Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mass Effect: First Impressions

I finally got my hands on the new sci-fi, tactical RPG, Mass Effect; the game many view as the spiritual successor to Bioware's other sci-fi epic, Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). And after having played a decent amount (about 12 hours of play time, and 15 if you counting reloading), I'm finally starting to "get" this game.

To everyone who enjoyed KOTOR, this has every bit of role-playing charm that that game offered, despite the lack of a Star Wars license. Having said that, you should be aware of its stark differences in combat. While KOTOR was billed as a turn-based, yet optionally real-time RPG, Mass Effect is much more the latter. You can still pause the game, but only to issue each party member to use an offensive/defensive power. None of these actions can be queued up and you have very limited influence over the movement of your other party members. After I had a few battles under my belt, I discovered that I was approaching the combat all wrong. If you look at it as more of a tactical shooter withRPG elements, you'll find yourself reloading your saved game much, much less.

Just as BioShock straddled the shooter genre line, so too does Mass Effect. For starters, you actually need to utilize cover. Don't worry, it's placed everywhere, with loads of crates and rectangular-shaped rocks. But instead of the "stop 'n pop" Gears of War gameplay, you'll need to strafe behind cover like in most other FPS games. Shields also work very similarly to those found in Halo, where you're can simply wait behind cover for them to reactivate. Circle strafing during the vehicle combat is also quite useful. For example, you fight your fair share of giant, Dune-inspired, sand worm creatures, and this tactic seems to work every time. But like I said, this game has it's fair share of RPG elements, though most of them won't hit full stride until you unlock more of the Biotic and Tech powers (let's just call 'em what they are.. Force Powers). Now that I'm at a much higher level, the combat has improved significantly over what I started out doing in the game's prologue.

The game does have some issues (namely, technical problems), most of which can be read about here. But my main problem with the game stems from the its failure to simply teach me how to play it. I'm not looking for a mandatory boot camp segment that holds my hand, but I was hoping for something more akin to Oblivion's brilliant first hour of play. Since you're being introduced to a huge game world with rather complex gameplay, I'd hope for a few pointers now and then. Instead I end up having to hunt through the manual or painfully learn the game's systems through trial and error. For example, the first time you come to a locked storage container, the game tells you little about how to overcome this obstacle. I must have reloaded my save 5 times trying to figure out that you needed to tap each face button fairly quickly to match the onscreen buttons. I also couldn't understand why I could only useMedi-Gels (ie: health packs) sometimes and other times I couldn't. Since there was no tooltip or visual cue on the HUD to inform me, it wasn't until I was 10 hours in that I learned they had a 60 second cooldown timer. I admit, the game does a great job documenting lots of information on the various alien races, technology, and history of the game world. However, I wish some of that effort was actually spent on helping the player learn how to play the game as well.

The nice part about this flaws is they're immediately overlooked once you've played enough of the game to understand the ins and outs. I'm well into the main story arc now, and it's been one of the best gaming experiences I've had this year. I'm already thinking about how I'll play it differently as a Renegade (ie: Dark Side) character on my second playthrough. So if you own a 360, you enjoy deep and engrossing gameplay, and don't mind a bit of a learning curve, then this is a must-buy, much like I'd say Super Mario Galaxy is a must-buy for all those Wii owners who are tired of playing Wii bowling. Even as I write this, I'm thinking I could be leveling up my party and exploring some uncharted worlds like a bad-ass Jedi Knight.. I mean Spectre.

If that didn't sell it for you.. How about a tastefully done alien love making scene?

A few other things to note:

+ New game plus
+ Absolutely gorgeous visuals
+ Huge game world
+ Lesbian romance
+ Brilliant voice acting and dialogue

- Money not very useful
- Most off-world side quests aren't too interesting
- Lots of loading, lots of pop-in graphical problems
- Inventory system could use a tweak


CresceNet said...
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