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Mass Effect:
First Impressions

By Shamus
on Thursday Jan 8, 2009
Filed under:
Game Reviews


Mass Effect is the worst game BioWare has put out in over a decade.

…but it’s still a great game.

I guess that says a lot about BioWare, that they can slide this far and still have a quality product. The elements that I love in BioWare games are still there, just watered down a bit.

Aderson: What about Shepherd? He’s a mildly retarded boy who spends all day staring out the window.</p>
<p>Udina: Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?</p>
<p>Anderson: That’s the only kind of person who <em>can</em> protect the galaxy.</p>
Aderson: What about Shepherd? He’s a mildly retarded boy who spends all day staring out the window.

Udina: Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?

Anderson: That’s the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy.

BioWare games are first and foremost character-driven games, story games second, and roleplaying games third. KOTOR set the bar unbelievably high in this regard, giving us a collection of characters so memorable that they’re still beloved today, even after their quotes and gags have been run into the ground by their well-meaning fans.

The premise is that humanity is the new race on the block. We’ve just recently dragged our sapient butts into space and found it was already populated by a half-dozen other races. So much for the final frontier.

One of the crucial locations in the game is the Citadel – a huge space station built by a long-dead alien race. Nobody really knows how the Citadel works, but it’s huge and powerful and the perfect place for the galactic oligarchy council to make their home. The council employs the Specters – a small group of covert specialists who are beholden to nobody but the council. Think of them like CIA spies with diplomatic immunity, working for a small group of aliens who live in an unassailable fortress and who aren’t accountable to anyone. Given this power structure, it’s actually really impressive that the galaxy is only usually torn apart by warfare.

Humanity seems to have figured out that you can only rule or serve in this galactic order, and so they have begun efforts to get humans into places of power. You play as commander Shepherd, a candidate to be the first human Specter, which one assumes is a stepping stone to humanity being on the council itself.

While all of this is going on, a unknown force rises and threatens the entire galaxy, and someone has to stop them. (That would be you.)

Some people are faulting Mass Effect for being too short. But I think what’s happened here is that the game has nearly as many quests and tasks as earlier games, but a majority of those have been offloaded into optional – and often obscured – sidequests. Once the game cuts you loose with your own ship, you only have five stops to make to reach the end of the game. (Get Liara on Therum, the cipher on Feros, the location of the Mu Relay on Noveria, the second beacon on Virmire, and then kick the galaxy’s ass via Ilos.) This isn’t like KOTOR, where every other person you pass is waving you down and stuffing a laundry list of tasks into your hand. Mass Effect makes it very easy to jump on the central rail and ride it all the way to the closing credits, and if you want more to do you have to go looking for it.

The Citadel is a fantastic location, its grandeur hampered somewhat by its incessant loading screens.
The Citadel is a fantastic location, its grandeur hampered somewhat by its incessant loading screens.
This is actually a really good idea. In the past I’ve seen complaints from players who became mired in the maze of sidequests and lost track of what they were supposed to be doing or what their overall goals were. The approach used in Mass Effect lets those folks stay on task, while leaving players like me free to take the scenic route. I would have enjoyed my first play-through more if I’d realized this. It wasn’t until near the end of the game that I began to realize just how much content I was missing.

The plot is interesting enough. The premise – that Bad Aliens Are Invading and Must Be Stopped – isn’t going to win any awards for originality, and it’s lacking the devious sucker-punch plot twist that earlier BioWare games gave us. But it’s engaging, consistent, and based in a new setting instead of pulling from the dregs of some played-out IP.

But the game is not without its faults, and I am going to enumerate them in excruciating detail in a later post. Partly because I think this needs to be done, but mostly because I build up my self-esteem by pointing out the faults of others.

And let us not forget that I would have played this game ten months ago if it were not for those fumbling, ignorant dolts at EA spiking the PC version with a bunch of self-defeating DRM. Nice going losers. I would have bought it new, for the PC, ages ago. And instead I got it used, for the 360. That cost you my sale, plus the modest smattering of others that likely would have arisen from my review series. But hey, at least you… uh.

Wait. What did you guys get out of it again?

Comments (97)

1 2

  1. Pederson says:

    If my own experience is any indication, it was an unstable bug-ridden mess on the PC, so I don’t think you missed anything significant by playing it on the X-Box anyway.

  2. Legal Tender says:

    I’m really looking forward to your next post(s) on this one. I was very excited about getting this game but luckily you (and others) raised the alarm about DRM.

    I know it probably doesn’t change anything but I do like to make my (minuscule) point by not buying DRM-infested products no matter how very, very, very badly I want them.

    Maybe you’ll cover it lately but how was it on the 360? Controls, menu and so.

    One small request: I know you are usually very good at it but could you please make extensive use of the anti-spoiler wall of red text, if you must? You know, for us peasants who haven’t managed to play the game yet?

