zh666's Mass Effect (Limited Collector's Edition) (Xbox 360) review

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Mass Effect was a fun experience, bogged down by buggy graphics.

 Ok, I need to get this off my chest.  I was not a fan of Kotor at all.  I didn't care for the sci-fi / Star Wars universe.  I didn't like the combat.  I felt the  quest system was to hard to navigate through, and finally, I hated how big and pointless the world was.  The first town you visit is bigger than some games, but it was full of pointless fetch quests and generic NPCs that say the same crap over and over again. </rant over>

However, I had fun with Mass Effect, for the most part.  While I certainly don't think it's perfect, I think it was a perfect and logical step forward from Kotor.  While I didn't love the combat in Mass Effect, I was still quick and easy to get into.  Never challenging but sometimes cheap.  I didn't like the unbalanced weapon selection or the clunky AI enemies and AI partners.  

A couple things I really enjoyed about Mass Effect, that were huge improvements over KOTOR was the dialog tree.  It was so simple to select your responses in Mass Effect, and you never or rarely repeated yourself.  The quest system seemed really improved aswell.  It was so much easier to follow what to do next, and where to go.  I actually did most of the sidequests in this game, unlike KOTOR.  

Another thing I enjoyed more about Mass Effect was the Good / Evil thing.  In Kotor and most games that do this, you fight 1 bar between good and evil.  So that means, your character is either evil or good.  In Mass Effect, you have 2 bars, a good bar and an evil bar.  It's actually more like Good Cop and Bad Cop bar.  This gave me more leeway in my dialog choices.  When I played KOTOR, I mostly stuck to all the good choices, or what I thought were good choices.  In Mass Effet, there really wasn't a huge penalty for going bad or staying good.  It's not like you grew a mustache and a top hat and laughing manically.  I never felt the pressure to stay good or stay evil.  So, I think Mass Effect, not only trumps KOTOR in that respect, but actually trumps most WRPGs too.

However, when there's good, there's also bad.  So there was a ton of things I disliked about Mass Effect.  Like Kotor, it was an extremely buggy game.  It crashed on me many times.  My characters would occasionally get stuck in the group.  There was one instance where one of my AI characters got stuck on the earth and was stretched out like Stretch Arm Strong.  She eventually corrected herself when I talked to her, so it wasn't a major bug.

Just like every Bioware game on the console, the loading times are TERRIBLE.  Why do I have to sit through a cutscene, then load up a small mini map of a galaxy, which is for the most part, a list?  It's crazy how bad the loading can be in this game.  I also played half of the game on the harddrive, and the other half straight off the disc, and I could instantly tell a difference.  Mass Effect plays much smoother when it's installed.  When you play it off the disc, there's screen tearing, framerate issues, longer loading, and even mini load times on the worlds.  That was alot of things I just didn't notice while playing it on the harddrive.

For the most part, Mass Effect was a fun experience.  I just wasn't blown away by the story, and the game was a technical mess in some areas.  However, I think the good outweighs the bad for the most part.  I still had a fun experience.  I even liked doing the sidequests, despite being generic and cookie cutter.  While my review my sound harsh, it's only constructive criticism on my part.  If they could unkink all of these problems for Mass Effect 2, I would buy it day 1.  

----------Battle System----------
Mass Effect is a 3rd Person Shooter / RPG hybrid.  While I appreciated the RPG aspects of the game, the Shooter part turned me off a bit.  Mass Effect is just not a good shooter when it comes down to it, and that's the bulk of the combat.  Besides upgrading your weapons and leveling up, there really isn't anything "strategic" about the combat in Mass Effect.  My biggest grief with the combat, overall, are the really dumb AI characters AND enemies, and the lack of weapons to actually use.

I'll start with the weapons.  There are only 4 types overall, a Sniper Rifle, which is only useful in long range combat.  A shotgun, which is slow and only useful in short range combat.  A pistol, which is slow, weak and only useful in short range combat.  Then there's the Assault rifle, which is fast, powerful and useful in any situation thrown at you.  So this means, by default, the rest of the weapons are useless.  There is almost no reason to ever switch weapons in this game.  When you do fight in skirmishes against your enemies, it's usually in a small room.  While I love using Sniper Rifles in shooters, I was just never put into a situation where I NEEDED the Sniper Rifle.  The only times you can use the sniper rifle is when you're exploring on the mass open side worlds.  These worlds usually have turrets or random enemies just standing around.  You could pick them off here, but it's much quicker and easier to just blast with your rover's missile or even gun them down with your rover.  

If you do alot of sidequesting, then you'll be using the rover alot.  This combat car can shoot missiles and a machine gun but that's pretty much it.  You can recharge your shields if you get to badly damaged but that's about it.  I really hated the floaty car controls for the most part.  

Ok, now let's talk about the AI.  Enemy AI is just the typical stand behind boxes and peak your head up and shoot at random.  You can easily pick off anything with their dumb AI.  A select few enemy types will charge at you in a suicidal rage.  This is where their dumb AI starts to shine.  If you don't, for some reason, kill them when they blinding charge at you.  They will run in circles, not even shooting at you.  Sometimes they will just stop and run back, then run towards you again.  The AI is even dumb for the enemies that fight behind boxes.  If you flank an enemy behind the box, and they're concentrating on your other 2 partners, then they often don't even notice you.  This means, a simple and easy kill no matter what.  Mass Effect needed to rebalance the AI and weapons.

