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Mass Effect Thoughts

Back home from the land of Disney. A good time was had by all, but most importantly, by my sister, for whom the trip was both a celebration and a well-earned reward. My sister is 40, had hip replacement a couple months back, and has Down’s Syndrome. Disneyland was good for her.

As I said a couple posts back, I finished playing through Mass Effect, and I quite liked the game, with a handful of reservations. Spent a lot of time thinking about it over the last week or so. What follows is a somewhat disjointed, and probably poorly-considered, evaluation of the game as held to my admittedly ridiculously high standards. There be spoilers for the game ahead, fair warning, though I did try to keep them to the minimum.

I’m not a games critic, let’s just get that out of the way up front, move the salt cellar to the center of the table, and keep it in easy reach of all who might requiring taking a grain or ten. What I am, for better or for worse, is a writer, and that’s colors how I experience just about every game I play.

Not incidentally, I’m also a long time role-playing gamer, starting way back when I was 10 and D&D came in a pale blue box and a dungeon was eight rooms with a dragon in Room #8 and never the hell you mind how he got there or what he was doing with that big ‘ol pile of treasure. My gaming, I should like to think, has matured significantly since then (now, y’know, the dragon would have a reason to be in Room #8, as well as a detailed history, lineage, and some well-defined personality quirks; and truth be told, the game would likely eschew the dungeon altogether in favor of some desultory conversation with a particularly interesting NPC or three. No, my games are not for everyone. I am honestly less concerned with mechanics than I am with story, and any interest I have in devising devilishly clever ways to screw and/or kill characters are to that end, none other.).

When I play computer RPG, be it on console or desktop, that’s the experience I’m pursuing. Graphics and gameplay matter to me only insofar as they support or hinder my gaming experience. I can still cheerfully play Interplay’s Fallout 2 or BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn and not mind in the slightest that the graphics are, by today’s standards, laughably weak, etc, etc.. What appeals to me about those games today are the same things that appealed to me about them when I played them for the first time – the story, and in particular, the maturity of the story, both in execution and in subject matter.

(As an aside, I’m really hoping that Fallout 3 by Bethesda will embrace this part of the Fallout legacy, rather than backing slowly away from it in the hopes that nobody will notice; given the bullshit regarding sex in Mass Effect, I’m almost certain they will pursue the latter, however, with the perceived need to exercise the better part of valor; but more on this later.)

I’m bouncing about a bit here, but what I’m trying to do is explain why computer RPGs matter to me, why I think they’re of merit, and why I think there’s great promise in them. I honestly believe that computer-slash-console RPGs are a developing art form, an evolving entertainment medium with as much validity as novels or film.

Storytelling is an art. As to why it is that the logical next step seems to give the mainstream so much trouble, I have my suspicions. I suspect that it’s the word “game,” with the inherent implication that such things exist purely for entertainment and recreation, nothing more.

Regardless, I long ago made my piece with the following extrapolation: storytelling is an art; therefore, games that tell stories are also art. And I maintain that role-playing is, yes, an art. I’d even venture to say it’s a form with tangential connection to Comics-as-Art. Both are interactive mediums which require the audience’s participation to execute the narrative, unlike, say, film or television, which, by and large, is a passive medium while in-progress. Whereas comics’ participation comes in the form of the gutter, that unseen element of story which the reader much provide, RPG gamers supply guidance for character, and thus influence, or in the best cases, direct the plot, and thus influence the story itself.

All this comes with the caveat that not all games aspire to be art, but taking a post-modern lit-crit view of such things, I’d argue that the intent is ultimately irrelevant. Whether or not Lawrence Kasdan and Steven Spielberg intended Raiders of the Lost Ark to be the story of two men fighting over the soul of one woman rather than, say, a rollicking homage to serial films doesn’t change the fact that it’s both, and that, frankly, Belloq is the better man. It’s there, and hey, as far as I’m concerned it’s art, but that’s a long-winded analysis for another time, should anyone wish to open that particular can of worms with me.

This is what I’m after, you see. This is the windmill I’m charging at. Because this new medium, this birth of a new art form, the interactive drama, there’s incredible potential here. And what I want from it is what I want from all drama – I want compelling characters, engaging story, depth, maturity, and, most of all, I want emotional reward.

That last is key, because, to me, that’s the hallmark of a good story, whatever its medium. It evokes an emotional response, both during and after, and ideally this response is achieved not through gamesmanship or contrivances, but instead through emotionally relevant and emotionally resonant narrative. “Cat scares” and ham-handed music cues are the storytelling equivalent of cheap parlor tricks in and of themselves – they evoke a false result, without substance, and ultimately, without lasting worth. I’m speaking of emotional investment, now, and ultimately, I’m speaking of catharsis in the true Aristotelian sense.

