Closing Thoughts: Mass Effect

Today I finished Mass Effect. I thought I was close to the end but I haven’t realized how close I was. I will write a Game Design Review on the disaster they call interface. Here are some other thoughts about it, fresh from my wetware:

It’s cheesy. It has all the clichés. You are the hero of the galaxy, yet nobody believes you (Superman yet underdog). There is ONE bad guy you need to kill to save the ENTIRE GALAXY. There are even goddamn inspirational speeches. And of course at the end of the story it looks like you are dead but then in the very last second you emerge from a pile of rubble that just collapsed with cheesy “hero”-music in the background. I felt like a million brain cells cried out at an instant in agony only to fade away to oblivion.

It’s artificially long. I spent over 30 hours on it and it feels like very little actually happened. There are maybe 5 missions if you add everything together. One mission would be an area you can walk around in, acquire some sub-quests before you do the main quest which involves fighting through a “dungeon”. Most of the time is just wasted talking about boring things with strangers (“Do you know anything about sailors?” but in Space), fighting the interface to manage equipment and curse the moon buggy while you bounce helplessly around some impossibly rugged surface of an alien world. It’s not much content, it’s just presented in a very tedious way.

The side missions are ridiculous. I read about them a lot but nothing could prepare me. They basically have 3 different buildings and re-cycle them for what felt like 15 different missions. And the 3 buildings aren’t even exciting – each consist of just 4 small rooms connected in an obvious way and decorated with random items like crates and containers. So you land on some random planet, drive over to some anonymous building, kill the bad guys outside, get inside, go to the same interior you’ve been already in for the last 5 missions, kill everybody inside and maybe if you are lucky you will get a piece of dialogue at the end. How you can feed such crap to players in today’s times is beyond me. I’m left speechless. I mean, at least they could have built in some generator that assembles dungeons out of pre-fabricated parts. Diablo could make a whole game based on that concept and it was 10 years ago! They didn’t even offer mirrored versions which takes like what – 5 minutes? You just go again and again through the same goddamn 4 rooms and once it is a prison, the other time a colony, the other time a laboratory and whatnot. As I write it I realize that it sounds far less crappy than it really is. Words just can’t convey the crappyness of it.

The DLC is not worth it. I was warned but it was too late. The DLC is basically just one side mission of a slightly higher quality. It is of the kind of quality I might accept as standard in such a game. There is even (*gasp*) a new building. They introduce a new alien race but there is not enough exposition or tie-ins to the main story to make me give a damn. They could have just as well used an existing one. The hook is intriguing (stop an asteroid falling on a planet) but somehow the actual mission turns out not to live up to the expectations. You just kill the bad guy and that’s it. Meh.

There are some nice moments. Like the first time you get the spaceship and explore different systems. Feels very much like Star Control 2. I also enjoyed one particular main mission very much: Feros. It had a cool setting that reminded me of Blame. The story had quite the old-school sci-fi vibe like earlier Star Trek episodes (or even some real Sci-Fi movie classics). It starts of harmless. You arrive at a friendly colony but everybody behaves strange. Mid-way though the plot some alien craziness is uncovered out of nowhere and where the crew suddenly struggles to save everybody from what seemed like a harmless situation. Not exactly high-quality storytelling but it awakened some nostalgic feelings.

Is it worth playing? Hard to tell. They did a good job of building a Sci-Fi franchise from scratch even if they did go heavy with the cheese and made some horrible technical mistakes. Nowadays, you can get it quite cheap so there is hardly anything you can do wrong. Back when it was released I would have been disappointed.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

3 responses to “Closing Thoughts: Mass Effect”

  1. Simon Ferrari

    Oh bugger I thought I’d saved you from the DLC while we were playing Gears. On that note, the Batarians were by far the most interesting race from reading the History information in-game, and then they totally blew it. The whole “kill the bad guy, done” is something DLC constantly struggles with I think. You have this super buffed-up character from the main story, and you just plow through the new content without having to even think.

    Bethesda does DLC the best. Operation: Anchorage was weak, but had some fun kitschy stuff, an interesting branching team-based section, and some really cool atmospheric effects (cannon-rumbles). Did some of the Pitt last night, which is only slightly better than Anchorage, but features a fun little Mirror’s Edge-y playground for you to find these ingots and unlock some really sweet weapons. There’s also this wicker man statue that’s off the chain. Nothing beats Shivering Isles, though; best DLC ever (even better than the main Oblivion storyline).

    As far as Mass Effect’s story goes, yeah, Feros was the best. And the “crisis” you have to avert on Virmire is beyond ridiculous (who doesn’t buff up their persuasion skill in a BioWare game?). The ending was slightly better than you give it credit for. You’re fighting the one guy, but the fleet is doing it’s own thing against Sovereign. BioWare is really stuck doing big-time twists since their KotOR days, and the Reaper twist would have been a lot better if it weren’t an exact copy of the plotline from Prey (which wasn’t as good, but was notable for being about a Native American and the Escher-like level design).

  2. Simon Ferrari

    Why not just play Puzzle Quest on XBL? Achievements, “better” graphics.

  3. Krystian Majewski

    No, when we played Gears it was already too late.

    Gee, now you really got me hyped over Fallout. But right now, no money (and Time).

    The Crisis? Oh you mean the thing with the Krogan guy. I thought that was ok. I’m just wondering what would happen if I hadn’t got my persuasion skill maxed out.

    The Reaper twist was ok. I just didn’t like the very last cinematic. On the other hand, at least it had a clear sense of closure… unlike – say – Half-Life 2.

    Puzzle Quest – I would prefer it on XBLA but it’s also for my girlfriend and she can’t deal with the analogue Stick controls. She constantly makes moves she didn’t want and that frustrates the hell out of her. As if mastering the game mechanics wasn’t difficult enough. DS works best for her from all available consoles. Go Nintendo!


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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