Mass Effect First Impressions

7 02 2008

I’m a bit late to the game on this one, literally.

Mass Effect hit last November, I believe, and I passed on it. Why? Because it’s a Bioware RPG (yay!) but it’s also a SHOOTAN GAEM on the 360 (boo!). Yon disabled paws are very bad at those… not only are the triggers tough to access, but the concept of using two little rubber thumbsticks instead of a mouse and keyboard just confuse the hell out of me.

But I was highly interested in the game itself, so I waited until it FINALLY showed up for rental (since it was perpetually rented out) and today, I went for it. I’m just past Eden Prime and the Council meeting, and here we go with some reacts.

SHOOTAN: This is a mixed bag. I’m using the easiest, most casual difficulty settings — which I’m very thankful for — and I CAN play, but I’m still fumbling about some. I hit A instead of pulling the right trigger to shoot, I keep forgetting to “zoom in” with the left trigger, and enemies are either tiny dots on the horizon shooting the crap out of me or are zerging me and I can’t seem to lock onto them until they’re eating my Generic Prettyboy Commando Partner’s face.

Other than 6 pixel high bad guys pounding me, this isn’t exactly the game’s fault; it’s my complete lack of shootan skill. I can blaze in TF2 with the best of ’em but on the 360 I’m all thumbs. Still, I gotta say this is an innovative approach; sort of a SHOOTAN RPG, complete with GOW style stop-and-pop cover shooting. …another skill I have absolutely zero ranks in. I keep planting myself behind some obstacle (usually the wrong one, like something too tall) and can’t seem to actually pop out and shoot properly.

Knowing this, I picked Engineer… from the class description it sounded a bit like a Defender/Corruptor, someone who plays support role to buff and debuff while you let your AI buddies unleash hot lead on everything that moves. Except they aren’t really unleashing much of anything. They seem content to miss wildly or do very little damage… while leaving it up to My Support Character to kill baddies with my surprisingly powerful and accurate pistol. They won’t even use their special abilities. I DID enable that in the options menu, full AI, go to town, kill things and don’t sit around waiting for orders… do I really have to manually call out every target?

I’ll probably re-roll as Soldier instead, since the game seems to rely on you to be the point man and offensive juggernaut. Hopefully the Soldier’s beefier combat stats and thicker armor will make up for my lack of talent, and my support AI characters will buff/heal me without needing micromanagement.

STORY: Now we have the redeeming factor — an amazingly well crafted Bioware story with great characters and fun world details. Exploring the Citadel, meeting people, chatting them up, etc… all amazing. I almost wish the game was nothing but this stuff, but I doubt anybody’s gonna make an RPG that’s all convo trees… where’s the challenge? Still, the majority of my time not spent being killed by tiny robots while I try to figure out why I’m facing a wall was spent talking to interesting folk, and I’m down with that. I’m SO down with that.

The only negative is that the staple “Selfless Paladin” and “Skeletor + Hitler” model is in play, albeit tuned and toned considerably since NWN days and even since Jade Empire days. Most of the “Renegade” options are still a little too “Be Needlessly Dickish To Everyone,” and I’m constantly hesitant to pull the trigger on the naughty responses for fear of losing access to a side quest or failing one… but, it’s an improvement from the “Your thanks are enough for me, good sir” versus “Let me eat your babies” approaches of yore.

One of these days someone’s gonna perfect this concept, providing a variety of reactions beyond just being compassionate or selfish. We need more antihero responses, more snark, more panic, more scheming, and more assurance that playing the game with our own personality ideas (notably more negative ones) isn’t going to screw up our game. More NPCs who notice when you’re a joker or a straight shooter, and sidle up to you because they like that, or start to spot when you’re acting “out of character”… complete with the ability to explain why. (“Normally you’d bust on that guy for his bad attitude. What gives?” “He reminds me of my father.” etc.)

CONCLUSION: Since my primary problem is the combat mechanics of SHOOTAN RPG, I’m gonna re-try as a Soldier. If the Shootan is easier to deal with (my teammates don’t croak, I’m not constantly juggling menus for power picks) then I’ll buy the game, since I’m enjoying the story tremendously despite the occasional predictable alignment option.

But if I can’t physically play it, well, A) I’ll feel like the world’s most pathetic gamer, B) I don’t like feeling that way, and C) hopefully it’ll just get a Windows release at some time and then suddenly I’ll be massively capable of playing it.

