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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mass Effect Retrospect

Welcome back to The Illusive One’s Reviews and…


            Fuck yes!  I love Mass Effect.  The stories, the characters, the concepts, the environments, I love them all.  If I had to choose one video game franchise on this Earth that I could save from complete annihilation it would be Mass Effect.  And guess what’s coming out next Tuesday?  MASS EFFECT 3!!!!!!!  And I am super fucking hyped!  As some of my long time readers will know, last year I did a series of posts on Dragon Age: Origins to get ready for the coming of Dragon Age 2 and I figured it was about time that I give Mass Effect the same treatment.  But unfortunately time got the better of me and I’ll have to condense it down to one post.  So rather than making this a Mass Effect-athon, it will just be my personal retrospective of the series as a whole thus far.  It will contain my thoughts on the first game, its DLC, the second game, its DLC, and my thoughts on the demo.  And for those of you who are wondering what happened to my look at The New 52, don’t worry.  I’ll finish that up as soon as I’m done with this.  MASS EFFECT GETS PRECEDENCE!!!  So, without further ado, I give you The Illusive One’s Mass Effect Retrospect. 

Mass Effect

            The first and arguably best of the Mass Effect games takes place in the distant future where humanity has become part of an intergalactic community, known as the Citadel.  You play as Shepard, the first human in an elite group of fighters known as the S.P.E.C.T.E.R.S. and are on a mission to stop a rouge S.P.E.C.T.E.R., known as Saren from bringing an ancient race of machines known as The Reapers back to the galaxy and exterminating out all life within it.
So what made this game work or didn’t work?  Well get ready for a long pros section because there is a lot to like about this game.  The storyline that is nothing short of phenomenal with a fantastic universe to take place in.  The universe itself is ethnically rich, with a huge history featuring various cultures and alien races within a society that is probably the best that I have ever seen in all of fiction.  I know that’s a big claim, but for me, this is true.  Each race in of them is fascinating.  The Krogan are awesome, the Turians are cool, the Salarians and Asari are interesting and there are a ton of other races that I can’t even think of right now.
And this may surprise some people but I love the government systems and social structures in this game.  Unlike other franchises like Star Wars or Star Trek, it felt real.  Alien races view humanity, new comer to the Citadel as usurpers and feel that they are the bullies of the galaxy and fear their rise like any other race or politician would.  It’s easily the most realistic government system that I’ve seen in any space opera and is something of itself that deserves praise.
The main storyline itself is also really impressive as it takes inspiration from high fantasy, much like Star Wars but still keeps the realistic tones to it.  The Reapers are among the most fascinating villains I have ever seen in any fictional story line and remind me of The Great Old Ones from Lovcraftian fiction.  The plot points, the mysteries, and the moral dilemmas are all really good and the boss fights you battle kept me interested the entire time.
One of the more interesting things about this universe is that unlike Knights of the Old Republic, you’re not limited to just a handful of planets.  You have an entire universe at your fingertips full of interesting side missions full of characters and plots that are just as interesting as the main plot and add depth to a vast universe.
And because this is a BioWare game there are some memorable characters in it as well, (although not nearly as many as BioWare’s other games).  Captain Anderson is easily one of the best mentor type characters I’ve seen in a video game.  He’s one that offers Shepard advice, is supportive when should be and critical when he needs to be.  And unlike some of the other mentor characters that have come and gone, he is one of the few that will get his hands dirty and is more than capable of handling himself.  It also helps that he’s voiced by Keith David and anyone who has heard of this guy will know what I mean.
Seth Green as Joker is an amusing character and the Quarian, Tali and the Asari, Liara are also pretty likeable to but the best characters in this game, in my personal opinion, are Urdnot Wrex and Ashley Williams.  Wrex is one of those characters who manages to combine giving exposition on his race as well as having a lot of depth that I feel some of the characters lack.  He’s one that want’s to help his race but sees the futility of it and feels that his race is doomed and is one that you can sympathize with.  He also has a really likeable attitude and it makes him one of the most interesting, memorable characters I’ve ever seen in a video game.  Ashley Williams is a character who seems to represent the conservative point of view of humans, (A conservative marine.  Imagine that.), and this in turn makes her interesting.  She also has a good backstory and is one that adds depth to her character.
But despite all the good I’ve had to say about this game, there are flaws to it.  For me, personally, the biggest one is our protagonist Shepard.  Oh my god, I hate this guy.  He is easily one of the blandest heroes I have ever seen in any videogame.  For starters his voice actor is very monotone, with little emotion in his voice when critical things are happening and his facial expressions never change.  It’s like Liam Neeson if they took out all the badass or Paul Rudd if they took out all the funny and just annoys the crap out of me.  Not to mention, his interaction with other characters doesn’t really come off as well…interaction so much as monitoring everything.  You don’t get any sense that he actually cares about what is going on or if he cares about the people under his command.  It seemed like they were trying to make him the blank slate that everyone could jump into but they just succeeded in making a very blank protagonist.
Some of the characters also have flaws that I have a hard time getting past.  For as likeable as Tali and Liara are, it’s pretty obvious that they’re only there to provide exposition on their races and Liara with the relics you uncover.  For as much as I like Garrus, he’s also a pretty boring character as well.
Other flaws start to emerge when you look at the general gameplay, as it seemed like BioWare wasn’t sure if it wanted to make a 3rd Person Shooter or an RPG.  The controls are stiff and clunky and make it difficult to fight at times.  The control layout is also a little odd with some irritating design choices, (like having the Select button be the grenade thrower) and it’s a little hard to get used to. 
The last major flaw that I saw in this game had to do with the space travel.  While there were many different worlds to be seen and a lot of quests to be had, a lot of the bases/mines/facilities for the side quests had the exact same design and that was a bit distracting.  But hey, it could have been worse.  It could have been like Skyrim where the main quests looked exactly like the side quests.  HA! SUCK IT SKYRIM FANBOYS!

