the spot, and doesn’t have accesses to all the information he or she could hope for.

    That said, the ending video seems to show the AP fleet hammering the reaper’s kinetic barriers down then finishing it with the Normandy’s main guns. (That seems unlikely given the codex entries, but there’s some artistic licenses involved. I suppose torpedoes and lasers might knock out enough shielding to make the last strike possible. Or Sovereign just ran out of coolant and heat sinks.)

    Needless over analysis spoilers end.

  68. Rich says:

    On a vaguely related note, I think I finally got it working. It involved rolling back my Nvidia drivers to 175.19 and killing my G15 keyboard AND MX 518 Logitec mouse software via Task Manager. Then I reinstalled my game on drive with more space. (Thanks various forum posters)

    OTOH I haven’t gotten to the part where I used to crash so wish me luck.

  69. Mark says:

    I approached Mass Effect not as a Bioware title but as the closest thing to Star Control 2 that’s ever been made. I still haven’t decided whether this was a mistake.

  70. =Dan says:

    I know you will cover Mass Effects faults in detail but I thought I would at least share my top three:

    1) Inventory system from hell with no significant differences between the various weapons. Weird how alien weapons look exactly like human weapons and have essentially the same functionality.

    2) The side quests consisted of driving around the worst vehicle since the Halo:CE warthog and were (for the most part) uninspired.

    3) The main storyline is too short…I mean waaaaay too short. From a company known for creating hours of gameplay and deep, interesting storylines we get a short 3 hours of main plot and no emotional connection to any of the characters.

    To hell with a planned “trilogy” give me one game (that takes the same number of years to write and produce as the planned series) with a story and characters I actually care about!

  71. Hawk says:

    Huh — I didn’t realize the main quest line was so short. I’m a bit of a completionist, so I tend to try and finish every possible side quest. As a result, with ME, I got bored and stopped playing (that, and third-person combat just really bugs me in this sort of game — I’d rather have a first person mode).

    Guess I should pick it back up and just run through the main plot quests to get it over with, then go back and explore.

  72. Karizma says:

    I can’t play PC games so I’m left with console, and so I’m late into BioWare’s fame, but I must say that I love Mass Effect because it delivers in what it intended.

    The story was deep, but it wasn’t completely original. But that was the point. What I got from Mass Effect was kind of an “Old school Science Fantasy”. You have force powers, you have flashing glowing panels on your arm that can affect objects at a distance, you have guns that fold up into cell phones. And it felt like an epic movie.

    It’s disappointing to me that people generally harp on so many little things in games, and miss the major emphasis. What BioWare set to do in Mass Effect, they did right, I feel. I love it, and I hope you enjoy it too Shamus.

    (As a side note, I finally got Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. So hopefully I can play those.)

  73. Corsair says:

    I think Shamus is right, but the fact that this might be BioWare’s worst game in some time isn’t so bad. The other big games it made were Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, both of which were epically awesome, although I personally think Mass Effect is better than either, although Jade Empire comes close.

    Okay, the Male Shepard’s voice is pretty damn wooden and there is no Super Special Awesome Plot Twist, but the latter is not a bad thing. I’d rather BioWare didn’t become known as the Video Game Version of M. Night Shyamalan, and I LIKE M. Night Shyamalan.

    Yes, the ending had it’s flaws, but to be fair, Pure Renegade is pretty clearly a hardcore Terra Firmist, among other things.

    The biggest reason I rate it so high is the codex. The gameplay is fun. It’s sort of Jade Empire without the rather easy combat, and there’s nothing quite like picking off Geth from 500 meters with a sniper rifle, although the Assault Rifle/Soldier is pretty much the only class worth playing.

    The balance was poor between classes, but geez, the kind of effort they put into building this universe from the ground up. Besides, it’s not like unbalanced class selections are anything new, BioWare’s been playing with D20, including a number of D&Ds, which everyone knows has some rather noticable balance issues.

