Don’t Like: Mass Effect


I like video games a whole bunch. I don’t discuss them too much here. I like to think I’m a sort of casual/hardcore gamer. Okay that doesn’t make sense. Basically, I don’t play night and day, but when I get a few hours of down time I like to sit back and play the one game I’ve been playing for the last few weeks or so.

I have a general like of shooters. Mostly because some of the best games that have been made in recent years have indeed been shooters (Halo, Call or Duty 4, Bioshock). Halo, while being a muck of an overall story, does indeed have the best shooter engine and physics ever. That’s the reason the multiplayer is so beloved, it’s just so fluid and telling. COD 4 meanwhile is such a wonderfully immersive game, with great goosebumpy moments. And Bioshock is my favorite, not much replayability, but such great art design and some really story/thematic points to boot (it’s a criticism of Randian Objectivism, perhaps it was made just for me).

But most of all I love RPGs. I’m a sucker for story and immersion. I just am.

I particularly love the final fantasy series. Yeah, I completely understand that the series has a real particular set of flaws, most stemming from the fact it is uber-japanese themes and eastern storytelling, but they’re awfully unique even in their samey qualities. And they have the scope not just of a novel, but an entire series of novels. Outside of the FF series, I also have particular love of the elder scrolls series (Oblivion!) and their other revamp of Fallout 3, which took the same exact engine as Oblivion and managed to make a completely different feeling experience. Fallout 3 is just fantastic.

Which brings us to Mass Effect and it’s RPG/shooter hybrid shittyness.

First note, I’ve played Bioware games before. I’ve played the KOTOR series and thought they were pretty good-ish. It definitely lacking some of the organic qualities i loved in the eldar scroll and ff series, but it was essentially interesting storytelling. Then again I tend overvalue any star wars property and grade it a full letter grades above where it should be. When you like everything about a particular universe it’s just more fun. What can I say?

So I was very excited for Mass Effect, I’ve gone a long time without getting and heard some very good things … and now, having beat it… I am very, very, very disappointed. I seriously have no understanding of how it got that kind of love. It’s exceedingly repetitive. Go here. Find this base. Kill this thing. Seriously, the side missions are especially meaningles. People complained about Oblivion and those missions were terribly unique compared to this stuff.

And don’t even get me started on the sameness of the design. Lazy. Lazy. Lazy. Every cave, every planet, every mine, they’re all the exact same. Seriously, THE EXACT SAME MAP. Sometimes the same exact box layout. It makes every mission a paint by numbers exercize. And believe me, I’m a completionist when it comes to my gaming so it’s very, very boring.

In terms of story I didn’t give a shit about anyone, usually Bioware is a tad better than that even with it’s generic clunkiness. I could tell you every story beat right before it happened.

This hilarious chart is completely accurate.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. And Bioware doesn’t seem to get it either.

Look, I know and understand Cambellian Hero Story analysis just like everyone else whose been in high school. It’s great and is responsible for so many great stories. But it’s not a lame excuse for paint by numbers storytelling. With this generation it’s become the most lazy storytelling exercise in the world, because they just make a beat for beat version of Star Wars and claim it’s the Cambellian Hero Story! No it’s not, what makes those stories unique is originality of detail and way you make the story seem as if it’s different, not how strictly you adhere to it.  There’s virtually no distinction in HOW you emphasize those story telling points anymore and it Mass Effect was the best example.

What stinks about that is that the scope of Mass Effect is great, the sheer idea for building a fully explorable universe has just fantastic possibilities and the shooter aspect was actually pretty well executed, which makes the fact that it’s eventually a boring, pointless game all the more annoying. Look, I understandd how much it took to build something so big in scope, but when it came to subtle execution in giving each little corner it’s own distinction (and HELL a reason to even go there!) all we get is long semi-amusing paragraphs written about the planet. And for character? You ever hear of show don’t tell? Well instead of getting to see that character’s story in some fashion (you get in FF) or have it play into the story in some fashions (KOTOR, Elder Scrolls), the character’s background is just explained to you in the most boring dialogue options. Tali’s plight made me want to shoot myself in the face.

I’m sorry but it’s a lazy, lazy game in the end.

Compare it to the Final Fantasy series where the whole thing strings along in a fluid series of vignettes and starkly different looking environments and goals, and employs weird reality-dream-bending methods of storytelling… Some people don’t dig it and think it’s weird and I totally understandthat , but the last thing you can accuse the story telling of being is lazy.

I get it’s a matter of taste and what not, but COME ON. Bioware just keeps making the same-ish sort of game. I don’t get the universal adoration. Hell, Fallout 3 used the same exact engine as Oblivion and it managed to feel exceedingly different, all because of the nuance of detail. Even recent shooters like COD4 and Bioshock felt more like interesting stories, because they were organic, fluid, and detailed. The details are everything in video games and Mass Effect opted for the sparse boring map. Anytime a RPG gets shown up by a shooter is a big warning flag to me.

And look I’ll eat my hat if ME 2 improves on any of the repetitive qualities and the entire game was excuse to build an engine, but seriously. I don’t get it.

The ability to say something sarcastic in every dialogue option, does not a great game make.


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