Eurogamer: Mass Effect Review

By Kieron Gillen on May 27th, 2008 at 2:38 pm.

Stop staring at me, you freak.
Embargo-a-go-go! My review of Bioware’s Mass Effect goes live over at Eurogamer. I start like this…

Given that Kristan wrote a three-page review of the Xbox 360 version back in November, and the PC version is basically identical, I’m left with a whole review to dwell on the important questions about Mass Effect. For instance, why did BioWare model its adorably rubbish Mako ground-attack truck on early-eighties toy Big Trak: the Fully Programmable Electronic Vehicle?

And then go on to actually talk about the game, like some kind of proper games writer guy. Well, a bit, anyway. By page 2 I’m well into crazed theorising about its resemblance to Total War and the fundamental flaws of free-exploration in plot-based RPGs and similar. Go readeth, Verily and stuff.

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51 Comments »

  1. Paul Moloney says:

    I realise I may sound so out-of-touch that I come across as an octogenarian judge, but: is Mass Effect a third-person RPG a la NWN, first-person RPG/FPS a la Deus Ex, or something else? Since I’m nearly finished DE:IW but still have a FPS/RPG appetite, I’m looking for something in that vein ’til Fallout 3 comes out.

    P.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s not first person. It’s third person. But the combat is Deus-ex-styled combat rather than the indirect of KOTOR NWN et al.

    KG

  3. Faust says:

    I can definitely agree with that review… there was a wonderful sense of purpose in the game that I’ve found hard to find many places else. It’s sort of a directed freedom that is the golden mean of the open world game. Can’t be too linear but then if you give too much freedom you lose all purpose…..

  4. Phil says:

    Nice work; one thing though, what were the
    “couple of jingoistic excesses towards the close” –
    Was it a case of “Citadel Council, F%$K Yeah!”?

  5. Paul Moloney says:

    Boohoo, can’t understand why they don’t stick in an optional first-person view too for the PC version; surely it’s just a matter of allowing you to change some variables, the non-coding technical writer confidently pronounced.

    Resident Evil 4 Wii could be referred to as a “worst-person shooter”; you have a third-person POV directly over your character’s right shoulder, meaning you can barely see anything to your left-hand side. Very dumb.

    P.

  6. Jonas says:

    Kieron, I agree completely with your note about side missions. I think the key there is to make every side mission tie into the main plot somehow, so it seems like everything the player does contributes towards the resolution of the primary threat. In Bioware’s defense, they put most of the side missions on the Citadel, to be handled before the plot really kicks off, but they still do seem to irrelevant to the actual plot of the game.

    That said, I also agree with everything else you said (not pertaining specifically to the PC version as I haven’t played it). It’s a brilliant game and I love it. I love it all the more for wanting a bit to be Deus Ex.

  7. Mike says:

    So is the beginning of the game a little bit slow and then it picks up? (and up etc) It sounds great actually but I have a tendancy to make my mind up an hour into a game.

  8. Optimaximal says:

    Resident Evil 4 Wii could be referred to as a “worst-person shooter”

    I’d pay to see that on the game box!

  9. runningwthszzors says:

    Deus Ex comparison is definitely a winner. The space station section sounds similar to first stepping into UNATCO and getting missions from them. DX had a more integrated approach afterwards though… story conversations and action were minutes away from each other.

  10. Ginger Yellow says:

    What’s wrong with the Mako? The only real problem is that the controls are ass backwards, but that’s the fault of the programmers, not the vehicle design itself. It can climb near vertical surfaces, it’s pretty much impossible to tip over, and it’s got (slowly) regenerating shields. If the bits where you use the vehicle had been at all interesting and rewarded exploring with more than a few weapons/collectibles, the Mako would have gone down a s a classic.

  11. Rook says:

    “These things are all are integrated so well”
    nice…

    this one just confuses me
    “In some areas Mass Effect captures being a starship captain brilliantly – the writing in characters, for example, with obvious respect, or at least subservience.”

    feels like somethings missing from that sentence.

