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Editorial   

Five Things Mass Effect Could Improve On

The key to the future of Mass Effect is in its past.

Item 2: I Didn’t Know That I Could Do That, So I Didn’t

BioWare’s solution: take out half of the options for using ability points and put the skills on a universal cooldown.

I recommend Mass Effect to everyone I know. I’ve had to teach every one of those people how to play the game, because it does a poor job of educating players. I’ve talked to so many people that just play the game like a subpar shooter, and end up seriously disliking everything except for the conversation bits. But that first game offers a plethora of ways to tackle each encounter, and you’re rewarded for exploiting your abilities to the fullest.

                                                  So many options for leveling up!

I play Mass Effect in pause mode almost 50% of the time, because I’m constantly queueing up skills for all three of my party members. I’m using Garrus to sabotage the krogan mercenary’s weapon (doing damage over time and overheating his gun), while Tali hacks a geth trooper to fight on our side. While all of that’s going on, I’m throwing a singularity into the rest of the group of enemies, making them easy pickings for my upgraded pistol. I handle each encounter with precision and skill, but I had to learn that on my own.

                                      The level of tactics available in ME 1 is impressive still.

Since people had a hard time coming to grips with Mass Effect’s ability system, BioWare removed a ton of options for the sequels. Take a look at the level up screen from ME 1 and compare it to 2 and it looks like something is missing. To add insult to injury, you can no longer elect to put points into charm or intimidate; conversation options are based on your paragon or renegade levels. This takes away a lot of character customization, and gives players a very cookie cutter experience. In Mass Effect 1 I was able to keep a party member alive because I took the time to max out my conversation tree, but a more offensive player won’t have this option. It’s about having choice and having to deal with those consequences.

                                       Compare to Mass Effect 2. Something's missing...

My solution: give players freedom to choose.

There was no reason to strip out so much of the RPG skill tree just to make things easier for players to grasp. What was needed was a better tutorial system. While it’s true that Mass Effect 2 is a better shooter than the first game (more on that in the next item), it is less fun to play if you are used to managing the skills and abilities of your team from the first game. This is a fundamental issue I find with a lot of games these days, where the developers don’t trust the players with too much choice. Having ten things to level up allows players a lot more freedom to tailor their experience to their liking than only having five things to deal with. And if some players find that overwhelming it’s up to the dev team to clearly define what each ability does and why you might want to select it.

                         Let us tailor our upgrade and combat the way we tailor our difficulty.

Each character should have abilities and skills that give them a purpose, and within those skills the player needs to be able to decide how they want to specialize their party. If there was actual data suggesting that players were overwhelmed by the number of options in the first game, then perhaps there should be multiple versions of the RPG experience. Remember how Mass Effect 3 had a difficulty setting for people that wanted to focus on the story and didn’t want to be challenged by the combat? Something like that could work here, with a truncated version of the skills list for people that don’t care about setting ability points. Oddly enough, the upcoming RPG World of Final Fantasy does something similar: by default, the menus map abilities to the buttons like an action game, but you can elect to have a more traditional Final Fantasy menu system. I’m all about player choice, we’ve reached a point where we can tailor our experience by much more than easy, normal, and hard mode.

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Comments

Michael117

10/20/2016 at 03:25 PM

Ditch heat sinks? This whole article is now invalid :p

Heat sinks and generally reloading make sense because eventually you're going to run out of raw metal to shave and accelerate. You wouldn't be able to shoot infinitely and just worry about overheating. Also heat transfer and newton's law of cooling don't work so fast that you could just rapidly heat and cool a barrel or shooting mechanism like in Mass Effect 1, it makes sense that you'd have heat sinks that you could rapidly transfer out so you didn't have to wait for the hot one to cool down. I'm sorry but any attempt to justify infinite shooting and no reloading is bubkiss. I will stand up for heat sinks till the day I die, come at me lol

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/20/2016 at 05:54 PM

Hey, if you want every game to play the same then more power to you. Mass Effect 2 feels as generic as they come with the shooting mechanics. And you couldn't fire infinitely in the first game; far from it. I could only squeeze off a couple rounds from my sniper rifles without my gun locking up. It added a level of tenseness to the shooting without having to worry about running out of ammo, which I did a lot in the sequels. Also, go play Doom and tell me if you miss reloading. 

But yes, by all means let's have every game with shooting act and feel the same. That's been so fun already, right?

Michael117

10/21/2016 at 01:29 AM

Failed to make your point. Reloading is still king. Ask revolver ocelot. Boom

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/21/2016 at 03:38 AM

I made my point perfectly. 

Michael117

10/21/2016 at 06:23 AM

I actually got the new Doom this past week and just installed it on my pc! I'm so ready, I want to get through it soon so I'm prepared by the time everyone is talking about GOTY.

