Did you know that this was actually supposed to be a post about how Mass Effect 1 was the penultimate space-faring RPG? It was, indeed! In fact, it even says so right over here! But, in the last few minutes, someone posted something, and mixed in so many positive things about Mass Effect 1, that it has decidedly changed my views. Something sinister has clicked in my mind, which has forced my hand. And now, after all my years of praising it, I can do nothing more than lambaste Mass Effect 1 with the brutal truth that has always stared me in the face: Mass Effect 1 is no hero.
Mass Effect 1's story is interesting.
In the first hour, the game starts out interestingly enough. You are Commander Shepard, who can valiantly gaze through a spaceship windshield while pretty much running directly into everyone on your way to get there. You meet Nihilus and Space Keith David, who is a man of a man and the man. Then you get sent down to Eden Prime to fight our mortal enemy, the Geth. You find dead Nihilus, killed by another Turian, disarm bombs, learn things from a damaged Prothean beacon, then promptly blow it up. Already we are off to a great start. We have our hook. We have something that makes us want to keep playing. In fact, the story is the best and only reason why anyone wants to keep playing.
The reason the Mass Effect story is so interesting is because it relies on mystery and intrigue. We are learning about a time in space that we have never experienced, and never will. We are learning about this universe, the Mass Effect universe, and everything it has to offer. What are biotics? Who are my team members and what makes them tick? What are all the races of the galaxy. Who are these mysterious Protheans? And, most importantly, who, or what, are the Reapers?
In the end, we find out all these things, of course. After about 35 hours, I finished the game and learned almost everything there was to learn about Mass Effect 1. But after you've beaten it, what's the point of playing again?
You see, once you have finished the story, and learned everything about this game, what is the point of continuing to play? With the story and quests finished, why do you keep going back to it? Because, other than the story, there isn't much to love.
I am Shepard, a Commander in the Alliance Navy. I am a Vanguard, so I specialize in shotguns, the use of medium armor and some pretty neat Biotics. So why can't I use shotguns proficiently right off the bat? Why must I be forced to wear light armor until I put enough points in my skill tree to wear it? I'm a decorated war hero who saved his entire squad, and you are saying, Mass Effect 1, that I did it with a pistol and some terrible Onyx light armor?
I could believe it. In fact, I do, because that would be how I do things in real life. But this is a game.
Games aren't supposed to hold you back from being able to use what your character should already be proficient with. It's blatantly obvious that I, Commander Shepard, have already seen some serious combat that wasn't in the game because it would be fun, and fun isn't allowed in this game. If you wanted to see fun combat, they would've already released Mass Effect 2.
But I digress. How come every weapon you use you has the same accuracy as almost every person who has ever thrown the first pitch at any given baseball game? With one squeeze of the trigger on a pistol, or an assault rifle, you immediately forget how to aim for three seconds, which is about how long it takes for you to think about being accurate again.
Because of how terribly inaccurate you are, cover is almost always necessary to take, which makes you think about being more accurate more often. However, cover is poorly implemented and seems like it was more of a last-minute idea. Getting into cover takes longer than it should, as Shepard has to run face-first into whatever the cover is, before realizing that headbutting a wall is not tactically sound. I can't begin to tell you how many times I was aiming around cover, then Shepard got cocky and abandoned it altogether leaving him, and myself, wondering how many shots it would take for him to die.
Thus you use cover if you want to stay alive until Shepard has decided to shrug off this virtual, mortal coil, or you don't use cover and hope to the Gods of Accuracy that you can throw the first pitch harder and more accurately than your current enemy. And pray that you aren't fighting a Krogan, because they will just charge at you and pummel you to death with only two hits.
However, combat has its rewards — Or, at least rewards are comparable to how the combat is. Anyway, you get experience, which will let you level up! That is always amazing! But, then again, that reward, in the long run, isn't all that great. You are given two points to spend with each level up until the later levels. But, unfortunately, if you want the fullest flavor of the story, which is why you're supposed to be playing, or be able to manipulate conversations in your favor, then sinking your first couple level-ups into Charm or Intimidate is almost mandatory.
