I can see where it’s getting the “meh” reviews.
Because I love the backstory of the new Mass Effect. It’s a great sci-fi story with a lot of room to maneuver, classic space opera – and it feels big.
I just don’t see how I connect with it.
Like, as an example: an early mission has you scanning walls to find enough evidence to stop a saboteur – your standard “Find the foozle” quest, wrapped in a story to make it compelling. And you scan enough evidence, and the trail leads you to your saboteur.
Except the game says, “Wait! That’s not the saboteur! The real saboteur is trying to frame these two people!”
Which is a great twist, if I the player had any decision in that process. If there had been some evidence I could have overlooked where I might have accidentally jailed an innocent person, thus having to make the hard decision of putting away someone who claims they didn’t do it, that would be dramatic! Maybe I could do the wrong thing by mistake! But literally your AI buddy kicks in to go “WHOAH, NOPE, YOU GOT MORE WORK TO DO.”
And so the tension is defanged.
Then you find the real saboteur, who is mildly angry about how the previous administration did his family wrong. But again, the game doesn’t ask you to take sides – the guy doesn’t even tell you what the new administration did except in really abstract terms. And you don’t even get a chance to let him go, or try to talk him out of his deadly saboteur nature, as far as I can tell from the dialogue options – either way, he’s meekly caught, even though you’re just one dude and you didn’t bring any security and I guess the game didn’t feel like ending this mission with a chase or a battle or a dramatic emotional decision or anything.
So my reaction at the end is, “Uh, well, I guess some people are angry at the government.” But I don’t feel it. I’m not invested in any of these schmucks because while it’s a great story, Mass Effect seems to have forgotten to add the decision points that get me involved.
I could have jailed the wrong person, thus getting mad at those fiendish saboteurs.
I could have been asked to side with the saboteur thanks to the righteousness of his cause.
I could have been presented with a chase sequence to stop some suicidal madman.
But instead, I got railroaded along a series of decisions that weren’t actually decisions. And if Mark Rosewater has taught me anything, games are about interesting choices. If I ask you, “So do you want this magical wand of destruction at to fight with, or this stubby pencil?”, that decision is automatic for everyone but the people who want to make it purposely hard.
“Do you want to continue this quest or not?” is not an interesting decision.
The decisions in Mass Effect thus far aren’t interesting. The story is interesting, on a meta level. But I am not given an access point so I personally am invested in what happens.
I mean, it’s still fun. I like levelling up. But if these guys want me to care more, they need to have less people telling me, “Oh, here’s a gout of backstory” and more of me making emotional decisions based on that backstory. And until now, there’s a whole lot of people telling me how they feel and very little of me deciding how I should feel.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.