  3. SomeGuyInABikini says:

    I just started playing Mass Effect for a third run through, the first with my OWN copy (I’d previously ‘sampled’ the game from a mate with full intention of buying it until I saw the installation limits. Since it has come to Steam (sans EA DRM) I’m less inclined to ignore it and with the recent “Christmas Sale” thingo Valve had going on it was even more difficult to pass up). Also (FYI) I have only just today started Jade Empire, and previously completed KOTOR and Neverwinter Nights (FAR too often).

    In all I have to agree that KOTOR had an amazing premise and story to boot and Mass Effect didn’t quite reach that same level, but I did find the cinematic quality and voice acting (disregarding the lack of ‘alien’ languages spoken in game (since when was English universal?)) to be better polished. The silent protagonist has always been a pet peeve of mine, and the voice acting of the female lead in Mass Effect made playing a female character an obvious choice.

    Without hijacking your blog with my own rant/post I’ll finish up here-ish.

    Finally, nice slip in of the anti-DRM post; I’m sure nobody noticed ;)

    Wayno, HATED the inventory system

  4. Ouchies says:

    I concur. The inventory was a hellish mess. The weapons mods and such also became somewhat obfuscated as it was hard to see what really was effective and what wasn’t.

    Though one thing was clear, assault rifles were a little munchkin-ish. No other player weapon seems to come close to the raw damage of the the assault rifle.

  5. Studoku says:

    I agree with Ouchies about the assault rifle. The only reason not to use one was if the character wasn’t trained in them, if occasionally when sniping.

    However, Mass Effect more than makes up for any flaws with the Virmire storyline. I’m not going to be more specific, because everyone who’s played the game knows what I’m talking about and it a big spoiler to everyone who hasn’t.

  6. Stuart says:

    I’ve sometimes found that some games fail to direct you into the side quests in a nice way. It goes something like this:

    NPC: You need to get the sword of xaldernaan to Nenlwyn as soon as possible to ensure the safety of our people.
    ME: Yep, sure… just gonna go check out that forest first… maybe swing this baby a few times, hmm?
    NPC: The longer you delay the worse the situation gets.
    ME: Right, well – I guess I can check out that forest afterwards, cheerio.
    **Congratulations, you have won the game… retry?**
    ME: Oh.

    I’d like a game that says “Take your time. Explore a bit. We’ll call you when you are ready for this task.” – Morrowind did this to an extent by giving you periods off the main quest to pursue guild duties and explorative shenanigans :-)

  7. MuonDecay says:

    I -was- somewhat enjoying the game on the PC, when I still played it.

    However, my patience for guns overheating and then getting bugged to stay overheated permanently unless you reloaded a save… and for the game doing nothing short of a shell game with the audio channels, wantonly fading and swapping and mixing around the audio direction as if at the whim of a madman… eventually wore through.

    It is, however, a testament to how fun the game was otherwise that I was willing to put up with those amateurish QA failures for so long.

    The DRM now seems a lot less horrid now that I’ve installed GTA IV. Apparently, those idiots don’t even offer the incentive of letting me play the game without a CD after requiring an online activation that froze up the first time I tried it. I wince every time I hear that infernal disk causing my DVD drive to spin up to max rpm and stay there when the computer doesn’t even need to be reading data from the disk. This software is going to seriously shorten the life of that drive.

  8. Henebry says:

    Your screenshot of the citadel makes it look like a ringworld, a la Larry Niven’s great sci-fi book. But maybe it’s just a big ring-shaped satellite? In either case, nice to see a space-themed game thinking about how to produce the sensation of gravity in deep space. Ever since Star Wars, movies and games have been dismissing the issue with a handwave: “Yeah, a gravity field generator. High-tech but it can’t be used to do anything interesting to manipulate the world.”

  9. Mass Effect is a far cry from Bioware’s finest (Baldurs Gate!) games but is still a fun romp through the galaxy. Shame about the space battles though (there are none you can participate in).

  10. Kalle says:

    To qualify your “worst in a decade” comment, are you claiming NWN(1) had memorable characters? *Any* memorable characters?

  11. Shamus says:

    Kalle: No. I realize that game was cut from a very different cloth than the later titles, and is celebrated for other reasons.

  12. Russ says:

    You’re pretty much right on. But one thing I’ve noticed is that Mass Effect, in nearly every conversation and review is compared to previous Bioware games. As such, I think the new things it brings to the table are done well.

    I’m not sure of another RPG that was also a third-person shooter (and actually pulled it off). Granted it wasn’t as great a shooter as, say, Gears of War. But, it was competent enough and player skill and increased skill points worked together fairly well.

    The conversation system was fun and interesting. I didn’t have to read through lines and lines of dialog to figure out what to say. I liked that.

    It was sci-fi were humans we not the dominate species or bastion of all that was good and wonderful. It was nice to be the underdog and be able to be a paragon of all that is good, a dastardly jerk, or something in between.

    I’m also glad that they finally made it so the renegade path wasn’t outright evil. The Way of the Closed Fist in Jade Empire should have been like this.

