A Stellar Experience

Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
Space ain't usually my scene, but in this case I'll make an exception
To say I approached Mass Effect with caution would be a surefire candidate for Understatement of the Year. I've never been one to buy into the whole "space opera" aesthetic, you see. I've never sat down and watched a Star Wars movie or an episode of Star Trek, and it's primarily because the galactic setting doesn't really hold any appeal for me. If anything, my tentative first steps into BioWare's interstellar action-RPG were ones taken out of necessity rather than choice. It's one of those games that I felt almost obliged to play, because everybody raves about how damned awesome it is. Reluctantly, I ordered myself a copy of the game from Amazon back in April, intending to get around to at least giving it a chance before the year was out. It earned its chance earlier this month, and I've spent the best part of the last two weeks working my way through the game. After seeing the credits roll this morning, I'm writing this blog while devouring a sizeable slice of humble pie. Mass Effect is an incredible game, and that has nothing to do with the fact it's set in space - it could be set in inner-city Sheffield and it would still be brilliant. So, if it's not the alien races and rocket ships that make Mass Effect stand out from the crowd, then what exactly is it? How's about you read on and find out, eh?
 
Like I stated above, Mass Effect is one of those games that everybody seems to have played. As a result, I'm not going to harp on about its graphics, its story, or its gameplay - I'm sure you're all already familiar with the game's gorgeous aesthetics (as well as its texture pop-in issues), the galactic game of cat-and-mouse between Commander Shepard and rogue Spectre Saren, and the incredibly satisfying mix of exploration, combat and character interaction. Instead, I'd just like to focus on two aspects of the game that took it to the next level for me - its Paragon/Renegade morality system, and its ability to provide an experience completely tailored to the individual playing it.
 
 My Shepard may not have been particularly polite about it, but he always got the job done
Chances are, anybody who's played their fair share of games this generation will be well-acquainted with the concept of morality in video games. You know the drill - you make decisions in-game that are considered morally good or bad, and those decisions have some kind of effect on either your character or your story path (or both). Going into Mass Effect fully aware that it boasted a morality system, this was the kind of thing I was expecting. What I got, though, was something pretty different from anything else on the market. Rather than making good and bad the focus of the system, Mass Effect's mechanic is more concerned with shaping Shepard's attitude towards other individuals. Ultimately, Shepard is always going to be the good guy. The morality system simply reflects his preferred method of getting the job done. The two sides of Shepard's personality are labelled Paragon and Renegade, wholly appropriate names considering what they represent - a Paragon Shepard is much more polite and amicable in conversation, while a Renegade Shepard tends to be offensive and selfish. It's true that most of the game's big plot-related choices boiled down to traditional good and bad decisions, but most of the less influential dialogue was focused much more on this gentleman/badass dichotomy, and I really loved that. I feel like it's worth pointing out that when I've played games with moral decisions in the past, I've invariably gone down the saintly route. In Mass Effect, though, I found it much easier to go down the Renegade path, simply because it was a reflection of Shepard's personality and attitudes rather than his actions.
 
It's the little choices that make everyone's Mass Effect experience totally unique
Probably the biggest thing that sold me about Mass Effect was the fact that I felt like my playthrough was just that - mine. Mass Effect is a game that's hinged upon offering the player a lot of choices, some being pretty major, and a lot being pretty minor. While the big choices are the ones that seem to dictate the flow of the plot, it's the little choices that really seem to contribute to the character of Shepard that the player builds. Furthermore, the myriad little choices end up adding a lot of weight to the big choices, making them seem like really important choices and not just arbitrary options that will result in slightly different end-game scenarios. Making all those little choices, and feeling how they eventually influenced my big choices, was probably the thing about Mass Effect that got me wrapped up in it more than anything, and made it feel like my own personal experience. When the game's closing scenes were playing, a brief thought flickered dimly through my mind - while everybody who's played Mass Effect has experienced the same overarching story, there's a very distinct possibility that nobody else has had the exact same experience with Mass Effect that I've just had over the last thirty-five hours. It's a feeling I last had around four months ago playing Far Cry 2, but in the case of Mass Effect I felt it much more strongly. I really look forward to seeing how all those choices, big and small, filter into my eventual Mass Effect 2 playthrough, and contribute towards making that just as much a personal experience as the first game.
 