  74. RL says:

    I’m in the slim minority who enjoyed this more than any other game from Bioware. I found the story line compelling, the world immersive and detailed, and all the NPCs had fascinating backgrounds and subplots. I agonized over the decision points at Virmire like no other game before or since, and the aftermath was one of the most touching moments I’ve experienced in this medium – seriously, the score for that part is *perfect*. Choosing a favourite NPC is tough, as they’re all awesome, but it’s gotta be Ashley. The scripting and voice acting were bang on for her, and I enjoyed her complexity – I know a lot of real-life women warriors just like her, and she reminded me of them constantly.

  75. General Karthos says:

    I loved Mass Effect, despite its flaws. I saw it as a first sort of “test run” at the system, where for Mass Effect II I fully expect them to hammer out the flaws, remove what made the game “weak”, add more of what made the game good, and we’ll get a truly great game.

    In the order of Bioware Games I have played, I enjoyed:
    5) Baldur’s Gate II
    4) Neverwinter Nights
    3) Baldur’s Gate I
    2) Mass Effect
    1) KOTOR

    One thing you should know about me is that I’ve never been a fan of Computer D&D games…. I just find them uninteresting in general, even Baldur’s Gate and its successors. That they are still among some of my favorite games (despite being a kind of game I generally don’t enjoy) is high praise to them.

    Oh, and I’m looking forward to this new Star Wars MMORPG…. Probably the first MMO I’ll ever subscribe to.

  76. VTGamer says:

    While I enjoyed Mass Effect a lot. Even though it had many issues like the quite repetitive enviroments and combat, the first time you walk into the Presidium you pretty much are blown away. I really appreciate the time and thought to the history and cultures, but I would like to point out one obvious inspiration, Babylon 5. Maybe because I was watching the DVDs at the time but the citadel = B5, the enemy is very similar to the Shadows, asari is very similar in culture to Minbari,the biotics act quite similar to Teeps in B5, and finally the upstart but xenophobic humanity is very similar to how humanity is portrayed in B5. Im not saying that there are not a lot of unique ideas and quite well though out characters (Ashley is one of the few well written politically conservative characters in a game, while you might not agree with her you could at least see her point of view and yeah Wrex shows that you can be a merc and not just be a rambo clone), but I could not shake the fact I felt i was in B5, which is its own tribute in of itself.

  77. DKellis says:

    Let’s just say that I would have considered Mass Effect well worth the money and the DRM if they let me just putter around the galaxy reading all the text and Codex entries.

    The presence of some actual gameplay was a nice bonus.

  78. captain kail says:

    I’m glad you mentioned DRM at the end of this post, because now I feel justified in mentioning this mostly off-topic subject.

    https://secure.commentworks.com/ftc-DRMtechnologies/

    The FTC has opened a forum for commenting on DRM for an upcomming meeting they’re having on the subject. You can finally lash out at the dogs directly! Sort of. I feel it’s worth the few minutes of commenting.

  79. Lukasa says:

    @ Matt P, 12 posts ago: Yup, I’m pretty certain you can. I just finished it (for the seventh time) yesterday, and IIRC you only get that option if you immediately choose it. When Udina is speaking to you, the option on the top left is “We Should Reform The Council”.

    I’m also fairly certain that either I or someone I know has got that ending before.

  80. Gandaug says:

    @Dane: You are right. I actually knew that and for some reason didn’t remember it as I was posting. It was actually one of the things that had me a bit excited about KOTOR2 and NWN2.

    Which makes my feelings even more salient. Both sequels were better than the originals. To top it off since the sequels were pretty much made by the company that brought me the games I love from the 90s I can’t hold out hope of something really good coming out any time soon.

    I’m starting to understand why I’ve slowly shifted to more FPSs and less RPGs.

  81. Noumenon says:

    While all of this is going on, a unknown force rises and threatens the entire galaxy, and someone has to stop them. (That would be you.)

    I was skimming and thought “Hey, cool, a chance to be the unknown force rising for once!”

  82. Zel says:

    It’s funny that you start talking about Mass Effect. I recently discovered your blog and have been browsing the older posts, and remembered this one. Let’s see if ME is indeed a great RPG.

