Friday, June 13, 2008

Mass Effect's Shortcomings

I've spent every single evening this week playing Mass Effect in an attempt to get as far as I can in it before writing my Gameshark review; a review that's already a few days overdo thanks to the sinus infection I had last week and the long Wings playoff run. Not that I'm complaining about the latter, of course. I haven't finished the game yet (boo!), but at this point I think I've got enough of a handle on it to get a review done (yeah!).

Overall I remain very, very impressed with this game. That said, it is, predictably, flawed in many areas. This is the type of game that in many places is so unbelievably good that the areas where it fails to measure up really start to stand out after awhile. The sometimes inane behavior of your squad mates in combat is a pretty easy target. Let's just say it could be better and move on from that.

I've also really grown tired of the limited dialog options. I don't necessarily have a problem with the fact that most every response is of your generic good, neutral, evil variety. It's that how characters respond to your choices really doesn't change much and sometimes not at all. The dialog is very carefully crafted to feel seemless, but it doesn't take much reading between the lines to realize that many, if not most, of the NPCs have responses that will fit whatever option you choose. And even if something you say does merit a unique response, it's usually of the one to two sentence variety before the NPC jumps right back into the generic conversation tree. And, really, don't get me started on the love triangle with two members of your crew. I'm all for romances between characters in an RPG, but their dialog (and the dialog I have to choose from) is the stuff of high school romances. At this point in their development as developers, I really expect better from Bioware than that.

I also don't like that a lot of parts in the game, mainly in the side quests, get told to you rather than shown. Survey a planet and a text dialog narrates to you what you found. Complete a planet based side quest and -too often- you get a text dialog that narrates a quest summary to you. This aspect of the game reeks of underutilized potential. If I survey a planet, why don't I get a report (either audibly or textually) from Joker (the pilot) or someone else in the crew? It would accomplish the same thing, but at least it would be done within the context of the game universe and it would give a very underutilized ship's crew something more to do. (Another problem is that only the NPCs seem to have dialog that evolves with your progress in the game. The other members of the ship's crew have the exact same dialog options they had when I first took command of my ship. Ugh.)

Hopefully this doesn't leave the impression that I've soured on the game. It's still a great, great game. I'm leaning towards and A- at this point. But when sequel time comes (if it hasn't already), I hope Bioware takes a good look at some of the things they could've done better. For all the things Mass Effect does right (and there's a lot), there's still a ton of unrealized potential.