As Mark mentioned, he was excited about Mass Effect long before it came out. After getting so involved in watching him play BioShock and then learning that Mass Effect was from the same people, I got pretty excited, too. I fear, though, that BioShock has ruined me for all other games, because its level of plot was so high and engaging, and it was so darn pretty. Mass Effect didn’t push BioShock off the top of my list, but it didn’t disappoint, either.
I was around when Mark played through Knights of the Old Republic as well, and as you might be able to tell from my old review from back then, I didn’t like it that much. A lot of the packaging annoyed me, to the point that I couldn’t get truly involved in the plot and didn’t enjoy being in the room with the game. Mass Effect is very much the same style of game, as Mark pointed out, but much, much better from my perspective, because they have moved far beyond all the things that irritated me.
Again Mark chose to play a female character, but she didn’t look like a pandering sex symbol. (I forgive them the tight clothes, because the designers were fairly equal opportunity in their desire to avoid having to deal with flowing cloth, and I’m told that breast molds on chest armor may well never die.) The art is consistently excellent and sometimes startlingly realistic, and the range of choices presented for character creation are lots of fun to play with. My other main peeve with KotOR was the repetitive looping of the “alien languages,” and that was easily solved in Mass Effect by the expedient of having everyone speak the same language, all the time.
This actually leads nicely into one of the things that I thought was a great strength of Mass Effect. Though the comparisons to KotOR are inevitable, because it was not held to the already created Star Wars universe, the creators were able to make it a much richer game. Their imaginations ran free, and the amount of detail they created and put in is astounding. For example, every single planet in every single star system you can visit has a detailed description of its surface, atmosphere, composition, and notable features, whether you can land on it or not. There’s a backstory to everything, and enough references to social and societal details that you really feel like you are in a 3D world, not a 2D set, and it promises a rich setting for future games, as Mark said.
The main reason it didn’t knock BioShock off of my top spot is because, for a spectator who doesn’t actually like playing the games, it didn’t offer as much to engage my attention during the parts that involved exploring or traveling to a goal. In BioShock, even I was invested in exploring every nook and cranny of every level, because there were tape recorders with tasty bits of plot to be found everywhere, not just in the “important” places. Mass Effect had items and artifacts scattered around to find when exploring planets and whatnot, too, but they didn’t add to my knowledge of the plot, and eventually, there’s only so much driving around on icy mountain planets and shooting at small contingents of enemy robot things that I can be entertained by.
Even when Mark was actually on the move to a major plot advancement point, it wasn’t always enough to capture my interest, because between the interesting conversation he had when getting the assignment or whatever, and the big named-character confrontation, there was a lot of running through hallways or driving on roads defeating all the bad guys. This isn’t RPG anymore, it’s just shooter. Boring to watch. Call me when something interesting is going to happen.
But it’s still significant that I was invested enough in the plot that I did want him to call me back into the room for the plot points. The story is engaging, and you have a definite overall goal you are working towards. A major character betrays you and your party during your very first mission, giving you a personal reason to want to track him down, as well as giving your superiors a reason to order you to do so. As you track him down, a much larger plot is revealed, so that you really do get to “save the world!” in the end. The final scenes have enough of a sense of cinematic urgency to them that I stayed for the whole thing, running around, fighting, and all. For me, it would have perhaps been more interesting to watch if Mark had simply followed the main plot all the way through, but many of the seemingly inconsequential side quests end up having bigger significance later, so I suppose his thorough playing style payed off.
Maybe a good way of summing up the difference between the BioShock and Mass Effect play is that BioShock is absolutely plot driven, whereas Mass Effect is world driven, with plot to keep the game moving forward in an interesting and coherent way. I certainly enjoyed both of them, if for different reasons. I look forward to more games in this world.
As a final bit of amusing trivia, when Mark was playing the game through again on Insanity, he kept dying and having to come back to the same place. I was in the other room, and I kept hearing the pre-fight conversation with the Matriarch over and over. About the third time through, I called out, “Why does the Matriarch sound like Counselor Troi?”
*typing on the nearby computer as Mark calls up the voice actor list*
“Because it is Counselor Troi.”
My childhood growing up watching TNG has not been wasted.
-posted by Dana