Mass Effect Retrospective Part 2

Okay, I know I said I was going to post this the day after Part 1, but I received my copy of Mass Effect 3 on the same day.  And as such, I was too busy playing it to write this second part (as well as doing non-essential stuff, like working & going to school).  So this second half is going to look back at the previous two games’ gameplay as well as looking forward to what I expect to see in the final installment.  As for my expectations that have been met so far, I’ll make note.

Mass Effect

+ Lots of skills to choose from
+ Customizable weapons & armor
+ Lots of inventory choices
+ Planetary exploration
+ Open world feel
+ Unlimited ammo
+ Different paths to complete quests
+ Strategic use of grenades
– Vehicle controls
– Interiors were identical
– Limited weapon & armor customization
– Bypassing mini-game

As you can tell, there were a lot of things I liked in the gameplay department for the first game.  In particular, I loved the planetary exploration.  Each world looked completely different & just driving around was a lot of fun.  Nearly every planet had something interesting on it.  On the downside, this meant you had to put up with the horrible vehicle controls.  I would hardly be the first person to complain about how horrendously the Mako controlled, but it was really the only part of the first game I disliked.  On flat terrain, it was fine.  But the thing bounced around worse than a hyperactive kid in a bounce house.  Just running over a small hill would send it flying into the air.  It didn’t help that the developers seemed to put the points of interest on the top of mountains that only had one correct path to reach, so if you didn’t come in on the right angle it looked like you were trying to clip through the edge of the world.  Combat was pretty iffy in it as well.  I developed two strategies: For slow targets I sat in place firing while occasionally jumping to dodge missiles, while for moving targets I would drive straight through their ranks while firing my rockets then turning around & doing it again until everything was dead.  But running over the geth was a lot of fun.

Also, I’m probably the only person who kinda liked the elevators & decontamination rooms in the game.  Although this is probably in hindsight.  Sure, they took forever, especially the lift in the Normandy.  I can remember counting the grooves in the wall wondering how big the bloody ship was.  But it added to the bigness of the world.  It’s a lot like the doors in Fatal Frame.  Not having a regular loading screen makes everything feel coherent.  Admit it.  If you had a choice between staring at a boring loading screen or watching a boring elevator ride before physically arriving at your destination, which would be more immersive?

Mass Effect 2

+ Paragon/Renegade interrupts
+ More interesting skills
+ Bypass mini-game
+ Different level layouts
+ More “civilized” areas to explore
– No wide-scale planetary exploration
– Mineral scanning
– Resources don’t carry over to new games on the same career
– Thermal clips
– Hacking mini-game
– Light-weight vehicle in Firewalker DLC

ME2 was sort of a case of one step forward, one step back.  They replaced the Simon Says bypass game with a memory card game which, while being very easy, was a little more interesting.  But then they added the hacking mini-game, which is a pain in the butt to do on a non-HD TV.  They completely took out all vehicle sections until they released the Firewalker pack with the Hammerhead, which did have better controls but couldn’t stand up in a firefight.  (An interesting side note, there’s a funny dialogue in ME3 between Cortez & Vega about the two vehicles that seems to be a bit of self-referential humor on BioWare’s part.)

I have two major complaints about ME2.  The first was the addition of thermal clips, which are essentially ammo.  To me, this was a ploy to appeal to the “mainstream” gamers who are more used to FPS, & I didn’t like it.  It makes no sense from a logical standpoint.  In the game, they describe it was being an advancement to stop guns from overheating (which is what happened if you fired your gun too much in ME1).  But how is that an “advancement”?  We went from having unlimited ammo but having to use controlled bursts to prevent overheating, which only meant having to wait a few seconds from the gun to cool down, to having a finite ammunition amount after which point the gun becomes useless.  That’s going backwards, in my opinion.  The only thing that saved this aspect was that clips automatically refill all of your guns’ ammo without them sharing ammo pools.  In other words, when I pick up a clip, it refills a portion of all of my guns’ ammo but using one gun doesn’t deplete my other guns’ ammo.