Let's be honest, this screenshot could be from any planet 
It wasn't all sugar and rainbows with Mass Effect for me, I'll admit. I took major issue with the game's liberal copy-pasting of interiors not related to the main storyline, for one. I appreciate that developers are working with a limited budget, limited resources and limited disc space, and I realise that recycling assets is a good way to get around these issues. However, I spent a significant chunk of my playtime hopping from planet to planet and doing side quests. The variety of explorable worlds was impressive, but I was heavily disappointed when I realised that all of these varied planets were going to feature the exact same interior locations. I'm not even talking the same art style here - I'm talking the exact same interiors, room-for-room identical in their layout, differentiated only by their occupants and the occasional locked door. I was also incredibly frustrated by the absence of any kind of checkpoint system, and the inability to skip cutscenes, which made any series of persistent deaths pretty irritating. I think it's safe to say that Mass Effect's pros definitely outweigh its cons, though. As an experience driven and shaped by player choice, and in terms of its alternate take on the all-too-familiar morality system, I really don't think there's anything else quite like it on the market. I've already ordered my copy of Mass Effect 2, and I'm looking forward to taking my custom-moulded Shepard through another adventure.
 
With Mass Effect finished, the next game set to make its way into a console is Silent Hill 2. It's a recent purchase chosen not by me, but by my girlfriend, after Resident Evil 5 failed to get her even the tiniest bit scared. I have it on good authority that Silent Hill 2 is one of the scariest games ever made, so I'm a little apprehensive going into it, but also a little excited at the same time. Besides that, of course, I'll also be continuing my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII (and by extension, the accompanying serial blog). The start of my next (and final) year of University is still over a month away, meaning I've still got a lot of game-playing and blog-writing time on my hands before I have to knuckle down and shift focus back onto my studies. I'm looking forward to finding out what September brings. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
 
 
Dan
 
--- 
 
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
#1 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
Space ain't usually my scene, but in this case I'll make an exception
To say I approached Mass Effect with caution would be a surefire candidate for Understatement of the Year. I've never been one to buy into the whole "space opera" aesthetic, you see. I've never sat down and watched a Star Wars movie or an episode of Star Trek, and it's primarily because the galactic setting doesn't really hold any appeal for me. If anything, my tentative first steps into BioWare's interstellar action-RPG were ones taken out of necessity rather than choice. It's one of those games that I felt almost obliged to play, because everybody raves about how damned awesome it is. Reluctantly, I ordered myself a copy of the game from Amazon back in April, intending to get around to at least giving it a chance before the year was out. It earned its chance earlier this month, and I've spent the best part of the last two weeks working my way through the game. After seeing the credits roll this morning, I'm writing this blog while devouring a sizeable slice of humble pie. Mass Effect is an incredible game, and that has nothing to do with the fact it's set in space - it could be set in inner-city Sheffield and it would still be brilliant. So, if it's not the alien races and rocket ships that make Mass Effect stand out from the crowd, then what exactly is it? How's about you read on and find out, eh?
 
Like I stated above, Mass Effect is one of those games that everybody seems to have played. As a result, I'm not going to harp on about its graphics, its story, or its gameplay - I'm sure you're all already familiar with the game's gorgeous aesthetics (as well as its texture pop-in issues), the galactic game of cat-and-mouse between Commander Shepard and rogue Spectre Saren, and the incredibly satisfying mix of exploration, combat and character interaction. Instead, I'd just like to focus on two aspects of the game that took it to the next level for me - its Paragon/Renegade morality system, and its ability to provide an experience completely tailored to the individual playing it.
 
