A decade after it came out, I finally decided to try Mass Effect. (Playing on an Xbox 360).
I’ve been talking with people of late about text and subtext and the kind of base assumptions stories make. In our charged political environment, there is a push by many people for entertainment to be “nor political”. There is, in many ways, no such thing. Those base assumptions are always around. The question is which ones are you accepting and which are you rejecting or subverting. But if you aren’t preaching at people, then it tends to be less irritating.
So having gone just to the point where I am about to get my own ship, I have a few thoughts.
1) It is almost absurdly pro-military.
You are a special military person. The military alliance is unabashedly the hero side. The military secret police is only a risk if they go rogue, and the implication is they should have powers above the law. (There is some push back from the police force, but not much.) The assumption is the military is above the civilian population, should be given free reign, and are generally default heroes.
2) It really does feel like they needed a replacement Star Wars. Spectres feel like Jedi with the serial numbers filed off.
The Spectres operate alone or in pairs. They council sends them places to handle operations the council can’t do openly. They are super soldiers, and also have awesome biotic (telekinetic) and tech control powers. Everyone is kind of impressed with them and they are mysterious, initiating people they choose who fit their criteria. They do track pretty well to the Jedi.
3) I really like a morality bar where both sides can go up.
I hear they get rid of it later, but I do like a system where you gain points in Paragon and Renegade separately, and actions don’t just move on one base scale up and down. I’m not sure right now if you can lose points in a given side or not, or if it just always additive. But I do like the sense of a more mixed system, allowing you to react in different ways at different times. I’d love games that have more of this sort of mixed morality system.
4) I’m not fond of bonuses for being more extreme. It would be nice for options favoring the even handed as well.
This is why I want a more mixed system. Bioware games seem to want to encourage role playing and consistent character by given you mechanical bonuses for being at the extreme edge of whatever morality you are at. (They do this with the relationship bars in Dragon Age as well, but it seems a bit less intrusive when it is tracking intensity of feeling.) It encourages being either a cartoonish Dudley Do Right or a vicious, rude jerk. Being a normal person who gets mad at some people and is more forgiving to others actually makes you less effective. I hate that.
5) I’m tired of “sex workers in space” as a trope.
There is a strip joint. You can even sit in a chair and watch a dance. I don’t think they would do that now, or if they did it wouldn’t only be sexy female aliens dancing. There is also the “Consort” who all species respect for her amazing companionship which isn’t just physical. It just feels tired as a trope. It can still be used well, but it needs a break, I think.
6) Kaiden is no Alistair.
I’m playing a female Shepard, and so far the obvious romance option (I presume Ashley is an option for a male Shepard) is not too interesting. They seem to have gotten better with this later.
7) Putting an annoying finicky mini-game in for lockpicking just makes things frustrating.
They give you a lockpicking skill, but then it makes you play a DDR-style minigame that is incredibly finicky. If you fail, you have to waste some of the magic omnigel to open it. It kind of cripples playing a support character because you don’t seem to really get the kind of benefit you should to open doors and storage. It just feels like extra padding in the game aspect, like additional level grinding or filler.