And so, with that long-winded preface, I offer an even longer-winded evaluation of Mass Effect. And note, please, that this is a personal one, at that.

It’s very good. It’s very, very good in many, many parts. There’s a lot to like, and I liked it a lot.

It’s also flawed, and in many places, it’s an experience of “almost…but not quite.”

The universe is beautifully realized one. The effort, thought, and care put into its construction is visible, from the voluminous codex entries (and the touch of having Neil Ross provide the “read-aloud” voice for the Primary Entries was a stroke of genius; having the voice of Nova explain the history of the Rachni Wars added not only gravitas, but also verisimilitude) to the painstaking justification for just about every single person, place, and thing in the game. Mass Effect is a “hard scifi” world, and the thought behind almost all of the world-building choices is impressive as hell. The technology has a logic to it, and that logic, in fact, is integral to the story itself, even if it’s only subtextual (though I wonder if development for the planned sequels will explore the irony in using the mass effect technology on its creators). Alien races, for the most part, are as well-defined as the technology, and a few are even reasonably well-explored, given the confines of the game.

Yes, there are tropes to be found. The blue-skinned, “mono-gendered,” yet decidedly feminine Asari are the fetish race, big surprise. The Krogan are the battle-oriented warrior culture. Yet for all this, it’s clear that effort was made to extrapolate the tropes, to add depth – races have codex entries on religious belief, political systems, cultural mores, and while relegating such information to “encyclopedia” entries renders it less pertinent, it’s to the game’s credit that I felt such exclusion was done for reasons of space, rather than laziness. There are only a few instances where ideas are touched upon and then left behind, so to speak – Liara’s “pureblood” status being a prime example.

The dialogue system is innovative. The idea of providing the player with the gist of a response, selecting it, and then watching their character deliver the appropriate dialogue is quite clever. It freed the writing process considerably, allowed for longer speeches by all characters, and thus longer scenes, which in turn further enhance the story and the role-playing aspects. The additional, obvious, dividend of this is that your character actually speaks, rather than mutely offers selected responses to voiced NPCs.

The voice-acting is excellent, with only a few hiccups, but this comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with BioWare’s track record; they have consistently delivered, in my opinion, the best voice-acting in this kind of game. The “acting” animations for many of the characters, too, is a step forward, often elegant, sometimes even subtle. Sound design as a whole is, in fact, immersive and well-done – ambient noise as well as effects are evocative and have real depth. The score, by Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques, David Kates, and Jack Wall, is fantastic.

These last elements – dialogue, voice acting, character animation – contribute to the cinematic feel of the game, something BioWare quite clearly was pursuing. More than anything else, Mass Effect plays like an interactive movie. Cut-scenes steal cinema verité style from the new Battlestar Galactica, shaky hand-held camera movement is employed during catastrophes, soft light flares just enough during romantic interludes. It’s all there, from jump-cuts to camera blur and lens flares.

The flip-side is that it becomes a juxtaposition of styles, as if the “film” had multiple directors, rather than a unifying, stylistic vision, guiding it. As a result, the camera-work is occasionally distracting and even, once or twice, confusing.

Discussion of FPS, textures, lighting, and so on I’ll leave to someone else – for my purposes, everything served well, and I never noted any clipping or glitches that detracted at all from my gameplay. It’s very pretty. It’s pretty enough that, unlike in past games of this style, I didn’t feel the need to run everywhere, but was content to let my character walk from place to place, simply to enjoy the scenery. That, in and of itself, is a remarkable compliment, as far as I’m concerned.

So the mechanics are all there, and, for the most part, well-executed. My quibbles with the controls are honestly purely that, quibbles – the controls are easy enough to master as one plays through the game, and, in all honesty, I didn’t play Mass Effect for the first-person shooter experience, and anyone who did deserves entirely the disappointment they no doubt suffered. Might I direct such gamers to Call of Duty 4, which I can vouch for personally, or The Orange Box, which I cannot vouch for at all, but am told is quite good, as well. Bitching about Mass Effect’s failings as a first-person shooter is roughly the equivalent of bitching about Scrabble’s failings as an RPG. If that’s why you picked it up, caveat emptor.

The only real control-slash-interface issues I have with the game are in the inventory system, and in the control of the Mako. The inventory limit of 150 items is annoying, but the real problem lies in the inability to effectively sort or stack the inventory. And when you do have 150 items that need culling, the process of doing so becomes rapidly tedious. By the same token, camera-control when driving the Mako – especially up and down the ubiquitous mountain terrain of countless “uncharted” worlds – is bad enough at times to give one fits.

