Over the weekend I tried to do three new gaming things: Play Mass Effect 2 (to finally finish it), play Mass Effect 3 (for the first time), and play Mass Effect 1 (over again).
I installed Mass Effect 2 from Steam, hoping beyond hope that by some magical time-space temporal vortex I would be able to pick up where I left off years ago (probably at least two computers ago), but of course I had to start over. My goal was to play through the game quickly so that I could then finally start Mass Effect 3, a game I’ve had for years but never played.
I got through the first cut scenes, remembered what great characters these games have, wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, then reached the point where I first have to control my character and do stuff and immediately remembered how awful the game part of these games are. I gave up after about 15 minutes and uninstalled the game. I couldn’t stand the thought of playing double-digit numbers of hours with that clunky, ancient-feeling control scheme and weird squad and cover mechanics.
I was left with no choice but to install Mass Effect 3 (on Origin, blech) and jump right into it. At the time of this writing, even though it happened literally two days ago, I have zero memory of what happened. There was a cut scene, then there was some running around, there was a kid (so obviously a plot device it might as well have had a neon sign), there were explosions, there were people I vaguely remember from Mass Effect 1, there were people I thought died in Mass Effect 2, there were people missing from when I played Mass Effect 2, there were other people I’ve never seen before, and there was a dream sequence.
The gameplay was marginally better but not by much. I was dumbstruck that there was no controller support in the game. There were like 3 actions bound to the spacebar: Running, jumping, and for some inexplicable reason, activating things.
I played ME3 in four different sessions over Saturday and Sunday, playing for about a half hour or less each time before having to put it down because I just didn’t “get” it. As I’m typing this I’m remembering more and more of what transpired, but it was obvious that I was jumping into the third act of an epic story and there was no hand-holding to catch me up on the story. I can deal with weird gameplay if the story is engaging, but the *story* felt alien, and I couldn’t deal with it.
So I thought I’d look for some YouTube videos that summarize the Mass Effect 1 & 2 stories. I found some 10-minute summaries, but I found them unsatisfying. They were so short that I couldn’t really follow them. I got the basic gist of the Mass Effect 1 story but it’s because I played it before. Having only seen half of the Mass Effect 2 story, I didn’t understand that one at all.
Next I looked for full cut scenes. I found a 3 1/2 hour YouTube video showing all the cut scenes from Mass Effect 1. I started watching it. I remembered that I really enjoyed that game, despite how godawful the gameplay was.
As I watched, I realized I didn’t particularly care for how the video was put together (it skipped stuff for brevity), so I re-installed Mass Effect 1 from Steam and started playing it again.
The gameplay remains godawful, but I feel like I have to play it to get into the story again. I set it to casual and maximum auto-aim and everything I could think of to move from cut scene to cut scene as fast as possible.
To make things more interesting, this time I’m playing a female Shephard, which I’ve never done before. I like it.
Mass Effect is a great example of a series that raises the question: When is a game *too* story-rich to work as a game? This is a topic I hope to explore in another post someday.
P.S. I will not be buying Andromeda when it comes out. I’ll just wait for the inevitable $10 Origin sale.