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Wolf Kanno's Crazy Ramblings and Incoherent Statements

Mass Effect

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Okay, so as many of you know, I picked up Mass Effect Trilogy not too long ago with a few other games and the prospect of playing an honest to god 100% Sci-Fi RPG was too much to resist so I plunged head first into the trilogy pack and have completed the first game. I'm roughly 10 hours into Mass Effect 2 at this point but I'm basically just going to lay out my thoughts on the first game.

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WARNING!!! THERE BE MASS(IVE) SPOILERS IN THESE HERE WATERS!!!

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Okay, with that done, let's break this down into the Paragon (Good), the Renegade (Bad), and the WTF?! (Nitpicky bulltrout)

Paragon

Playing with Themes/Cliches - This game uses a lot of sources from popular Western Sci-Fi but none of them are closer to my heart than Babylon 5 which was always one of the more "realistic" takes of the idea of human and aliens dealing with each other politically. None of this mostly idealistic world that is Star Trek, Babylon 5 shows you that even aliens have their millennium old bloodfeuds, backstabbing and petty power struggles and its what made the series great. Mass Effect borrows heavily from that model with the first game doing a great job explaining all the major and minor players, while seriously building up the complex relations that they all have with each other. It allows for several different stories to be told and the main story to be perceived in many different angles and its absolutely delicious.

The other aspect I would like to point out is that Mass Effect also breaks the major cliche of these types of stories, or more correctly plays with the cliche in a way that has not been done before in a major mass consumerist series. That would be that Humanity isn't the overall bitch to the Alien Federation. By this I mean, that although humanity is still trying to earn their place in the galactic community, they are not the inferior race they are in almost every other space series I can think of. The Vulcans had to raise humanity to prominence in Star Trek, just about every alien race could wipe humanity out in Babylon 5 and they all make sure to tell every human they deal with that. Instead Humans in Mass Effect actually score a major victory over the current military super power in the universe, and thus a lot of the political conflict in ME is the Citadel Council trying to balance between placating humanity and making sure they remain in control.

The other alien races certainly have special biology's but for the most part, the series doesn't really deal with the disproportionate awesomness of different species like say Tolkein's Elves in Middle Earth. Yes, there is the Asari and perhaps Krogan, but even they don't dominate physically dominate like some species do in these types of stories. So I don't have to stomach the "holier than thou" attitudes as much as in other series and in this one I can at least tell the aliens to go smurf themselves. So while the series still plays with the major theme of humanity and galactic politics, I feel ME found an intriguing angle and I enjoy that with the Alliance and with Cerberus organizations, we're seeing a real Deconstruction of the original Star Trek mythos. It is beautiful...

The Karma Meter - Thank you for making one that isn't as straightforward as past ones and thank you for designing it to be more significant to the story. This may require explanation. While I understand this isn't completely new (KotOR and possibly Baldur's Gate) I like the fact that the karma meter is no longer a "tug-of-war" between two ideals, I can be nice and a bastard and not have it detract points from the other. While I played as Renegade Shep, I did pull a few stunts (like save the Rachni Queen) that shot my Paragon meter through the roof, and for a moment I almost had a chance to change sides. This is significant to me but I want to hold off that idea until I mention the other strength of this system.

Like KotOR, whichever side of the karma meter you fall actually affects the story. If you are Paragon, Shep is interested in building peaceful alliances with aliens but is willing to do what it takes to get the job done though he tries to find more peaceful resolutions before he starts shooting. Renegade Shep, can be racist, only cares about humanity (barely), and tends to fall into the "ends justify the means" about his mission and relations. Both sides are well written and within the backdrop of the games other narratives it can shift the tone of the game but what really strikes me as awesome, is how its presented to you the player. I don't mean the dialogue trees, that's standard fare, I'm talking about making a choice and watching Shepherd perform.

