Friday, December 30, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joyeux Noël

Happy Christmas, Everyone!  
I hope that you and yours have a wonderful day, and I'll see you again on the 28th.

Image: Source Unknown (Was sent to me by a friend)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Let's Talk About - Mass Effect & Final Thoughts

Bioware's website at one point describes Mass Effect as "Science-fiction roleplay perfected."  With an affinity for sword and sorcery themed games, I must admit to having little previous experience with science-fiction based roleplaying games.  In fact, the only other ones I have played belonged to the Knights of the Old Republic series - also of Bioware make.*  As such, I do not have much to compare this particular experience to, and I certainly do not have anything outside the realm of Bioware to consider.  Therefore, I will simply do my best to evaluate my experience as an isolated event or in relationship to DA:O - the other most recent Bioware I finished.

There post contains minor-ish spoilers in the "Story" section.
 at your own risk.

The Overall 

While Mass Effect was not necessarily everything that I felt it could have been, the game itself did not really disappoint either.  Despite the high praise this game received, and continues to receive from the gaming community, I was skeptical.  I also had high hopes.  More specifically, I had high hopes for Mass Effect's storytelling, and was skeptical about the combat.  As I'm sure you know by now, ranged combat has never been a strong point of mine.  The idea of being restricted to the use of guns, without the comfort of a sword or even a dagger, was quite nerve wracking at the time.  With the game completed, it is clear that I needn't have worried.  While ME's story is not perfect, it is certainly both strong and compelling.  Likewise, the game's combat system is far from perfect, but any issues that arrived with the system were due to in-game bugs and not to my own failings as a gamer.  More of that below.  Given my lack of experience with the Sci-fi side of cRPGs,  it is difficult to make a judgement regarding where this particular title stands when compared to similar titles.  Since it is unfair to evaluate ME beside something like The Witcher, or really even the KOTOR series (due to ties with the Star Wars franchise), I will simply say this.  Mass Effect is far from perfect, but lack of perfection does not necessarily speak to the title's overall quality.  This particular game is a jewel in Bioware's crown for a reason, and I would willingly replay it without hesitation at some point in the future.  Just let me work through some of the other titles I still have waiting in the wings first.

The Story 

On the whole, I felt that Mass Effect's story was quite strong.  I especially enjoyed the fact that, like with Dragon Age: Origins, ME's antagonist's actions were based on something other than pure evil.  In Dragon Age, Loghain's actions were seriously misguided, but everything he did was essentially driven by a love for his country. In Mass Effect, Saran is similarly misguided (or corrupted by Sovereign ), but his actions were initially motivated by a will to survive.  He saw joining the Reapers as the only way to save both himself and Citadel Space.  Even if it led to subjugation, at least everyone would still be alive.  The famous phrase "the road to hell is paved by good intentions," seems to sum up Saran's character best.  No matter how impure his "good intentions" may have been, they were still made in earnest.  The concept of a well-meaning, yet seriously flawed antagonist is by no means original.  It is also not even an idea exclusive to Bioware.  Yet, if written well it can be a powerful means to drive the player character's actions, and not just a tired plot device.  Few things are more dangerous than a "well meaning" individual who commits evil acts.  As such, the player character is given genuine reason to eliminate or contain the antagonist with "good" intentions.  Originally, during the suicide mission, I will admit to feeling like Saran's supposedly altruistic motivations were shoveled into the story for effect.  It was almost as if someone had forgotten to mention it earlier, and so here it was as a "by the way ..." moment.  During the final confrontation at the Citadel though, Meriel's glimpse of the Turian Saran used to be was well executed for maximum emotional effect.

