By JCGamer 54 Comments
The Mass Effect 2 hype train is now in full effect with various videos all over the place. Recently, Gameinformer listed Mass Effect #58 on their "Top 200 Games of all-time" list. Mass Effect has also won several "best of awards" in 2007. I am really looking forward to Mass Effect 2--it looks like a great "action RPG". I also enjoyed the original Mass Effect when I played (and won) it several months ago. While I agree that Mass Effect was a fun/good game...I do not fully understand how this game is praised so highly. I believe that the praise this game had accumulated is more of the promise of the universe rather than the game itself.
First of all, this is an RPG. While it is heavily action-focused, it is still a Bioware game that likes to focus on story and characters. The new mechanic this game brings to the RPG table was the way in handled it's dialog system. Instead of selecting the line of dialog you are going to say from a list of options, you select the overall feel of your response. This way allows you to be surprised to what your character says. I do think this is a nice system and enjoyed the way dialog played out, but the promise was far more. Other games have tried this system of dialog, the Bard's Tale for example, but I do believe that Mass Effect this has been the best implementation thus far. But during E3 presentations, Bioware advertised this dialog system as a fluid/dynamic system that had almost infinite possibilities--this was not the case. At the end of the day, it is still a static dialog system where the character will just sit and wait for your response. The promise of ending conversation early was hardly used, and the conversations were still "2-camera" system where not many "dynamic" things occurred.
While the conversation wasn't quite as promised, the writing was well done and did mange to be interesting. Possibly the biggest thing that really stood out for me about this game was the universe, or lack of it. And because the "world" is so important for an RPG, I am so surprised that so many people think that Mass Effect was such a great game. When you start the game, it seems like the universe is huge. It has a large space map and many, many worlds to explore--or so it seems. In reality, the world is just a bunch of planets that you cannot visit, and the worlds that you can are filled with the same type of buildings with the same type of quests. The side missions, other than the Moon mission, were totally forgettable. How is repetitive level design part of one of the "greatest games of all time".
Speaking of repetitive, when it came to the gameplay--I would guess that roughly 30% of the game involves vehicle combat, and thus your vehicle: the Mako. Every time you enter a side mission planet-you have to pilot the mako to various dots on the map. In the main missions, there usually is a long section devoted to mako play. While I initially enjoyed the mako in the beginning of the game, it just really wasn't that deep or enjoyable to be used for so much of the gameplay mechanic. The vehicle controls poorly, and ultimately you just drive around and shoot at the red targets that appear on your HUD, occasionally jumping. Hardly engaging and not the type of thing that you would think would be in best RPG of 2007.
Another part of an RPG that this game did poorly was inventory management. Does anyone really have any idea what all the stuff your weapons did? By the middle of the game, I got a shotgun that I kept until the end of the game. Getting new items in the "stores" were chores and I never really felt like I was buying really cool stuff. Also, when you're on your ship, the Normandy, you can't find out what the hell the rest of your party is equipped with and thus can't really buy new armor/weapons for your party. Getting new equipment is a usually provides a major source of progression/accomplishment in RPG's--not in Mass Effect.
How about the combat? I was looking forward to playing an action RPG--but really, the gameplay fails to satisfy the part in me that loved Gears of War, and failed to satisfy the part of me that loves Final Fantasy. The combat is a bit clumsy, with a poor cover mechanic. I kept finding that I was dying because the enemy would flank me and I was unable to get off cover and shoot the dude right next to me. Granted, this is a problem is almost any cover based shooter game, but the Mass Effect enemies could kill you in 1-2 shots, so while you're struggling in getting out of cover--you're dead. Most of the cool offensive "biotic" powers were line of sight based and with the choppy frame rate, a bit difficult to use in combat.
Now I know it seems like I hated the game. I didn't. I enjoyed it and am really looking forward to playing Mass Effect 2. But as we get closer and closer to the sequel, I keep seeing people praise the original--and I don't know why. I thought the game managed to get past it's flaws to be enjoyable, but by no means on of the best games of all time. It does seem that the promise of the universe was more seductive than the actual universe itself.