But those flaws aside, this was a great game.  While some of the characters were flawed, they still left an all-around good impression.   Shepard and some of the repeating environments were tolerable and you’ll get used to the controls pretty fast.  The bottom line is that this as a story driven game and all the other aspects are kind of just along for the ride.  But that’s also what makes the game so good.  It’s one where you’ll completely forget about any flaws it may have and you just want to see the next chapter in the story.  And in my book, that merits as a masterpiece any day and I proudly admit that this is easily one of my favorite videogames of all time.

All Around

Bringing Down the Sky

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the DLC for Mass Effect so I’ll just go straight to it.  Bringing Down the Sky is a piece of DLC where you go to a meteor that is being hurled towards a planet by Batarian raiders and will cause widespread devastation to the planet, (full of people), if Shepard doesn’t stop it.
So what’s good about it?  Well, the concepts for the mission itself are really good and the execution is flawless.  The fights to stop the jets from moving towards the planet are good and the final battle within the final facility is intense.  It also gives the player their first real look at the Batarians, who aren’t featured in the main game and shows, like all the other aliens, that they aren’t inhuman monsters; that they do have emotions and can think logically and the villain was pretty ruthless and made for a decent bad guy.  There was also a really good moral dilemma at the end where there was no right answer and I think that these kind of decisions need to be more prominent in these kinds of video games.
The only real “flaw” with Bringing Down the Sky is that it really isn’t much more then another side mission but at 80 Microsoft Points, it’s more than worth the money you’ll put into it.  If you played the game and loved it as much as I did its money well spent.


Pinnacle Station

            This one is really just an arena piece of DLC.  You basically just survive various modes in simulators for money, weapons, etc.  And that’s about it.  Nothing really more to say about it.  If you’re into that kind of stuff and could tolerate the gameplay I say give it a buy.  If not, then skip it.