In games like Elder Scrolls franchise, Fallout 3, and even MegaTen, it always bothers me when I create a character, get my dialogue choice and all I get are reactions from the NPCs. Reading or listening to dialogue in these games always keeps me from being truly immersed in the experience cause I always feel like I'm getting half a conversation. In Mass Effect, you choose if Shepard is going to be nice, neutral, or an ass and then you watch Shep perform your choice. This is the major narrative difference between these games, in the other games, I am playing an avatar of myself who I can only affect how the NPC's see me. In ME, I am playing a character and my choices not only change how the game world views me, but how the player sees the character. In Fallout 3, my avatar is a stupid goody two shoe from the Vaults who makes deals with questionable people, in ME, Shepard is a calculating soldier with a rocky history, willing to eliminate whoever stands in his way, and while he hates authority and is willing to make the hard decisions, he does care about his subordinates and crew. I can actually describe Shepard like I would describe a character in a JRPG whereas I couldn't really do it in a traditional WRPG like Oblivion and Fallout 3. ME has found a nice balance between the strengths of WRPGs (choice) and JRPGs (narrative) and I now understand why people bring up this series when they talk about things they want Final Fantasy to start doing.

Course this brings me back to the issue of the Karma meter, the fact it isn't a tug-of-war and instead I'm free to make either choice with little consequence means that I, as the player have the ability to really shape my character. In KotOR, you're either Sith or Jedi and you kind of need to play one over the other to get the full benefits, in ME, I am free to make Shepard as I want to see him. I can make Shep into a more complex figure who isn't just trapped between being bland and neutral, helping little old ladies cross the streets, or kicking puppies. I can make him a guy who does help old laidies but maybe he hates animals, and sometimes he's complately neutral to a decision. By the time you reach the end of the game, Shep tends to be a pretty complex character based on your decision to the player, the game is only limited in that it still has the NPCs treat him like typical karma meter, but hey, this is a nice first step.

So yes, setting and story, and characters are all good. The RP element of the game is finally going in a constructive direction so how does the rest fair?

Renegade

Well, I'll admit the gameplay isn't all that bad and perhaps a lot of my issues stems from my general disinterest in shooters. The combat isn't terribly bad but the A.I. has some serious issues and even going into ME2, it hasn't been fixed it seems...

So for one thing, the A.I. likes to swing from overly-competent, to completely-inept. It was kind of amusing watching the A.I. in the beginning of the game totally destroy enemy encounters before I could get my crosshairs fixed and by end game, I might as well had gone to the planet solo considering how your A.I. partners have know concept of "cover" and restraint. Maybe it was always this bad, and I only thought it was bad because my own experience with the genre is blah and as I got better I began to notice how bad the A.I. was but who knows.

The game also suffers from Crisis Core syndrom in terms of the huge gap in quality between the main scenario and the side missions. For those who don't know what I'm talking about because you weren't here for my lengthy "Why Crisis Core Sucks" rants, in both of these games, it feels like the main scenario and side missions were designed by separate teams, and give very different budgets. The story missions involve really interesting locations, pretty tight action game level set designs, and a good budget to pull off some cool action sequences or events. The side mission people were given five basic designs and told to make a 100 missions with them. The interior of of every base and ship is the exact same only the mooks are different, the planets are still just a mix mash or open plain and horribly rocky mountains, with the sky box and color scheme largely being the only changing factor. Now granted, ME has like 100 less missions and at least uses color to add some variety so it doesn't get nearly as grating but then again Zack didn't have to ride around in the Mako... he was just infused with it...

The Mako... you know, for a genre known for customization options, I was really surprised to learn I couldn't upgrade the Mako, cause good lord does that thing need to have some better armor, weapons, and traction... I ddn't hate the Mako as a concept but when you are traveling those Garden worlds that are 90% mountains that are at between an 80 to 100 degree angle, I certainly got frustrated.