Tycho and Gabe did a strip about the ubiquitous elevators, poking fun at the amount of time one spends waiting in them to move from point A to point B. These are load screens, no question, and they’re mitigated by the occasional “news report” played over the speakers, or the NPC interactions that occur. As far as that goes, I’d have liked more of both, especially the former, and I’d have liked more variety, as well – again, it builds the world, and anything that promotes that is a good thing.

The biggest “gameplay” gripe I have, in fact, is with the sound. While the music is terrific, the voice-acting is great, and the sound effects are dynamite, they’re all competing with one another. By my second hour playing the game, I had to do so with the remote at my side, so I could adjust volume on the fly. In direct conversations, characters were easy enough to hear; outside of that, they’re voices were nearly inaudible, and, in a game where NPC interaction is given such a high priority, that’s unforgivable. I don’t need to hear the rushing waterfall as much as I want to hear what Garrus has to say about it.

A lot good. A lot I liked. And now we come to the almost-but-not-quites.

All the inane punditry aside (and if you’ve not tracked this particular molehill-into-Everest, you’ve no idea what you’re missing – comics fans have nothing on irate console gamers), the sex scene is nothing. Seriously. This earns the game an ‘M’ rating? I’m assuming this is the same standard that the MPAA utilizes, ie, utter bullshit, with the bonus conservatism because there’s the opportunity for homosexuality (though lesbians only – penises need not apply). If this scene ran on network television, no one would blink. The particular irony here is, I’m sure, that BioWare was painfully careful about how they executed the consummation of the romance(s), because they knew they were going to get heat for it no matter what. The trade-off was a love scene that lacked any real frisson, and, guess what? They got hit anyway.

Romance, and yes, sex, are parts of drama, and when executed well, can be incredibly compelling elements of story. This isn’t about titillation; you can get titillation anywhere, hell, you can get that and a Dirty Sanchez in 15 seconds on a search engine. This is about telling stories well, and telling them with a spine. That BioWare even made the attempt is to be applauded.

The lesson I’d take from this? Next time, go for it. Open the field. Het and homosexual romances. Love scenes with real heat, real passion. Make it sexy. Make it a turn on. You’re getting the ‘M’ rating, anyway. Brandish it with pride. Tell Wal-Mart to fuck off.

But the lesson I fear that game developers will take from this is avoidance. No sex at all. Because as much as a game developer might like to tell Wal-Mart they don’t have the right to censor the kind of stories they tell, the bottom line is always the bottom line.

More’s the pity, because, while the romances in Mass Effect are not perfect, they are at least there, and they added significantly to the story, because they add to character – not solely to you-as-Shepard, but to the NPCs you can romance with.

Which brings us to those NPCs and another one of my gripes. While the primary NPCs on your team – Kaiden, Ashley, Garrus, Wrex, Liara, and Tali – are all well-developed, there is, once again, not enough opportunity for unique interaction. As with BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, there are really only three (how very Chekhovian) opportunities for significant interaction, provided after each of the significant “checkpoints” in the story’s progression, and each of these interactions occur in a static environment, ie, aboard your ship after the checkpoint has been reached. Essentially, you finish the checkpoint, and then trot around your ship talking to everyone, then move on to the next checkpoint. It’s an artificial construct, and it feels like one. This is in contrast with the “in-mission” interactions – ie, Wrex, Ashley, and Kaiden on Virmire, all scenes that, for the most part, shine as a result. The Wrex confrontation, in particular, is very well-crafted.

(On the subject of SW: KOTOR, Mass Effect is almost structurally identical. Seriously. The game begins with a “tutorial mission”; it then progresses to a set location where the objective is, essentially, to be able to leave (in KOTOR it’s Taris, in Mass Effect, it’s the Citadel); once free from this locale, the player has a limited set of locations to visit which, ultimately, unlock another destination to lead to the story’s denouement. Mass Effect mitigates this significantly with the addition of the “uncharted world” missions that can be picked up. I’m not actually certain this is a bad thing, because the stories are different enough there’s no sense of repetition at all, but I find it interesting that the structure is so similar.)

Getting back to character. This is where, for me, the game fails, specifically in two places.

