Posted tagged ‘Mass Effect 1’

Mass Effects 1 and 2, Some Reflecting

June 29, 2017

Sometime ago, around when I wrote the Dylan/Anthem post, I think, I finished Mass Effect 1 and fired up Mass Effect 2.

I’ve played Mass Effect 1 plenty, made it to the end three (now four) times, yet I’ve only moved onto Mass Effect 2 once (now twice). I’m not sure which game I like better. Mass Effect 2 is way more intense and I fell hard for it the first time around. That was the main reason I was never able to play it again: too many feels. It’s been like 5 years, though, so I think I’m good. I even have thoughts like “I should come back and play this as ManShep, see if it feels different”. (All while those 3 months of WoW I bought trickle by unused.)

As much as I adore the Mako, or perhaps the idea of the Mako, Mass Effect 1 has too much boring “drive around the mountains” for this impatient completionist’s taste. But while others complain about the dated graphics, I find them charming. (My age is showing, I guess. Back in my day, we played our video games uphill through the snow without shoes. Or something like that.) As for the overall story, I don’t grab my monitor with both hands screaming “WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” like I do when playing Mass Effect 2, but I’m completely engaged nonetheless. I’m totally intrigued by the future and Citadel space and can spend hours wandering around, talking to NPCs, moving my camera to trigger “Hit (E) to examine”, searching to discover more, more, more. My gamer soul was forged on the anvil of RPGs, so Mass Effect 1 caters to my intincts and comfort zone, however, Mass Effect 2 is so fun and exciting that it taught me that I could be rewarded by giving action/shooting-style games a chance.

Then one day, someone on Reddit (I don’t post on Reddit or even have an active account – self-preservation strategy – but I lurk) linked Shamus Young’s Mass Effect Retrospective as a reference when discussing Mass Effect 2’s writing faults. I did a double-take. What do you mean Mass Effect 2’s faults? Mass Effect 2 is the Internet’s favorite Mass Effect. It can’t possibly be that faulty!

I went to give it a skim. “A skim” turned into 3 nights of intensive reading and reflecting when this retrospective turned out to be a 50-part dissertation, published over the course of a year, on the storytelling in Mass Effect. The language is intended for a casual audience, but the depth and structure could easily be at an academic level. One of the most interesting things I’ve read in years. Highly recommended to anyone curious about the mechanics of storytelling, even someone who’s never played Mass Effect (or any video game, really). Then I went and bought his books because, seriously, that man has a gift.

Anyway, his analysis made sense of my feelings toward the series, in particular about how my love of Mass Effect 1 is different from my love of the two later games, as well as the intensity of my feelz while playing 2 and 3. I can’t recap pages and pages worth of discussion nor compare to his expertise, but I would like to highlight some major points relevant to my personal story-enjoying experience (with my own conclusions and interpretations mixed in, just in case someone happens to read my blog and thinks “that’s not what Young said!”):

1- The Shepard team in Mass Efect 2 consists of characters who, for the most part, are multidimensional, sympathetic and entertaining. They’re introduced with a backstory that you can usually partake in, and you directly observe their development (and the development of your relationship with them) through an engaging loyalty quest. It’s never made clear why you actually need some of them (why do we expect an assassin to be useful beyond the relay? a justicar? a thief?) but it doesn’t matter because you’re just grateful to have met their awesomeness.

2- The main storyline is only loosely connected to Mass Effect 1 (Collectors vs Reapers). It kind of comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. Why are the Collectors/Harbinger after Shepard personally? How did Harbinger even find out about Shepard? Why is the Alliance doing a half assed job with its human colonies? Why do the Collectors want to make a human (as opposed to an asari or other) baby reaper? What does Shepard actually do in the Collectors ship since EDI doesn’t seem to need Shepard at all? Why is there only one Collectors ship? How did they find the dead reaper? Why wasn’t it found before? What do/can we learn from the Collectors base? The questions go on. Shame because I believe it would have been possible to properly intergrate the Collectors and the resulting story experience would have been mind-blowing.

3- The game is inconsistant about Shepard’s fit in the world. Some people heard “rumours” about Shepard being alive and working for Cerberus, other people know for sure and other people have no idea. Which makes sense until you realize “who knows what” is kind of random. Dumb kid on Omega sends you an email after you bump into him, while people with high intel access and motivation (such as ex-boyfriend and Important Alliance Guy Kaiden) are clueless. Some people are midly surprised you’re alive again, others aren’t fazed at all.

4- Cerberus is all over the place too. It makes sense that Cerberus would have different cells with varying ethics and ideals (I think this is very cool), but you don’t see much beyond Lazarus and ME1’s Kahoku’s questline (and maybe Overlord? Haven’t reached it on this playthrough yet.) Clearly, they’re able to attract lawful good personel like Jacob and Kelly, but you never learn anything about their lawful good endevours. Sometimes they go above and beyond for their employees (on the Normandy there’s a talk in the crew quarters about someone’s family being evacuated by Cerberus from an at-risk colony), other times their scientists are abandonned to a fate of insanity on a dead reaper. I think it would have added a lot to the story to be able to learn more Cerberus’ structure and key players beyond TIM. (It may be addressed in the books/comics, but I believe it would have added a lot to the game if details were included there, maybe as side-quest rewards for those who want to go above and beyond.)

