I thought that in my haphazard play through of the majority of Bioware’s catalogue of games, the next game up would be Knights of the Old Republic. I’ve started it before, but my computer died and I got distracted by other games pretty quick. However, with my tax return, instead of using to make a big payment on my student loans, I purchased the Mass Effect Trilogy for my PS3. While I was still finishing the game I was playing on my laptop (Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis) and waited for my brother to get me his copy of Dragon Age Origins, I popped the first Mass Effect in my PS3 and gave it a whirl.
All of the Bioware games I’ve played so far, whatever ever warts they may have, are good games. The first Baldur’s Gate doesn’t look so good in its original form these days; the simple bump in resolution from that game to the first was a big change. There are some flaws with both of those games born from adapting D&D to video game form. Dragon Age 2 is a neat concept trapped in a much too small world. Still, those three games, as well as Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights, are still good RPGs. They are both mechanically and narratively interesting. Mass Effect, despite doing a lot of great work on the world building and story side, is kind of a terrible game. Or at the very least a game that has aged very poorly over the last 8 or so years.
It looks like a shooter, but is still an RPG. However, it is one that I cannot understand how it works. I’ve tried several strategies and classes, but found nothing to be more effective than anything else. I am sure I do just not understand it, but I am no fool. I’ve played a lot of video games in my life, but I am finding it hard to grasp the mechanics of combat. Not that the game provides much in the way of feedback as to how you are doing.
Well, that is not entirely true; Mass Effect does provide a little feedback. You die, sometimes immediately. I died multiple times in the prologue area. As the game was supposedly teaching me the mechanics, it instead tossed me repeatedly into the meat grinder. It doesn’t help that the deaths have a way of sneaking up on the player. I ran through the majority of quest, rescuing Liara, without sustaining any damage. I finally felt that I was learning how the game worked. I had just rushed a hill with snipers and took them down. Then I hit a little cutscene that lead to an ambush. Before I could so much as duck for cover I was dead, only to find out that the most recent auto-save was at the start of the mission. That wouldn’t bother me too much normally; I died a lot Baldur’s Gate, as well. But in Baldur’s Gate, saving took the press of a button and two seconds. While not onerous, it does take more effort in Mass Effect. It does have an auto save, it pauses the game to do so and does it so rarely that it is all but useless. Still, it should take at most one death to learn that the game relies heavily on “surprise, you’re dead” moments and save more frequently.
That runs up against the game’s other major failing: the loading times. They are frequent. They are long. They are numbing. The constant, lengthy loading times kill any moment the game builds. Adding loading times to the frequent sudden deaths create a game that is full of stops and starts and lots of waiting. It is simply not fun. It is either an RPG where the mechanics are perfectly obscured or a fairly terrible shooter. Neither one is particularly enjoyable.
The thing is, the world the Bioware built for this game is a lot of fun. It is a fine fusion of a lot of popular science fiction ideas. There is a lot of Star Trek in it, with its ships crews and space politics, but there is also Star Wars, with the force-esque biotics and Jedi-like Spectres. While it takes some basic elements from those, it makes its own thing out of them. Mass Effect’s world isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it is interesting and fully realized. It is a world that I am eager to spend more time in. The game is also helped by the fact that much of the game can be completed without fighting. The dialogue and exploration is actually a lot of fun. That is what I want more of. I like it enough to continue with the game and hopefully, Mass Effect 2, true to its reputation, fixes my issues.