Your partners AI aren't very good either.  They just stand around and get shot at most of the time.  I wish this game was as deep as Ghost Recon, but it's not.  You can place a marker for your characters, and tell them to attack but there are not enough AI options.  For the most part, I just let them die and did my own thing.  I rarely felt like they were needed.

When your AI characters dies, it's really no big deal.  They just respawn after the battle and keep whatever experience you get from killing the enemies.  You automatically pick up loot from your fallen enemies and it goes straight into your inventory.  Everyone keeps the same amount of experience, so I'm not really sure why everyone has a separate experience bar.  After you gain a level, you only really have the option to advance 2 points to any skill you want to upgrade.  You can also set this on auto leveling, if you don't want to deal with it.  After you gain to many levels though, they will only give you 1 point per level, which felt a little cheap.

I liked the weapon upgrade system.  You an apply an upgrader item to each piece of armor or weapon in your inventory.  Each upgrade boosts your various stats on the said item.  For example, if it's a piece of armor, you can apply a health regenerator or maybe something to block scans.  If it's a gun, you can apply an upgrader that helps with accuracy, or maybe does more damage to a certain kind of enemy.

----------Characters / Story----------
You play as John Shepard, a veteran marine from the Alliance Division.  John, and his team, landed on the planet Eden Prime to get the ancient Prothean beacon.  Eden Prime is under attack by a group called the Geth.  Leading the attack on Eden Prime is Saren, a Spectre.  Spectres are special officers that police the world, and are above the law.  They only answer to the Council on the Citadel.

John represses the attack on Eden Prime and finds the Prothean beacon, but get's a sudden vision of the future burned into his mind.  John vows to stop Saren, the Rogue Spectre.

The story isn't bad at all, but I don't quite get why it's so revered.  It's there and serves a purpose, but I don't exactly care about any of the characters outside of John.  Most of the characters that join your party have a purpose, but they rarely mean much within the main story arc, until a couple scenes at the end, and of course their intro scenarios.  John is always the focus.

The storyline is not very complex, and it's easy to follow, but I just don't see any of it sticking with me.  The world, history, characters just didn't catch me, like it did so many others.  Oh well.

I enjoy the dialog tree in this game, and I might have to say it is the best, to date Bioware dialog tree I've played. Everything is simplified for ease.  So you rarely run in circles into a conversation (which is something I done alot in KOTOR).  I love that they just give you a vague reply, but when you click it, John will explain what you replied with a little better and with more detail.  

Another thing I liked about the dialog is how they map out the replies.  The top reply is always good, the middle is neutral and the bottom is always bad.  The replies on the left are always the "branches" of the tree.  So you could easily not pay attention to the dialog and select your next branch before the previous dialog is even done.  This is a good idea.

The graphics are ok in some spots and really rough in other spots.  The game just doesn't feel 'complete' in one sense.  There really wasn't that many locales in the world.  Just a couple dungeons, and a handful of towns.  The towns are huge, but they're kind of bland.  This was one complaint I had with KOTOR that carried over to Mass Effect.  Bland world.  The sidequests worlds all the same 3 dungeons on them, and the worlds themselves are empty, soulless rocks with nothing to truely explore.  

The combat is so chaotic and the 'dungeons' have so small rooms, that you can't sit back and appreciate anything about the explosions or ragdoll bodies flying in the air.  There's really no HUGE attack in the game at all.  

I like how much detail they put into the faces of the characters but it's not perfect at all.  For example, John Shepards 5 0'Clock Shadow.. really looks like a shadow.  It moves when he moves his face.  The characters eyes are soulless and often move roboticly.  I hate the camera angles they use during dialog scenes too.  

There are few action oriented cutscenes in the game, but they do look ok for the most part.  They're quickly spliced cutscenes though, with a shaky cam.  So when you do sit back to watch a cutscene, it's usually short and sweet.  

The voice acting is good for the most part, but they way the deliver the lines sounds a bit to wooden for me.  There's really no emotion in the characters at any given point in the game.  The most annoying actor in the game is Joker, who is performed by Seth Green.  Seth Green is not a bad voice actor or anything.. I just knew it was Seth Green the second he said his first line of dialog.  It was very distracting.

The music is good, but I rarely notice it.  The only times they seem to kick in music is during full action cutscenes.  It's good.. but I can't remember any of it at all.

----------World Map----------
The "world" is not very big at all.  There are about 4 town-ish places.  The main one, the Citadel, you can complete early in the game and really have no reason to ever revisit it, other than some quick sidequest stuff.  

You travel between galaxies with your ship, the Normandy.  Picking each world can get frustrating though because of the cutscenes you have to watch and the various forms of loading you have to sit through.  The map is a display of various Universes.  Within each Universe is 1 or 4 Galaxies.  Within each Galaxy, there are between 3 or 9 planets or moons.  There's only 1 planet per Galaxy that you can actually land on and visit.  The only places that truely matter are the actual "town" planets with people on them.  The rest of the planets that you land on are cookie cutter worlds with nothing on them, so they're pretty much wastes of time.  You can visit them to complete sidequests or to collect items but that's about it.  The sidequests in this game are pretty much useless and boring.

----------Time to Complete Game----------

The game autosaves before the final boss.  You can't save after that, and you can't resume your gameplay either, which would have been nice if I had sidequests left over (I didn't really but I feel as if I missed some opportunities for them). 

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