At the end of Part 1, the training wheels had just come off for Commander Shepard. The Citadel and most of its side quests were in the bag, Shepard just got promoted, and they gave him a ship. Somebody else's ship, but they gave him a ship. So now on to Part 2, when the real meat of the game began. Or so I thought.
As I said previously, Mass Effect is all new to me. I've successfully avoided details about the series, other than a few stray bits here and there, though thankfully nothing plot spoilery. One thing I HAD heard about, and had heard bad things about, is the Surveying. Well, now I got to see this game system for myself, and I can see where the irritation comes in.
Why the hell is something you're supposed to do so much so poorly implemented? So you go to the Galaxy map, you select a system to go to, then select an individual solar system to look at. Now, you can't survey or see any details from THIS level, you have to go down one more level to each individual planetary body or ship or whatever. Only then can you see if you CAN survey or land or whatever. Listen, I think it's great that you paid someone money to write all these descriptions for the different planetary bodies, and I've read a few and they can be interesting. But if there's nothing for me to interact with, I don't give a damn. Why can't I just survey from the solar system level, and if I'm the type of guy that wants to know EVERY LITTLE DETAIL then I can zoom in and read that stuff. And why is "X" my back button while "B" dumps me completely out? I'm a little used to "B" for back, and I can't tell you how many times I dumped myself out of the map completely when I just wanted to go back to the next level.
The worst part of all this? I could skip most of it if I wanted to. But...I can't. I have a deeply ingrained need to methodically explore every little bit of the star system. I wouldn't want to miss anything. Like, you know, one more nitrogen deposit.
Now let's talk landing. The first time I rode in the Mako, I thought perhaps it was one of those flash-in-the-pan distractions in an individual level. You know, like driving sequences sometimes were in the old days, you'd have ONE level where you drove a vehicle, just to break up the monotony of hoofing it level after level. So thinking it was a one-off thing, I was ok with it.
Then I saw the truth of the constant use of the Mako. This thing is bad, bad bad. The thing handles like shit, for starters. You bounce all over the place, and you have no idea what you can actually drive up and what you can't. And the way it controls with the dual sticks is horrible. When I'm on some barren little world, I just want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible so I can move on. Don't we have some kind of helicopter or jet technology I could use instead of this shitty glorified SUV? And then, if that isn't enough, you have to FIGHT in this thing. It's really frigging hard to target anything effectively unless you stop moving and "absorb" the enemy fire while trying to land your own shots.
Another complaint about exploring the worlds is that there's an awful lot of repetition. You find the same crashed satellites, the same abandoned bunkers, the same labs with the same layouts throughout the galaxy. It does get a bit tiring when landing on alien worlds becomes kind of boring and repetitive. I'm not expecting a thousand unique little snowflake destinations, but alien worlds should not be so lacking in flair. (Though kudos to some of the stuff they do with the SKY, from stars to planets to meteor showers.)
The places you find, though. These little labs and stations always feel creepy to me. I was just outside and saw what they are living in. It's gotta be boring working in one of those 5-6 room facilities in the middle of a barren wasteland of a world. No wonder the people that DID work at these places are usually either dead or insane. All the sane people seem to be stationed in the lush worlds in the galaxy. So think twice about taking a job on Antibaar, for instance.
A little about the combat and characters, before I move on to the story elements. I have an awful lot of money at this point, and I'm not sure if that is common or not. I've seldom needed to SPEND my money on anything, as I tend to find better equipment just by exploring. Of course the fact that I'm a completionist probably helps my money and equipment situation. I got the "rich" achievement fairly early on, and I was up over 4 million recently before I bought some top-line Spectre weapons in The Citadel. It's always nice to have more money than you can spend, but I wonder if I'm missing some money sink opportunities.
I haven't mentioned this before, but that power menu sucks. At first, I had my squadmates set to only use abilities when I expressly told them to. Then, I set them to use defensive abilities later on, and now I just have them set on free-for-all. In combat all I'm really doing is running up to guys and blasting em with my shotgun. I use barrier occasionally, and if there's a big group I use that shotgun AOE shot thingy. I don't mind using the left bumper to assign weapon usage. I rarely have to do that anyway. But trying to use that power menu is a joke. I'm assuming power usage gets improved in later games, because it blows here.
I realize I'm sounding a little gripey. Sure, I have a bunch of little complaints, and this game isn't perfect, but it's not stopping me from really enjoying it. There are really three reasons I'm really enjoying it, despite its flaws.
First, the story is great. I love learning more about the Reapers, and the cycle of destruction they are behind. My guess at this point is they are leaving a LOT of mysteries for future games, and I can't wait to hear about them. Like what the hell are those things "maintaining" The Citadel. How many times have the Reapers exterminated all the advanced races in the Galaxy? Did nobody ever think Saren's ship was a little TOO odd? Like maybe it needed to be studied? Why is the council so stupid, time after time? I'm in one of those pleasant story areas where I honestly don't know how Shepard COULD stop those guys. Since there is a ME2 and ME3, I'm assuming he does. But all in all, the story is well-paced and exciting. I'm in for the whole series at this point.
Another important element related to the story is the characters. They really did a great job here with backstory and depth for your crew. Everyone has some part to play, and they all have their unique perspectives on what's going on around them. What's interesting is that the character with the least interesting backstory is probably Shepard himself. But this is probably deliberate, allowing the player to shape Shepard how they see fit.
The second reason I'm enjoying it so much is the impact of Choice. Now I haven't seen how the choices I've made to this point will affect the story in ME2 and beyond, but it's really fantastic that my choices WILL affect the story going forward. The way the choices are presented to you allows for a lot of gray area. The Rachni Queen, for instance. There is ample evidence that the Rachni were very very bad in the past. But what you learn from the Queen herself muddies the water a bit. Do the Rachni deserve another chance? It's convenient that the BIG choices are pretty obvious, and they give you a clear distinction that you will be making. Who do you choose to keep romancing? Who do you choose to leave behind?
The last reason. Now this may sound a little weird given my introductory laundry list of complaints about the game systems, but I'm also loving Mass Effect specifically because of those systems. The Mako handles like a '79 Impala, the Galaxy Map is irritating to wade through, the planets you land on have repetitive features, and so forth. Sure, they all have their faults, but they WENT for it with Mass Effect. You need planetary exploration, you need some way to fly around the galaxy and find stuff, you need some way to control a squad and not just one guy in a real-time setting. If you're going to have a big game like this, you have to fill it out and take some chances.
So there you have it, Part 2. As of this writing, I've finished the three major plot worlds, returned to the Citadel and had to escape, and now I'm on my way to Ilos. I can't be sure, but it seems like I'm close to the end. In Part 3, I'll talk about more irritating systems (probably), give my thoughts on the conclusion of Mass Effect 1, and debate whether or not to do it all again before I move on to ME2. You know, that whole completionist thing. :)