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Create Characters for ME2! (How to Avoid DRM Included)
on March 16, 2010
First of all, I know this game is old. In fact, I really had no interest in trying this game when it came out, thinking, oh that is just another FPS. Now that I've actually played it, I can't imagine why. This is nothing at all like a FPS. In fact, ME2, which I bought first, has a much more FPS feel to it. This is really an RPG first, with a few FPS elements thrown in. It is obvious that Mass Effect is a game like no other.
First of all, ME centers around a great storyline created by the author of the Mass Effect books, the first one titled Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpshyn. Reading this "prequil" is a great way to get into the Mass Effect universe BEFORE you play. I was already so enamored with the universe before I began playing (by feeling all the gaps in starting with ME2) I had to get right into the game, while reading the book at the same time. Can you blame me?
The strength of this game is strongly tied to the storyline, which is really what drives the interest. Without a strong story, you have the caveat of falling into the shooter trap where the story is just a briefing of your next mission while you load a new map, or a couple of seconds of dialogue explaining the change in game play. Mass Effect has a tremendous depth of story, allowing you to choose custom or stock male or female characters with three choices each for family history and military background.
Don't forget the 6 character classes too. You have Soldier which is self explanatory, and Adept which uses "mass effects" which are more or less telekinetic/gravity effects, and Engineer which has tech expertise for overloading weapons, healing the party or taking control of robots. Three classes are combinations of 2, Vanguard is Biotic/Soldier, Sentinel is Engineer/Adept, and Infiltrator is Engineer+Soldier. Soldiers are defintely the easiest to play due to their health bonuses, and the other classes feel slightly crippled early in the game. As you progress in levels, these differences are minimized by finding excellent armor regardless of whether it is light, medium, or heavy, and incredibly destructive weapons. Each class seems to offer up to five 'specializations' at character creation which include things like 'Assault rifle' or 'Shotgun' or even 'First Aid' or the biotic power 'Lift.' This makes it possible to play each class multiple times (if you want) with slightly different starting abilities, and it gives a boost to those classes who are slighly weaker at creation.
I noticed that these classes don't feel all that unique, especially the combination classes. I found myself drawn to the "pure" classes, as I would much rather sacrifice the use of a certain type of gun to having a greater variety of powers. This is most likely the reason for having truly unique powers given to each class in ME2. However, they did come up with cool names for the classes, even if playing a Vanguard is not as good as playing an Adept, you might want to play it anyway, just because you like the name.
The graphics are hardly superior by today's standards (no 2560x1600 resolution available), but most likely were pretty cutting edge in the day. I mention this now, because at this stage you can customize the face of your hero, along with the aforementioned traits, and the first name as well. You will be Commander Shepard to everyone you meet, so a first name is really just to help you distinguish your different characters. The facial controls are nicely done, with the ability to cycle presets and then cyle "face shapes" so that you get the basic head done pretty quick. You also get about 15 or so skin tones and 3 complexions ranging for baby smooth to grungy to acne scarred (aka Adama on the new Battlestar Galactica) as well as some wicked optional scars which you don't get to import with you to ME2. The beard selections are all on the "hip" side, and the ladies don't get a lot of good hair styles, but the variety of hair choices ought to let you create dozens of different looks for any one face. When you get to the rest of the face tweaks, you realized how fine tuned the system really is. I think this system is critical to be robust, since you spend so much time in the game watching yourself talk. Spend time with the tools they've given you, and you wont be disappointed.
The game play begins in a fairly linear way with the initial mission which basically gets you familiar with the controls. Space bar use is fairly important, since it allows you to control your squad and yourself while pausing the movement of your enemies. This squad control factors more importantly in ME2, I believe, because the gun battles are more difficult in that game on the normal setting (ME has about five difficulty settings, with the last one being unlockable). While the pause might save some of your team mates by getting them some cover (they don't seem to do this automatically) your team is generally really good at using their powers by themselves, especially the biotics. Playing as a soldier with run and gun tactics, I love seeing my adept and engineer reak havoc on some really advanced bad guys. I generally run in guns blazing and watch huges guys charging me end up floating around on fire.