I think that the only genuine gripe I have about Mass Effect is its story length.  It was almost too short.  Be advised that I really do realize the irony of this statement since ME took almost six months for me to complete.  Keep in mind though, that this unconscionably long play time was the direct result of a carpal tunnel flair-up which still plagues me from time to time.  In fact, I wear two wrist braces as I type these very words.  But no, the length I speak of is not so much measured in time as it is in content.  While Mass Effect is its own self-contained story, it is very much aware that it is the first in a series.  As such, the game introduces gamers to an epic world, yet wraps its story up just as players are getting comfortable with the setting, politics, characters, etc.  It's not that the game ended abruptly, it just seemed to wrap up rather quickly.  Remember how long the battle for Denerim was in DA:O?  That section of the game took me hours to complete, and at the end of it I genuinely felt like Perra and her crew had triumphed over a great evil.  While that portion was probably drawn out a little too long, its length served a purpose.  In ME  it was as if I would have missed the ending if I so much as blinked.  Most of the game's missions were relatively short by the standards of what I'm used to, and I was okay with that.  I just had not expected the final "mission" to be just as short.  This does not mean that Mass Effect a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.  It does, however, mean that ME is just a little too aware that loose ends needed to be quickly tied up before it could begin setting up the sequels.

The Combat

There really is not too much to say here.  Mass Effect is a combination of gun shooting, grenade launching, Jedi-like power unleashing, cover-based combat.  For what it is, it generally functions well.  During the battles where cover is essential, proper cover is always available - often in excess.  The ability to pause the game to set up shots was useful, and I also enjoyed directing Meriel's team to "scout ahead."  That really was not necessary, but it was nice to wield some power over her comrades since I could only directly control Meriel.  Mako fighting was likewise functional, but it became rather routine once you got your methods down.  I did enjoy driving the Mako along mountain tops though, and then picking off geth from an almost unreachable distance away.  Those machines never knew what hit them.  That never got old.  Overall, combat in ME was not enough to convince me that guns are better than swords, but the mechanics were functional enough that it did not get in the way of my enjoyment.  One major issue that did crop up though, was Meriel's inability to both hide and shoot. About halfway through the game, Shepard lost her ability to crouch behind a wall, quickly pop up to shoot, and then pop down again.  I cannot even begin to count the number of times she got stuck to a wall, could not disengage, and then refused to fire her gun - even as enemies were bearing down upon her at point blank range.  At other times, Meriel would simply refuse to use Vanguard powers.  This lead to a number of uncalled for deaths where Meriel's refusal to use Throw, at a pivotal point in time, resulted in her untimely demise.  Once I realized when the bug would not let Meriel fire her gun (I still have no clue why she would not use Vanguard powers 75% of the time), it was usually a simple matter of adapting my play-style to the game.  Even so, by the very end of Mass Effect, bugged combat had become the norm instead of the exception.  I'm not quite sure how much more I could have taken of that.

The Miscellaneous

This sounds like such a "girl" thing to take issue with, but I also have a major issue with the romance options in this game.  It is a well known fact that Bioware's depiction of romance has always been rather clumsily handled, but at least DA:O allowed for growth of the relationship.  I really hate to keep bringing DA:O back into the picture, because it and ME1 are different games, different franchises, and different development teams. ME1 is also older, and anything it has by the way of "romance" is more fine tuned than what we saw in the KOTOR series.  My issue, however, is this.  The initiation of romance was so sudden in this story that it felt as if the subject came out of no where.  One minute   Kaidan and Meriel were talking shop, and the next he was talking about how she was throwing him signs that she liked him.  Kaidan became overly friendly, and when Meriel shot him down he talked about having misread the signs.  He then becomes cold and distant.  To add to this mess, everyone on the ship was convinced that Meriel either held a torch for Kaidan or Liara despite all the professional issues that such romantic entanglements would create.  This also happened far too early in the game, well before Meriel had a chance to suss out either party and make a judgement on them or form any kind of personal connection.  As a result, the games seems to portray her (and thus femShep) as a woman who places romantic entanglements before her job.  It goes to reason that the same impression would be given of maleShep too, if I had been playing a man.  This particular approach stands in stark contrast with the image that Bioware has gone out of their way to craft for Shepard.  With a little better timing, the in-game romances would have still begun awkwardly, but they at least would have fit better with Shepard's out-of-the-box persona. As you probably noticed, Meriel ended up choosing to not let romantic interludes distract her from saving the galaxy.  For the story's sake, it was about duty.  In her mind though, it was also because her attraction lay elsewhere.  She was far more compatible, both personally and professionally, with Garrus.  It is  a shame that due to game restrictions Meriel did not have a chance to actually act on that connection she felt.  From a story perspective, however, it probably made for a stronger character.  The manner in which they clicked meant that she trusted him, above all others, to guard her back.  Their similar perspective on life also meant that he supplied necessary emotional support (admittedly without really meaning to ... we are talking more in terms of affirmation here) that no one else could give.  Without romantic notions clouding their connection, he was also able to offer criticism without worrying about the personal repercussions.  Either way it was a very beneficial professional relationship that could have eventually turned into more once the danger was past.  I suppose only time will tell what happens from here.

