Mass Effect, the final complete playthrough.

Intro

It's funny, because I glanced at the Mass Effect page and saw someone was doing a very similar thing already, at just the same time. I briefly considered not posting at all, but then, what the hell. It's my blog. It's almost gotta be irrelevant to other people by definition, right?

So, Mass Effect 3 now has it's officially final ending. There will be DLC, which I will probably play, but it will not change the story. I figured there's no better time than to play straight through, beginning of the story to end, without any interruption in between. Naturally, that starts with Mass Effect 1. Mass Effect is a really important franchise to me. It's big, it's smart, it's my favorite game trilogy of all time and probably my favorite RPG as well. So I felt I needed to commit my thoughts to digital paper on it as I complete this journey, even if I'm doing so in a public forum but for explicitly private purposes. Still, I hope someone is bored enough to read this someday and provide their own thoughts. I'm only about halfway through the main story now, as I post this, but I will update with additional thoughts as the story proceeds.

Character Creation

I've beaten Mass Effect 1 3 times, I believe (or maybe 2, with one playthrough that I didn't quite finish). I know the story like the back of my hand and know what sidequests to expect and where, though I seem to have forgotten 'when' in some cases. How do I keep this fresh? Well, naturally, by doing my very first 'femshep' playthrough. I've played ME 1 with the female avatar before, and I sort of recognized that Jennifer Hale turned in the superior performance from the beginning. But male Shepard was my Shepard, and so it felt to artificial to carry on with. I can't say I feel any differently about it now; everything that happens seems to be in some bizarre alternate universe, where Spock has a beard and Shepard has tits (not very large ones, though).

The primary dilemma this presents me with is, who to romance? In all of my previous playthroughs of ME1 as a male character, I always settled on Ashley, as I hated (and continue to hate) Liara. Damned spineless, inept, hippy Asarian, and always fishing for sympathy. "Shepard, have you come to check up on me?" "No," I say. "I'm just here to talk about your mother, who somehow managed not to pass her hotness gene onto you. You must take after your father." So really, the only option I have is: Kaidan or not Kaidan? I've already resolved that for once, Kaidan will be the one to survive the nuclear detonation at Virmire, but he's so touchy-feely and sensitive... I'm not sure I can bear to endure his romance even for the sake of seeing the whole story.

More importantly, I'll admit, was the question of class. Previous playthroughs I have been a vanguard and an infiltrator, and possibly a soldier. This time I went with adept, A) because I've heard it's very fun in ME2 and 3 and B) because it totally removes any reason I might have to use Liara in my party. She is definitely last in line on my gear chain and I only pull her out to make sure she's leveled up when I dock at the Citadel.

Finally, difficulty. I've never beaten ME1 on insanity, but it goes without saying that I'm not going to do that on a level 1 character. I choose veteran, because I recall a lot of frustrating moments on hardcore, and really, I'm just here for to finish the game, not to challenge myself.

The Gameplay

So I get dropped on New Eden and refamiliarize myself with Mass Effect's combat. I push every button on my gamepad (oh, I'm on 360, by the way) before I realize you take cover by running into it. Really? What different times those were. The overheating thing I remembered clearly, though really, on my Adept, it's hardly an issue. If my weapon overheats, I just use some of my biotics until it's good to go. I never really used a guy who focused on ARs before this character, and I think this must be the way that people who resented the addition of clips played. By the time you've maxed ARs and are using the Spectre equipment, you can fire that thing forever. It has its charms, I can't deny.

Speaking of biotics, they really did come a long way in subsequent iterations of the game, didn't they? I'm not going to pretend that they aren't effective; it's certainly useful to throw charging husks or lift snipers from behind cover. But it's really just a crowd control class, holding enemies in place so you and your teammates can shoot them down more easily. Warp is effective, but doesn't work nearly as fast as the old-fashioned way, and that's the only attack ability you have. And how about Stasis? Let's see, I can choose to lift my incapacitate opponents out of their cover to shoot them with lift, incapacitate my opponents and keep my distance with throw, and incapacitate my opponents and make them impossible to shoot with Stasis. What a dud. I was surprised to find, however, that enemies can be affected by biotics despite the presence of shields in 1. I suppose changing this came part and parcel with improving the effectiveness of biotics in 2, but man, was that an annoying system, particularly on the hardest difficulties.

The Story

They threw a lot at you all at once in Mass Effect. It was a brave new world, the galaxy lay out there before you, and there you are on the forefront, proving that humanity, not those other dirty, old-fashioned, alien politicians, was the race to save the universe. Part of the allure of it all was the fact that you clicked on something and then you had a codex entry, telling you a boatload of really fascinating lore about it. But the details aren't the best part. The feel is the best part. Somehow, behind all that utilitarian gameplay and cookie-cutter sidequests, Bioware nailed it. The cold gunmetal of the Normandy's bridge, the sparse, rhythmic electronics of the soundtrack. You really got the feeling that space was a cold, unforgiving place, acting without regard for the beings within it. I think people who prefer ME1 to others in the series must be thinking first of this aspect.