    1) Awesome cutting edge graphics – check

    2) Few choices without consequences other than “good” or “bad” points – check

    3) Two endings, good one and bad one – check

    4) Challenging combat … hmm tough one, but for the snipers that occasionally one-shot you, I’d say yes – check

    5) Good huge boss fights – check

    6) Plot-driven doors… Not really doors in this case but planets or bases related to sidequests, so yes – check

    7) Romance with the hot chick, even for female characters – check

    8 ) Bigass Sword… there’s no sword per se, but spectre equipment far above any other in both coolness and power (and price…) counts for this one – check

    9) Middle-Age fantasy setting… well I guess it fails here – failed

    10) Crap about destiny or prophecy – check

    Now let’s see … wow ! 9/10 ! Almost perfect !

    Just a little more effort, a middle age fantasy setting and a hot chick on the box and this would have been the best game of all times. But wait, Dragon Age is set in a medieval universe, right ? Let’s hope Bioware learned their lessons ;)

  83. Jeff says:

    Regarding assault rifles, I dunno.

    The two most powerful builds, or at least the top 5, don’t use assault rifles.

    An Infiltrator Commando does ridiculous amounts of damage with a pistol, with a sniper rifle for backup. Towards the end, the sniper rifle generally kills most things with one shot (properly modded), and the pistol has a higher DPS than an assault rifle, with a longer continuous fire, and better accuracy. (Taking Marksman and Overkill into account.)

    A Vanguard Shock Trooper is one heck of a lot of fun to play as well being one of the stronger classes, especially with either Electronics or Singularity as their added power. Your pistols and shotguns do ridiculous damage as well. Shock Trooper gets Adrenaline Burst cool-down reductions, you combine that with Carnage, and a properly modded shotgun. 2 Rail Extension VIIs and Explosive Rounds is the properly modded shotgun. Explosive Rounds will auto-overheat with one shot, BUT it doesn’t occur with Carnage. The Rail extensions are in fact higher damage then their upgrades (Scram Rails) which tone down damage in favor of reducing heat. This gives you an EXTREMELY high damage one-shot shotgun that you combo thusly: Carnage, Adrenaline Burst, Carnage, Normal Shot. The shotgun thus has 29% (Rail) 29% (Rail) 28% (Rounds, which also has 500% force, which is considerable with shotguns) 150% (Carnage) damage. Twice, with a 7.2m radius, with perfect precision. Then a normal shot to clean up whatever survived essentially two RPGs. Add in that as a Vanguard, you should be tossing Throw, Lift, and (if you got it, and you want it) Singularity prior to the Carnage x2 combo. Those three will let you clump a room, Carnage x2 will kill everything, and since you recharged, the abilities are available again for you to nab and disable any lucky enough to survive and deliver an overpowered shot to the face.

    Mind you, this is probably easier with a mouse and keyboard, as precision is demanded with such a combo. The pistol, cranking up accuracy, is precise enough for long range combat. You’d have your companions using assault rifles of course, to keep rounds in the air. You’ll have no problems with any encounters in the game.

    Oh yeah, you also get a self-regenerating Barrier to buff up your shields when you start combat, and when you use Adren for the second Carnage, you have a safe key in the middle of the fight too. This all works best with a multi-button mouse, though.

    Reference: masseffect.wikia.com

  84. Derek K. says:

    I played around with several builds (although I didn’t go to the Wikia, because I got the 360 version the day it came out….), and the Vanguard Shock Trooper with Singularity is what I settled on. It was heinous. I didn’t go so far as to make the one-shot shotty, but I had one that was about 3 shots before overheating. After finishing, I made a soldier with the assault rifle – it was pretty pitiful.

    I’m running on Insane difficulty now, and it’s toughish, but really, there’s not much you can’t handle with Singularity, Carnage, and a shotgun.

    Also, I <3 ME. Not quite as much as KoTOR, but almost. I had a dream, one day, of putting together a series of conversations between Wrex and HK-47. Some day, I will fulfill that dream, and die a happy man.

    Also, Wrex is completely the humor. He is absolutely awesome. Nihilism is always funny.

    My party usually ended up being Wrex and either Garrus, Tali, or Kaiden (rarely). I usually took Tali, because my theory was that having 2 blocks of each was important, so Wrex and I made up two blocks of combat and bio, and then Tali took up the science. It annoys me that, to get other achievements, I have to take Wrex out of my party.