    As for the review itself, I’m still in two minds over Mass Effect. I’m still not convinced that the plot (or from what I’ve seen of the trailers – the dialogue) is anything to write home about, and the combat has never looked great.

  12. RiptoR says:

    Darn, you should have waited one extra minute before putting that review online…

  13. someone says:

    This was my favorite part of the review…
    (except I only thought that and didn’t write it, as an Easter Egg for Eurogamer’s telepathic readers)

  14. jbrandt says:

    Hey, the Big Trak was cool, and for that matter, so is the Mako! After the first couple of planetside missions, I began referring to it as “The Awesome Truck” (like, a truck for transporting awesome, as opposed to a truck that IS awesome). I did all the find-the-stuff missions and got all the minerals and relics and junk scattered all over the galaxy just because I liked tooling around in The Awesome Truck so much. Vroom!

  15. skillian says:

    As for the review itself, I’m still in two minds over Mass Effect. I’m still not convinced that the plot (or from what I’ve seen of the trailers – the dialogue) is anything to write home about, and the combat has never looked great.

    These are my exact thoughts too, and I’m not sure how much is left when you take these two things out.

    I think I’ll be giving it a miss, which is a shame because I’d love a new RPG and this was rated pretty well across the board.

  16. Ryan says:

    A fair review. I feel the plot is solid and the voice acting is almost on par with GTA4…almost. The combat features and gameplay need a lot of work.

    Ryan
    lessons in brevity

  17. Meat Circus says:

    Good story. Shame about the combat. Seth Green’s Voice = Would.

    This is the correct opinion in ten words.

  18. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    @ Rook: If you’re getting tired with Bioware’s output thus far, then you’re not going to be missing much if you skip on Mass Effect. The dialogue is about the same as their usual standard and the story, while a decent enough yarn, isn’t anything particularly special. That said, both of those aspects are greatly enhanced by improved presentation with the facial animation giving a bit more life to the dialogue (well, until you notice the same animations repeating) and the story has a nice cinematic feel, particularly towards the close.

    @ Meat Circus: Joker also has the best facial hair in the game, which always annoyed me immensely as it wasn’t available as an option.

    Also, I still contend that the universe they’ve crafted feels like a bit of a missed opportunity given that so much of it is derivative of other SF works, having Humans as the underdogs (and diabolical space-bastards if you play as a Renegade) is a neat touch though.

  19. Tom says:

    Despite everything I said earlier about KOTOR and Deus Ex and Gears of War (except I only thought that and didn’t write it, as an Easter Egg for Eurogamer’s telepathic readers)
    LOL!
    like the madness dear boy

  20. Pidesco says:

    There’s one thing I still don’t know Mass Effect, and it really irks me that no one mentions it or even seems to care. Is chacter development still tied to your level? If it is Bioware can go ahead and make a running jump into a lake.

  21. Zuffox says:

    Reading the bit-tech review (I know, sorry, adversaries, but I read yours too!) the reviewer didn’t take a liking to the motion blur and film grain effect to say the least. What’s your stand on those two settings, Gill?

  22. Corbeaubm says:

    No mention of the copy-protection system? While it’s not part of the gameplay, it is something that I want to learn more about as a consumer – which is supposed to be the audience for reviews.

  23. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    @ Pidesco: It pretty much follows the KotOR model of giving you skill points to spend and a hit-point increase at each level up, so I guess the answer to your question is yes.

  24. Pidesco says:

    I’m talking about character development from a narrative point of view, not in terms of stats. An example:

    Bastila: Oh loving lead character, you are level 15 already? Let’s bump uglies, then!

    I can’t believe no one cares about this.

  25. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I don’t think it’s based on levels, although it’s hard to say for sure, but the character development advances in much the same way as Jade Empire. I.e. you talk to your party members for a bit and finish the conversation line, then you have to do a few side-quests or one mission along the main quest-line before you un-lock any new conversation options. Also, some elements of the character development are more directly tied to the plot (for example, the ‘romance’ sub-plot always comes to a head at a certain point in the game), and some characters have side quests which further flesh them out if you complete them.