    So, is Mass Effect perfect? No. But it is a good game and I will gladly buy the sequel.

  13. Factoid says:

    I have played quite a few Bioware titles. Mass Effect is tied with KOTOR for my favorite.

    It replaced the banal combat from KOTOR that took me 15 levels to really understand and replaced it with slightly less banal combat that only took me 6 levels to figure out.

    Really, my only complaint with the game is the monotony of the uncharted planets. They almost certainly used some sort of procedural terrain generator which makes ever planet some variety of “rocky and mountainous”. They probably generated planets randomly, and then went in to manually smooth out a few valleys and make things a bit more passable for the Mako.

    They needed to do two things to make the uncharted planets a real selling point:

    Flesh them out with more than just different colored rocks. Add stuff like lava flows, rockslides, flora and fauna (on the semi-inhabitable planets), etc… You can still do all this procedurally, but it would add a great deal life to the simulation. Is there a single tree anywhere in this game? I can’t remember.

    Secondly they needed more than just 3 different generic “bad guy hideouts” They’ve got the above-ground sand-crawler-without-wheels one, the mine shaft and the below-ground bunker. In outer space you also occasionally find the same cargo ship over and over with its interior arranged differently.

    Spend a little more money on variety and the procedural generation code and they’d have made the sidequests far more interesting.

  14. Russ says:

    RE: Memorable Characters

    I thought Rex was pretty cool. Actually, the entire Krogan race had an interesting story. I think part of the problem was his story was hidden in his side quest. Something I completely missed on my first play through. Garris was interesting too because of the influence you had over his actions.

    Of course, they we’re quite up to the level of Henpeck Hou or the master of them all Jan Jansen. Which makes me realize, there wasn’t a humor character in Mass Effect. I wonder if that would have wrecked the tone of the game.

    Factoid: You’re right on.

  15. Robyrt says:

    I turned off KOTOR after about ten minutes when I realized that instead of hitting “Attack”, I would have to constantly queue up my “Good Attack” skill, but I would still suffer the indignity of turn-based combat. Mass Effect does not have this problem, because the combat is always fun even if you are following the exact same “buff spell, shoot them in the face, cast another spell, repeat” pattern.

  16. Gamercow says:

    I played through Mass Effect 4 1/2 times, and I loved it each time. The worst part for me was the mindless rambling around some godforsaken sidequest rock in the Mako, but overall, I thought the characters were good, and the story well written.

    Re: weapons- I went through with all the weapons, and I found the highest power shotgun to be my favorite.

  17. Eric says:

    Shamus, is this a must have, or just a rental? Drm antics aside.

  18. lebkin says:

    Of all Bioware’s efforts, Mass Effect is my favorite. Strange but true. I beat the game six times, with four different characters (one character went through three difficulties). I have sunk 150+ hours into the game, and would gladly go back for more if I didn’t have other things to play. The combination of presentation, story, and gameplay really grabbed me. And after about hour thirty or so, the flaws just become background noise. You learn to adjust around them, and they cease to to be problems. Then you can enjoy all the good parts that much more.

  19. JKjoker says:

    “I would have enjoyed my first play-through more if I'd realized this. It wasn't until near the end of the game that I began to realize just how much content I was missing.”

    Shamus: no, you are so wrong, of all the sidequests maybe 2 are worth your time, the rest BLOW, i wish someone told me to completely avoid them, i might have liked the game that way, but because i did everything (except for one quest that i couldnt finish because an earlier quest broke it, weeee) i was completely tired and annoyed by the end and just wanted to see the “endings”, you know those “several” endings that play out and suck the same ?

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:


    What,you dont find making a devil serve as a maid in your inn memorable?Vanila NWN wasnt spectacular,but at least its expansion(s) make up for it.Also,while the original story in NWN was boring,and even made me stop playing,it was the NPCs(actually,your henchmen and aribeth)that made me come back to it and play it till the end just so I could learn the full backstories of my sidekick(s).

    Also,how many people are still making and playing modules for NWN1?It is an excelent game.NWN2 was the bad one.

    EDIT:Cool,Ive rolled a 20!

  21. Krellen says:

    @Henebry, #8
    In either case, nice to see a space-themed game thinking about how to produce the sensation of gravity in deep space. Ever since Star Wars, movies and games have been dismissing the issue with a handwave: “Yeah, a gravity field generator. High-tech but it can't be used to do anything interesting to manipulate the world.”
    My favourite part of Mass Effect was its genuine Science Fiction nature. Everyone keeps looking back at Star Wars to explain Sci-Fi, which is the major problem; Star Wars isn’t Sci-Fi! But Mass Effect takes the time (provided you look for and read the Codex entries) to explain the weird technology in ways that actually make logical and scientific sense.

    And this time, gravity fields aren’t just a useful cinematic tool, but the entire basis of space-faring technology. I loved that.

    Changing subjects, on KOTOR:

    I don’t really understand the huge praise lumped on KOTOR, personally. It was good, yes, probably even the best RPG of its year, but certainly not one of the best all-time RPGs (most of those go to games much older).