  85. JKjoker says:

    i kept garrus and the blue chick on my party the entire game (except for the parts where i didnt have access to them) and i DIDNT get the 2 achivements for “playing most of the game with x character”, meh …

    also i found the “jedi” powers to be incredible useless compared to fighting skills (other than the simplest and most useful power : “force push”, shield is nice as well but electronics does the same thing and doesnt need casting or “mana” and it gives you a nice skill-power to boot), the high level powers are specially annoying because they actually make combat longer (singularity keeps blocking your line of sight and levitation just makes your aiming more difficult to paralyze an enemy that would normally have a 5 second life span)

    as for the weapons, lets see, the sniper sucks because it doesnt do enough damage, it’s too slow and accuracy isnt really a problem since all the times you are attacking from a distance you have the mako

    the assault rifle is just an slightly improved version of the pistol, but the only difference i found was that you could kill things maybe 10% faster with the rifle, so… shrug

    the shotgun is ok, but its kind of crappy until you max out the skill and it sucks on the hands of the AI because they dont know how to use it, in your hands it can work as a fire-and-forget weapon (once you get some nice upgrades, high level weapon and skill) but since combat isnt really difficult you dont really need it, the skill power is nice as a free grenade launcher

  86. kelvingreen says:

    Karizma, if you don’t have access to a PC, the two Baldur’s Gate games you have are likely to be the Dark Alliance titles, which are essentially flashy versions of Gauntlet, rather than the nifty PC rpgs most people are referring to when they mention BG. They’re okay, but not really rpgs, and nowhere near as good as the PC games, so you may be disappointed.

  87. Rival Wombat says:

    I find it kind of odd that mass effect’s difficulty curve is in many ways inverted. At it’s hardest early on, as you pick up new equipment and especially achievements you gain across the board bonuses that make you much more capable of handling anything the game throws at you. While this makes it feel like your really getting rewarded for snagging gear and achievements it can turn your next play though, even on the unlockable difficulty level, a bit of a cakewalk.

  88. Derek K. says:

    JKjoker: What difficulty were you playing on? I couldn’t have survived without lift, throw and singularity on the hardest levels. Normal, I don’t think you’d care – they don’t have the defenses such that you need to neutralize them until you’re ready….

    Also, you don’t get the achievements for the X party member unless you also get the one for completionist – I think it’s 90% of the game complete.

  89. Dan says:

    The main thing they should have done with the game is just to do away with sidequests altogether. Rather than becoming a Spectre at the beginning of the game and exploring on your own when you already know where you need to go, you should have had some sort of teaser for the main plot at the beginning, but you shouldn’t have become a Spectre before proving your mettle with several missions for Admiral Hackett. So rather than just visiting various planets and getting a transmission from Hackett, a lot of that stuff should have happened before you became a Spectre. Also, there should have been periods where you had to wait for the Council to gather actionable intelligence and in that time Hackett could have you take care of some secondary objectives that would turn out to be tangentially related to the main plot.

    I think the game would have worked a lot better if they hadn’t tried to make it an RPG. The “non-linearity” is pretty pointless, particularly because of the level-scaling. The combat should’ve stayed the same, but they should’ve just gotten rid of the Mako, the fake non-linearity, and all of the random sidequests that weren’t from Hackett or Kahoku.

  90. Derek K. says:

    Dan: There are just as many people who felt like the sidequests were a distraction, though. For them, being forced to do them all “just to progress the plot” would have been annoying.

    Frankly, I’m a bit confused by the concern with the sidequests.

    It’s an RPG, made post 1990. It has a main quest, and then a lot of sidequests. That’s pretty much bog standard at this point, in the cRPG world, isn’t it?

  91. Dan says:

    Well, sidequests part an annoyance in Mass Effect because the Mako is an annoyance and because the buildings and thus the battles are all the same on every single planet. Also being asked to do random things by random people on the Citadel is just stupid. What I’m suggesting is to have subplots incorporated throughout the game being given missions from Admiral Hackett to help the Alliance and earn your status as a Spectre. The only well-done subplot was the Cerberus quest line and if they would incorporate more sub plots like that through the game it would be a lot better.