The game has loot, like a typical fantasy RPG, and boy does it have a lot of it. For example, the aforementioned light, medium, and heavy armor has customizable "upgrades" in each type (sometimes up to three slots). There are so many types of armor, it gets ridiculous to try and figure out what is the best. Generally, you can find a certain type, and look for future models (say like model IX are always great) and you should be set. Guns include assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles; all with customizable slots. You also get grenades (works like an ugrade), biotic amps (if your class has them), and omni tools (also if your class uses them). The amount of loot you get is sometimes limited by your party's engineering skills, like rogue skills in a traditional RPG. Basically the 'open lock' ability of rogues finds its equivalent in the 'electronics' or 'decryption' abilities of engineers. Opening electronic locks gives you XP, so Engineers are good classes for power leveling.
After starting the fun park riding on linear rails, the game moves to the citadel where the gameplay becomes non-linear and free range. Of course, a lot of this centers around missions (see main quests) and assignments (see side quests) which are very stock RPG fare. There aren't a lot of Fed-Ex quests, for which I am thankful, and a lot of the quests evolve as you complete them, so I guess you can say there isn't much "stock" about this game at all.
Space exploration involves no space battles (bummer) but borders on the tedious with "survey" of planets and search for resources. Not much explanation is offered as to why these resources are important, and they certainly are not critical. I've played it through many times, and have yet to complete all these resource quests. Never bothered me.
Planetside exploration involves the strange Maco ATV which can climb an almost 90 vertical. After a while, it seemed like they tried to make ATV work annoying by making you climb mountains which were very very very rough and everywhere. Realism is out the window here. No damage to your vehicle can occur unless you run off a stretch of elevated highway or take gunfire, yet a fall off a ten story mountain incurs no damage at all. You could try your best to roll the vehicle, and only rarely succeed.
While tedious at times, Maco driving was fun at other times. It was fun to run over regular sized bad guys and ram large bad guys and make them "ride" the Maco itself. It was fun to drive with reckless abandon. Yet overall, I found the Maco very tedious. You would land and have a "square" map of activity, where you must put a flag on whatever appeared on the map to investigate to find any objective. I would have enjoyed not having the requirement to refer to the big map at all, but allow the radar to expand as a zoomable overlay with the ability to cycle through targeting available objectives (perhaps use the tab key?). Maybe that is why it was left out of ME2.
During the middle of the game, the story gets a little lost. You have the main objective, and you could always rush and finish that part, but you are having fun, and want to do the side quests. This kind of makes the main story lose some impact, since in every reference to the main story, they always mention that you need to complete it quickly. Of course, you don't really need to do this, so, this makes it lose some immersion factor. Side Quests (remember assignments) try to give you legitimate excuses for being deterred from the main quest (mission) by barking out orders from an Admiral who wants you to do something. Yet, when trying to save the galaxy, should you really take time to do anything else when time is of the essence?
This is a problem with other Bioware games as well, such as Dragon Age. You can pretty much be assured that if someone ever tells you to hurry and do something because time is running out, there is never a real need to hurry. This is not a commentary on the side quests themselves. In Mass Effect, they are usually pretty neat with their own stories, and they are varied and fun to complete. But you know they are not directly important, and in real life would most likely be avoided, and that makes them less fun.
Well, once the last few missions roll around, the story cloaks you again, and you remember why you really enjoyed the game in the first place. It is a compelling universe where the things you do matter, and influence the worlds and people around you. It is all that time when you are spending too much time driving a tank up a 90 degree slope doing some unimportant quest when all the lives of the galaxy hang in the balance when things start to change. It is those times that this feels like a Halo clone, or just any other game. You are just someone trying to power level another character in another game, and the story is lost. For that reason, this game only gets 4 stars.
The good thing is, those times you feel like you are wasting your time are few and far between, and the game is highly enjoyable, most of the time.
Thankfully, the game isn't over yet. You can import your character from this game straight into ME2, and the choices you make in Mass Effect carry with you to the next game. This is a HUGE plus. I actually think this is the best ever sequel that I HAVE PLAYED in this aspect. How great is the roll play when you span it over multiple games? You can take a single character and play through 2 entire games and make different choices every time. The multiple replayability is greatly enhanced.
Secondly, the DRM which everyone hates so much can be avoided by purchasing an online game by Steam. This is what I did, and it stores the saved games in the same folder as a regular disc version would, which makes it easy to import.