The first is with your apparent nemesis, Saren. When first encountered, he’s given an agenda as a racist and a sociopath, supported in backstory provided by Captain Anderson. And in the first four cut-scenes where we see Saren – three of them on Eden Prime, the fourth on Sovereign – this is sustained. Yet, as the game progresses and you, as Shepard, discover more of what is “really going on,” Saren’s agenda shifts to, in my opinion, a far more compelling one. But this new agenda is in direct opposition to what’s been established, and the “indoctrination” argument doesn’t mitigate the change. If he’s honestly seeking to spare the galaxy a new culling from the Reapers, why make him so morally bankrupt at the start? I’d have been more engaged, and have found Saren more compelling as a result, if he’d honestly been a good guy at the start, warts and all. It’s a significant enough disconnect that it detracts from the final stages of the story.

But even this is a small issue when compared to, what I feel, is a much more significant one, and one that I’m frankly at a loss to explain, because BioWare has shown they know how to do this right.

As Shepard, you have plot, you have a mission, but you have, honestly, no growth. Yes, you can level-up from 1 to 60, but that’s not what I mean. All of your conflict is plot-conflict – expose Saren, become a Spectre, save the galaxy. All worthwhile, all great, but ultimately, nothing specific to you. No personal conflict. Nothing you have to overcome internally, or emotionally. The backstory you give yourself during character creation is relevant only for a side-quest, and in a handful of dialogues. You have no conflict. Even the sacrificing of one of your soldiers on Virmire is a false Sophie’s Choice. (I’m playing a career military officer. My conflict is to either, 1) rescue the soldier under fire who I’ve sent specifically to engage the enemy or 2) rescue the soldier under fire who I’ve ordered to place and prepare the bomb that will win the battle and secure our objective. If I’m in character, I’m always going to take option 2, and it doesn’t matter if I’m romantically interested in the soldier taking fire at option 1.)

What surprised me most about this is, as I’ve said, BioWare knows how to do this. They did it in SW:KOTOR, and they did it brilliantly. They made the whole game about you, and thus, you became the most important person in the game both for plot and for story.

In Mass Effect, while there are hints that you’re “special” (ie, “Spectres are born, not made.”), there’s no exploration of why. There’s no sense of internal struggle.

There is, as I said, no emotional engagement. And without that, there can be no catharsis.

What there is is false engagement, achieved via dramatic sleight-of-hand: the opening “tracking shot,” where you’re introduced to yourself-as-Shepard, making your way to the bridge of Normandy, while Seth Green’s fantastic voicing of Joker rattles technobabble; the music swells, the camera pans around, and you, for the first time, see yourself-as-Shepard, nobly raising your chin to look out at the Mass Relay in all of its glory. A great cinematic moment. Gives you goose bumps. We’re in space! Fantastic! Knock on that, and it’s still hollow, but damn if it doesn’t work.

Similarly, when the Citadel Council makes you a Spectre, and again, the music swells, the bystanders suddenly turn and take notice, and you proudly step forward to accept your honor. You’ve accomplished something! And dammit, but it feels like an Important Moment!

But why it matters to you, as Shepard, is entirely missing.

All right, that’s more than enough out of me, I’m sure. For those who give a damn what I think, I think Mass Effect is an excellent game, and the good certainly far outweighs the bad. It is a step forward in the medium, and it is an important step, even if it is not nearly as great a one as I’d hoped. Development on the sequel is, I’m sure, well underway, and I’m looking forward to what comes next. They’ve hooked me.

Yes, I wanted a quantum leap in the medium, perhaps unreasonably. I got baby steps. That’s not bad. Anyone who’s ever raised a child knows that the baby steps are important ones. We’re walking, now.

I’m looking forward to the day we can run.

Quick version:

Good game. A step in the right direction. I highly recommend it.

38 Responses to Mass Effect Thoughts

  1. tbosky

    The points you make about Shepard’s lack of growth are interesting. Unlike KOTOR, Shepard isn’t an amnesiac cypher. Instead, it’s up to the player to provide all the context. I was fine with this, but I can see why you would fault it.

    As far as Fallout 3, there’s a lot of speculation over whether children will be present. Children appeared in the first two games and could be killed (as I’m sure you remember), but modern cRPGs (Oblivion for example) present childless worlds. I can’t imagine that killable kids would be an option in today’s climate, but it’s creepy that none of these digital characters can reproduce.

  2. mercuryeric

    No, no. You’re doing it wrong. See you need to compare it to Halo, and make sure you make reference to areas where the Halo series got it wrong, storywise.

    When your inbox becomes filled to overflowing with fans cursing the very ground you walk on, then you will be a Video Game Pundit, sir.

    ;)

    Interesting review. I’ve considered picking the game up, but most likely will not.

    More Call of Duty 4 for me, it seems. ;)

    -E

  3. cjhurtt

    Loved this game. Lost an entire weekend to it. But, you’re right, there’s some problems.