    I don’t think there are many people who wanted to spend $60 just to spend 5 hours doing the main quest and nothing else (except on later playthroughs), and I think restructuring the side missions would have done a lot to make them more interesting.

    Mass Effect shouldn’t be beholden to standard RPG traditions because it’s not a standard RPG. You can’t choose your name, you can’t choose not to be a soldier, and you don’t have attributes. You work for the Alliance military for the Council; you don’t work for an Asari Consort or some Turian general or anyone else for that matter.

    One thing that was good about the side missions was that you weren’t fighting Geth all the time. There is no more bland of an enemy in any game than the Geth. They are an interesting concept, but my goodness I got tired of fighting nothing but Geth. Unfortunately, the next most bland enemy is a random commando with a helmet.

    Also, get rid of collection quests. They’re just plain stupid. If you’re going to have collectibles, I really like what they did with Gears of War 2 where the collectibles are COG tags, journal entries, and newspaper stories. There were interesting subplots that you could follow by reading all of the collectibles. But just picking up another “Asari artifact” in Mass Effect felt pointless.

  92. Dave R says:

    Matt P:
    A thought occurs to me: what PnP RPG system would you use to run Mass Effect? Anyone? I ask because I'm considering running one (thanks Bioware for those codexes – solid gold fluff) but don't know many sci-fi RPG systems.

    If you search the archives on WotC’s Star Wars Saga forums, there’s a Mass Effect conversion for that game.

    JKjoker:

    i kept garrus and the blue chick on my party the entire game (except for the parts where i didnt have access to them) and i DIDNT get the 2 achivements for “playing most of the game with x character”, meh …

    I’d guess you probably didn’t do enough sidequests, then. Liara’s achievement is pretty hard to get, though; you have to ignore side stuff in your first run at the Citadel and go after her as soon as possible. Even then, you probably won’t get the achievement before the endgame.

  93. Sebmojo says:

    It’s not a Bioware title, but I’m about halfway through the enhanced edition of the Witcher and so far it’s knocking KOTOR into a cocked hat.

  94. Sebmojo says:

    Ooh, a few minutes of research later and I can see that might raise hackles.

    So, preemptively:

    Dialogue, voice acting and animations are all considerably improved in the EE version (on a par with KOTOR, but not as good as VTM: Bloodlines, IMO)

    My 2005 processor (a64 3500)modern but cheap video card (nvidia 9800GT) and 2 gig of no-name RAM can easily handle everything on max pretties, though I’ve had to dial back one setting in the Trade District.

    The combat is just right – mostly easy, but with a few interesting decisions and the occasional tricky fight – this is on normal.

    The sort of Geralt you want to be is very much in your hands, explicitly so as you move through the plot (bizarrely it even turns into a sort of Japanese dating sim at one point)

    There is a phenomenally well plotted ‘investigate the crime’ passage of play in Act 2, set in a stunningly well rendered mediaeval town, with a genuinely epic closeout. Personally I didn’t mind the first act, though it is a little weak and draggy. But Act 2 is the dogs knackers.

    The sex stuff is in my view quite defensible, for a couple of reasons – first, it fits the world and character perfectly. Second, it’s mildly titillating in the right way – in a similar way to headshots in Fallout, but with sex rather than violence. And finally, I’ve got no particular verisimilitudinosity probs with a lean grizzled renegade monster with not one, not two but four enormous weapons getting teh poontang.

    So ahem. I’m most of the way through Act 3 (damn it’s huge, probably 40 hours in) and the plot is starting to slow down so I may be past the best, but for me it’s Baldurs Gate 2 level good.

    Apologies for the random threadjack => regular scheduled service.

  95. Kel'Thuzad says:

    I know it’s quite useful to be saying this at comment 95, but “specter” is spelled “spectre” in the Mass Effect universe.

  96. Jim says:

    Not very relevant, but it’s interesting to see how much you’ve warmed to Mass Effect over the years.

    It’s still one of my favourite games of all time, and one of my favourite sci-fi stories.

    1. Turtlebear says:

      It’s kind of crazy to think that this was written by the same man who spent months almost 7 years later writing a novel sized rant on why this game was so great compared to it’s sequels.

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