Mass Effect: First Impressions

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.

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13 thoughts on “Mass Effect: First Impressions

  1. I also found the combat and gameplay frustrating, and unfortunately, like so many Bioware games for me, I couldn’t enjoy the game and stopped playing after the first level. It’s strange that the game was made on the Unreal 3 engine and yet still feels so much like a 2002 Aurora engine, what with the frustrating camera and unintuitive menus. So much to love and so much to be annoyed with! Did you end up getting used to the gameplay and just living the bad parts, or getting used to the gameplay and eventually liking it?

    • I got used to the gameplay and now I LOVE IT. The story is awesome and the characters are interesting… I adore Tali in particular. And the shooting is actually pretty fun once you get used to it.

  2. The almost schizophrenic swings between inclusiveness and exclusiveness in Mass Effect make me wonder how much stuff ended up on the cutting-room floor, bumped out to appease Marketing – or better yet, the ideas that were never even brought up, not because they were bad but because they knew Marketing would shoot them down.

    • I know, right? They even have a character who happens to be disabled! This is leaps and bounds ahead of pretty much every major game ever! And then there is shit like the Asari and how all the female aliens have ONE body type. What. The. Eff.

      (By the way, can we please avoid comparing a game’s failings to real mental illnesses? In the interest of keeping this blog a safe a place as possible, it is offensive to people with mental illnesses to do so. In addition, it is not very accurate!)

      • Yes, all the female aliens had one body type, but so did the female humans, all the male aliens, all male humans, and the sexually ambiguous aliens. There was one body type for each alien species, and one for both genders of human males. I’m assuming that they either didn’t have the time or didn’t have the memory required to implement them.

      • Yes, but if you look at all the females and all the males across every species, all the females have very thin hourglass shapes; they all have bodies that are acceptably sexy according to our beauty standard (the Asari, Tali, every female human you see). Whereas there is a vast body type range between the male Turians (tall, muscular, lizardy), Krogans (hulky, hunchbacked, lizardy), Salarians (tall, thin, froggy) Elcor (huge and four-legged), and Volus (short and round).

        None of the aliens are sexually ambiguous except perhaps the Hanar; they are all gendered according to our standards. And the game does nothing to challenge our assumptions based on those standards (meaning, all the creatures we assume to be male based on voice or whatever actually ARE male in the fiction). Please see my most recent Mass Effect post for a more detailed explanation.

  3. I just HAVE to ask…

    Quote from your About-page: ‘What I hope to do with this blog is write regularly about video games and, more specifically, stories in and storytelling with video games. I’ve read some things recently that suggest that games shouldn’t be used for telling stories, and aren’t inherently a storytelling medium, but I disagree.’

    Quote from this article:’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.’

    Could you please explain how this works out? You want to write about the story-telling, yet you rush through it, wishing it would all end so you can go back to shooting things?

    • The paragraph you quote from this article is a comment on the poor pacing of the game, and the boring way it gives you necessary information (people standing around talking). If a game is poorly paced, and delivers vital information in a way that is not engaging, then the game is telling its story poorly and thus deserves to be criticized for it.

      That doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in the story.

  4. Well, since I’ve played it, I think I can say with some degree of certainty that shooting things tells NO story, beyond what you shoot at. It’s certainly a part of the game, but not something that is a focus. Yet you rushed through dialog, thus, I would presume, not really noting that part of the story.

    Be that as it may, I would like to ask you another question, which doesn’t relate to Mass Effect, but DOES relate to an article you’ve written. Inthe up-coming game Alpha Protocol, there is an achievement that you remarked on, where-in you ‘have’ to sleep with four of the women in the game. What I wonder is, why don’t you note that there is another achievement for not sleeping with any of them?

    • Well, since I’ve played it, I think I can say with some degree of certainty that shooting things tells NO story, beyond what you shoot at. It’s certainly a part of the game, but not something that is a focus. Yet you rushed through dialog, thus, I would presume, not really noting that part of the story.

      You have no idea whether I rushed through the dialogue or not, as I said no such thing. This isn’t my last post on Mass Effect, perhaps it’s possible I simply haven’t written about the story yet? But keep on looking for hypocrisy on my blog if that’s really what floats your boat. Maybe you’ll find some eventually.

      Be that as it may, I would like to ask you another question, which doesn’t relate to Mass Effect, but DOES relate to an article you’ve written. Inthe up-coming game Alpha Protocol, there is an achievement that you remarked on, where-in you ‘have’ to sleep with four of the women in the game. What I wonder is, why don’t you note that there is another achievement for not sleeping with any of them?

      If you want to talk about that post, comment on it. Don’t derail this thread.

  5. Pingback: Sticks And Stones | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  6. I encourage you to read the two Mass Effect books, the first being from before the game and the second coming after the ending of the first game.

    If you can get over the female lead, it’s actually has a lot of information about the gameworld that doesn’t really have time to be mentioned in the video game, and it explains what happened to earth and why all ethnicities are present and accounted for.

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