Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mass Effect 1 Redux

Over the holidays, and the past couple weeks since, as prep for the upcoming release of Mass Effect 2, I started up a fresh run through of Mass Effect 1 and managed to do something I’ve not done in a long, long time – finish a RPG a second time. I also went back and read my initial review of the PC version of the game. I was a bit too easy on it. (I gave it an A-.)

Now, don’t get me wrong as I stand by the text of the review. I still really like this game. The story arc and characterization are, for my money, about as good as it gets. In some ways I enjoyed this play-through even more because I went the Renegade route with my player character, which has some fun and chilling moments that I’m not used to seeing in these games, what with my penchant for playing a Big Damn Hero character. I did, however, let the game off too lightly in terms of what it didn’t do very well.

The side quests in the game (and there are many) are really a complete and utter joke, which really isn’t permissible when you consider just how short the main plotline for the game actually is. There’s the beginning of an effort that could have made these side quests fun, especially with regards to the ethically devoid Cerberus corporation. But nothing is really ever made of it, which makes these quests just a giant loose end waiting to be resolved. (Maybe in the sequel?)

I also love the idea of a Starflight-esque romp through the galaxy, roving around planets in an ATV and collecting resources and such. But the implementation isn’t just bad, it’s a complete and utter disaster. There are what? Three or four design templates at work for planet based structures and ship-boarding actions? It’s outright lazy. And, truly, don’t get me started on the mountainous terrain. I’ve read a lot of complaints about the ATV, but really, the ATV is fine (or at least adequate). It’s the constant zig-zag terrain that is, at times, completely un-navigable, that really kills the planet roving. There were times I was ready to heave my keyboard across the room.

It’s flaws as a shooter also stood out a bit more to me this time around. I still had fun with it, but your AI teammates constantly run in front of you when you’re shooting, shoot you in the back, and get stuck on edges of walls and objects. If it weren’t so easy to survive combats on standard difficulty it would be extremely frustrating.

Beyond those elements, however, I can’t say I had any complaints. Were I scoring it again I’d be looking at a B+, maybe a B if I’m feeling grumpy. It hasn’t, much to my relief, dimmed my expectations for Mass Effect 2 one little bit. If anything, the fact that there’s now so much for Bioware to build on with this IP has only raised my expectations. Frankly, I’m betting on an even better game than Dragon Age, and you people know how irrationally I loved that game. (Speaking of which, the Return to Ostagar DLC is finally coming out today. Something for my new rogue city elf to explore! Huzzah!)