Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mass Effect

It took me a while to get into this game. At first, I was blow away by the graphics and the sc-fi setting, but the controls felt awkward, the story was awkwardly introduced, and there was little explanation about what was going on or what you were supposed to do. So I put it down and played some other games, but finally came back to it, and it all clicked after a couple hours of playing. But as soon as I started to really love it, it was over.

To begin with, don't be fooled into thinking this is an action-oriented shooter, even though you can play as a soldier, you're given a machine gun, and the whole thing looks like Gears of War. If you try to play this like Gears, you're going to die. To begin with, the control simply isn't that fluid and the cover system is broken, but that's ok because the action isn't as intense and it puts the emphasis on strategy and leveling up your stats and skills. But even so, it would be nice for the cover system not to lock you to walls accidentally or for your aiming reticule to be a little more responsive during firefights.

But at heart, this is a pure, straight-up RPG, full of character development, an in-game monetary system, and dozens of quests ranging from the boring to the out of this world -- literally. I got about 30 hours out of the game before I completed the main quest, but I would guess I only finished about half of the side-quests I had started, and there were many more I didn't even begin. I didn't finish all of the quests because, frankly, the main story was so epic and intriguing that it felt weird to spend my time on silly little fetch quests for unimportant NPCs. I just wanted to see what happened in the story, but I'm sure on my next playthrough I'll take things a little slower and pace myself a bit to see more, since most of the quests are pretty fun and take you all through the entire galaxy. No kidding.

This game is huge. There are dozens of planets littering numerous solar systems, most of which you can land on and just explore in your all terrain vehicle, complete with a machine gun and missile launcher. At first, I absolutely hated driving around in the Mako (or whatever it was called) because the controls felt so unintuitive, it gets stuck on everything, and the weapons felt useless. But then I accidentally discovered the jump button that gets you over obstacles and the zoom feature that  makes the gun absolutely awesome and devastating to use. Still, driving around on the planets to get to your mission objectives can start to drag on after while, and I doubt you'll ever want to randomly search random planets for items or ore you can mine. I did that a few times and I never saw the point. To be honest, there are way too many items strewn around every planet. I converted 99% of what I found into health, and never had to buy even one item from a merchant.

As RPGs go, it runs the gamut from being incredibly forgiving for novices or extremely in depth for hardcore fans of the genre. You can set the level of combat from so-easy-you'll-never-die to ridiculously-hard, and you have to option to allow the game to level up your stats for you if you don't want to worry or care about that stuff. But letting the game handle all that takes away some of the fun of playing an RPG. You are giving a team of character, from which you can choose two squad mates to accompany you on missions, though they are all kind of bland and boring to be perfectly honest. None of them really stood out much as characters, at least not during the actually playable missions. During the cut scenes, they all had a lot of personality and charm. But while in combat, none of the characters really felt as though they were doing much, and the control you have on each of them is nowhere near as extensive as I would've liked.

But this game is just fun to play. It may not be a straight up shooter, but the game is action-packed and thrilling all the same. Once you get into the feel of the combat, there is a lot of freedom to experiment with different playstyles for each character class. The engineer definitely feels different from a soldier, for example, and it will almost seem like a completely different game. And the story is just epic, with a great central threat that is actually really scary when you learn more toward the end. Characters die, people change, and there was even a sex scene, though it was tastefully done, if a bit awkwardly handled.

Give it a try if you are a fan of shooters, RPGs, or just well told sci-fi space operas. Great game.

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