    You hit the nail on the head about Shepard’s characterization. They gave him/her zero motivation. It made saving the universe a kind of hollow experience. Also, that ending didn’t do it for me. I know there are sequels on the way, but…give us SOMEthing, right?

    The uncharted planets got a bit dull as well. Without even landing you know that there will be three locations to check out and at least one will be an ambush.

    It is really too bad that people freaked out about the ass shot in this game. God forbid that games grow up with the gamers.

    Have you seen this? http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation/2738-Zero-Punctuation-Mass-Effect

  4. devilman145

    Shepard and almost all recent Bioware RPG avatars are unique because you’re always brought to believe the importance of the main character, yet the main character is always defined by those around rather than by their own actions. It’s something that a lot of my favorite RPGs use, which is a nuisance because the avatars go through so much and you never really see how it affects them.

    I still love Mass Effect and if it weren’t for the long 2nd play through (which didn’t give me my Krogan ally achievement even though i used rex for almost the whole game) and School, I’d definitely go through the game again.

    Call of Duty 4′s multiplayer seems to be the only thing worth playing right now since there’s no huge investment in a story and the lack of achievements makes playing with friends great.

    Also, I just got done reading Crime Bible #4 and it’s awesome! It was great to see Myra and Izzy O’toole again. Its’ a bit sad since you know it’ll only last one issue. Hopefully we’ll get to see Hub City again.

  5. insektmute

    I largely agree with you, particularly regarding the lack of personal…well, anything, really. For whatever reason, a lot of American RPGs like to reduce everything to that sort of “YOU are the hero!” sort of thing. On the flipside, most Japanese RPGs provide characterization, but it’s often so simple that it never gets beyond Saturday morning cartoon territory. I still like RPGs from both sides of the pond, but there’s room for improvement all across the board.

    That said, Fallout 2 still ranks as one of my favorite games of all time. I’m kind of nervous about Fallout 3 going into FPS territory, but I’m trying to reserve judgment until I can play it for myself. Crossed fingers until then.

  6. jeffrey

    What struck me most about this was that we see role-playing games the same way, and I sometimes forget not everyone else does.

    I’m starting up an online D&D game (which is likely asking for migraines, what with as one of my players), and one of the people who will be playing never played D&D before. She said she had a rule against it.

    Why ever would someone make such a silly rule, I asked her.

    And she said because it was a horrible system, outdated, too constraining, etc. How could you possibly have fun with that?

    I was a little shocked. Even back when I was 10 and had far too many all-nighters fighting that odd dragon in room 8, we never let the rules guide the play. I always ran the game because no one else ever wanted to, and I always ignored or didn’t even know half the rules.

    If any gaming session is bad, it’s most likely not the system, it’s the person running it and their lack of ability to craft story.

    But I crafted actual stories (who uses those adventures you can buy? I looked at one of those once… that was more than enough) and as you say, let the characters drive the plot and changed and molded the story and the world around them as they went.

    And that’s what I’ll still be doing now, and what I noticed when I just put up the world info. page for all of the characters to familiarize themselves with… there’s political strife, racial tension, oppressive governments… you’re absolutely right, rpgs ARE art because they ARE writing. When people bother to do more than drop dragons in dungeons, anyway.

    Eh, I ramble, but it was awesome to see you on the same wavelength there.

  7. hhbx

    Nice review, I actually quite enjoy your little reviews and not just because I learn new words and phrases through-out. ;)
    But from what I thought Bioware was trying to do was in making the game pretty much an interactive movie with you playing the main character that any sort internal struggle was supposed to be felt by you as a player rather then being shown as you the avatar. Which in my mind is a hard thing to do from a gaming aspect. Might not what Bioware was trying to do but something I picked up maybe by accident.
    Oh! And I heard you might want to keep your save for Mass Effect 2. =)
    That, and you have to spill the beans on how you played, male/female paragon/renegade?

  8. fordmadoxfraud

    I haven’t played it (even though I’ve seen people play it and it sure looks pretty). Even though I adore the RPGs you adore, I’ve pretty much lost faith in the current console/computer culture to produce quality RPGs, largely because the “shooter” and MMORPG fanbases have become dominant, both of which are to a degree antithetical to the knotty plotting and slow thrills of character growth inherent in really good RPGs.

    Just this past December, instead of investigating any of the newer games on the market, I just threw up my hands and re-acquired the Baldur’s Gate series from Amazon. I guess I can always play KOTOR again, right?

  9. admin

    Fallout 3 children. Yes, please. And yes, they should be killable, with all the — pardon the pun — fallout that would entail. Can you think of a worse crime to commit in a post-Apocalyptic world? Players should be free to make stupid, even vile, evil choices; the game world should be prepared for that, and should respond accordingly.