    The only character I really find particularly memorable from KOTOR is AK-47 – who, of course, is genius hard to replicate. But the plot was fairly standard (perhaps ruined on me because I had the “twist” figured out even before the Jedi Council decided to retrain my character) and a lot of the character interactions a bit bland. Bastila especially struck me hollow; she was a Deus Ex Machina carrier with flat characterisation inevitably proven wrong.

    Of course, part of the problem for me is LucasArts completely ruining the good ending and storyline (it doesn’t even appear in the game, but involves a female lead and Carth dying together) and making the poor choice to pick a male lead as the canon role. KOTOR’s protagonist is far more interesting if female.

  22. Kel'Thuzad says:


    You find HK-47 memorable, but you don’t remember his name?

    Hmm… do I like Mass Effect? I played through all classes on all alignments, which is 12 playthroughs, not counting replaying with the same characters. Yes, I enjoyed that game. Garrus was my favorite character.

  23. mark says:

    If you’re considering the DLC (DownLoadable Content) for Mass Effect, heres my opinion, since I bought it blindly, expecting another main-plot-sized planet.

    Its not that.

    Its a side-quest planet that takes about an hour, maybe two at the most, if you take your time.

    At 400 or whatever points, its up to you if thats worth it. Its a fun side quest, and the location is graphically better than any in the main game, but at the price I paid, i felt a little cheesed off that it was over so soon.

    At the end of the subplot, you get the choice of a piece of equipment/weaponry that is scaled to be pretty awesome at whatever level you recieve it at, so don’t download it and take a new character there straight away if you still intend to finish the game with that character. Save it for later if you can!

    Also, mass effect is shit-hard if you skip all the side-quests, and shit-easy if you do them all ASAP, then continue the mission. The boss fight on noveria? Shit hard at level 6. Piss at 12.

  24. Evangel says:

    Irenicus: “You dare to challenge me? Do you even know who you face?”
    Mageling: “This is an unsanctioned use, of magical energy, all involved will be held.”
    I: “Must I be interrupted at every turn!?”
    M1: “This mages power is immense, we must overcome him quickly!”
    M2: “Even if we fall, our numbers are many, you will be overwhelmed.”
    I: “Enough, I haven’t the time for this. You may take me in, but you WILL take the girl aswell.”
    Imoen: “What? NO! I’ve done nothing wrong!”
    M1: “You have been involved in illegal use of magic. You will come with us.”
    Im: “Help me! Please…”
    (Recited from memory, I’ve played that game too many times)

    There is NOTHING like coming out of Irenicus’ dungeon for the first time in Mass Effect.

    The court scene in V:TM:B with Lacroix and Lacroix’s gorilla.

    Sailing away from the oil rig as the nuclear explosion rips it to shreds.

    No recent RPGs have really matched the well executed and acted scenes from the old games. Games are supposed to be getting better, damnit. All we’re getting is rehashed, badly written, badly directed tripe with a new (shinier) skin.

  25. krellen says:

    You find HK-47 memorable, but you don't remember his name?
    I thought it felt odd his name was exactly the same as a gun. I’m old and forget names and misremember puns. Sue me. :D

  26. UtopiaV1 says:

    Can’t wait for your scathing review Shamus, even though I like the game, it’s hilarious when you go off on tangents about the little flaws! I’ve got it on the PC (gift from my girlfriend who doesn’t know the first thing about DRM, so I let it slide… plus she holds the keys to her pants), and I’m only a quarter of the way thought but I am enjoying it immensely, it reminds me of the golden age of science-fiction writing, when I was 12 and reading books like the Stainless Steel Rat, Sea Horse in the Sky, and The Tenth Planet.

    Plus, I love that you can actually shoot stuff in this Bioware game, where in KOTOR you just point and click. Made me feel more of a spectator than a player…

  27. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    Mass Effect is the most godsbedamned awesome game BioWare has put out, ever

    Fixed that for ya!

    I found Urdnot Wrex to be possibly the most interesting Bioware henchman in a long, long time. In direct opposition to the usual “dumb brute” that appears in every RPG ever made, Wrex is a pondering, nihilistic, insightful character with a penchant for speaking in a fashion almost like Shakespearean verse. I give them massive kudos for making the “bture” character far more interesting than they did with the similar roles in their previous games.

    Plus, I greatly applaud the decision to finally go with their own core RPG mechanics and ditch those terrible hacked D20 mechanics. A more fluid, setting-specific system like the one in Mass Effect worked quite well for their purposes.

    Only real gripes: Sniper rifles are useless without a stealth mechanic to back them up, and man, I got so damn tired of the rover vehicle sequences.

  28. Sydney says:

    “One of the crucial locations in the game is the Citadel – a huge space station built by a”

    When I saw that, my eyes flicked back up to the title. Just to make sure.

    A bignormous space station named Citadel, eh? Was this an homage, or are people just that unoriginal now?