My second complaint, & again it’s something just about every ME fan griped about, was they replaced the planetary exploration — which you may recall I recently said was one of my favorite parts of ME1 — with planetary scanning.  Scanning!  You literally had to hold down the LT (on 360) then rotate the planet until you found a large source of minerals.  And you have to do this over the entire planet.  Every planet.  Granted, this isn’t a requirement.  But if you want to get the upgrades to have the best ending, you’ll need to do some.  It’s slow, tedious, boring, & cost money (you have to buy the probes & fuel).  I honestly don’t think I would’ve minded it as much if the resources carried over to other games under the same career.  Like how your levels & experience do.  But no, you have to do it all over again for each new game.  Come on, BioWare!  At least have my upgrades carry so I don’t have to do as much scanning.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still loved ME2.  I definitely think it had a better story.  The new skills made combat more interesting.  Because each teammate has pretty specific skills, you have to plan out who you want to take, rather than like in ME1 where classes overlapped.  Personally, I abused the hell out of the Cloak & Incinerate powers.  I just think that, mechanically wise, I preferred the first game.

Mass Effect 3

This part is a combination of what I’m expecting/hoping to see from the final installment plus a First Impressions.  I’ve played roughly half of the game so far.  So what am I expecting?  And how has BioWare lived up to my expectations?  (Don’t worry, I’m keeping this as spoiler free as possible.)

  1. All previous squadmates will play some role in the game.  So far this appears to be true.  But don’t expect everyone to be an active member of your team.  The returning teammates I’ve run into so far have been Kaidan (or Ashley, depending on who survived Virmire), Liara, Garrus, Kasumi, Zaeed, Thane, Wrex, Mordin, Jack, Miranda, Grunt, Jacob, & I think I’m about to meet up with Tali.  Some people will join your squad, while others will temporarily help you during missions & become part of your assets.
  2. New squadmates will be added.  True.  There’s one brand new member, one new in the sense they haven’t been on your squad before, & one brand new from a DLC.
  3. Romance will expand.  True.  You can rekindle on old romance or start a new one.  Though I’m not sure if you can start a new one with an old squadmate.
  4. I fully expect BioWare to be jerks & have people die off.  True.  Based on your actions some of your mates may die.  I’ve had two mates die as part of the storyline, i.e. I couldn’t save them no matter what.  I won’t spoil it by saying who, but the second one had the tears running.
  5. Massive set-pieces.  Definitely true.  Nearly every mission seems to have something spectacular happen.  Chasing down an assassin on foot.  Trying to avoid a reaper ground unit.  Riding on the top of an elevator while shooting other elevators down.  This is a no-holds-barred war, after all.
  6. More exploration & less scanning.  Not so much.  So far the Citadel is the only hub area I’ve found.  And I haven’t explored any worlds, just landed in my designated mission area.  Scanning is also back, but it’s very different.  Perhaps even better.  You fly around a system scanning the area (which doesn’t cost anything) until you detect something.  This might be a resource or item that you launch a probe to retrieve.  It’s a bit more exciting than before because if it’s a reaper-controlled system, they’ll detect you the more you scan.  When they come after you, you have no choice but to escape the system.  It can be fun evading the reapers, but also frustrating if you’re trying to find the last resource but have to keep fleeing because you’re scanning too much.

A big concern I have is the addition of multiplayer.  I don’t particularly care if developers add a multiplayer campaign, so long as it isn’t required.  But BioWare has it set up that your missions in multiplayer will affect your single-player game.  A lot of people, myself included, are concerned that we won’t be able to get the best ending just by playing the single-player game.  Everything I’ve read suggests that this isn’t the case, but of course I won’t know until I’ve finished the game.  The way I understand it, your ending will be based off you Effective Military Strength, which is determined:

War Assets (Single-player) x Galactic Readiness (Multiplayer) = Effective Military Strength

War Assets are various resources you acquire during the single-player game either by finding them through scanning or during the course of the missions.  They’re all given a numerical value.  Galactic Readiness is the percentage of resources you can successfully use, & is increased by doing missions in multiplayer.  You automatically start at 50% Readiness in the single-player.  So:

1000 assets x 50% readiness = 500 EMS

To improve this score, you can either gather more assets or complete more multiplayer to improve your readiness.

1500 assets x 50% readiness = 750 EMS  or  1000 assets x 75% readiness = 750 EMS

The basic idea is that you can either do more multiplayer missions & gather fewer assets or ignore the multiplayer & gather more assets.  Supposedly there’s enough resources in the regular game that it’s possible to get the maximum EMS either way.  And looking at my current level, I’d say I agree.  I’m about half-way through the main missions, plus doing every side mission & gathered 100% of resources in the systems available to me so far, & I’ve gathered over 3000 assets.  The max is 5000.  According to my bar, I’m at over two-thirds my max possible EMS.  We’ll wait & see…

It’s been a long ride, but the end is in sight.  And I get the feeling it’ll be one hell of a ride.

– GamerDame

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