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Unpopular?: Fighting through Mass Effect 1 (And People’s Hate For It)
When the original Mass Effect was released for the Xbox 360 in 2007, I bought into the series hook-line-and-sinker. In the subgenre of open-world RPGs, my major experiences were measured by the breadth from Morrowind to Oblivion (my hobby far outstripped my means to satisfy it). Mass Effect blew open the doors on storytelling and introduced me to a superbly fleshed-out science fiction world where before I had been content with fantasy. Both Shepard and I were in love, and not just with Liara but, with the world. This makes me feel like I must have been blinded to some major failing in the gameplay, by my love. Because, more often than not, whenever I see someone mention the original Mass Effect it is to say that they tried to go back to it but found it unplayable.
Swords became shotguns and magic was “biotics” but I never swayed from the truth that Mass Effect 1 was an RPG. Maybe it was because I spent half my time with the game in the menu, agonizing over whether the benefits were good enough to warrant switching my gun modifications over and using the new weaponry. But Mass Effect 1 has always held the throne of my heart amongst the Mass Effect trilogy. That is not to deny the aging that the original game has weathered but I feel it stayed the closest to the original design. Mass Effect 1 remained, at its core, an RPG.
Let’s look at Mass Effect 2: the graphics were improved and the gunplay was improved; one change was necessary and the other was very welcome. But it began the trend of simplification that Mass Effect 3 perfected, if you want to call it that. Or perhaps that isn’t quite the right term. It wasn’t so much that the game became simpler but that the game gained a tighter action-oriented focus. Instead of being an RPG with shooter mechanics, it became a shooter with RPG mechanics. The game focused on giving players a more cinematic and “action-ier” experience by excising a majority of the exploration and all of the inventory management. Upgrades in the later parts of the trilogy were linear progressions handed to you at pre-defined points in the game. Personally, I didn’t mind the slower pace of the first game. And despite the fun I had with Mass Effect 2, it was not the Mass Effect sequel I had hoped for when I first beat Mass Effect 1 alongside Nathaniel Shepard the Infiltrator. Instead of improving the parts of the RPG that were weakest, Bioware removed them outright. They are allowed to do that because it was a design choice to focus on action.
And you can’t fault them for that; those portions of Mass Effect did pull you from a fast-paced flow of action. There were plenty of times where I would drive the Mako across a barren landscape for upwards of 10 minutes before I encountered a building, let along any gameplay events. Strangely enough, though, I liked those bits. Call me “masochistic” (please don’t) but it reflected the feel I got throughout all of Mass Effect 1: you’re the leader of a small group in the middle of a wide galaxy, facing something the implications of which you don’t even understand. Mass Effect 1 had so many characters that calling the game a “space opera” felt right. Cerberus was some shady organization doing stuff on abandoned planets that you wouldn’t even look at most of the time. Reapers weren’t even given a face to fight against until half way through the game. Mass Effect 3 saw the pitfalls its older brother had fallen into and tried to steer clear but it just wasn’t enough in my opinion.
Maybe I can keep my opinion on Mass Effect 1 because I’m not as deterred by poor controls (I can detect them but it wasn’t that big of a deal for me) as other modern gamers. But these are my opinions and I don’t mind if they are unpopular.