5- The Illusive Man feels like a great tool that no one knows what to do with. I think he’s supposed to be a superhero story style evil business mastermind villain. This has tons of potential but interactions with him seem to have no purpose but to confuse and irritate me the player. I used to think it was just me because I’m easily confused (you know when you’re at the movies and there’s this kid who’s constantly asking “who’s that? why is he saying that? where are they going? why are they there? I’m the quieter, more polite grown up version of that kid.). Turns that being sent aboard a Collectors’ ship that was powered down by Turians, only not powered down by Turians but by the Collectors themselves as a trap, by TIM who knows it’s a trap and doesn’t have much reason to send you there and who doesn’t have to lie to you since you’re curious about Collectors and follow his orders anyway to keep your ship but still lies to you is actually confusing to everyone. You never get to properly tell him off and he never gets to shut you down by being right although unethical. All your interactions just end with you rolling your eyes and moving onto the next mission.

These brought me to the realizations that:

1- The characters are so much fun that you don’t care if the main storyline is just an excuse to go on adventures with your fictional friends. Before my replay, I had actually forgotten about the story in Mass Effect 2. I remembered Shepard dying and being reconstructed, I remembered recruitment and most of the loyatly missions, I remembered a suicide mission where you have to asign your squadmates to appropriate tasks, I remembered Kaidan being an ass after you save his life, I remember being creeped out by TIM. I didn’t remember about Collectors, what they were, what they did and where they came from. I didn’t remember any of the actual conversations with TIM. I couldn’t even remember what I was doing with Cerberus. None of that stuff really mattered because I was too busy enjoying my time with Shepard and her crew.

2- The unexplained parts of the story are hinted to be “explained later” (for example, when you ask EDI about Cerberus’ funding, she says the information is classified so you think “oh, something will happen to unlock this”), then you’re then distracted by shiny events and by the time “later” rolls around, you’ve forgotten all about wondering where Cerberus gets their ressources (or why Wilson wants to kill you). I think this is a big difference between books and movies versus video games. When you’re reading a book or watching a movie, you’ve got nothing better to do than sit there and process the story. In a game, you have to choose your gun, scan the room for treasure, kill the trash mobs, read your quest journal. It’s pretty easy to distract players from lacking story elements and if players do notice, most won’t care unless the distractions aren’t enjoyable enough.

3- I was so heartbroken by the ending because the elements fueling my love for the series were 1)pride in my work in making the galaxy a better place, 2)my dear companions and 3)a Shepard that I pretty much worshipped. The ending 1)undoes my hard work, 2)takes me away from my companions (and never properly tells me what happens to them, though the extended cut is an improvement) and 3)destroys Shepard (even the scene where people say “Shepard survives” is useless to me because you don’t see her in the epilogue). I have been offended when told “you just wanted a happy ending”, but after proper reflection, my offense comes from “happy ending” being a simplication. I think I wanted an ending that doens’t consist everything I like about the series being stripped away and thrown into a fire. Or beam of light or whatever.

So after a week of reading and reflection, I’m ready to get back into the game. Have a couple of loyalty missions to redo (I screwed up my romance with Garrus by choosing the wrong options and my best option is a save from two missions ago…I vaguely remember doing that on my first playthrough too. Apparently the right options are obvious, but I always miss them. I suppose I’m as dense as he is.), then some side quests, then off to collect Reaper IFF.

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Can’t Escape from Mass Effect

May 23, 2017

I spent two weeks trying to write about playing Wow again. Got about 6 lines in and a screenshot.

Also spent that time trying to play the Witcher 2, in hopes of getting to the Witcher 3. I think I made to the end of the prologue.

My heart just wasn’t there.

My heart, as we know, was shattered after playing the original Mass Effect trilogy and never recovered. /overlydramatic. I’ve played Mass Effect 1 a bit since then but haven’t been able to go any further because I can’t handle the feels. Since playing Andromeda, though, (and missing most of the references because it’s just been too long) an itch has been slowly growing to revisit Shepard.

I…I think I’m ready.

I changed the resolution a few hours after creating my character so now she looks all weird and stretched out. Hence, why you only get a side shot. Wish Mass Effect had a Mirror of Transformation like Dragon Age.

I miss Shepard. My Shepard. So I made her with roughly the same look and roughly the same personality. Doing identical (or somewhat identical) playthroughs was actually such a foreign concept that it didn’t even occur to me until I came across a Mass Effect subreddit where someone mentioned doing several playthroughs with the same Shepard and choices. How someone could submit themselves to that emotional roller coast so many times in such a short period, I can’t fathom, but since it’s been a few years and I only vaguely remember my old game, I thought the idea to be brilliant.

