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Gaming: Playing Mass Effect

This is a genuine attempt to create quick and brief blog posts that up the posting schedule a little. With me currently playing through Mass Effect (which I’ve already played and won’t write a post about) ahead of a playthrough of Mass Effect 2 (which I will post about when it’s done) there aren’t many gaming posts in the pipeline, and considering the length of the Mass Effect games that’s not going to change for a while. I do have a Halo: Reach opinion piece that’s been written but is waiting on screenshots (I want to use my own but need to upgrade to a Gold Live account). So here are a few thoughts on Mass Effect:


The Normandy

I'm a fan of the design of Shepard's ship, The Normandy. The image comes from the Mass Effect wiki (click on it to go to the source).

Having had some hard drive trouble in the past I was a little surprised to discover my original Mass Effect playthrough is still there and waiting to be used in Mass Effect 2. That was a level 50 paragon female soldier, so to refresh my knowledge of the game’s setting, characters and quests (necessary to see just how an existing save affects the sequel) I’ve started a renegade biotic character, again with a female Shepard (who is absolutely the real Shepard, no matter how many more people play as male).

Something I’d forgotten about was just how choppy the game ran on 360. In addition to the texture pop-up common to early Unreal Engine 3 games the framerate was incredibly inconsistent, dropping heavily while running around the Citadel area or even pausing while it loaded. Installing the game to the hard drive makes a big difference, an option which wasn’t available back then so the game clearly wasn’t deliberately optimised for it. It’s a game that released solely for the Xbox 360 in 2007, but without an install it runs like a rough port.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the combat in the first game, feeling it played like a basic shooter with limited tactical options that didn’t do much with the RPG side of the game. That’s particularly true when playing as a soldier with limited special abilities, and as my team in the original playthrough consisted of Wrex (a soldier/biotic) and Garrus (a soldier/tech) I really was leaning heavily on the shooting over anything else. This time around my biotic Shepard is accompanied by Ashley (full soldier) and Tali (full tech), a squad with far more tactical options and variety, and it feels like I’m getting a lot more out of the special abilities. It’s still a basic shooter with limited options, but maybe a little less so than the first time I played.

What hasn’t improved are the Mako sequences, the planetside sections that are all driving and combat in a very floaty vehicle and just aren’t very fun. I’ve only visited one sidequest planet but the sad thing is that in doing that I’ve experienced most of the variety that comes from those planets. The game could have lost them completely and would probably have been better for it.

For me Mass Effect‘s trump card is the sheer depth of the universe they’ve created, essentially spinning out the lore of a Star Trek or Star Wars in a single game and doing a phenomenal job of it. In any one conversation with a party member the amount you learn about a fictional alien culture is incredible and I’m really enjoying taking it all in again. It’s very important that games make the bit you actually have to play enjoyable and as good as possible but sometimes the strength of the setting and writing really can make up for it, and for me Mass Effect is one of those games.

In fact in the past couple of years I haven’t really played many RPGs despite it being my favourite genre (including skipping both of Bioware’s most recent releases, Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2), with what I have played being dominated by Fallout 3 and Final Fantasy 13. After playing both of those it really is refreshing to be playing an RPG where writing, acting and character were clearly big priorities for the team and are all done well. Playing through both Mass Effect games back to back means I’m going to be spending a while in that universe, but that’s okay because it’s a universe I love spending time in.

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  1. November 18, 2010 at 15:12

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