 My Shepard may not have been particularly polite about it, but he always got the job done
Chances are, anybody who's played their fair share of games this generation will be well-acquainted with the concept of morality in video games. You know the drill - you make decisions in-game that are considered morally good or bad, and those decisions have some kind of effect on either your character or your story path (or both). Going into Mass Effect fully aware that it boasted a morality system, this was the kind of thing I was expecting. What I got, though, was something pretty different from anything else on the market. Rather than making good and bad the focus of the system, Mass Effect's mechanic is more concerned with shaping Shepard's attitude towards other individuals. Ultimately, Shepard is always going to be the good guy. The morality system simply reflects his preferred method of getting the job done. The two sides of Shepard's personality are labelled Paragon and Renegade, wholly appropriate names considering what they represent - a Paragon Shepard is much more polite and amicable in conversation, while a Renegade Shepard tends to be offensive and selfish. It's true that most of the game's big plot-related choices boiled down to traditional good and bad decisions, but most of the less influential dialogue was focused much more on this gentleman/badass dichotomy, and I really loved that. I feel like it's worth pointing out that when I've played games with moral decisions in the past, I've invariably gone down the saintly route. In Mass Effect, though, I found it much easier to go down the Renegade path, simply because it was a reflection of Shepard's personality and attitudes rather than his actions.
 
It's the little choices that make everyone's Mass Effect experience totally unique
Probably the biggest thing that sold me about Mass Effect was the fact that I felt like my playthrough was just that - mine. Mass Effect is a game that's hinged upon offering the player a lot of choices, some being pretty major, and a lot being pretty minor. While the big choices are the ones that seem to dictate the flow of the plot, it's the little choices that really seem to contribute to the character of Shepard that the player builds. Furthermore, the myriad little choices end up adding a lot of weight to the big choices, making them seem like really important choices and not just arbitrary options that will result in slightly different end-game scenarios. Making all those little choices, and feeling how they eventually influenced my big choices, was probably the thing about Mass Effect that got me wrapped up in it more than anything, and made it feel like my own personal experience. When the game's closing scenes were playing, a brief thought flickered dimly through my mind - while everybody who's played Mass Effect has experienced the same overarching story, there's a very distinct possibility that nobody else has had the exact same experience with Mass Effect that I've just had over the last thirty-five hours. It's a feeling I last had around four months ago playing Far Cry 2, but in the case of Mass Effect I felt it much more strongly. I really look forward to seeing how all those choices, big and small, filter into my eventual Mass Effect 2 playthrough, and contribute towards making that just as much a personal experience as the first game.
 
Let's be honest, this screenshot could be from any planet 
It wasn't all sugar and rainbows with Mass Effect for me, I'll admit. I took major issue with the game's liberal copy-pasting of interiors not related to the main storyline, for one. I appreciate that developers are working with a limited budget, limited resources and limited disc space, and I realise that recycling assets is a good way to get around these issues. However, I spent a significant chunk of my playtime hopping from planet to planet and doing side quests. The variety of explorable worlds was impressive, but I was heavily disappointed when I realised that all of these varied planets were going to feature the exact same interior locations. I'm not even talking the same art style here - I'm talking the exact same interiors, room-for-room identical in their layout, differentiated only by their occupants and the occasional locked door. I was also incredibly frustrated by the absence of any kind of checkpoint system, and the inability to skip cutscenes, which made any series of persistent deaths pretty irritating. I think it's safe to say that Mass Effect's pros definitely outweigh its cons, though. As an experience driven and shaped by player choice, and in terms of its alternate take on the all-too-familiar morality system, I really don't think there's anything else quite like it on the market. I've already ordered my copy of Mass Effect 2, and I'm looking forward to taking my custom-moulded Shepard through another adventure.
 
With Mass Effect finished, the next game set to make its way into a console is Silent Hill 2. It's a recent purchase chosen not by me, but by my girlfriend, after Resident Evil 5 failed to get her even the tiniest bit scared. I have it on good authority that Silent Hill 2 is one of the scariest games ever made, so I'm a little apprehensive going into it, but also a little excited at the same time. Besides that, of course, I'll also be continuing my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII (and by extension, the accompanying serial blog). The start of my next (and final) year of University is still over a month away, meaning I've still got a lot of game-playing and blog-writing time on my hands before I have to knuckle down and shift focus back onto my studies. I'm looking forward to finding out what September brings. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
 
 
Dan
 
--- 
 
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
#2 Posted by natetodamax (19204 posts) -

Nice FFXIII reference.  
 