Treasure Chests... Okay, I am cool with them being unlocked by using a mini-game code password system, I'm even cool with the difficulty of the puzzles being based on your party's tech level, but I was not happy with the idea that they were unobtainable if I didn't have anyone with tech levels or had too low levels. This makes your class role important and if you chose unwisely like myself (Soldier) this pretty much pigeonholed who came along with you. Luckily the two tech experts I liked, but it made me never use some characters and I always was annoyed that I couldn't get Wrex and Ashley in the same party without being punished for it.

The Equipment Interface is also one of the clunkiest and most unintuitive systems I've encountered in a modern RPG. When I am reminded of NES era games by your equipment system, you know you smurfed up.

Neutral?

This is mostly nitpicky bulltrout that is not completely the games fault and is more likely an issue of bad luck or my own incompetence.

Racism... by which I mean why is it such an act of god to find decent Quarian armor in the shops or treasure chest? I mean I found three pieces of armor for Tali and all of them were utterly hideous... I swear this is intentionally put into the game to drive home the idea that the Citadel Races hate the Quarians...

The Romance was um... okay. I feel Persona does a better job writing a meaningful relationship and I never felt like it was tied into the plot as well as the Karma meter. Also what the smurf is up with Liara?

Liara: Let us become one and embrace eternity Shepard...

Shepard
: Um... I am pretty sure the Alliance Handbook on Alien Race relations tells me that is Asari for "rape"...

I mean damn, she just got on board and the second conversation had her going "I want to hump your leg" I know the relation thing is played quickly because you can choose to get Liara later but if your going to write a romance you need context and pacing and Liara has neither, hell even Ashley's wasn't any better and I can can only imagine what Mr. Drywall Kaiden was like...

Shepard also has two writing issues that grated on me, 1) he seemed awfully obsessed with Saren on the Renegade route, I know he's the more bulldog straightforward the "mission is everything" type, but he often spoke with the type of emotion I would expect as though they had some real history with each other, like Saren was responsible for a loved ones death or something. The other issue is how obsessed Shepard got about the Reapers, the initial dialogue they are introduced in has Shepard being obsessed about it when he himself with his messed up visions should have been a bit more skeptical as well. None of this ruined the story but it always did strike me odd when it came up.

Now I just want to breakdown my other comments into silly lists so bare with me.

Favorite Alien Races
:

Krogans - I always liked Reptile inspired races regardless of fictional medium. They also have a really cool backstory and Wrex was a treat.

Quarians - Also really cool backstory and I like their containment suits. Tali also helped.

Salarians
- The one major race I don't get a teammate for. I like their background and their design. The way they talked and their VA work made them charming. Getting Mordin in ME2 has been a real treat.

Least Favorite Race:
Asari - a bad combo of fetish alien girl fuel and being like the hypocritical Minbari from Babylon-5 made me not like them. Luckily, I'm getting some better variety in ME2 so they are not so bad.

Favorite Story World
:

The Citadel - Especially in the beginning does a nice job of setting up the space drama. My favorite part was dealing with King and his "club" or getting jumped by assassins in the Wards. It really brought out the nostalgic vibe of series like Babylon 5, Star Wars (original trilogy), and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Noveria - Nice, a combo of Blade Runner and Aliens and you put it on a winter world. Very Nice.

llos - Really creepy atmosphere and the fact its the "revelations" section of the story was a nice touch.

Least Favorite World:
Any Earth Like planet in the side missions. Not because of their looks or the missions that play on them, because they are mountainous as all hell and will make you hate the Mako...

Favorite Party Members:

Wrex - I adore him, he talks like an older more adult orientated Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh and he was always the most fun to interact with. He tells the Krogan conflict really well. He jeeled very well with my Renegade Shepard.

Tali - Really made me like the Quarians and she's kind of adorable in her personality, her fake eastern Europe accent is also quite sexy and I was annoyed I couldn't romance her in the first game. She was also just incredibly useful for the missions since I went Soldier route and had no tech ability whatsoever... Still she was fun and hacking Geth was hilarious.