When you brought up No Mans Sky it made me think of having control of whatever the Normandy equivalent is in Andromeda and flying it down through the atmosphere and choosing a landing area right before you press the trigger and drop the Mako down onto the surface. You always see that in the cut scene in the ME games, it could be fun to actually have control of that process. In No Mans sky you can only explore one star system at a time and zoom around to the planets within, then when you're done you pick places to warp to on the larger map. The way you explore solar systems in No Mans Sky is basically the Mass Effect galaxy map but experienced from first person instead of overhead with the little ship to control. It could be cool to have that kind of exploration in Andromeda. I love the galaxy map and if it aint broke don't fix it, but exploring the systems from the point of view of the player's ship could be fun. Doesn't necessarily have to be 1st person, that might not make sense, but just have the camera behind the ship and be able to zip around the system and land at will when your scanners find cool stuff to investigate

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/24/2016 at 03:03 PM

I'll be revisiting that thought in an upcoming piece, but I want to wait until after N7 Day to see if they address any of my items.

Machocruz

10/21/2016 at 12:38 PM

The inventory issue is a non issue. They were already veterans of RPG development by the time the first game came out.  We have 3 decades, at least, of examples of how to design an inventory, including other Bioware games. wtf

 Abilities: I thought the abilities in ME1 were well explained. The come with descriptions on what they do. It's up to the player to figure out how to use them in combat to tactical advantage. This is a solution looking for a problem. Some people just aren't made for certain types of games. Bioware has to decide who they are going to serve.

 Shooting: Another "duh." You are playing a military commander, a war hero. A basic level of firearm proficiencey should be assumed. You are not a peasant like in a classic fantasy RPG. Bioware were stuck on stupid with this one. And please, no damage numbers. Looks cheap and spoils immersion.

 Planets: Seems like a development resources issue. Maybe they ran out of time and money. Still, we had fleshed out planets in games before ME and NMS, so it's not a matter of technology.

 The Mako: Just make it drive normally. The fucking thing was bouncing around like a rubber ball. Why sould this be hard to code? 30 years of driving games. That's a poor excuse. And why keep the original control scheme? I don't think anyone is that attached to it. Another no brainer issue that the geniuses at Bioware can't seem to resolve, but I like some of your ideas.

 It's very frustrating looking at the modern AAA scene. Just so many boneheaded design choices and poor solutions to minor or non-issues. Things that were solved many moons ago. I just don't get it...

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/24/2016 at 03:08 PM

It's not that the abilities were not defined well. I think the game does a great job letting you know what everything you have actually does, but it did a poor job of explaining how to play the game tactically. Sure, you can play it by just letting the computer do everything for your party, but the first thing I do with that game is turn off the power usage for my AI so that I can use their abilities when I need them.

I'd keep the orginal Mako control scheme because gamers hate change, and there are plenty of people who will say that they love the way the Mako controlled. I think they are crazy people, but again, it's all about having options for me. When I played Deus Ex: Mankind Divided I used the control scheme from Human Revolution. I took one look at the new control setup and knew it wasn't conducive to the way I play those games, and I was glad that I wasn't forced into using it. Same thing with the damage numbers. I love having those, especially in an RPG where I can see exactly how my character is improving based on stats and gear, but I know not everyone likes that. So it's something you can toggle, and would likely be off by default.

Machocruz

10/25/2016 at 04:21 PM

Diablo 3 made damage numbers trigger me. Every video I saw of the game people had them on. Remember when Diablo used to be an immersive game? But I didn't mind them in other games like Borderlands.

And yeah, you're right about the abilities. I forget that a lot of people aren't familiar with squad tactical games/tactical RPGs. They didn't have the advantage of growing up as the genre was evolving and learning how to play them as the games started simple to more intricate

Exrian Contributing Writer

11/02/2016 at 06:30 AM

Nice article. I really need to go back and play ME1 again. As I've mentioned before, I beat it a few weeks before 2 released so didn't get to really dive in like I would have. I really enjoyed it but was dying for part 2. 2 is the one that sticks with me most since I was obsessed with it while waiting for 3. 

I'm totally in favor of dropping Heat sinks. Doom was crazy nonstop fun. Once you have Assault Rifle Micro Missles with over 75 armor you never want to hit a reload ever again.

You missed something though. What happened to our Elevator rides? The true unsung hero of the game. I'm sure I got a lot more stretching, bathroom breaks, and hydration that I didn't get in 2/3.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

11/07/2016 at 07:26 PM

Haha! As bad as the load times were in the Citadel, I thought that was a good way of disguising them. I liked the extra dialogue/radio news, and it made the area feel big, which the whole series has a problem conveying.

jgusw

01/26/2017 at 02:47 PM

I know I'm in the minority, but I love Mass Effect 1 more than the other games.  I played it so many times, that it's "issues" don't bother me at all. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/26/2017 at 07:36 PM

Same here, and it makes me sad that Andromeda seems to be going even further away from its mechanics and depth.

jgusw

01/30/2017 at 07:15 PM

I have a feeling that Andromeda will feel a little like Dragon Age: Inquisition with Mass Effect 3 combat.

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