  26. Chaz says:

    The biotic powers are great fun and really make the combat, and I’d advise playing as a Vanguard or similar rather than a plain soldier. Using lift and throw never looses it’s entertainment value, infact quite the reverse, especially when you’ve got the abilities pumped up to near max. It’s just like being a Jedi, knock em down, send em flying and them blast em with your shotgun.

    On the other hand the tech specialisation is really dull, don’t bother with it, just make sure one of your team members has a few skills in it.

    @Zuffox
    I wasn’t particularly taken with the film grain effect either, but there is an option to turn it off. Which is what I did, I thought it looked much nicer without it.

  27. Kieron Gillen says:

    Zuffox: I turned off the film-grain filter and promptly forgot about it the 18 hours later when I came to write my review.

    Re: Copy Protection. The advance review copy doesn’t have the same DRM, so I couldn’t review it. Basically.

    KG

  28. Kadayi says:

    Because BioWare cannot resist the tropes of the RPG genre

    Indeed they can’t, but I wish they would (same about getting people to come see you rather than you have to walk everywhere to see them, if your reading take note Bioware Drs, the man has a very valid point)

    Kieron was the facial stuff better than what they shipped in the 360 version? I had a go on it at a friends, and although the main character was pretty well done, I personally found a lot of the other characters talked like Terry Gilliam Cartoons, esp Shepard’s commander, he had a real beaker from the Muppets upturned lip thing going on, which was pretty distracting. Certainly at the time I didn’t think it was comparable to the awesomeness that was VTM:B conversations (that beach vampire girl still creeps me out tbh), bar the clearly more detailed modeling.

    I’m very interested to see whether your Shogun analogy holds up. Certainly the game I saw had a degree of scale to it, but it didn’t shout bustling galactic civilization to me (maybe they upped the crowds).

    I think the issue of side quests vs main quest is a very interesting one (needs an article..hint hint). Certainly it is at odds in a situation of universal peril that developers will thrown in a lot random ‘rescue the cat’ sub missions. I’m always of the view that if your going to have side missions they should serve some purpose with respect to the character in terms of development beyond the obvious of providing more experience and equipment. Narrative gains that perhaps better equip you as a player to later obstacles is one way to integrate them more readily into the principal storyline.

    Also it’s been noted that you chose a female Avatar ;)

  29. Trousers says:

    As long as I have more fun than I did with RSV2 I’ll be a happy lad

    It’s been a bad couple months with nothing to play : (

  30. Zuffox says:

    Chaz: I know that you can turn it off, but what I initially got to read about the Xbox 360 was a unanimous disliking of the film grain. Hence, I thought I’d ask about how it was on the pc – and if even Kieron, having just mused over it, could see a point the the feature at all, which I from the looks of the aforementioned mass (Mass, har har) criticism don’t think there really is. Though it must have been implemented for some bloody reason – particularly being a default option.

  31. Trousers says:

    Zuffox:

    Supposedly it adds to the “immersion”.

    I suppose the same way seeing double does when you’ve had a few too many, I’m sure most of us would rather “turn it off”.

  32. Al3xand3r says:

    Guess it depends on taste.. I also turn off the post processing in Bioshock because I like things looking crisp and crystal clear better… I don’t feel I lose any immersion either.

  33. McCool says:

    Great review, I agree on pretty much all points.
    The Total War allusion was particuarly tasty. Of course, Bioware is only half way in that direction though, as what really drives that element for Creative Assembly is the fact that each of the Real-Time situations are derived from the _player choices_ and their concequences up in the Turn-Based world. As always, it’s the player choice that adds the lion’s share of the meaning to the situation.
    Mass Effect only really touches on that level nearer it’s end, when the player is finally allowed to make some important decisions -that he or she will have to fight hard for.

    Really, if Bioware goes more in THAT direction, then we have a very delicious trilogy to look foward too.

  34. Bitkari says:

    Copy Protection. The advance review copy doesn’t have the same DRM, so I couldn’t review it. Basically.

    Well, you could have reviewed it… And with DRM being one of those big issues in PC gaming these days, I do weep a little that you didn’t take this opportunity to put the knife in offer meaningful comment on the issue.