Garrus
- Not the straight laced character I thought he would be, I kind of enjoyed my Renegade Shepard turning him towards the dark side of vigilante. Corruption is fun and he's a nice squad mate.

Ashley - Okay, so she's racist, but you can fix that so she got less cringe worthy as time went on, besides she's named after Bruce Campbell's character from Evil Dead, what's not to love? She is bitchy but I tend to like more forceful women over demure flowers, and I like the poetry angle, it was cheesy but as she herself says, a hard nosed fighter like herself doesn't really know how to express herself in a way that wouldn't make her want to punch herself in the face and I found it awkward but sweet.

Least Favorite Party Members:

Kaiden - Is kind of a goody two shoe stick in the mud, I could never make him happy and he never really loosened up. He's also the Red Mage of the party but was never good at anyone thing that the rest of my squad couldn't do and with his lackluster personality he often saw the least amount of action of the crew. I had him killed in my file, I was originally going to let him live because I didn't think it was possible to date any of the other girls if I kept a relationship with Ashely but once I learned I could be an ass and move on, Kaiden was quickly sent to his death with a bit of a smile on my face.

Liara - Okay, so I already don't like the Asari, and her initial "I want into your pants" rubbed me the wrong way but Liara kind of annoys me as well with her personality. I couldn't quite figure out what it was until I realized that Liara seriously reminds me of my ex-girlfriend, even the way her face structure and um... "hair" is really similar to my ex, and well that kind of killed that interest. So um yeah, I can honestly say my Shepard's relationship with her was very similar to how my actual relationship with my ex went, except more copious amount of passive aggression on both sides as well as angst.

Overall
:
I really enjoyed the game, and I am knee deep into ME2 which has been pretty fun. I would recommend the original so far, even with its issues I feel its strengths outweigh its faults.
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Comments

  1. Laddy's Avatar
    For some reason, I never got into ME. To me, after Baldur's Gate, Fallout 1-2 and NV, and Planescape: Torment I tend to be very picky about my story-driven WRPG's. The combat annoyed the piss out of me (I prefer character skill over player skill in my RPG's and ME was too much like a shooter) and the plot and characters just weren't very engaging.

    I will say that the production values were absolutely fantastic though and set a new standard for game presentation.
  2. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    I like petty politics type story its why I love FFTactics and Suikoden series because they supply it for me. I'm not fond of the combat system either but I actually feel it lends itself better to the story and world than a turn based traditional RPG mechanic. It keeps the flow between scenes feeling like a movie. Though before I say this, I will say that I feel ME2 has been a downgrade in terms of gameplay from the first. ME1 is at least an interesting mix of 3rd person shooter with RPG mechanics making a hybrid kind of genre, whereas ME2 feels like a 3rd person shooter with an RPG dialogue tree attached. They kind of lobotomized customization and party building in ME2, to the point I wondered why they bothered to implement the systems in the first place.

    Story is subjective so I am not going to knock anyone who doesn't care for it but for me, the game fulfilled a serious craving I've had for a few years. I may have to see if I can find my copy of Baldur's Gate 1 my friend gave me, see if I can actually get into it this time.
  3. Laddy's Avatar
    Skip BG1, go to 2.
  4. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    I don't own BG2
  5. kotora's Avatar
    It's too bad they smurfed up so badly with ME3. The first game was excellent, and the second offered some interesting new places in the galaxy, but I didn't like the direction they headed into, which culminated in ME3 being a fully generic TPS piece of trout.
  6. Night Fury's Avatar
    I haven't played ME1 and actually went straight into ME2. (OOPS!) now I don't think I will play ME1 until I've done ME3, because I love my custom femshep, once I'm finished with this one, I think I'll play through the whole trilogy with another femshep and maybe play as a renegade... but I like Paragon too much. My Shep is badass though! I also love Quarians, like you, I think Salarians, Volus and Batarians are my least favourite. I'm also not that big on the Krogans.
  7. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    From a gameplay standpoint, I can say I'm disappointed in ME2 already because it just seems like they went out of their way to wipe out or dumb down most of the RPG elements, which I happened to like in the first game. Planet exploration has also had the few redeeming quirks about it removed and left with the tedious stuff, though I do appreciate the map now telling me what missions are available in each galaxy.