  29. Slippery Jim says:


    I can’t believe you beat my gamer score on Mass Effect already!

    *dusts of his game and fires up the Xbox*

    Well – maybe after I finish battering Fable 2 to death…

  30. Dave R says:

    Of course, part of the problem for me is LucasArts completely ruining the good ending and storyline (it doesn't even appear in the game, but involves a female lead and Carth dying together) and making the poor choice to pick a male lead as the canon role. KOTOR's protagonist is far more interesting if female.

    And KotoR 2 (though incomplete) works better with a male protagonist (because the Handmaiden is interesting and the Disciple is not). LucasArts, of course, canonized exactly the wrong versions (well, at least they didn’t make the dark side endings canon).

  31. nilus says:

    Dammit, I have not played Mass Effect since the DLC came out last year for it. But now that you are playing I am gonna have to go through it again(I still have a few Achievements to get anyways :) ). Overall its not as good as KOTOR for sure, but I liked it better then Jade Empire. Which I thought was a heck of a lot shorter. My majore complaints were the stupid Mako driving(which was fun for a while but got really old really fast) and the fact that the NPCs didn’t seem to have as much interesting Dialog as other Bioware games. They all had there own mini story arcs but once you go through those they kinda just stood there and told you the same thing over and over.

    Some Pros of the game. I liked the pseudo real time combat. I liked how random encounters in Citadel kept happening throughout the game. I thought the Geth looked cool. And I liked that after you beat the game you could play through it again with your really high level guy.

    Oh and I thought the twist and the end was interesting. It wasn’t mind shattering but it was better then anything M. Night Shamlayan has written in years.

  32. Alex says:

    Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is the worst game BioWare has put out in over a decade.”

    Fixed? Not that they ever really stood a chance. Look at the source material.

  33. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    Agreed. I never once ever, even in my deepest whiskey binges, could have thought “Hey, Sonic would make an interesting RPG franchise!”

    That was one huge facepalm.

  34. SimeSublime says:

    Wait, the side quests were optional? That’s a weird way to play a game.

  35. Magnus says:

    I thought it was a decent effort, and it held my attention well enough throughout, but I doubt I would go back to it.

    My major gripes were:

    The inventory + weapons – who in their right mind carries all their possible weapons on their back even if (for certain types) you aren’t trained in them?

    Bugs and the Buggy – Most of my bug experiences were during Mako sequences, which were annoying at the best of times, but made worse when I got a few random crashes – including three on the Moon mission.

    Oh and I reckon NWN had better NPCs than ME, Aribeth and Tomi Undergallows were better than most in ME, although I did appreciate Garrus.

  36. Sam says:

    My friend made Obama Shepherd while I was over at his place a few days ago. It was awesome. That’s all I really have to contribute to this discussion.

  37. dlowe says:


    Wikipedia has a hysterical list of “Citadels” in gaming:

  38. skizelo says:

    I’ve not played it (auspicious beginning), but I always think that bioware games should let you explore after you’ve finished the main quest. I can see the reason for not allowing you back in after you’ve saved the universe, but I think this sort of side-quest heavy game could benefit from turning sandbox, especially when you think that to play downloadable content, you actually have to regress.
    I guess it’s an issue of narrative structure vs continued escapism, but it’s a good workaround for people like me who always feel silly playing card-games/breeding chickens/saving cats from trees instead of killing the universe-destroying monster.

  39. krellen says:

    Perhaps the thing I loved the most about Mass Effect is that, when playing the “evil” path, I didn’t feel like a heartless jerk, nor did I feel dirty for playing it. I was a rampantly pro-human character, and making such choices naturally led to more Renegade than Paragon points (though not by a lot).

    The “evil” ending, as well, did not feel particularly forced, unnatural, or unsatisfying. It felt like a natural lead into a sequel, and left me looking even more forward to Mass Effect 2 than did the “good” ending. (Although there was no whoop of joy when I made the crucial choice, like there was when I made the “good” one.)

  40. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    Mass Effect is the first game I’ve seen from Bioware where the “dark” or “bad” development path does not equate with “Psychotically evil.” Historically, in Bioware games, you can follow one of three “alignment” paths:

    1. A generally nice fella: “Sure I’ll help ya, you’re cool!”
    2. Meh, kinda neutral: “I’ll help ya if you pay me enough”
    3. A psychotic raving lunatic axe-murderer who rapes kittens and pees in the mouths of babies right before dipping their heads in vats of acid: “I’LL CUT YOUR EAR OFF AND RAPE YOUR FACE YOU SON OF A PIG WHORE”

    This truly limiting “path of badness” is why I pretty much never play “dark” characters in Bioware games. The Bad Choices are always so over the top as to be moustache-twirly in nature. I liked that in Mass Effect, you were instead:

    1. A real nice go-getter
    2. Meh, Kinda neutral
    3. Something of a douchebag, but not a kitten-raper by any means

    This was great. I hope they keep the same balance in the sequel.