    But, again, Wal-Mart rears its ugly head.

    Re: KOTOR and KOTOR 2 (which is more the amnesiac’s story, I think, but I take your point), I would argue that both games, whilst providing an avatar as Blank Slate nonetheless provide some critical internal decisions. The revelation of KOTOR leads directly to a serious player conflict — you have been manipulated and, frankly, betrayed. How will you react? KOTOR 2 is even more about such a decision, I think — as the relationship with Kreia evolves, it becomes more and more evident the kind of student you were. Your response to the “recovery” of your identity leads to some potent internal conflict.

    Or at least, it did for me, and in fact worked in both cases.

    On the subject of KOTOR 2…wow, what a heartbreak that game was. 75% brilliant. Then the obvious rush to make shipping just cut its legs from beneath it. I would love a “director’s cut” of that game, with “restored” material.

    Yes, I am an expert at self-delusion, why do you ask? :D

  10. admin

    I’d urge you to pick it up, frankly. As I said, I think it’s a very good game. I’m just looking for the next iteration of the form. And frankly, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

    More CoD4, huh? Still haven’t beat that airplane/VIP level on hardcore? I’ve given up, myself.

  11. admin

    Funny, funny link!

    I agree with you about the ending; that final shot of you-as-Shepard looking nobly spaceward did nothing for me, and in fact I had a ‘that’s it?’ moment. Still, I suppose there’s something to be said for ending quickly once the story is over.

    And it’s not just that feeling that the games need to grow with the gamers. It honestly feels to me like we’re going backwards, and that’s far more disheartening.

  12. admin

    Glad you liked CB4. I think CB5 will surprise a few readers.

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with your criticism of the way character is defined in BioWare’s recent works. Again, I default to KOTOR, where — for me — there was an honest internal struggle playing out post the first Malak confrontation. I still haven’t played Jade Empire, so I can’t comment there. I suppose, however, that it’s one of the limitations of the form at the moment: the only real way to force any sort of character exploration in these games is by having NPCs comment about your character in some manner or another.

    The thing that kills me here is that it wouldn’t have taken much to provide backstory, or to have taken the “psychological profile” aspect during character generation and have used that as a launching point for greater conflict, rather than a one-off “assignment” taking place on the Citadel.

    Bad news about the 2nd playthrough, and now you’re making me nervous, as I’m doing the same thing, and was hoping to get one of the squad achievements.

    Yes. Yes, I am an achievement whore. Why do you ask?

  13. admin

    Re: Fallout 3.

    You and me both.

  14. admin

    You’re gaming with Neal?

    OK, you’re going to have to tell me how that goes. :D

  15. admin

    The “cinematic” goal shouldn’t preclude illuminating Shepard’s internal conflict. I suppose my problem is that I’m not certain at all what that conflict was supposed to be, and therein lies the trouble. Did you spot one? And if so, please share!

    First playthrough, female paragon. Second playthrough (in progress), male renegade.

  16. admin

    Have you checked out any of the mods for BG or Fallout? The communities for both games are still very active, and I suppose that’s a testament to the strength of those games that, ten years after the fact, people are still tweaking the engine and producing new material.

    Again, I have to say that, all my comments aside, Mass Effect is a very good game, and it is a step forward. I just wanted, y’know, a bigger step.

  17. parakkum

    I don’t play console/computer RPGs, although I get to watch as my girlfriend plays them. To me, they fall into an uncomfortable failed spot between novels or movies and actual RPGs. I don’t have any real opportunity to do anything particularly nonlinear, which has always been the style of my real-world roleplaying experiences (generally initiated with “here’s the problem, find a solution” kind of setups, with no clear path to success, and a whole lot of Raymond-Chandler-style chatting people up and so forth). On the other hand, I have to actually grind my way through rote, mechanical tasks to get the story to advance.

    So it’s really like watching a movie that stops every five minutes and forces me to either play slot machines or do logic puzzles before it’ll continue. That seems suboptimal.

    (Incidentally, not arguing that they can’t be art. They’re just art that’s a tedious pain in the ass to experience, like if the National Gallery made you do fifty pushups between each Renaissance piece.)

  18. fordmadoxfraud

    I didn’t even know there were such things. Crap, now you’ve totally given me a reason to spend another couple dozen hours playing Fallout for the thousandth time.

  19. devilman145

    Kind of long:

    There’s a lot more potential than Bioware touched upon. And I hope the other two games will delve deeper into Shepard’s past. Especially his time on Akuze.