I’m still undecided about what to do at the end. It is much better with the extended cut (it’s been years and I still can’t get over how anyone thought the original ending, with no acknowledgement of your personal efforts, no explanation, no epilogue, was a good idea), but it still doesn’t sit right with me. I’m told there is a mod that sets Citadel to be played as an epilogue (which is pretty much how I head cannoned my original game since Citadel came out long after I’d finished), but I think I might just play up until Shore Leave and leave it at that. *****SPOILERS***** I previously went with Synthesis since I didn’t want to destroy the Geth with whom a lot of work went into forging an alliance, and being a space god for the rest of eternity is just UGGG. Plus EDI and Joker get to be together! (Priorities!) But Synthesis doesn’t make any sense – like how does it work? How does Space Magic turn people into part computers and computers into part people with just a beam of light? (The other options don’t really make any sense either, but they’re a bit more plausible, as Destroy could cause some short of galactic malfunction and Control would be Shepard accessing the main panel.) I also hate changing the galaxy to that extent. And why must Shepard be disintegrated in a well? Kill her if you must, but…not like that. ****SPOILERS OVER **** I never decided how I wanted to head cannon retire my Shepard. I mean, her career is clearly over. You can’t go back to normal hunting bad guys and rescue missions after what she’s been through. Settling down with Garrus doesn’t suit her either, she’s an adventurer and spacer through and through. Being put in a pod and shipped to Andromeda for a total change of scenery might fit her personality, but would she want to leave the Milky Way behind after everything she did to save it? I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m only with her for this ride, what happens after, whether she accepts her Bioware fate or lives on to do whatever, is in her own hands, not mine.

So yeah, Mass Effect 1 vs Andromeda

I was interested in how the two compared side by side since they are both Part-Ones-That-May-Be-Stand-Alones.

ME1 definitely feels better fleshed out in all the story elements, the species and their cultures are given way more depth (despite introducing a lot of species – it’s amazing what they did, actually), the characters feel like real people (while in MEA, with the exception of Peebee and Drack, they kind of just felt like their tagline) and you can tell you’re just touching the tip of the lore iceberg. The dialogue options, however, are extremely unpredictable. I know we complain about that in every Bioware game, but ME1 is especially bad. A lot of options are along the lines of 1)Yes 2)Sure 3)Of course. You figure out quickly that the top option is usually gentle, the middle one is neutral/professional and the bottom one is more aggressive, but still. I’m hardly a newcomer and I’m still shocked by some of the things to come out of my character’s mouth. The voice acting, as well, triggers flashbacks of voice actor con panels where the actors always complain about they’re often not given context for their lines and have to guess. It’s not obvious in new games, but in ME1, you frequently get odd lines where the tone is all wrong.

On the other hand, while I’m driving around, I really miss the Nomad banter from MEA. That’s something the newer game did brilliantly.

While critics denounce MEA’s open world, I’m finding ME1 to be way more grindy and drive around random-y. The Nomad is much easier to handle than the Mako (and I’m super glad they made the Nomad in MEA, I love the Mako but always thought it needed some maneuverability improvement. I did miss the Mako’s canon.) and while ME1’s discoveries are fun and exciting (in MEA, you rarely discover anything cooler than respawning enemy camps – and in space, this drove me crazy, even the most “remote and mysterious” solar systems end up being polluted by remains of the Angara, the Kett, the Outlaws and a Nexus science shuttle), it takes a lot of boring driving to get there. I also found that MEA’s sidequests were more connected to the main plot than in ME1 (which, I suppose, is more natural for a “settle these planets” plot). I feel like in ME1, Admiral Hackett takes way too much advantage of the fact that you happen to be near somewhere (“I know you need to find Saren and stop him from bringing on our inevitable destruction, but while you’re in the area…can you rescue this guy?”).

Combat is more fun (love jet packs and combos!) and intuitive in MEA, though I do like having a ton of abilities at my fingertips in ME1. I prefer the talent system in ME1 with new abilities being unlocked at certain points, though I did like MEA’s as well. I love how in ME1 you can access your weapon loadout screen at any time. After how tedious MEA was about gear switching, every time I update my gear in ME1, I get a feeling of “YESSSSS!!! OH YES!!!”. I do, however, find it super annoying that a squadmate has to be in your party in order for you to access their talents. Especially early in the game, while I’m on the Normandy, trying to upgrade weapons. How am I supposed to know what to give if I can’t check what their weapons skills are?

I’m on the fence about what I prefer between equipping my squadmates myself and letting them take care of their own gear. I’m an RPGer at heart and loooove dedicating entire evenings to pimping everyone’s gear, but I didn’t miss it at all in MEA, maybe because they give you lots of other opportunities to micromanage stuff.

If you don’t have your Classic Bioware Games on Origin, you can download the DLC here.

 

All the DLC for ME1, 2, Dragon Age Origins and 2 (and a random Need For Speed Game) can be downloaded off the EA site, even if you purchased them on Steam. I originally thought that they’re free now due to the age of the games, but it seems that Mass Effect 2 DLC (and possibly the others) won’t work unless you bought them. Mass Effect 1 DLC is free however so grab Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station if you don’t have them already.