At the same time, it's really not a surprise that after this game, Mass Effect had to keep struggling for the mainstream audience. Did you ever stop and realize that, after the first away mission on New Eden, you spend at least several hours running around the Citadel doing fetch quests, before you even get the Normandy? Okay, sure, you can skip through all that, but you weren't meant to. And I'm certainly not going to skip over things when they could affect my playthroughs of subsequent installments.

Post-ending edit: Man does this game end right. I'm sitting here with the credits music playing, and I'm sure I played it the right way now. I did all the tedious sidequests before the game had picked up any momentum and then did Noveria, Virmire, the Bring Down the Sky DLC, and then Ilos & the Citadel more or less straight through. It washes away all that other stuff - and this would be a better game if it was just the main story, for sure. Sort of a diametrical opposite to ME2, where the main story was the weakest part.

The Sidequests

They're short, they're tedious, they take place in cookie-cutter environments that make DA2's dungeons look like a labors of love. I suppose some people might say that it was a different time. Standards were lower, budgets were smaller. But we can never forget that the forebear of the modern party-based RPG, Baldur's Gate, did not suffer from this shortcoming. They knew what they were doing wrong, but they still chose to do it.

By the way, did you know that you get a later quest from the clinic where the doctor is being blackmailed? In my previous three playthroughs, I never knew. And yet, I'll still never learn how it ends, because it leads to Admiral Kohaku, who had already gone to his untimely demise at the hands of Cerberus. Maybe I should just look it up. I guess I will. Hm, it turns out it's only tied to Kohaku's other mission and there seems to be no clear-cut resolution. Oh well, onward!

The Mako

People who say "the Mako wasn't that bad" are out of their minds. The thing doesn't shoot where you point itm (I guess I heard that on PC this was fixed?) the shield recharge rate is so slow you're better off leaving the planet and coming back if you get damaged, and besides that, the planets are designed terribly. People who talk about enjoying driving sideways up mountains are suffering from some kind of gaming Stockholm syndrome. The crazy part about this is that these planets are not procedurally generated. Someone designed them. By hand. And then someone else looked at them, looked at the Mako and said, "Yes, it is okay if the player needs to spend ten minutes climbing out of that ravine after they go down to get that mineral deposit we put down there." This is not because it is an old game, it is because someone was either cutting corners or high during the design process.

The Elevators

I think all the jokes that can be made about the elevators have been made, sometimes within the sequels themselves. But yeah, they're long. What always puzzles me is, why are the elevator rides longer than the full-on loading screens?

Decisions

I'm trying to do most of the things I didn't do on my main playthrough. Hindsight is 20/20 so I killed the Rachni queen (I could have saved her again and actually spared her in 3, but fuck that.) I saved Kaidan. And I saved the council. I'm curious whether that will make much difference. I still let Wrex live, because I don't see how I stand to gain anything otherwise, and I still picked Anderson to represent humanity. Sure, he'll suck at it, but Udina's a traitor.

I also made some different minor decisions I'm curious about. I let Helena Blake keep her criminal syndicate. I let the negotiator have his stimulant under the condition he received treatment afterwards. Maybe some of that will make a difference aftewards.

I'm also brought to the conclusion that the decision-making in this game is the best in the series. 3 is also all right, but 2 is an abomination. It's nice that I can mix paragon and renegade decisions and not have to deal with consequences afterwards - such as crew disloyalty as you would in 2. So this is definitely the best me simulator of the 3.

Overall

People who say this game is the best Mass Effect are out of their damned minds. The only thing that might be superior about it is the story, and in large part it gets bonus points for being the original delivery device for the Mass Effect universe. The actual central story, while interesting, is mostly nonexistent until Virmire save for dialogues at the end of your first two missions. However, after that point, it really does pick up. It probably has the best unbroken stream of main story sequences once you start Virmire if you play it like I did. It really does leave a good taste in your mouth, left you feelilng like a hero AND wanting more.

But even if you grant it the story, the shooting's worse, the sidequests are the worst, and the fact that the Mako is actually a plot-essential mechanic and not just something to do on the side (like the Hammerhead) can't be ignored. There's no reason ME should get much more slack for broken gameplay than Alpha Protocol (which I don't give much slack) save for the fact it came first and AP should have learned something.

Yeah yeah, cool story bro. Let me get that out of the way for you.

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