EDIT: Did some initial fights with Soldier… it’s definitely a step up. The auto-aiming is ridiculously powerful with the assault rifle, unlike the handgun. For someone who likes to blitz through fights to get to the story it works well. I’ll see how I fare all the way through New Eden with it, then probably get the game.

EDIT #2: More impressions follow in comments! Some of the mechanics like Renegade I was worried about are actually developing in interesting ways.

EDIT #3: Went ahead an ordered a fresh spanking new copy of the game. Playing as an assault unit covered my team’s lack of assertiveness AND my lack of aim, and going for broke on the Renegade options actually revealed that the dialog concepts are not always cut and dry. Yay! …now, back to City of Heroes Double XP Weekend, Already In Progress. c.c;

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24 responses

8 02 2008
scriviner

They do make games that are all conversation trees. They’re called Dating sims. :p
I never actually played the game myself, but one of my friends played (and finished) it, and I was watching through most of it. He did it two ways, one completely Paragon style one and one completely Renegade one. What I found interesting was that both give you a potential option to avoid certain fights by either being charming, or threatening, which I’d never seen in a game before (I don’t really game much except for CoH), so I thought it was refreshing.

8 02 2008
thrikreen

Well, glad you’re enjoying it! =)

8 02 2008
loopychew

I’ve noticed that you will log and complete quests even if you refuse them (if the option is available). Apparently, just taking the time to consider the quest (and making your call as to whether or not you’ll take the job) is enough for the game purposes, so don’t worry about whether or not acting like a dick will cut off potential questlines.

8 02 2008
omahdon

I’d like to see Bioware do something with the alignment system that’s on par with Planescape: Torment, which had some of the most robust and interesting choices of its day (probably still, but I can’t play the game any more due to excessive wordiness – it appears my ability to sit through long stretches of text has evaporated with time). It’s AD&D’s typical Good vs. Evil/Lawful vs. Chaotic system, but it seemed to work on a kind of axis – You can be Lawful without being Good, you can be Chaotic without being Evil.
For example, at one point in the game you have to choose what to do with a pickpocket who’s just tried to relieve you of some of your dosh – Do you A) give the thief a good earful on the injustices of man vs. man before letting him go, netting you Neutral (if not Chaotic) alignment points while remaining in the realm of do-Gooding Paladins; B) give the lecture followed by snapping his neck, ensuring that hard justice has been served and giving you Lawful alignment points, while plunging you towards Neutral (if not downright Evil); or C) demand the thief return what he stole from you, and when he gives you back too much give back what property isn’t yours, give him the lecture and then let him go on his way – which I’m pretty sure is the ultimate Lawful Good option.
Which is to say nothing of other non-alignment related choices, such as observing the way the pickpocket engages in conversation with you to pick up some pointers in the art of thieving – or maybe even not noticing the thief has his hand in your pocket at all due to poor observation and a low DEX score. That’s a mad amount of conversation options for what’s meant to be a random thief character you meet on the street.
As for me, I just finished up Persona 3, that OTHER RPG that came out of nowhere and started winning some (well, at least one) RPG of the Year Award over Mass Effect. That was some good old-fashioned JRPG fun, with the introduction of some rather new concepts for JRPG fun.

8 02 2008
danel4d

The game is weird about the difficulty, really – I have no particular skill at Shootan game (though having picked up a 360 largely for Mass Effect, I also picked up and enhoyed Half Life 2) but once you get about half way through it things become really easy, depending upon how you level up.
I mean, even on the second hardest difficulty level, my Soldier survived for a long time against the final boss without me touching the controller.
But yeah, earlier on, and with some missions in particular, things feel damn frustrating (some of the bosses are just hell). Soldiers have an advantage levelling up in that you don’t actually have to make them a master of all weapons, just focus upon the assault rifles – giving you a surplus to spend elsewhere.

8 02 2008
agermain

Well… it *can* close off side-quests if you’re not careful about when to pick the bad-guy response.
If it’s significant to the plot, though, the game won’t accept a negative answer from you for long!