  41. Rustybadger says:

    Spoiler alert: Highlight the red blocked out text to read it…I assume that was done on purpose.

  42. Pederson says:

    @krellen: HK-47 is a double pun, actually.

    The AK-47 is a well-known assault rifle with numerous variants, copies, clones and derivatives with a reputation for being cheap, easy to manufacture, and reliable–but perhaps lacking in accuracy. The AK-47 seems to be the choice of communists and third-world militias the world over.

    H&K, or Heckler and Koch, is a well-known German weapons manufacturer, whose products include the G36 assault rifle and MP5 submachinegun.

    I don’t think HK-47 is, itself, the name of any actual gun, however.

    On the general topic, I’d have played more of Mass Effect, were it not so terribly unstable on my PC. Strangely, it got worse and worse as time went on, so that, by the time I finally wrapped up the first play-through, playing the game was a chore, because of relatively frequent locks and crashes to the desktop. When it got itself hung while I was starting up the second pass, I decided I’d had enough. If I play it again, it’ll be on the X-Box.

  43. Feb says:

    I’m not sure I can talk about why I love Mass Effect so much without being all spoiler-ey, but I’ll try:

    * Character customization. I’m a sucker for this, because with every cutscene I get a moment of “hey! I know that guy! I spent 30 minutes crafting that guy! And he looks awesome!” (The converse nit-pick is that every one of the female characters I’ve made has a “botoxy duck-mouth” quality, and it’s distracting. But Pepper Shepard is pretty cool, so she can stay for a whole play-through.)

    * The storyline and world-building stuff others have already mentioned. I actually read all those Codex entries explaining the technology. My inner 13-year-old devours that kind of straight-up science fiction.

    * The conversation system. Playing other RPGs is a lot less fun and immersive when I can’t hear my own character’s voice. Plus sice I can’t choose the exact phrasing of a response anyway, I don’t want to read all the text if I don’t want to. It makes sense (to me) if I have just the gist of it.

    * Several quotable, action-movie moments. All of Vermire is awesome. Shepard’s first words upon seeing the big bad thing at the end of Feros. Shepard’s response to the elevator up to the Council chamber being stopped, on the way to the big ending battle. So many parts that are up there with moments from really good movies.

    There’s a lot that annoys, or falls flat, but the highs are high enough I’ll pre-order ME2.

  44. Dane says:

    I liked Mass Effect well enough. I certainly thought it was far better than Jade Empire and would put it about on par with Knights of the Old Republic. Graphically it was one of the best looking games I think I’ve played yet. The use of film grain, motion blur and such made it very visually impressive. The voice acting was good and the plot was decent. However, I had some specific issues with it:

    1. Verisimilitude is important in an RPG. Shepard is supposed to be a commissioned military officer and it makes absolutely zero sense for you to be off tearing around the galaxy on sidequests that people are paying you to do. Was I the only one who blinked when someone approached me offering to pay me for a job? Can you picture anyone offering (say) a US Marine Colonel currently on a mission a fistful of cash to go looking for their cousin?

    2. The dialogue. Actually this is two seperate issues. First, while the idea that the choices represent what your character is thinking and not what they’ll say sounds neat in theory, in practice it was annoying for people like me who care about consistent characterization because frequently you would have little or no indication of what Shepard would actually say based on what was shown. Several times I clicked on what I thought sounded like the best option, only to say “wait, what?” when Shepard actually spoke.

    3. The other problem with the dialogue is that the choices were very limited. There were a lot of times when a character would say something to Shepard, and there was nothing even close to the response I wanted to give.



    The best example I can think of (it’s been a while since my last playthrough) was on Virmire when Wrex says that he wants to bring back Saren’s research and use it to cure his people. The choices given in response were to attempt to Charm him into not doing it, attempt to Intimidate him into not doing it, attempt to convince him not to do it, or fight him. But nowhere was there an option to AGREE THAT IT’S REASONABLE FOR HIM TO TRY AND PREVENT THE EXTINCTION OF HIS SPECIES. Man that bugged me.



    4. Inventory management. Urgh, horrible at late game.

    Those are the big issues I remember having with the game (apart from DRM, but I cracked my legit copy to get around that). Oh, and something about the female Shepard face made them all look oddly the same from the side view, no matter how much you changed them, but that’s just a minor quibble.

  45. Gandaug says:

    I didn’t read every post previous to me own. Forty four was a bit too many for that. So I’m not sure if this sentiment has been expressed already. I’m not even sure if I should express this sentiment, but the first two lines of Shamus’ post made me do it. BioWare makes horrible games. I haven’t played Mass Effect and I haven’t played Jade Empire though both of them do seem interesting. I have played KOTOR 1&2 and NWN 1&2 along with their expansions. KOTOR was only good because of the Star Wars license. I did enjoy because of the license and only because of the license. If it were the exact same game without the force and lightsabers it would have failed miserably. Having played the D&D games put out by Black Isle I hold all others since then against them as a comparison. NWN fell far far short in every single way.