The Final Impression

Despite the items mentioned above, it is really quite difficult to say too many negative things about Mass Effect. At its core, this game is a solid, engaging science-fiction tale that gives you the chance to save man and alien kind as a figure operating outside of the law.  What you do with that power and responsibility is entirely up to you. While it does have its flaws, these issues generally do not weigh down that game or ruin the overall experience.  The game appears to have a limited amount of replayability as there is not too much to be gained from playing with different personal histories.  With a break in between plays, it would certanly be worth playing again for the story alone.  For instance, I was recently watching a Let's Play of Mass Effect, and noticed details from this person's playthough that had completely passed my by when I was still discovering the game and its world. Some things I had taken to be completely peripheral and meaningless, for instance, actually proved themselves to be portents of what was to come.  I also genuinely think it would be interesting to play the game from an all Paragon/all Renegade stance since this time around Meriel just did what she felt was best with little regard for these categorizations.  (Demonstrated awareness of game imposed morality "meters" generally treads too close to metagaming for my tastes.) It would also be interesting to see how the game plays from a male perspective instead of a female one.  I do not see most story options changing with a gender shift, but the overall tone of some events and individual encounters would certainly shift.

The Verdict

If you have not played ME1 yet, then I highly recommend you purchase the game and give it a try.

Also, it has Garrus.  How can you argue with that?

*Yes, I know that KOTOR 2 was really an Obsidian game, but it is inextricably tied to Bioware through KOTOR 1.  There are also story-based reason I personally call it a Bioware game, but those will have to wait for another day and topic.

ME1 - A War Begun

Meriel arrives on the Citadel as Sovereign tries to take control.  

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again

12/12/11 - This paper is going significantly slower than expected.  As a result, the posts mentioned here have been pushed back.  Expect them on the 18th. I will start playing catch-up on Mass Effect 2 (the game itself) beginning on the 16th as planned.  Have a good week everyone!

It is that time again folks.  No, I do not mean Christmas ... although that is just around the corner too.  I am actually talking about final paper due dates!  This is the absolute last time I plan on writing a graduate school paper, but in the mean time it is keeping me quite busy.  Tomorrow, when I take a break from researching Post-Colonial African Art, I will finish and post writing Meriel's last Mass Effect journals.  In addition to that, I have two other posts lined up that should take you through the middle of next week.  With Skyrim fever on hold, and papers due by the 15th of December, I plan on playing some serious catch-up with Mass Effect 2 when the 16th rolls around.   Just before Skyrim came out, I actually began playing Mass Effect 2, but I did not get very far before life took over again.  With graduate work out of the way, and thus evenings and weekends free, I plan to get back on a regular schedule and make it through ME2 in a timely manner.  I am so very sorry that ME1 took this long to finish.  Between unexpectedly heavy course loads, studying for comprehensive exams, and carpal tunnel flare-ups; there was unfortunately not much I could do about all that.

Here's to hoping that I did not lose you amidst all the delay, and I'll see you on the flip side.

Image: Source

Saturday, December 3, 2011

ME1 - Against the Clock

Saran's on the move, and time is running out as Meriel races towards the Conduit.

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.