For me, I find it difficult to do a Renegade playthrough in both ME1 and ME2 simply because most characters are just so dang nice. I can't bring myself to say something mean to a teammate that feels guilty about the loss of a fellow soldier, for example. But I guess that's the whole point.

#3 Posted by JJWeatherman (14558 posts) -

Nice blog. I look forward to your thoughts on ME2.  :)

#4 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -

I saw where Mass Effect 2 was only $29.99/US at my local gaming store. I just wish I had an Xbox 360 save of the original to carry over. I played Mass Effect on my PC, which now can't handle the sequel.
 
I found Mass Effect to be a big and beautiful summer blockbuster type of game. It was fun, with cool characters. I'm at a crossroads though. My nephew owns Mass Effect, maybe he will loan me his copy so I can get that save.
 
I found Silent Hill 2 more creepy than scary. The game can be slow as hell too.

#5 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
@natetodamax: The way I found myself playing Shepard with his crew was a lot different to how I dealt with most of the NPCs I encountered. With the occupants of the Normandy, I was a lot friendlier (although not afraid to let them know if they stepped out of line), but I was pretty rude to most of the NPCs and quest-givers. I think it's just part and parcel of how I ended up viewing my iteration of Shepard, though - understanding with those close to him, but not very co-operative with people expecting him to clean up their messes.
#6 Posted by Glak (613 posts) -

Man, I loved Mass Effect, I feel like going and playing it again soon
Mass Effect had so much decisions and choices, each carving out your own story
I also really liked the story and characters of the game, and the music was fantastic
Maybe my favorite part was how everything felt so spaceish, the look and feel of everything was futuristic
Wonder what you'll think of Mass Effect 2, it's quite different

#7 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6186 posts) -

My only real beef with the Mass Effect series and with Bioware games in general is that I usually know exactly how the plot is going to play out.  Oh, I might not know the specifics, but once I played one Bioware game, every game's story mechanics felt exactly the same thereafter, with only slight variations on the number of options.  But to their credit, I also can't come up with a way I'd do it differently if I were them, and the writing itself is usually phenomenal.  I would kill for Mass Effect MMORPG, as I think it's one of the best sci-fi settings I've seen outside of Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.

Moderator
#8 Posted by trophyhunter (5800 posts) -

Well yeah it's a bioware game, of course it's good.

#9 Edited by Jeust (10642 posts) -
@Claude said:

"I found Silent Hill 2 more creepy than scary. The game can be slow as hell too. "

Yep, my thoughts exactly. The game is more of a slow burner burning in antecipation of the scary moments yet to come, than a truly frighting experience.  
 
Still it has plenty of horror to it, and one of the more emotional twists i've ever experienced in a game. 
#10 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
@trophyhunter: I take it this would be a bad time to confess that this is my first time playing one of BioWare's RPGs? 
 
*runs and hides*
#11 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -
@Jeust said:
" @Claude said:

"I found Silent Hill 2 more creepy than scary. The game can be slow as hell too. "

Yep, my thoughts exactly. The game is more of a slow burner burning in antecipation of the scary moments yet to come, than a truly frighting experience.   Still it has plenty of horror to it, and one of the more emotional twists i've ever experienced in a game.  "
Oh yeah, still a great game. I wonder what it would be like to watch someone play it? He said his girlfriend is watching. She might get into it. Go here, do that, try this type of thing.
#12 Posted by Jeust (10642 posts) -
@Claude said:
" @Jeust said:
" @Claude said:

"I found Silent Hill 2 more creepy than scary. The game can be slow as hell too. "

Yep, my thoughts exactly. The game is more of a slow burner burning in antecipation of the scary moments yet to come, than a truly frighting experience.   Still it has plenty of horror to it, and one of the more emotional twists i've ever experienced in a game.  "
Oh yeah, still a great game. I wonder what it would be like to watch someone play it? He said his girlfriend is watching. She might get into it. Go here, do that, try this type of thing. "
Yeah! And if she is nearly emotional, the game will cause an impactful experience on her. 
#13 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

Spoiler: Silent Hill 2 isn't the scariest game ever. That goes to Fragile Dreams. The game even begins with Seto opening a nearby closet, only to find the corpse of existentialism swinging from an extension cord.