    My real sentiment is that I simply don’t understand the pedestal that BioWare seems to have been put on. Is it simply because they are the only ones making RPGs that follow the familiar routine as opposed to Bethesda’s approach?

    Having said all that if you enjoyed the games then I am happy for you. I just don’t understand your enjoyment.

  46. Dane says:


    Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2 were not by BioWare. They were made by Obsidian Entertainment, which is most of the people who used to work for Black Isle Studios.

  47. Magnus says:

    Okay, this got me thinking about the differences between the Paragon and Renegade sides, and I was mostly renegade(90%+) with only perhaps 10-20% of the Paragon bar filled.

    However, I seem to have chosen what would be the Paragon ending, despite being a renegade throughout.

    Basically, can anyone tell me what the major differences are, or direct me to somewhere that can?

    Many thanks!

  48. Robyrt says:

    Regardless of your current Paragon or Renegade status, you can choose either the Paragon or Renegade ending. The only real differences between Paragon and Renegade are the dialogue; the associated skills Charm and Intimidate have much the same uses. (And yes, it IS possible to skip some major fights with Charm/Intimidate – I won’t say any more for spoiler reasons.)

  49. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:


    You should add a “spoiler” tag to your available comment XHTML options. This could make it easy for commenters to hide their spoiler-specific text.

  50. Magnus says:

    @Robyrt: Thanks for the info, and I think I know a couple of places where charm/intimidate come in handy, although they tend to be just dialog differences, there is very little in the way of consequence.

    In general, I suppose I’m beginning to think they only used the terms “renegade” and “paragon” because they sounded “cool”, rather than giving you any particular consequences for your actions.

    The actions that have real consequences are seemingly always available, and were done quite well in my opinion. The whole mission on Virmire was a favourite of mine, and was probably responsible for changing my feelings about the game from “ambivalent” to “favourable”.

  51. R4byde says:

    Actually, I think HK-47 stands for Hunter Killer Model 47; which is probably a reference to Agent 47 of the Hitman games.

    And since I don’t have anything to add to the topic I’ll just disappear now.

  52. R4byde says:

    EDIT: Oops, sorry for the double post, I clicked submit early by accident. Could you delete the first one, Shamus?

    @krellen: HK-47 is a double pun, actually.

    The AK-47 is a well-known assault rifle with numerous variants, copies, clones and derivatives with a reputation for being cheap, easy to manufacture, and reliable”“but perhaps lacking in accuracy. The AK-47 seems to be the choice of communists and third-world militias the world over.

    H&K, or Heckler and Koch, is a well-known German weapons manufacturer, whose products include the G36 assault rifle and MP5 submachinegun.

    I don't think HK-47 is, itself, the name of any actual gun, however.

    On the general topic, I'd have played more of Mass Effect, were it not so terribly unstable on my PC. Strangely, it got worse and worse as time went on, so that, by the time I finally wrapped up the first play-through, playing the game was a chore, because of relatively frequent locks and crashes to the desktop. When it got itself hung while I was starting up the second pass, I decided I'd had enough. If I play it again, it'll be on the X-Box.

    Actually, I think HK-47 stands for Hunter Killer Model 47; which is probably a reference to Agent 47 of the Hitman games.

    And since I don’t have anything to add to the topic I’ll just disappear now.

  53. Dane says:

    From Wikipedia:

    A BioWare developer posted to the company’s forum that HK-47 is named in homage of a dropship in Shattered Steel. However, KotOR lead writer Drew Karpyshyn claimed the name derived from his billiards team’s name.

  54. Matt P says:

    All I can say, Shamus, is that if you don’t viciously savage the travesty that is the paragon vs. renegade cop-out ending (*mild spoilers* or should I say the ‘bunnies and miracles versus logical choice that MUST mean you wanted human supremacy’ ending? I think it’s more accurate that way. *thus endeth the very light spoilers*) I will be disappointed. I might even shed tears. This is an issue very close to my heart; I’ve written my own rant about it.

    I also agree with Dane that the gap between dialogue option to actual dialogue was so wide so often that I found it more frustrating than playing an Infiltrator on my first run-through – in a game that has no infiltration and very much rewards big strong guns over the pistol and sniper rifle I had to work with.

    PS: Am I the only one who finds Joker an insufferable prat?

  55. krellen says:


    @Magnus, #47:
    Basically, can anyone tell me what the major differences are, or direct me to somewhere that can?

    In the end, the Paragon/Renegade choice is when you unleash the Alliance fleet, which determines whether the Council lives or dies. I have not played a third time yet, so I’m not sure what happens if you pick the middle, non-decisive choice, but the difference between the two decisive choices are simple.

    If you go “Paragon” and bring the fleet in early, you save the Council from dying at the hands of Sovereign and the Geth. In recognition of the sacrifice of human lives this caused, Humanity is given a seat on the Council.

