Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kingstone Flash Gets Railgunned into Space: A Look at Mass Effect

 I've always been behind on video games.  I get busy with school, and I stop playing for a while.  Then, when I finally get free time, I struggle to catch up, and discover the uthaads of games that have come out.  Hell, I'm STILL buying PSX RPGs in an attempt to catch up on some of the ones I missed.  Anyway, a month or two ago, I finally purchased an Xbox 360.  One of my first games was Mass Effect.  Long story short, after blowing through the first one, I quickly grabbed the second one, and destroyed it as well.  Here are my thoughts on this fantastic video game series.

It had been a long time since I played and really took to liking a Western RPG.  The last few times I toyed with a WRPJ, it failed to catch my interest.  For instance, when I played Oblivion, it didn't take long before I got insanely bored with it.  The novelty of being able to break into people's homes and kill them got old after a couple of times.  I felt that the story and the player character's involvement in it were a bit weak.  There was no real motivation for me to keep going.  I tried Fallout, and liked it a bit better, probably for the post-apocalyptic setting, but I still wasn't completely satisfied.

What was it about Mass Effect that kept me interested, then?  I think that I had probably burned out on fantasy settings and stories.  Also, the meshing of third person shoot-outs, the allocation of skill points, and other RPG elements proved to be a satisfying combination.  Above all, I think it was Shepard, his interaction with characters, and his involvement with the plot that kept me glued to the whole thing.

Epic stuff.

I was amazed at how invested I became in the whole thing.  I made my ideal Shepard.  He was kind of rugged and tad bit ugly, physically scarred from his lone survival of Akuze and emotionally scarred from the violent death of his parents.  See?  Before I even began gameplay, I was developing my Shepard.  The option of being kind of a dick or a good guy in all dialog options was neat, and the NPCs had fairly interesting or relevant things to say.  I'm pretty sure I spent hours running around the Citadel, talking to everybody and doing the silly little assignments. 

The whole experience was epic.  The death of a squad member on Virmire, the Mako getting rail-gunned into the Citadel (the mass relays look like giant rail guns to me), the ending of ME1 (with amazing credits music by Faunts), the opening sequence and death of Shepard in ME2, and the intense suicide mission were just a few highlights for me.  The romance was fun as well.  Sorry if there are any spoilers.  I assume I'm the last person to play.  One of my favorite aspects of Mass Effect is importing your completed characters into the next game.  It is cool to see your previous actions affect the course of the next game, sometimes in very large ways.

What happened when I romanced Tali in ME2.

Of course, Mass Effect isn't without its flaws.  As much as I loved the various alien races and their representative characters, I noticed that these various cultures were still a bit underdeveloped.  For instance, we don't see much of any species' language or writing, at least not consistently.  Everybody just speaks English (or Common or whatever they call it in ME), and they all speak rather well.  Tali has somewhat of an accent and uses some Quarian words every once in a while, but when I visited the Flotilla in ME2, I found it interesting that the other Quarians spoke with a completely flat accent.  In ME's defense, it isn't like Star Trek, which has had decades to develop its cultures.

The battles in ME1 could be a little clunky at times, with Shepard getting caught up on obstacles, though they fixed this in ME2.  ME1 also had an excessive amount of gameplay devoted to bombing around in the Mako, which they also fixed in 2.  The skills in 2 were also streamlined a bit.  Most of the flaws are very minor, and got improved in the second entry.  I'm thinking that ME3 will develop things further and really polish things up.


In addition, I'm very glad they let players customize Shepard.  Default John Shepard is much like his name: very generic.  In many ways, he looks a lot like most of the popular male video game characters as of late.  The customization, different classes, and game-affecting choices all really add a lot of replay value.

To sum things up, I had such a blast playing Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, and I eagerly await the third entry in the series.  It is interactive storytelling at its finest, a truly great series of games.