  35. Alarik says:

    Hmm, how similar is this to other previous Bioware games?

    I’ve became fed up with their dialogues, quests and characters. I mean – since the KotOR, there are almost always same persons (happy-go-lucky, comical figure, tormented betrayer, wise geezer, cookie cutter female interests, etc. etc.), NPCs and same quests (exactly same quests in each game), same dialogues and dialogue branches – copycat business. I was so fed up when playing Jade Empire I basically just started frenetically clicking whenever some dialogue appeared to be spared from another carbon-copy dialogue. I can basically play any game from KotOR onwards without sound and without dialogue texts – all I need to see is the answer selection grid.

    And “romance” – ugh, so terrible. I mean – BG2 wasn’t exactly brilliant in this, but seems to be pretty good, for the first attempt I think – and there was enough time for romance to develop (with the exception of Jaheira, because of special requirements). So I was really surprised when the following games seemed to be worse in this regard. And Jade Empire hit the rock bottom IMO (didn’t know whether I am supposed to cry from or laugh at seeing such terrible romance dialogues).

    So anybody who played KotORs and Jade Empire AND Mass Effect – is there SERIOUS improvement in this matter or is it more or less the same?

  36. Kadayi says:

    @Alarik

    I suspect you won’t like Mass Effect. The game is a significant improvement graphically/game play wise upon what’s come before, but it’s still the same formula. Paragon/Renegade is merely another moral arbiter just as Open hand/Closed Fist was in Jade Empire (and jedi/sith in koToR). Personally I find that sort of thing a bit annoying. I accidentally ran over some space monkeys on one planet during an exploration and my Renegade rating shot through the roof, and I believe my Crew all got upset with me accordingly (so I restarted the mission)…the weakness with moral compasses in games is they have no way of distinguishing between deliberate and incidental actions, so by default everything is deemed deliberate. Bioware should take a leaf out of CD Projekts approach to moral assessment as in the Witcher imho (make things a little more ambivalent), however like most companies if their approach sells well, they’re unlikely to change it simply for the sake of it. Despite my quibbles (based on the 360 version) I’ll be picking this up because a) there isn’t much else out there atm b) the storyline if a tad predictable in places is interesting enough.

  37. UncleLou says:

    Quite looking forward to it – or rather, I am looking forward to finding out if I will like it. I am one of the selected few who thought Knights of the Old Republic was a rather mediocre game, so I remain skeptical.

  38. C0nt1nu1ty says:

    I repeat request to know about copy protection system. Of course i’m gonna buy the game (after all I already have the art book) but i demand to know if DRM Trolls (I wont call them Nazis as that induces godwins law) will try and break into my house and interrogate my imaginary cat if I do

  39. Kommissar Nicko says:

    @UncleLou:
    I thought KoToR was pretty mediocre too. Everyone tells me that I didn’t play long enough, because I stopped at the part in the beginning where you land on the planet and discover that Taris is, “stunning Corusant-style living, 8-bedroom 8-bath with cozy breakfast nook…” It is for this reason that I am a little apprehensive about the mention of “lack of crowds.”

    Then again, I am also criticized for having defeated the Butcher in Diablo and calling it a day.

  40. Joe says:

    HI!

    I would also like to know how the dialogue and story compare to Bioware’s previous effort. I couldn’t stand Jade Empire. Alarik’s right about the romance, it was hurlworthy. But I suspect any problems with that game stem from its slapdash hokey pan-Asian setting. Conversely, Mass Effect’s setting appears to have an air of credibility. Does the story deliver?

    I always die a little inside when someone mentions BG2, knowing that being too weak-minded to play through the tripped out D&D action sequences means that I’ve forgone what is apparently the War and Peace of CRPGs. Hmph.

  41. Rook says:

    I kinda agree with Sean Elliot that reviewing something like copy protection would be akin to reviewing a film and then just talking about the projector you watched the film on.

