Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shepherding the Galaxy

Mass Effect has been battling with Halo 3 as my most anticipated game all year. I've been playing Bioware's offering right from Baldur's Gate, though I did come a few years late and I've still not completed Throne of Bhaal. Jade Empire was OK but Knights of the Old Republic rocked and is mentioned in the same breath as Jedi Knight, TIE Fighter and Republic Commando as the truly good Star Wars games. Since Mass Effect seemed to have a lot in common with KotOR I couldn't wait.

The KotOR comparison is quite apt as it is easily the true successor to the Star Wars game. Biotics fill in for the Force and Lightsabres have been abandoned for squad combat. The squad combat is a bit of a problem though. The intelligence of your squad can sometimes be questionable with them making odd decisions during a fire fight. Though that's nothing compared to the enemy AI, during a conflict with a lot of bad guys they are seem to make the decision that running at you then circle you at a distance of a few feet is a good tactic. Once you've thinned their numbers you finally get a decent fight from cover but it's tainted by the stupidity of their colleagues.

The vehicle combat can be a bit unwieldy to start with too. The first time I took the Mako out for a spin I came across a huge Dune-esque worm called a Thresher Maw which promptly destroyed my little Mars Rover. This was a problem for a lot of the early fights, you're thrown in the deep end with the Mako and expected to survive, as time goes on it does get easier with experience plus a couple of the skills you have improve a few stats on the vehicle.

The assignments, or side missions as they're more commonly called, leave a bit to be desired. Apart from each building being one of three layouts there's some missions that have no substance to them at all. Take for instance the group Cerberus who crop up through out the side missions. It would have been nice to to deal with all these little bits of their group and slowly find out more about the higher ups eventually leading to a fairly substantial quest where you take out the leaders. Unfortunately, the leaders are the second group you take out, not that they look or act any different to anyone else, you're just told they are in charge and the rest of the Cerberus quests are cleaning up the remaining mess.

But all this complaining is too much. I am enjoying the game a lot, but its one of those funny games that you can't tie down what exactly it is you're enjoying about it. That said Bioware's new conversation system is a work of genius and a fantastic step forward for the genre, though I have had a hiccup once or twice where Shepherd said something I wasn't really wanting him to. I'm looking forward to the sequel and the downloadable content, and I'm pretty tempted to go back through it and see how it plays when I'm a evil git.
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