Mass Effect 2

And now for the big one.  The one that everyone sung praises of.  The sequel that everyone loved even if they didn’t like the first, Mass Effect 2.  This game takes place two years after Shepard is apparently killed by minions of The Reapers and is brought back to life by the pro-human organization Cerberus.  Immediately after getting back into the action, Shepard is told by the organization’s leader, The Illusive Man that entire human colonies are being abducted by a race known as The Collectors and it’s up to Shepard to assemble a team soldiers to attack the Collectors at their home world and end their threat once and for all.
            So as you all probably know this game received universal critical praise and was a runner up for many Game of the Year Awards in 2010.  So, is it bad that I think this game is a little overrated?  Despite my love for this franchise this is a game that didn’t quite do it for me on all fronts.  Not that it’s bad, but I just don’t think it’s as good as everyone else does.  But don’t get me wrong.  I still love this game and played through it at least three times.  I just think that there are flaws to it that people have ignored. 
            But before I go there, let me go over what I liked about this game.  To put it simply, it improved on the first game in nearly every way.  So where should I start?  Well, the most apparent change is in the general gameplay as they had decided to go full blown third person shooter with it, but still kept the RPG elements with leveling up and upgrading your abilities and such.  This time around, the combat gameplay was smoother and made the combat a lot more fun and easier to manage. 
The individual missions are also really fun and are made more so by the new fluent controls.  While they usually consist of either recruiting a team member or dealing with his/her baggage they are fun, challenging and offer great situations and scenarios for the player to overcome.  They also have a new weapon system where you can get new weapons but are limited to a certain number of types such as a semi-automatic assault rifle or a fully automatic assault rifle.  Upgrades for them are limited to whatever you can find or buy but I feel like it’s an improvement over the original, mainly because I felt that the inventory system in the first game was a little too big and complex for its own good. 
The graphics have also been radically improved upon with everything looking a bit more lively and colorful.  The computers actually look like computers, the walls actually look like wall and facial expressions are a lot easier to read. 
The final major improvement they made in this game has to do with the characters as the voice acting, dialog and general characterization is a lot better.  The characters have more personality, their personal dilemmas are well done, and by the time the game is over you will care about all of them.  I guess the best way to sum it up is to say that the acting and dialog in this game compared to that of the first is like comparing the acting and dialog in The Dark Knight to that of Batman Begins.  And I think that’s a fair evaluation.  Even the crew members of The Normandy are somehow still interesting and you will want to keep them alive.  And of course it also has The Illusive Man, one of the greatest video game characters I have ever seen.  He’s just one of those characters that kept you on your toes the entire time, just wondering what he will do next and it looks like this will be expanded upon in the next game and is something that I am looking forward to.
But then we come to my issues with the game.  The main one is that the story and characters seem really underwhelming when compared to those of Dragon Age: Origins and Knights of The Old Republic.  And yes, I am aware that’s like saying that the characters and story in Breaking Bad are better than those of Mad Men or some other great AMC show, but it’s still something that I’ve a hard time looking past.  And it’s also really obvious to me that this game was just made as set up for Mass Effect 3 and, as anyone who know you will tell you, I hate it when games do that.  The only other thing that bugs me is the resource gathering mini game.  Oh my God, I hate this mini game.  It’s tedious, boring and they make you do it in order to upgrade your weapons and ship and pisses me off beyond belief.  And while they improve Shepard a great deal in this game, I’m still not a fan of the character or voice acting and these things really bring down the game for me as a whole. 
All around, this is one of those games that was great, but I felt was very overrated and didn’t leave nearly as much of an impact as the first game.  And for me personally, this represented a turning point for BioWare, where they started making their games appeal to appeal to a wider audience and almost has abandoned what originally made their games so good.  But that’s just a personal issue.  The key words here are as good.  It’s one that I would definitely recommend to the average gamer, and does progress the story, has great gameplay, missions and characters and is more than worth anyone’s time.

All Around

The Cerberus Network

            And now for the DLC of this game.  First off we have The Cerberus Package; a bundle of DLC that came with anyone who bought the game new and included the character Zaeed and his mission The Price of Revenge, The Normandy Crash Site, and a series of very odd missions where you fight Geth over artifacts or something.
So what works with this DLC?  Well, for starters Zaeed is a great character and is a welcome addition to the cast.  He’s got great merc attitude with a ton of interesting stories to tell.  His backstory regarding the Blue Suns is also pretty interesting as well and provides you with a new take on the organization and his loyalty mission is intense and well done.
In The Normandy Crash Site, it allows you to go to the wreckage of the original Normandy and put you though “emotional” flashbacks.  I put the emotional in quotes because there really isn’t anything emotional about it.  You’re just going through wreckage collecting dog tags.  That is with the sole acceptation of where you find Navigator Pressley’s data pad which offered new insight to the character.
Those odd missions with the Geth I mentioned were totally useless and will just frustrate you.
All around I’d say get this one if you have the money/points to spare.  While Zaeed is a great character and addition to the game, The Normandy Crash Site is a bit of a mixed bag and the last part is just annoying and I suggest you weigh the pros and cons for yourself.