    Anyways, the copy protection is:
    You may activate the game on three seperate machines, any more and you’ll need to phone up EA support at which point they may tell you to fuck off.
    You can install and uninstall the game as many times as you want, but, a major hardware change may count as a seperate activation.
    You need to authenticate your copy with EA’s securerom servers before you can play, and if you download any game content (downloadable content etc).
    You do not need the disc in the drive to play the game.

    Overall, if they just added a way to de-authorize a machine, I’d say this was an excellent step forward in DRM. But without it, I’ll probably just pick up games I’m willing to keep, like Spore.

  42. Keith says:

    Um, this from the review:

    “Also, you’re able to swap seamlessly between all of your weapons. Oh – and you can order your team-mates to go forward and take up their own positions. These things are all are integrated so well that I was surprised when I discovered they weren’t in the original 360 version.”

    You COULD do all that in the 360 version. Hot swapping guns was absolutely there, and you could tell your party members to take positions anywhere on the map you felt like.

  43. Okami says:

    C0nt1nu1ty: Writing “Nazi” in parentheses doesn’t save you from Godwin’s Law.

  44. Kieron Gillen says:

    Keith: I’m told that you could only hot swap between two of the weapons, and not all four. Also, I’m told that while you could order your team as a group, you couldn’t order them individually.

    KG

  45. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I think I must be the only person who actually likes the film grain effect, apart from the Mass Effect team obviously. For me it really adds to the atmosphere in certain parts of the game, for example when creeping around Noveria.

  46. Ginger Yellow says:

    “Certainly it is at odds in a situation of universal peril that developers will thrown in a lot random ‘rescue the cat’ sub missions.”

    This is very true. It was probably the single thing that most broke the suspension of disbelief. You’re supposed to in a race against time to prevent the big baddy from reaching something before you, yet you can spend as long as you like running errands around the galaxy without any consequence for the main plot.

  47. Muzman says:

    The point about branching plotlines and missing out on content is an interesting area. Wasn’t it the valve guys who said they were against it for that very reason?
    I get the fear of it. Lately I have felt that, whenever I hit a branch in some game, I’m less role playing the moment and more deciding which one will produce the best experience just in case I don’t feel like playing it again and/or wondering if this is one of those games which take you a completely different way or just makes you experience the same stuff slightly differently (even then I feel slightly ripped off not getting all the conversation trees or whatever).
    All of which is kinda dumb but I sympathise with dev fears. It’s a risk for them; what if the game’s not good enough that people want to explore the options? I have always felt, strangely, that ‘winning’ a game means seeing the whole thing so knowingly missing out on a certain portion leaves a little niggle prodding away at the back of my noodle somewhere. Maybe others feel different.
    (nb; I’m not really talking about Mass Effect here, nor am I against choice and branching narrative. Quite the reverse, I’m for it in principle. It’s just the game has to be pretty awesome or pretty short for it not to be something of a problem, I’m forced to admit).

  48. suibhne says:

    It’s embarrassing that, years after the BG games, Bioware is still making the same fundamental mistakes with branching side quests mucking up an “urgent” main plot. There are better ways of handling this stuff, and they don’t even require that much imagination – just a little more creative thinking and a willingness to not follow the same narrative template for more than, say, 10 years at a time. Sigh.

    I’m still looking forward to the game. Bioware has never been a great RPG maker, but their action/adventure games are primo. ;)

    As for copy protection…I think it’s notable, Kieron, that they didn’t have enough confidence in their own DRM to actually include it on review copies. The previous post is totally off-base, claiming that evaluating DRM is like reviewing the projection for a movie; that would only be true if we consumers had the ability to see the game at a different theater with better projection, so to speak. DRM is an integral part of the game product and should be given at least a mention, particularly since this is basically the most recent version of the scheme that occasioned such a kerfuffle with Bioshock.

  49. Alarik says:

    Well, those review copies are probably highly sought among pirates I guess.

    Anyway, regarding the note that Bioware was never great RPG maker – they DID BG and BG2. And I am quite content with that feat. Even if they won’t release anything better ever (and they certainly didn’t so far) I will like them nevertheless – since I am playing BG series even to this day :-)

    Seems I will wait for possible price (discount bin :) drop till I try MA.

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