With all your skills you can choose from, you have to put some in some categories to unlock the ability to enhance, or use others. Case in point, the shotgun. The more proficient you are with a pistol, you will become, at some point, better with a shotgun, for God knows what reason. I don't want to use a pistol, so why do I have to spend points in a meaningless skill?
And, if you look at the stats, for the most part, each point you put in gives your skill a negligible boost in power. Many skills only get slight percent increases in power, meaning taht this game punishes you for being a jack of all trades. Hence, it forces you to level up some skills to the max while leaving some skills underdeveloped and, for the most part, useless.
Because fun, and logic, is unwanted here in this game. It wants to punish you as much as possible.
In fact, if you want to be able to open up any container, or decrypt any computer, and the like, that is above Easy, then you need to put your points into Electronics and Decryption right away, otherwise you will be missing out on some missions, and some loot. Now, getting loot might not be all that important to some people, which is fine, because that's the only reason Bioware made such an awful inventory system in the first place.
Seriously. That inventory system. It's like keeping your jeans in the bottom shelf of the dresser, then having to search through each and every drawer, from top to bottom, to get to it, even though you already know where your jeans are. But you have to keep digging through because your dresser is super proud of all the things of yours it's keeping in it and wants to show you because it only wants to make your proud.
Anyway, we were talking about loot.
The beginning loot you are better off just breaking down into Omni-Gel, because you will get pennies for it if you sell it. Until you hit about the level IV range on the equipment you find, you should never sell. Ever. And why is that?
Because you will always find something better, and, in fact, the best stuff is sold by the Spectre Requisitions Officer. Once you buy the level X items from him there is no point in getting loot anymore as, by the time you've gotten that far, you are practically full on money and Omni-Gel. Most of the times I have reached the 999 Omni-Gel mark and continued to break items down because I was maxed out on money!
But, during the lower levels, it's good to get everything you can, and if you have not a high enough Decryption or Electronics rating, some might think, ya know, I'll just come back to open this box later on. Good idea, unless that unlockable is on a planet that you are scouring using —
And let's not be coy, here. Imagine you are trying to tell a playful dog to come over to you. You say, "Max, get over here" and he comes over then darts away. "No, come over here." This time you are pointing. It comes over a bit, and you're about to grab him by the collar, then he ducks away again. Finally, you lose your temper and scold your dog. "Max, get over here right now!" He listens and obeys, and finally, goes to where you want him to, with a defeated look on his face.
That is the Mako. But you are giving the defeated look.
If exploring planets is supposed to be a fun, and integral, part of the game, then why does Bioware go to great lengths to make it completely miserable. How many times have we been on Therum only to accidentally make a wrong turn and go head-on into lava? Or been traversing Feros' skybridge, only to hit one barrier, even an invisible wall, and watch in horror as the Mako mounts and leaps the barricade, as ungracefully as possible, shooting us over the edge of the bridge, thus sending us plummeting to our doom?
Way too much to be forgivable. Much like everything else in Mass Effect 1. For most games, story can only do so much to save a game that features a terrible level up system, that plays into a terrible combat system, that rewards you by placing items in a god-awful inventory system.
So, why am I being so uncharacteristically brash when talking about this game? Because it is the truth. This game suffers from many missteps.
But the story in this game? The story and characters are what put this game above any other I have ever played. Everything the story is, and everything your crew is, makes up for everything that this game did wrong, and it is one of the few games that that can be said for.
I love Mass Effect 1. It is my favorite game of all time. I have replayed it almost a dozen times and each time I've done it, it has gotten better. And, if you have noticed, I barely talked about this game's story, and how it can be approached from a Paragon side or a Renegade side.
This is the Renegade portion of my write up.
The Paragon portion, though? That's where it will shine. That's where I will prove that Mass Effect is the Hero gaming deserved.