8 02 2008
agermain

Really, you’ve already encountered the most ‘needlessly dickish’ option in the game. Most of the other dickish options are actually a *lot* more interesting than that, especially if you pop the red Intimidate options. (which, as you probably already figured out, buff your charm or intimidate as much as you can)
Apparently, you want to get your NPCs levelled in one or two skills first, then do the rest. You *can* micromanage to some degree, for example put the sniper rifle in someone’s hand and right-D-pad them to take some guy out. But yeah… it probably *is* a lot easier to go through as a Soldier the first time. I did, just because that’s what I always do, but now that I have the mechanics of the game down, Vanguard (combat/biotic) is easy-peasy.
Just make sure to equip your peeps with armor and weapon upgrades you can’t use yourself, level up their skills when the time comes, and you should be a’ight once you level up decently. BTW: The auto-level-up for squad-mates sucks, just do it yourself so you can specify the skills you *want* them to have.
Oh, re-reading your post… there *is* consequence to your actions, though it’s very subtle. I still can’t get Kaidan to talk to me; I’m not a dick to him, but I don’t really *encourage* him. In some cases, the NPCs *do* remember when you pick the bad options, and change their dialogue accordingly. And… they do comment on major plot changes too, depending on the approaches you take.
Sounds like you enjoy it so far, though, I’m glad. I know one thing — I haven’t liked any RPG enough to go through it twice in the same month before. :)

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

“Depending on how you level up” is the scariest phrase in gaming history. (See also: Final Fantasy Adventure, which I got 95% through and then could go no further because the final sub-boss was immune to every tactic that had gotten me there.) Any tips?

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Yeah, I’m seeing as I try to purposefully pick the Dick options that while they LOOK ultradick from the radial menu… the way they play out is just you being a hardass. Even when you mug people at gunpoint on Eden your teammates complement you for showing those smuggler bastards what for.
The alignment system isn’t quite as bad as I’d assumed it was given initial impressions. I still worry that being a relentless Renegade will close off avenues to me, and not just “save the widows and orphans!” ones, but we’ll see how it plays out.
As for Kaiden, screw him, I’m going alien lesbians. :D Assuming that Renegade doesn’t lock me out of that. But since these aliens have some really interesting cultural/psyche backgrounds, I think she might not mind.

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I’ve actually considered writing dating sims at various points. It’s still one of those “Things to do when you have no project” options open to me. But Japanese style datesims where there’s actually very little choice in what you say and do and it’s all about hammering every available option until time mystically moves forward, no… I’d probably make it more like an Endless Biowarean Chat Tree, where the puzzle is in how you deal with people.
Other than constantly punching people in the head or threatening to blow their brains out, Intimidate’s been interesting so far in that you’re almost always “in the right” to some degree when you use it. Sock a guy in the noggin? He was a loony and was bound to cause a dangerous situation, so you’re clear. Threaten to murder a civvie in cold blood? He was a criminal holding back vital supplies that you needed to help save his world. Etc. It’s panning out better than I thought it would.

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

If I do pick this up (and it’s leaning towards a yes!) I’ll be sure to get a new copy, so Bioware sees some cash, rather than lining GameStop’s pockets with craven used-game pawn shop gold. :D

8 02 2008
raigne

It took awhile to release jade empire on pc, so hopefully if they’re planning to release it, it won’t be that long.
I completely agree that the options in most RPGs for how you play your character suck. There are some NPCs I’d love to be an ass to and some whose personalities should get dark humor, and yet, you can’t act the part. It irritates me in all the nwn mods I play because I generally play a chaotic aligned character, and while there are always lawful shifts in dialog, there’s very rarely any chaotic ones.

8 02 2008
raigne

And EA too. :( I will forever be torn by this. One the one hand, EA bad, must boycott… on the other… I love bioware.

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

This is actually a qubble I have with D&D in general.
Best example is the Bard. A Bard can’t be lawful. That means in D&D games, particularly computer games which are math engines more than a DM would be… if you pick the “good guy” responses and don’t do some close word choice scrutiny you have a chance of accidentally locking yourself out of your class abilities just for being nice.
Alignment is a silly concept. I’d rather my convo choices reflect personality than some arbitrary decision if I’m “chaotic” or “naughty” or whatever. Those systems don’t take into account things like snark, humor, or selective badassery.