#14 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -
@Video_Game_King said:
" Spoiler: Silent Hill 2 isn't the scariest game ever. That goes to Fragile Dreams. The game even begins with Seto opening a nearby closet, only to find the corpse of existentialism swinging from an extension cord. "
Damn, I want to buy that game. Like really, I need to get on that shit.
 
Just to see this.
 

#15 Posted by Malakhii (1443 posts) -
@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:
"

My only real beef with the Mass Effect series and with Bioware games in general is that I usually know exactly how the plot is going to play out.  Oh, I might not know the specifics, but once I played one Bioware game, every game's story mechanics felt exactly the same thereafter, with only slight variations on the number of options.  But to their credit, I also can't come up with a way I'd do it differently if I were them, and the writing itself is usually phenomenal.  I would kill for Mass Effect MMORPG, as I think it's one of the best sci-fi settings I've seen outside of Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.

"
I think it's because they follow the typical "epic" story outline. I tend enjoy the side and minor stories alot more in bioware games, they take those places you don't see coming. 
#16 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
@Claude: 
 
That guy still scares the shit out of me, and he comes from a world where robots are taught to mouth-fuck any teenager that comes their way. Not even Cthulu has a word for that level of scary.
#17 Posted by No0b0rAmA (1490 posts) -
@dankempster said:
" @trophyhunter: I take it this would be a bad time to confess that this is my first time playing one of BioWare's RPGs?  *runs and hides* "

Shame on you! And I also bet you played this on a console. YOUR DOING IT WRONG. 
Anyways, I loved your run down, and hoping to see what you have in store for ME2
#18 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6186 posts) -
@Malakhii:
Kinda, but even the sidequests are the typical Bioware formula.  Get the person into a conversation about their past, wait ten minutes.  Talk to person again, find out more about their past.  Wait another ten minutes, then that person tells you their Deep and Terrible Secret (TM, Bioware, 2001-2010).  Go to an area, deal with person's Deep and Terrible Secret, and they love you until the end of time.  Rinse, wash, repeat for all characters.  It's what they've done since Neverwinter Nights, and though the writing for the characters is generally strong, after you've hit about this same formula for the umpteenth time, it gets a little dull. 
 
I'd like to see them vary it up some with more ambient and environmental triggers.  Say you hit a random encounter, and a sidekick finishes off an enemy with particularly savage kill, and another teammate comments on it - then you join in on the conversation, but only briefly.  Sure, the number of characters would make this difficult to pull off, especially in a game the size of Dragon Age or the Mass Effect series, but it certainly would add a little variety to the whole thing.  Or maybe as you pass by a building, a teammate takes off without warning, enters it, and a side event is triggered without the conversation in the first place, followed by the conversation about it as you're walking around later, rather than standing around in one spot having this huge heart-to-heart.  Little variations like that would take the game to a whole new level and make it feel much more alive and less mechanical.
Moderator
#19 Posted by gla55jAw (2689 posts) -

Mass Effect 2 should blow you away after playing the first game. It did for me anyway. I liked Mass Effect a lot, but 2 is really something great. 
 
I only wish there was no achievement in the original for getting 75% Paragon/Renegade points. Although I usually go with a Paragon/Good way in games, I might have picked a few different dialogue options. But I just kind of Role Played in my head and when I went into Mass Effect 2 with my "by the books nice guy" Shepherd, I figured after all he went through and where it brought him, he's going to do things his way from now on. He was still a Paragon, but he had a bad ass side.
 
Enjoy Mass Effect 2 and looking forward to your thoughts.

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