    If you go “Renegade” and hold off the fleet until the arms of the Citadel are open, you spare many human lives and ships, but the Council (and much of the Citadel fleet) is destroyed, leaving a power vacuum. Humanity steps forward with a single-race council, chaired by the human representative of your choice (given the two options of Anderson or Udina.)

  56. Magnus says:


    Have to say I’m amazingly underwhelmed at the difference. I’ve been considering for a while to replay (as well as trying the DLC) but I think that on a second playthrough I’ll just get frustrated with it. The conversation system and Mako would be enough, even without anything else.

  57. Matt P says:

    A thought occurs to me: what PnP RPG system would you use to run Mass Effect? Anyone? I ask because I’m considering running one (thanks Bioware for those codexes – solid gold fluff) but don’t know many sci-fi RPG systems.

    @ Krellen and Magnus
    The middle choice results in roughly the Renegade ending, IIRC, because you still chose to effectively abandon the Council to, I don’t know, guarantee your only attempt to kill Sovereign is actually a good one. This is exactly why I hate the ending: if you decide that killing Sovereign – and thus keeping him from bringing in his Big Bad Fleet of Whoop-Ass Ships – is more important than saving the three council members – who are ultimately replacable – then you must have wanted to replace the Council with one human dictator. Yeah. I remember saying that. Don’t you?
    IMO there should have been some punishment for the good choice being a half-assed weakening of the big strike on Sovereign to save three leaders who weren’t all that good anyway, like, say, Sovereign limping away without the ability to reach his friends in deep space, but still scheming. Bioware, though, figured that the good choice should get all the benefits of the smart – I mean RENEGADE – choice and no repercussions for being so namby pamby – whereas renegades clearly wanted to take over the universe, whether they actually signed up for that or not.

  58. Nathanael Phillip Cole says:

    Alternity! Although it is sadly out of print. It’s one of the best “hardcore sci-fi” systems I’ve ever seen.

    Also, WEG’s “Space Opera” setting would work very well, as would White Wolf’s “Trinity” system.

    Oh, and Burning Empires could work for an extremely character and belief-driven game.

  59. RussellEldrin says:

    Shamus please, tear this game to shreds, and then take those shreds and burn them. I had been hyped that this game was going to be “infinetly better than KOTOR” by several different friends of mine, only to be heart broken later on.
    P.S. Sorry to be the one to point out problems but I believe that it was spelled Spectre in the games.

  60. nilus says:


    Depends on your group. Savage Worlds would work great. Alternity was a good system but hard to find. Personally I dislike both WEGs D6 system and White Wolfs big handful of D10 systems but others like that kinda thing. Saga Edition Starwars might be an okay choice as well to adapt. Especially if your group likes the D20 system or D&D 4.

  61. Bramble says:

    I finally dug into Mass Effect while recently snowed in around Christmas. I’m very much a completionist, so my instinct is to try and do everything that can be done in the first playthough. But I just got way too bogged down into in the early sidequests, most of which aren’t that interesting in terms of story content. I abandoned my first try after only doing one story world. I just kept getting overwhelmed by ambushes in the Mako, and getting frustrated trying to climb rocky terrain, and just generally bored. Plus my Vanguard wasn’t very durable, and it seemed like I needed to get some of the achievement bonuses to make her a viable character.

    Second time through I decided to focus on the main story and worry about the side quests later. Definately the right choice as the story pulled me in a lot better without endless digressions to empty worlds. Now that I finished that game and know where everything is headed. I’m started a third game, back with a Vanguard again and am trying to do absolutely everything, because a lot of things make more sense now that I know the complete story.

    Oh, and for some reason I can’t create a female head that doesn’t have some weird funky shading on the side when her head is tilted at certain angles and its driving me crazy. Plus she seems to have a weird swan neck thing going on. I also wish that once you’ve got a head/face customization finished you could save it for use with future characters. Its frustrating to have perfected a look and not be able to get back to it later.

  62. Ravens_cry says:

    It is the return of the long-rambling-posts-on-subjects-I-find-interest-in!
    Thanks Shamus!

  63. Rival Wombat says:


    While the Renegade choice at the end makes sense given what you know, so dose the Paragon choice.

    Ultimately, the Destiny Ascension has the largest mass driver in the local area, an order of magnitude more powerful then anything the Acuturas Prime fleet can bring out. Persevering it, if not the council, makes good tactical sense. Throwing away a bunch of human cruisers and frigates to save it is a cold blooded move, but one that keeps the weapon most likely to be able to kill a reaper in play.

  64. Colonel Slate says:


    Either ending makes tactical sense, considering that the full combined arms might of the alliance military would be able to take on the reaper, or the Destiny Ascension would be able to take on the reaper.

    Tactically speaking however, the combined arms might of the Alliance is actually a better choice than the Destiny Ascension.

    And trust me, I know tactics, it’s my job.

    In other news, I never have, and probably never will like KOTOR, just not very fun, characters too bland for my taste actually, its more like they were cardboard than anything else, but it could be because I’ve played games that already have characters like KOTOR, and they were more intersting.

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