Stolen Memory

            This piece of DLC introduced yet another new character, Kasumi, a thief hired by The Illusive Man to help you in your mission.  And there really isn’t a whole lot to say about this one, other than that it’s really good.  The character of Kasumi is really interesting and entertaining, her abilities are helpful, and her personal mission is innovative, interesting and intense and offers a bit more of the history of Earth before gaining mass effect technology.  It nailed what it was going for and I see no reason to criticize it.

All Around


            This piece of DLC follows Shepard as he goes to a Cerberus facility that is running experiments on the Geth and finds that the facility has been overrun by the machines under the control of a super computer that is trying to upload its programs off the facility.
            While it had a great premise, this DLC didn’t really feel like much more then another mission.  Their wasn’t really anything that interesting about it, I didn’t find anything particularly challenging about it, and the moral decision at the end doesn’t amount to much more than being nice or nasty.  Still, it is decent and if you’re looking to up your gameplay time I say give this one a play.  If not, I’d say skip it as it’s not a key part of the game


Layer of the Shadow Broker

            And now we come to what is easily one of my favorite pieces of DLC of all time, Layer of the Shadow Broker.  And good God, this one is good.  It follows Shepard as he gives information to Liara on the apparent location of The Shadow Broker, an information broker whom Liara has been hunting for two years.  After Shepard gives her the information, it leads them on a hunt for the Broker himself as well as anything that stands in their way.
            So what is so good about this one?  Well for starters, it gives you the chance to have Liara as a companion again which is really cool and here they give her more personality and was a welcome break from your other companions.  It also features a few innovative additions such as being able to dive a car in a high speed pursuit and a few detective sequences that I really missed from the first game.  It also helped that you had two really great and really intense boss battles that will keep you on your toes the entire time.  And I can’t go into exactly why, but I loved the solution to this addition.  I won’t spoil it, but it should suffice to say that it is one of the most satisfying conclusions I have seen to any video game mission ever.  It’s just an all-around perfect piece of DLC and I cannot recommend that you buy it enough.



          Layer of the Shadow Broker kind of represented a peak in BioWare DLC that the company still hasn’t been able to match.  And when you look at Arrival, you kind of wonder if they’re even trying to.  If follows Shepard as he’s asked by Admiral Hacket to rescues a friend and scientist from the Batarians, who was looking into possible Reaper activity.  And the rest of it kind of falls on a mediocre note.  The fights can be hard, but most of them aren’t really worth noting.  While there is one fight that is pretty intense, it’s ultimately diluted by the fact that you can’t die.  And the fact that you have to do this mission solo just annoys the crap out of me.
            The only thing that I think really holds up about this one is the ending, as it will blow you away.  I mean, it’s just insane.  Add in a verbal confrontation with a Reaper and finally meeting Admiral Hacket face to face and it does give it a bit of weight.  But like the rest of Mass Effect 2, it comes off as being made just to build up for the third game and that just annoys me.  Unfortunately it is one that seems to be essential to the plot so that means you kind of have to get it.  But that sure as hell doesn’t mean that I can’t bitch about it.


           And that’s it for my Mass Effect Retrospect and as you can imagine, I am hyped for Mass Effect 3, and hope it proves to be the best of the three.  From what I’ve seen of the demo they have perfected the gameplay, added in multiplayer which is pretty fun, and seems like they may go back to the storytelling that made me love their games in the first place.  Do I have reservations about it?  Yes.  I do with any overhyped sequel but I am hopeful that it will prove to be a fantastic finale, and reaffirm my faith in BioWare’s capabilities.  So until next time, this is The Illusive One Signing off and wishing you all luck in your own battles against the Reapers.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, after spening half of my game time in Mass Effect 1 on elevators, I'll stick with Skyrim.

    Also, I hear the ending for Mass Effect 3 is a total bust.