    Renegade is pretty fun, and I especially liked its unique mission in the first game which was pretty funny, cause even RenShep realizes it's all a setup to exploit his personality quirks:

    Shepard: I really don't think its a good idea to send me into negotiations meeting.
    Admiral Hackett: You're the perfect person for this job...
    Shepard: Right... cause I have the greatest track record on those...
  8. Freya's Avatar
    Most people who play maleshep don't like KaidAn and I never knew why cause i always played femshep. Well I decided to play maeshep once and I realized why. His dialogue with maleshep is so limited. I got why people thought he was whiny and boring. They just dont' go into his story as much as a maleshep.

    Renegade in the first game is really inconsistent You're just being a jerk to be a jerk. The dialogue isn't that well written. It gets better in 2 but a lot better in 3.

    I agree about the liara love ness. It was always weird for me.

    If you can, i dunno if the trilogy comes with it but definitely play the DLC for 2. One's DLC doesn't matter but 2's does. Like Liar of the Shadow Broker is my favorite DLC of any game ever. And then the urm one that comes before 3. I dunno why it's DLC because it explains why you're on trial at the very beginning of 3. If you don't play it you'll be a little confused. And it goes a bit more into the whole political blah again.

    I read the first novel. The prequel about anderson and Saren and how Saren ended up finding stuff. That was interesting. He was a dick but he was an efficient dick. It's cool cause Kaylee Sanders is like the main character in that novel besides anderson and she appears in the third game. So if you kept up with the lore other than just the games it's kinda a "OH HAY" moment. It's an easy read if you wanna try it. It tells you how Anderson was almost the first human spectre. Check it out if you want!
  9. Huckleberry Quin's Avatar
    I loved ME1, and thought ME2 was great. But for every improvement made, their were two disappointments. Then ME3 came along, and I was utterly disappointed. I couldn't even finish that unplayable cack.
  10. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    I actually really liked RenShep's dialogue better in ME1 over ME2 so far. Partially because ME2 RenShep can't decide if he likes or mistrusts Cerberus. He also just got funnier dialogue in ME1

    *Murders a room full of mercs, walks into a storage room where two obviously scared workers are trying to defend it with pistols*

    Worker: We'll shoot man!
    RenShep: I just killed like 40 guys to get in here, what chance do you really think you have?
    Worker: You're right, we're not payed enough for this *runs away*

    Also, as I mentioned with the Pro section, the way the dialogue tree works, I was able to make a Ren Shep I could live with. There are more than enough dialogue options to max out one of the Karma sides and still enough over to nearly max out the other so my RenShep wasn't the total xenphobic, alien hating pro-human asshole the game wants him to be. He just didn't mind killing people to get the job done and really didn't get along with the council or his superiors. I went Paragon with most of my conversations with the crew barring Wrex and Garrus who seem to like RenShep better than "Heart-on-his-sleeves" ParaShep.

    I have noticed that people who don't like the Krogan tend to be people who skipped the first game, and I must say that Wrex is like a 100x better than Grunt in terms of being an endearing character, and making you feel bad for the Krogans. He sells their conflict to you pretty well whereas the info you get in ME2 makes me see why players wouldn't be invested in it as much.

    The trilogy does come with most of the DLC, though I think the Arrival is not included but the Shadow Broker one is along with Zaeed and Kasumi, whom I've already recruited and did their loyalty missions.
  11. kotora's Avatar
    @Quinter: I had to push myself to finish the third for the sake of having finished the trilogy. Just made things worse
  12. Goldenboko's Avatar
    Kanno - just wait, there's some pretty hilarious Renegade dialogue in the second one, if you know where to find it