When I first started playing Mass Effect last week, I hated it. This is one game that makes a terrible first impression and probably loses players because of it.
After creating my character and watching a brief opening, I found myself thrust onto an alien planet with my two squadmates, and, after a tutorial that was at once bare-bones and overwhelming, I was killed by some disgusting reanimated corpses. Try again!
On a second attempt I made it through the area and came upon a couple of NPCs to talk to; I rushed through the dialogue since I was eager to learn more about the combat and how to actually play the game. The next area was more difficult, and I ended up dying again.
Just as I felt I was getting a hang of the combat, the level was over and it was back to cutscenes and dialogue. When I regained control of Shepard, she was in the office of the human ambassador at the Citadel, the major city of the game. This began a three-hour-long segment of running around talking to people, listening to exposition, and gathering my crew, all while I was itching to get back into the action.
To say the least, it takes a while to get used to Mass Effect‘s pacing.
The game had other problems at the start, too. While I was thrilled to be able to play as a female character, I was worried there would be a Fallout 3 sort of situation where the dialogue for the female character wouldn’t make sense, or other characters would refer to me as “he.” This fear came about because of a scene at the beginning where Shepard is talking to her two human squadmates about humanity’s place at the Citadel, and includes “beautiful women” on her list of “things humanity has to offer aliens”. Really, now? I could see how a heterosexual man might say this, but why would a woman objectify herself, reduce herself to a commodity that could be used to appease aliens? (Not to mention it is a nonsensical comment–all aliens are heterosexual males or lesbians who are attracted to human women that meet our own arbitrary beauty standards? That’s a lot of assumptions!) I found it hard to believe any woman would say that, let alone the Commander Shepard I was playing, who threatened a man at a bar for calling her “princess.” Fortunately, this is the only instance of dissonance so far I have seen between my character as I play her and what she says.
The first major alien species you really get to know is the Asari; I have so many problems with this group that they will be getting their own post. For now I will just say they are a strange, dark mark on what is otherwise an impressively inclusive game.
In particular, the game excels at racial inclusiveness. You can choose the race of your character–and you aren’t limited to white/black/Latin@/Asian like in Fallout 3–and many important and minor NPCs are people of color: both of your human squadmates, Captain Anderson, and the human ambassador are people of color. You help out a reporter named Emily Wong. You meet a South Asian man mourning for his wife, who died in combat. Many NPCs also have accents, like the British doctor on your crew and the Dutch medic at the Citadel. Mass Effect makes it clear that in the far future, all humans will be welcome, not just white Americans.
This inclusiveness is part of what kept me playing the game through all the endless dialogue, and I’m very glad I did, because now I’m really enjoying it. Having settled into the proper pace, and finally coming to terms with the combat, the game has actually become quite fun. The story is intriguing, the characters three-dimensional, and the flirting hilariously awkward. I’m looking forward to playing through the rest of it and writing about it here.