How I Learned to Love the Reapers

Friend of the blog Joe Osborne has been replaying Mass Effect. Seizing the chance to slack off from writing, we asked him to write a blog about it for us.

He can normally be found saving the environment or playing bass, occasionally at the same time. Stalk him on twitter @jozborne


For the second time in as many years, my XBox recently spluttered, vibrated, and showed me its hideous red ring. This always seems to coincide with my birthday, a clever ploy by Microsoft no doubt in order to ensure I have enough money to purchase a replacement machine. Well this time I played it smart. Instead of replacing my Xbox with an identical second hand version, I decided to splash out on a new elite version, with a giant hard drive and a history of not overheating. Clever girl. I sat down smugly on the sofa when I got back, recovered my gamer profile and prepared to get stuck into Diablo 3’s final boss. The smile soon dropped of my smug face however, when I realised I had no saved games, and no way of transferring them over from my old machine now that it was broken. That’s 100 hours I’ll never get back from Skyrim. This was devastating.

Being an optimistic sort of chap, I decided to make the best of the situation and return to some of my favourite games, playing through them from the beginning and rediscovering why I love them. However, when thumbing through my collection, I was amazed to find there were so many games that I had just never completed. This is how I came to play (and fall in love with) Mass Effect.

I had bought Mass Effect when it was released some seven years ago, as I have always been a fan of RPGs and had read only positive reviews for it. However, on first play I found the combat system to be frustrating and, being terrible at following storylines in games, I had no idea where I was going. And so I gave up, simple as that. There were countless other titles I could be playing, and so there Mass Effect lay, collecting dust and being transported with me to several different addresses, until one day, about a month ago, I picked it up again.

This time around I made sure I was paying attention to the plot, which put simply, tells the story of you, Commander Shepherd, unravelling the bizarre visions you experience when you first come into contact with a beacon belonging to the Prothean race, which you discover during your first mission. This really is simplifying it too much, but I’m reluctant to elaborate because the real joy of this game is the way the story unravels, and if you haven’t played it, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you. All I will say is that it really is cinematic in its telling; the final act being particularly gripping (as it should be). I have a bad habit of putting music on when I play games, and so often miss a lot of dialogue, but I can assure you in the case of Mass Effect the stereo stayed off and the volume steadily increased on the TV as the action unfolded.

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Grizzled

One aspect of the gameplay I completely neglecting in my first (rather short) attempt was the upgrading of equipment, as well as properly levelling up the squad. As I am prone to do, the majority of skill points went into making my team as deadly as possible – completely without tactics – but all built like a brick shit house. This is the way I always go when levelling up in any game: increase life, increase strength, worry about other skills only when completely necessary. I’d like to say this is some allegory for the way I live my life, but with seconds of meeting me you’d realise it really isn’t. Anyway, I think the reason I found the combat system so frustrating when I first played Mass Effect was that I wasn’t levelling people up, nor was I routinely checking the equipment I had acquired to see what benefit it would be to anyone in the squad. As such, I found the combat much more enjoyable this time around, and I certainly died a lot less. The most fun for me though came from driving the Rover and firing giant missiles at, well, everyone. Worth a second playthrough just for that alone.

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I made a conscious decision this time around to avoid any side missions. I know you probably think that by doing this I missed the best bits of the game, and didn’t fully immerse myself, but I can defend myself. On paper, the idea of an open world game, and in this case a fully explorable universe, sounds amazing. A place where I can almost live a second life, and do anything I want. Well, I don’t have time for that. It’s not that I’m particularly busy, it’s just that I don’t have the patience to spend hours running mundane errands to increase my XP, but ultimately detract from the story. So I may not have finished up as the strongest character, and I’m sure I missed a few fun side quests, but ultimately, by focussing solely on the main mission I became completely immersed in the game, which took what I feel was a reasonable amount of time for a game without it consuming my life for very little gain. I digress however, as this probably needs expanding on in a separate post.

It’s hard to elaborate too much further at the risk of ruining this fine game for anyone as foolish as me that hasn’t played it through. What Mass Effect taught me though, is that in order to fully enjoy a game, I need to firstly allow a few hours to get used to the quirks of a new game, and secondly, I need to just play one game at a time. As I write this, I can see a whole host of games which I never completed because a new game came along. Well no more, it’s one game at a time from now on.

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed playing this, and seeing as both sequels are currently priced at £3 each at my local game shop, I’ll be continuing the saga very soon…

 

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