    One thing that I think would satisfy more avatar development is allowing Shepard to have random conversations on elevators like his squad mates. By using your paragon points(I can’t go renegade) and other decisions would be a great way to formulate what kind of conversation Shepard would have. Plus it would add a little more than the same dialog trees that we get over and over again.

    As for the 2nd and 3rd play-throughs(if you want to get lvl 60), I suggest picking who you want and exclusively using them for every mission. Even if it’s character specific, such as Garrus and Dr. Saleon, use the character you decided on. I wanted to eliminate Quarian and Krogan achievements in one play and by removing Wrex from the Dr. Saleon mission and the hunt for Fisk, I think that was what killed my chances.

    Still, I can’t complain too much because my 2nd game unlocked so many missed side-quests and I’m hoping to reach level 60 whenever I go for my 3rd, and final save.

    What level did you finish at?

    As for CB 5: I can’t wait! I really hope the HC sells well with the new title. Even though I’m buying the singles, I still think I’ll pick it up for a few select people since I don’t want them keeping my Question HCs.

    Aziz

  20. admin

    Just to start you off on the BGII kick, you should look here, here, and here.

    For Fallout 2, I’d check out the forums at No Mutants Allowed.

  21. admin

    “So it’s really like watching a movie that stops every five minutes and forces me to either play slot machines or do logic puzzles before it’ll continue. That seems suboptimal.”

    That’s a fantastic analogy.

    I don’t find them quite so tedious, obviously.

  22. kozemp

    I’m a sucker for the original KOTOR myself – remember that when it came out it was probably the best Star Wars of any stripe that we’d seen in a long time, and the script and gameplay are pretty fantastic to boot. I figured out the big reveal about 4 seconds before it actually happened and my jaw DROPPED.

    The second one was… disappointing on a number of levels. There are, however, mods available that fix it to about 98% or so.

    As many have noted, though, RPGs are something of an acquired taste, and there is no small commitment in learning the ability to basically read a book, watch a movie, and play a game all at the same time. Even with said abilities I was never able to get through Xenogears; I always threw the controller in disgust at about the second or third time you spent a solid half hour just reading text. (Xenosaga, at least the first one, suffered from much the same problem but with video instead of straight text; hey, fellas, a 25 minute cutscene is TOO GODDAMN LONG!)

    I note with a small grin that when it comes to story-based video games no one has mentioned the elephant in the corner yet…

  23. alasdair

    I sort of wondered if they didn’t intend the player to have to decide themselves why it all mattered to the Shepard they were playing, but yeah, I was really let down by the fact that the origin options didn’t seem to do much apart from tweak a few lines of dialogue and shape a side quest or two.

    I’m sort of hoping that the follow up games will do more with them, and build the character better – I think a lot of time in this one got devoted to establishing the universe (I still think a big sign at the start saying “We’ve filed the serial numbers off Star Wars – just go with it, OK?” wouldn’t have been out of place, instead of quite so much of that explanatory dialogue and text), and I’m (naively) hoping that the next chapters will get more development time devoted to the character/narrative side of it, rather than engine/universe stuff.

  24. jonlaw

    Run that past me again

    Belloq is the better man?

    I don’t think so.

    Is he nicer in many ways? Yes.

    He would have not treated Marion in the many poor ways that Indy does, yet he is also utterly consumed by his own dark obsessions. Indy, as Belloq himself observes, is a man in standing in the shadows, but Indy is also partially in the light.

    Indy can still make it back, and given the way that he is spared by the wrath of God at the end, he still gets a chance.

    Rene Belloq takes his obsessions too far. He cannot be saved, and, as we all know from the end of the movie, his head explodes.

    Better men don’t get their heads exploded by the wrath of God.

  25. admin

    Re: Run that past me again

    Figured that’d draw you out of hiding. ;)

    Indy being spared at the end of the movie is the turning point for the character, his realization that he is unworthy to look. But that is him turning away from “archeology is our religion” at the last possible moment. After all, given the choice between blowing up the ark and seeing it opened, he lowers the bazooka. Yes, at the end of the movie, he’s a better man. But it takes the whole movie for him to get there. Which is, in fact, my point.

  26. admin

    OK, now you’ve got to share. Which elephant are you referring to?

  27. admin

    Parallels to the Star Wars games notwithstanding, I actually got much more of a Babylon 5 vibe from the game.

    Maybe they did intend for the player to “bring the character.” I’m still frustrated by the fact that it wouldn’t have taken much in the way of writing to have added a layer or three of conflict to Shepard.

  28. jonlaw

    Re: Run that past me again

    Hiding?

