My PS3 is still not hooked up, LusiSprites. In fact, I have been so far removed from gaming, that the most observant of you may have noticed that this very article appeared a day late. “For shame!” I hear. “How dare you?” Another says. “Who’s Ethos?” say many more. Well I will answer your cries by digging my hand deep into my mushy brain to pull out yet another gaming memory from my Holiday Hibernation period. Attempting – and failing – to platinum Final Fantasy XIII, doing nothing but side missions in my brother’s copy of Assassin’s Creed III, and enjoying the occasional Ratchet and Clank Collection bout were not the only games I partook in during my stay in the Christmas Basement of Gaming. No, I also played the original Mass Effect for the first time since I beat it almost four years ago. Wait, holy fuck. Four years ago? Time flies when you are stuck in arrested development.
Anyway, I had very fond memories of the first game and while I enjoyed the entire series, I always felt that the sequels never truly captured the magic of the first one. And now that I had the collection for the PS3, I was excited and curious to revisit it. I wondered if it was just nostalgia that made me hold the original in the warmest light.
I am not terribly far into the game and while I am remembering some unpleasant factors which were improved for the sequels, so far my playthrough has only confirmed what I have felt to be true for four years. And I think the answer is simple.
The original Mass Effect is the only game in the trilogy with a sense of exploration. Mass Effect 2 has the best cast and most surprising moments, Mass Effect 3 easily has the greatest combat and arena design, but Mass Effect had the best world to explore. It had the greatest sense of wonder. It felt the most endless.
Compared to the original, Mass Effect 3 almost feels claustrophobic. While I understand that the Reaper invasion is supposed to give a feeling of impending doom, the result ended up being a closed-off world and witnessing planets that I had been waiting the entire series to explore be reduced to a hallway of battle arenas.
The Mako vehicle from the first game received a lot of flak, but I think its removal is one of the biggest reasons for the reduced sense of scale in the sequels. While there were problems with controls and a lack of originality between planets, it was worth the trade-off to zoom across planets to discover ruins, minerals, and sometimes terrifying carnivores that lay waiting underground. It also provided variety in combat, paving the way for interesting arenas and larger enemies.
While the locations for side quests became significantly less redundant in the sequels, the world actually felt smaller because it felt less like Shepard and her crew actually traveled through space to get there.
The next most significant factor was the reduction of more inconsequential sidequests. It seems like a strange thing to criticize, but even talking down the Hanar preacher in the Citidel near the beginning of the game was a giant factor in how quickly I got drawn into the world. That sidequest had no baring on the main quest to stop Saren and had no major (or even minor) role to play in all the webs of connected decisions that the series is famous for. What it did do, however, was give the culture personality. It gave me a glimpse into not only Hanar and Turian culture and relations, but also what society was like on the Citadel. It made the world more alive and believable. The latter games forgot this and got bogged down in increasingly dramatic sidequests. Well-written sidequests, but less interested in giving the world new dimensions and perspectives. This includes the much-taunted elevator rides. Yes, it was a poor disguise for bad loading times, but it was far more interesting to see how Shepard’s different crew members reacted to each other than it was to see the loading screens that the sequels provided. I think Bioware went way too far in reacting to criticisms of the original.
And on a purely personal level, I prefer Mass Effect because it is the only game in the series that can get away with calling itself a true RPG and not a third-person action game with RPG elements. I do not think there is anything wrong with a genre transcending series, but the RPG is my favourite genre and I enjoyed the deeper customization of the original, even if the menus sucked dirty ass. Like, really clunky dirty ass.
Can asses be clunky?
Anyway, those are my thoughts as I start only my second playthrough of one of my favourite series’ of all time. If I have time to play any video games this year, you LusiReapers can be sure I will keep you posted. Until then, do you have a favourite title in the series? Do you agree with my assessment of the original, or were the menus, texture pop-in and framerate drops just too much for you?