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

The Evil Alliance is not QUITE as bad as they used to be.
At the very least they understand how to be a supportive publisher. They’re the ones who got Rock Band and the Orange Box on the shelves, after all — they’re also letting Will Wright go nuts with Spore even if it means delaying it a bunch of times. They challenged Tony Hawk with the innovative Skate title and made it more than a cash grab but an actual move forward with the entire concept of skating games. Etc.
That said, many of the internally developed EA titles, and I’m looking at YOU, Various EA Sport Series, are stuck in a rut and are shining examples of hideous eye-rolling sequelitis.
As for whether or not they treat their employees like galley slaves anymore, I don’t know, since I’m hardly an insider. I’d hope they’ve figured out that.. yeah, that’s not cool, don’t do that, kthx.

8 02 2008
Anonymous

So how are things with COH so far? I suspect the serverswon’t start getting hit hard till tonight. I don’t know if you saw the post by Lighthouse on the forums yesterday that warned that they may end up ‘locking’ some servers if the load gets too high and performance takes a hit. Should make for an interesting weekend.

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I won’t be COHing until tonight, when I’m available to do so. Hopefully things won’t be too bad.
In my experience (notably COV launch, etc) the only real hell during an event is lag when working in outdoor zones. Once you’ve instanced into a mission (and 90% of the game is instanced, thank god) things aren’t too bad.

8 02 2008
raigne

It’s good to hear that they’re getting the message. I’m still waiting to see though. If bioware’s able to keep making titles that are the quality they have been, I’ll re-evaluate my position. The sports games are still troubling to me. I don’t play them. I don’t like sports. But EA holds exclusive licenses in that area that mean they don’t really have to worry about competition as much as with other genres. There isn’t as much motivation to make those games good, so they don’t.

8 02 2008
raigne

Yes. I know exactly what you mean. The bard is one of my favorite classes. I ran up against this again when I made an arcane trickster in NWN2. Luckily I had all of the levels of it before I slid over the line, but this was the OC. The OC itself didn’t have enough options that were chaotic instead of just evil to keep me in my chosen alignment. The only one I can think of off the top of my head that was completely my play style is the very beginning where you’re on patrol for the city watch. You can allow the guards to keep taking bribes as long as they funnel information about the thieves to you. Everyone wins. The guards can feed their kids and you get useful intel.
That’s the only chaotic good option I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more, but there certainly weren’t many. Especially for a female PC who’s interested in pursuing the unsatisfying romance with the paladin. Which reminds me… he broke his oath. Why’s he get to keep his alignment and I don’t?

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Full agreement, there. The whole “We’re The Only Game In Town, And Our Games Suck” thing is ridiculous. I’ve never approved of that and I never will.
That said, EA is divided into distinct entities… and while the EA Sports entity is Evil, and the EA Sims entity is Boring, the other entities are starting to clue in and produce some good stuff.

8 02 2008
kowh

If you’re late to the game, what does that make those of us without 360’s? ;)
At least a PC version seems inevitable, if not likely to come out anytime soon. The sequel for the 360 may even come out before the PC version does…

8 02 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Addendum: EA Mainstay Admits They Screwed Up Bullfrog, Origin, and Westwood. And that they’ve learned from those errors and will be giving joints like Bioware and Pandemic more freedom to develop.

9 02 2008
raigne

That makes me happy. Hopefully they practice what they preach. Unfortunately, Blizzard’s not a good example to use right now. We haven’t seen how their merger will affect them yet.
And the EA Sims section I had to give up when I decided to boycott. :x They’re boring after awhile but I still reinstall the ones I have every few months and dick around with them.

17 02 2008
lumenadducere

I know this is a little old, but here’s my advice:
For a Soldier, all you really need is the Immunity ability. Make sure you do the sidequest that takes place on Earth’s moon (Luna) and you’ll get your specialization class. Both of the ones you can choose (each class gets two to pick from) will let you spam Immunity once they’re leveled. After that Soldier effectively becomes god mode. Level up your weapons and you’re set.
Engineers are an odd combination of an AoE and Debuffing character – all of their main attacks both do radial damage and have side effects (disabling shields/weapons, poison damage, etc.).
I’d highly recommend playing as an Adept later on. The CC is fun to mess around with, and if you give them a bonus weapon talent (you’d need to unlock it with your Soldier) they can do damage with that as well. A lot of the biotic abilities also do damage, though it’s more incidental (Singularity, for example, causes collision damage when they hit crates and such while floating around). When outdoors a Lift + Throw combination is almost always an instant-kill, as well.
There’s a lot of good info on the official forums, if you ever have time to peruse them. You may have to search, but you’ll find some good stuff.

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