    I think my point is that Indy is capable of taking the journey, and Belloq is not. Rene made his peace with the sale of his soul long ago. He still believes his intellect, his wits, his obsession can allow him to do anything, succeed at anything. Even opening a radio channel to God, because he believes that because he can make it happen, he is deserving and entitled.

    Jones, a flawed as he is, and he is hardly fully reformed by the end, at least is open to the journey.

    Your point is definitely about the fact that Indian Jones, pulp hero, actually has a profound spiritual journey in the course of an American action movie, but, I still don’t think that it’s really true that Rene Belloq is the “better man” in any way that has meaning to me.

    To me, Belloq is certainly more charming, more pleasant, more refined, and perhaps even more intelligent, but his ego is so fixed and certain of his superiority that he could never believe that he needs redemption. And, it is clear there is nothing and no one he would not sacrifice to get what he wants, no matter how kind and polite he might be about it. For all his intellectual power, he is incapable of spiritual understanding. He believes the trappings of a Jewish high priest allow for him to open the Ark and witness its mysteries, because he is incapable of arriving at a place where he can see below the surface.

    For all his flaws, Indy can still access his own soul, still find that spiritual insight at the end of the movie. So, for me, Indy (not just because he is the hero, because he is cool, and shows that stereotypical American grit) is the better man, because he has not traded away all his potential for growth, despite all the things wrong with him.

  29. alasdair

    I hadn’t thought of B5, probably because of the engine/structure paralells to Star Wars games, and also because I played through as a Biotic, so it felt very like Spectres were intended to be Jedi parallels. But yeah, in other respects, it is quite stunningly B5, isn’t it?

  30. admin

    See, Akuze was a great opportunity to carry some backstory forward. Talk about a cause for PTSD, especially with the perceived “heroism” of having survived, and the subplot that arose out of it with Cerberus.

    I played almost all the missions first-time through, so I ended at 50.

  31. kozemp

    Well, I don’t want to name names, but it ryhmes with “Metal Gear.”

  32. devilman145

    Well if all goes well and you complete every mission, then you should receive the level 60 achievement on the new game, should you decide to reuse your character.

    I’m not really an achievement whore so long as I’m higher than my close friends, but man do I want to have a leveled out Shepard ready for ME2.

  33. mercuryeric

    No one I know has beat that damned thing–including Sam Lacina, who I swear sleeps with an Xbox controller under his pillow.

    When he sleeps.

    :P

    -E

  34. jared465

    MASS MASS MASS EFFECT!

    Hey dude,

    I’m glad you dug the game! I agreed with you for the most part on your review, my general short version review for the game is “flawed masterpiece”.

    I think i was most enamored with the art direction and the overall thought applied to the Mass Effect “universe” both asthetically and mythically (for lack of a better term). The design of the world is IMO unmatched by any other game and graphics deliver a visual experience unrivaled to date – graphical flaws and all.

    I was one of the few that thought while the voice acting was very good relative to other video games, it still falls short of AAA movie quality – i think this is most the fault Shepard, who is by far the blandest character -no matter what path you choose. Invariably he (or she) has to deliver the most stilted dialogue – and this does not help the lack of emotional engagement and character evolution you refer to.

    I too am waiting for the game that has dialogue and voice acting that can run with the best of cinema. I think that Mass Effect is quite a step up, but not enough.

    I do admit, i loved it though! I can’t wait for the DLC in March!

  35. admin

    Re: MASS MASS MASS EFFECT!

    The dialogue issue is actually one I’ve been thinking about. The complaint that “every question you ask leads to a dissertation in response” is a primary limitation of the form; there is no real way to create a sense of back-and-forth conversation without either slowing the dialogue sequences to a crawl, or alternately removing line-choice/decision-making from the player.

    On the subject of “acting”, actually, I realized another pet peeve — the acting animations seem to be universally assigned. So Liara’s expressive gesturing while she speaks is also Wrex’s expressive gesturing while he speaks which is also Kaiden’s expressive gesturing…you get the idea. It is a minor complaint, again, but one I did note.

    But yeah, a very good game, all that said.

    There’s downloadable content coming in March?! Where’d you see/hear that?

  36. jared465

    Re: MASS MASS MASS EFFECT!

    I friend/co-worker mentioned it to me today…here’s a link to some info!

    http://masseffect.bioware.com/forums/viewtopic.html?topic=616574&forum=104

  37. steelmagnolia88

    I agree with most you’ve said, and with regards to Saren’s switch, you may want to check out the prequel novel. If it doesn’t satisfy your annoyance, it may just give you more insight to Saren and Anderson. I am really looking forward to the sequel games myself.

  38. Rift tips

    I totally dig Rift

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